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Identity Theft Is More Rampant Than Ever. Learn How to Protect Yourself.

Posted on: February 8th, 2018 by Access Home Insurance No Comments

Identity theft hit a record high in 2017. And if that’s not disturbing enough on its own, the latest data on ID crimes found that the crooks are becoming increasingly sophisticated, gaining toeholds into poorly secured accounts as a way to access more important segments of the victim’s financial life, according to a just-released annual survey.

“In the past, criminals would get and sell bits and pieces of your personal information, now they have everything — your name, address, Social Security number — and they’re taking over multiple accounts at a time.  16.7 million individuals were affected by ID theft in 2017, the most ever.

Notably, credit card issuers have widely adopted sophisticated chip-card technology, but that hasn’t stopped the thieves. Instead, they’ve shifted to online transactions and got more savvy, opening new accounts as a means of compromising those consumers already have.

For instance, cybercriminals might pull a consumer’s passwords and other personal information from a poorly secured cell phone account and then use the purloined information to open PayPal (PYPL) and Amazon (AMZN) accounts. Roughly 1 million victims had such “intermediary accounts” opened in their names before their existing accounts were compromised. Account takeover fraud tripled over the past year, reaching a four-year high.

“Card not present” fraud — the type of transaction you’d do online — is now 81 percent more likely than frauds perpetrated in person.

Nearly a third (30 percent) of U.S. consumers were notified of a breach in the past year, up from 12 percent in 2016. For the first time ever, Social Security numbers (35 percent) were compromised more than credit card numbers (30 percent) in breaches.

 

How can you protect yourself? 

Use two-factor authentication: Banks and brokers commonly ask you to verify your identity by receiving a text message or email when you use a new device to sign in. Now, many online merchants offer the same, but consumers generally must opt in.

Encrypt and password protect: Malware doesn’t infect only your computer. Now that an increasing amount of commerce is conducted via phone and other mobile devices, new viruses aim at them. Treat your mobile devices with the same care that you use to guard your desktop or laptop. Secure them with passwords, security software and encrypt any stored data.

Freeze or lock: If you’re not planning to apply for new credit anytime soon, consider freezing your credit reports with the three major bureaus. This will halt any new credit being opened in your name. The downside is that freezing credit reports can cost up to about $10 at each credit bureau, and if you want to apply for a loan, you would have to lift the freeze first.

Another option: Equifax (EFX) has introduced a free “lock and alert” service, which allows you to lock your credit file, releasing it with a swipe on your phone when you want to apply for credit. Notably, placing a free fraud alert on your file, with any credit bureau, works much the same way, except you normally unfreeze your file by providing a contact phone number that a potential credit grantor can call.

Say “yes” to alerts: An increasing number of companies allow consumers to put alerts on their accounts when transactions exceed a certain dollar amount, which could allow you to spot fraud before it got out of control.

Unfortunately, these measures aren’t foolproof. Co consumers also need to regularly monitor their accounts and notify the authorities whenever something is amiss as no measure is 100% effective. The bottom line is, the sooner you can detect fraud, the lower the losses tend to be.

 

Adapted from CBS Marketwatch 2018.

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Can Your Business Survive a Catastrophic Weather Event?

Posted on: May 8th, 2017 by Access Home Insurance No Comments

According to Ready.gov, up to 40% of business never recover after experiencing a major disaster.

Do you have a plan to keep your business running after a disaster?

If not, implement the following five steps as part of your disaster plan.

Program Management:

Planning:

Implementation:

Write a preparedness plan which addresses the following topics:

Testing and Exercises

Program Improvement

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8 Spring Home Maintenance Projects That Will Save You Money

Posted on: March 6th, 2017 by Access Home Insurance No Comments

There are several often overlooked springtime home maintenance projects which can increase efficiency, help prevent costly damage and increase your home’s safety. Address these items now to avoid an expensive and potentially dangerous event in the future.

1. Clean the refrigerator and air conditioner coils. Your fridge and air conditioner work in nearly the same way – by exchanging heat through a system of coils. When those coils are dirty and dusty, they can’t exchange heat as efficiently, so the system has to run harder and longer to have the same cooling effect.

Luckily, cleaning these coils is simple. Just take a vacuum hose to the coils on the back of your fridge. For an outside air conditioner unit, you’ll need to disassemble the casing (making sure the power to the unit is off first), and clean using canned air and/or a stiff brush and spray bottle.

2. Schedule routine heating, ventilation and air conditioning maintenance. Yes, it costs money to get an HVAC professional to look over your system. But routine maintenance costs much less than major fixes down the road. So call and schedule your HVAC maintenance now. To save even more, check websites such as Groupon, Amazon Local and Angie’s List for deals with local HVAC companies.

3. Inspect and repair your roof. Spring is the time to get out on the roof to check for ice, hail or water damage from winter. Repairing minor damage can be a quick do-it-yourself fix, and staying on top of your roof’s condition (no pun intended) can save you money by avoiding water damage later on.

4. Clean gutters. This can be a Saturday-long spring chore for many, but it’s important, especially if you live in an area with April showers.

 Water doesn’t properly pass through clogged gutters. And that means more water gets near the foundation of your home. This may not cause immediate problems, but over time, too much water near the foundation can cause damage and weakening, which are expensive problems to fix later.

5. Clean the dryer vent. Just like your refrigerator doesn’t work properly with dusty coils, your dryer is less efficient with a lint-filled vent. Even if you clean the lint trap before every load of laundry, you’ll still get some lint in the vent hose, which builds up over time.

To clean the vent, just remove the vent hose from the back of the dryer and vacuum it well. Or check out a product called the Lint Lizard which makes cleaning your dryer vent a snap (available on Amazon). Finally, remove the vent cover on the outside of your home, and vacuum it from that side, too.

6. Check the washing machine hoses. Over time, washing machine hoses can crack, which can cause leaks. Sometimes, these inconspicuous leaks go on for weeks or months unnoticed, usually because the washer is pushed back into a corner. This can cause mold problems, water damage and more.

So while you’ve got the dryer pulled out to clean the vent, pull out the washer, too. Check that the hoses are still flexible, and they show no signs of cracking. If they do look worn or cracked, just replace them. It’s an easy fix!

7. Re-caulk windows and doors. You might have caulked your doors and windows before the winter chill set in. Unfortunately, even the best caulk can harden, crack and shrink when it’s cold outside.

So check your windows and doors, and replace as needed. Keeping the hot air out during the summer is just as important as keeping it in during the winter.

8. Plant trees in strategic locations. As you think about landscaping this spring, consider planting a new tree or two. Mother Nature will certainly thank you, and your heating and cooling bills might, too.

 If your house gets hit with a lot of sun during the day – which causes the inside to heat up – plant a fast-growing deciduous tree or two on the west, east or northwest side of your home for cooling shade.

And if you noticed wind whistling through the cracks of your home over the winter, an evergreen windbreak on the windiest side of your home might do the trick and block the wind.

Before you plant, make sure you understand how large a tree will grow when it reaches maturity, so you avoid potential costly issues from a tree planted too close to your home.

 

 

 

Adapted from US News & World Report.

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Eight Ways Social Media Can Help Fight Insurance Fraud

Posted on: January 31st, 2017 by Access Home Insurance No Comments

With up to 10% of all property & casualty claims containing fraudulent elements, social media investigatory techniques have become a powerful weapon in fighting insurance fraud. For example, a newlywed collected $26,500 after claiming she lost her wedding ring while swimming in the ocean. Suspicion arose when, a few months later, her husband also reported losing his ring valued at $14,000. Soon thereafter, an investigator found the wife’s picture on Facebook showing her with the ring. The insurer recovered its money.

The Right Team – Leveraging social media to fight fraud requires a unique breed of investigator who can understand how the data available fits into the context of a larger investigation. They must be proficient in adhering to legal and procedural requirements, identifying subjects correctly and examining case documentation and public records before starting a social media search.Due to the highly specialized nature of this role, forward-thinking organizations often engage select vendors that maintain teams of investigators with social media search capabilities.

Clear Objectives – To avoid getting lost in research blind alleys, social media investigators must choose what questions they want answered and be mindful of where they may be able to develop additional leads. For example, did an accident happen as reported? Is a business still operating successfully? Who or what is the subject connected to and what may that connection reveal

Text Mining Software – This tool can parse and analyze unstructured text-based information. It has already been helping investigators examine internal claims data such as adjuster notes, emails, service calls and interview records. Top claims operations are using text-mining tools to search Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter and other social media sites.

Predictive Modeling – Catching fraud in its earliest stages is one of the best ways to minimize loss, especially if it is discovered before significant funds have been paid. Predictive modeling can act as a powerful aid in supporting this objective. It looks for common patterns that indicate an increased possibility of fraud, allowing insurance companies to investigate sooner and often achieve a faster case resolution rate.

Social Network Analysis – SNA sifts through millions of social media posts and platforms to uncover hidden relationships among people, places, locations, accounts or virtually any other type of entity. For example, SNA can reveal when multiple claims all originate from a single household, or come from associates of a known crime ring. Perhaps the search reveals that a fire insurance claimant had been posting inquiries about selling the property immediately before the fire, or that a specific vehicle had been involved in a number of otherwise unrelated claim incidents.To aid this analysis, investigator teams utilize link analysis software that illustrates connections and the development of relationships over time. This software capability not only reveals the whole picture but also cuts down the time needed to organize the information and identify the common factors between claims.

Boolean Search Terms and Search Term Sequences – Advanced use of Boolean search terms can greatly improve the precision of searches and help account for name and other variations that can surround a person, object or circumstance. In addition, consideration of the sequence of different searches when tracking the subject or connections through the internet can factor in the quality of data discovered.

Cross-Leveraging Data Sources –  Recent approaches place considerable emphasis on interconnectivity between online information platforms such as social media, traditional websites, public record databases and vehicle telematics. For instance, fraudsters claiming they were rear-ended may be confronted by telemetric data showing the victim’s car was standing still at the time of impact.The prospective data source evaluation process typically begins with an in-depth assessment of the person or business in question, as well as relationships between their connections to other people, businesses, groups, vehicles, properties, etc., and the likely platforms that will hold pertinent information and leads.

Near Real-Time Monitoring – Powerful new tools allow the very best service providers to actively monitor for changes in the subject’s profile or internet activity, while assuring a high confidence level in the results by removing false positive findings. This means that conducting a social media search may not be a one-time task but something that needs to be done periodically or as events unfold during the life of a claim.As a fraud-fighting tool, social media is a welcome addition to the many resources available to investigate claims. The threat of fraud never stops, and its perpetrators constantly evolve their tactics to find new angles of attack. Finding new methods to fight fraud is critical to keeping premiums down and policies affordable.

Adapted from Property Casualty 360, Jan. 2017.

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Six Smart Insurance Resolutions for the New Year

Posted on: January 5th, 2017 by Access Home Insurance No Comments

 

As we begin a new year, it’s a good time to remind your insurance clients of ways they can boost their financial safety net and avoid future property and casualty insurance claims.

Whether it’s taking the time to read and understand insurance policies or creating a home inventory, there are smart ways clients can protect their financial well-being by resolving to follow a few simple recommendations.

Here are six New Year’s resolutions your P&C insurance clients can make to be prepared for or avoid common claims in 2017, as suggested by USA Today and Nerdwallet writer, Lacie Glover:

1. Create a home inventory.

Damaged property after a fire or natural disaster can be devastating, and filing the insurance claim can be overwhelming. But a home inventory that you’ve kept up-to-date can help you justify the items that you’re claiming.

The inventory can be neatly handwritten, on an Excel spreadsheet, on a form downloaded from the internet, in a video of your belongings, in information added to an app or in some other form of record. What’s important is that every item is accounted for, with as much detail as possible.

2. Read your insurance policies.

Most insureds don’t read every word of their policy or its endorsements, which are a key part of any insurance policy. The key to making a claim is understanding your policy.

For auto and home insurance, look for the policy’s declarations page. Make sure you understand the limits and deductibles of each policy.

3. Improve your credit.

For many insurers, credit-based insurance scoring is one of the most important and statistically valid tools to predict the likelihood of a person filing a claim and the likely cost of that claim, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Credit-based insurance scores are based on information like payment history, bankruptcies, collections, outstanding debt and length of credit history.

Credit history can impact your car insurance rates more than your driving record, according to Consumer Reports. Only California, Hawaii and Massachusetts ban the practice.

4. Stop leaving the keys in your vehicle.

In 2015, there was a auto theft every six-and-a-half minutes where the driver left the keys or fob inside. And it’s a growing problem. Over the past three years, this kind of theft grew by 31 percent, according to the latest report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

5. Stay in the kitchen while you’re cooking.

You can help avoid the inconvenience of a common insurance claim by staying in the kitchen when you cook.

Cooking fires are the number one cause of home fires and home injuries, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The leading cause of fires in the kitchen is unattended cooking.

6. Download your insurers’ apps.

Currently, 46 states allow drivers to provide electronic proof of car insurance during a traffic stop, according to Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. That means you no longer have to remember where you put your paper insurance card.

Insurers will even let you start a claim and see your policies on their apps.

Adapted from Property Casualty 360.

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