Tag Archives: Home Insurance

dealing with identity theft

9 Tips For Dealing With Identity Theft

Identity theft is the term for what happens when a third party obtains your personal data and information that allows them to pose as you online. Typically, identity thieves apply for lines of credit or access your financial accounts and other sensitive information to steal as much of your money or open as many lines of credit as they can and leave you on the hook for their fraudulent activity.

Your personal data can be compromised if a financial institution is breached by hackers seeking to obtain usable identity information, and by the time breaches are discovered it may already be too late to save your credit. The good news is there are steps you can take to prevent yourself from being victimized by identity thieves. Here are 9 quick tips to protect yourself from identity theft.

1. Beware Shoulder Surfers in Public Places

At the ATM, on your phone, or even at your computer, people are on the lookout to steal personal information like passwords or PIN numbers by watching you enter them on a keypad or mobile device. Use biometric (fingerprint, facial recognition) security on your smartphone or mobile device to authorize apps that access your personal or financial data. Identity thieves often start looking for vulnerable or inattentive people in public places when choosing likely targets, so protect your information and keep your screen and keypad private.

2. Require Photo ID Verification

Don’t sign your credit cards. Write “CID” or “Ask for ID” on the signature line. It’s a small measure, but it can make all the difference in identity theft prevention if you don’t know your credit card has been stolen and someone is attempting to use it.

3. Wipe Out Old Data Storage

Selling or trading your old laptop, smartphone, or tablet? Wipe your data storage clean with an app like ShredXP to ensure that all sectors on the drive are set to 1 or 0, rendering any personal data whatsoever illegible. Identity thieves will often connect old hard drives taken from used computers to search for recoverable personal or financial information that has not been “digitally shredded”. 

Additionally, if you keep financial data on physical media like CDs, DVDs or magnetic tape backups, make sure you destroy them completely. There are specialized shredders that are designed to destroy optical storage media like CDs and DVDs as well.

4. Monitor Bank and Credit Card Statements Regularly

Check those charges and debits on your accounts. Someone may have access to your account and you may never know it until the charges start showing up. You have a limited time to dispute charges as fraudulent, so checking monthly is vital to preventing identity theft and maintaining your credit.

5. Shred Everything

Put anything with financial data on it in a crosscut paper shredder and don’t bag it up separately from regular trash. More identity thieves than you’d think go “dumpster diving” to find critical financial and personal information.

6. Encrypt Your Email and Messaging

Using end to end encryption ensures all messages you send or receive via email are invisible to any third party, up to and including government agency efforts to read your email and messaging. Hackers can’t access the contents of your email unless they somehow manage to get ahold of your private encryption key. It is an extremely effective means of preventing identity theft, and it takes minutes to configure.

7. Check Your Credit Annually

Everyone gets a free credit report once a year from the Big Three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion). Go over your credit report and verify that what’s on the report matches your records and accounts. If some unknown lines of credit or creditors show up, you may already be a victim of identity theft.

8. Always Use 2-Factor Authentication

This is a critical security measure to prevent identity theft via financial and social media sites and apps. 2-factor authentication sends a text or email to an account or number you have entered on the site every time you login from an unfamiliar location, device, or computer. If you are actually logging in, you can approve that login from your device. If not, you are now aware that your account is under attack and can shut that attacker out.

9. Keep Your Social Security Number Secure

As the defacto national ID number for millions of Americans, access to this number should be protected at all costs. Do not carry your Social Security card on your person, but keep it in a safe place where it isn’t susceptible to damage or decay. Any identity thief with your full name, home address, and even the last 4 digits of your SSN can assume your identity online and wreak havoc on your financial life.

Never use your SSN as part of a username or password either, and never give the full number via telephone or in reply to an email. If you must enter your social security number online (for example, when filing taxes or applying for financing), check to make sure the connection and site are secure by the lock symbol in the browser bar and “https://” at the beginning of the web address.

In summary, do what you can to protect yourself from identity theft, and be smart about how you protect and preserve your personal data. Use these tips to keep yourself from becoming “low-hanging fruit” for identity thieves, and remember to always protect your personal data when online and in the real world.

Have you been affected by Identity Fraud? How did you handle it? Comment below, we would love to hear your thoughts and any tips that helped you get through what can be a stressful time.

Preparing your property for a hurricane

Getting Your Property Ready for a Hurricane

There are many measures you can take that can help your home fare better in various hurricane conditions. But, as we learned from Hurricane Irma, it is important to take timely actions for hurricane preparedness in and around your home. Roofs, doors, windows, and garage doors, and multiple other points around your home are the most vulnerable to breaches by hurricane winds, water surges, and flooding. And, there are likely to be various conditions existing in and around your home that increase your home’s risk of hurricane damage. Here are some tips for getting your home ready for a hurricane.

  1. Secure your windows.

Experts suggest that merely taping across windows is a futile effort that may give homeowners a false sense of security during a hurricane. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) advises providing more realistic protection for your home, its contents, and especially for occupants, by securing your all windows with properly hinged storm shutters.

Purchase commercial quality shutters at your local home improvement store, or have a professional contractor install storm quality shutters on your home. Ideally, this should be completed before a hurricane is moving toward your area.

The alternative emergency measure of recessing plywood sheets into window cavities is recommended to help protect against an approaching hurricane. This approach is known to work better than just nailing boards across the windows. See The National Hurricane Center website for detailed instructions for installing temporary recessed plywood shutters.

Although shatter-resistant glass or window films may be helpful, according to the NHC, these are not comparable to shutters in the degrees of protection they provide. Hurricane experts agree with typical building codes, which do not accept window film as adequate window treatment for protection of homes against hurricane.

  1. Secure your doors.

Adding commercial storm doors is recommended, especially over any door consisting mostly of large panels of glass, such as French doors or sliding glass patio doors, per the NHC. For all home doors, experts suggest additionally installing barrel bolt latches with bolts extending into the door header and into the floor.

  1. Secure your garage doors.

Garage doors that are not hurricane rated should be shuttered with storm quality shutters. Or, as an emergency preparation, cover the expansive door with recessed plywood and add exterior bracing to better secure the door. Obtain advice from your local home improvement store representative about commercial retrofit hurricane protection systems for your garage door.

Explore alternatives such as commercial or home-made braces that can help protect the door against buckling in. However, neither braces nor retrofit storm kits can protect against impact by projectiles. Consider installing metal or wooden girds, and other precautions you can take to make your garage door more secure during a hurricane.

  1. Protect against water entry in small openings.

Install sealed plates or utility inlet shutters at all necessary points throughout your home and around its exterior. This includes any insufficiently sealed areas around vents or HVAC ductwork, plumbing pipe and electrical conduit entry points into your home. Secure roof ridge, gable, and soffit vents.

  1. Clean up all potential projectiles from your yard.

Trim tree branches, and remove dead or damaged trees, to prevent them from uprooting and becoming  projectiles in hurricane winds. Remove all lawn furniture, dog houses, yard decor, potted plants, trash cans, recycling bins, and toys, if possible. Disassemble barbecue and fire pits, swing sets, and trampolines and temporarily store these in the garage.

  1. Fortify your roof.

Repair any roof defects that render your roof more susceptible and further fortify the roof, if possible. Consider hurricane straps, if appropriate for your roof. Use duct tape to seal gaps, where appropriate. Especially if your roof is aged, consult with your local roofing expert about roof replacement with one of the several roof types recommended as most effective in protecting homes against hurricane damage, and consider replacing your roof with one of these types.

  1. Move your car away from your driveway.

Protect your car and your home, by preventing your car from potentially becoming a projectile during the strongest hurricanes. If possible, relocate your car into a more secure location, in your garage, a neighbor’s spare garage space, or even in a parking garage or other area away from the vicinity of your home. (This also may help ensure your car is not destroyed by flood water, protecting your means of transportation after the hurricane.)

  1. Protect your valuables.

Place important documents, including deeds, titles, and other proof of ownership documents, passports, birth certificates, medical insurance certificates and policy documents, and all others in a waterproof container. And, move the container to a higher and safer location in your home.

Make digital and paper copies of all documents as part of your advance preparations, and place those in a waterproof transportable covering to keep in your evacuation bag. And, make a list of valuable items such as family heirlooms and electronics that need to be temporarily waterproofed and moved to higher locations in your home during emergency preparations for impending flood.

  1. Promptly undertake capital improvements as well as maintenance basics .

Invest in home improvements such as installing high-wind-resistant windows, doors, and garage doors, with storm-grade shutters over all of these, along with an ideal roof type, if possible, for optimum hurricane preparedness.

And, performing essential maintenance, like using high-grade caulking around all door seals, window frames, vents, and utility cable and pipe entry points into your home, may help protect against water entry during flooding.

Above all, work in advance to protect your entire home from as much damage as possible, in order to ensure that you experience the least property destruction and the least amount of inconvenience from being forced out of your home during lengthy repairs.

  1. Review your homeowner insurance policy.

Review your homeowner policy to understand which items are covered and which are not.

After you are confident that you are clear on which of your belongings that you can and cannot reasonably expect to insure, prepare accordingly. Move these items to higher levels in your house or to a safe temporary storage elsewhere, if necessary, or take other actions in advance to protect uninsured or underinsured valuables.

We are here to help. We want to make sure you understand and know your policy coverage. Please call with questions to 800) 443-7007.