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Monthly Archives

October 2017

What is a Credit Report Freeze?

By Cyber Security Awareness | No Comments

In early September, the credit reporting agency Equifax announced a significant data breach. Hackers were able to access the names, birth dates, Social Security numbers and addresses of 143 million consumers, which put their identity and credit at risk. A credit report freeze is one protective measure Equifax recommended. Every consumer, including you, should understand this protective measure as you protect your data, identity and credit.

What is a Credit Report Freeze?

A credit report freeze allows you to restrict who can access your credit report. When a freeze is in place, only certain professional entities can see your information, and it’s less likely that an identity theft can access your data.

Ways a Credit Report Freeze Affects You

When you place a credit report freeze on your account, it affects you in several ways.

1. It prevents certain entities from accessing your credit report. This includes potential employers, mortgage companies and car dealers.

2. Existing creditors and any debt collection agencies they hire and government agencies responding to a court order or subpoena may continue to access your credit report.

3. You can continue to access your free annual credit report.

4. It does not affect your credit score.

5. You will continue to receive prescreened credit offers for credit or insurance. Call 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688) or go online to optoutprescreen.com if you wish to stop receiving these offers.

How to Place a Credit Report Freeze

Contact the three nationwide credit reporting companies to freeze your credit report.

To place a freeze, you must provide your name, birth date, Social Security number, address and other personal information. You will also have to pay a fee. It typically ranges from $5 to $10 but varies based on where you live.

How to Know if Your Credit Report Freeze is Successful

After placing a credit report freeze, you will receive a confirmation letter from the credit reporting company. It includes a unique password or PIN you will need if you ever choose to lift the freeze.

How to Lift a Credit Report Freeze

Your credit report freeze remains in place indefinitely. However, you may want to lift it so you can apply for a job or credit. To do that, simply contact the credit reporting company to request a lift. You will provide your password or PIN, pay a fee that varies by state and indicate if you want a temporary or permanent lift.

A credit report freeze can protect your personal data and identity. Consider monitoring your bank, insurance and credit card statements, though, too, and purchase cyber liability insurance as a further protective measure.

Fight Back Against Cyber Crime

By Cyber Security Awareness | No Comments

How secure are your business assets? According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), companies with less than 100 employees lose an average of $155,000 a year to fraud. Small businesses also have a higher fraud rate than larger firms and non-business owners.

Don’t be a victim! To help protect your business against losses from scam artists and cybercriminals, security experts recommend taking these precautions.

Separate personal banking and credit cards from your business accounts to ensure that scam artists don’t get their hands on all your money; this will also make it easier to track business expenses and tax deductions. Pay bills online or make sure to store paper bills securely.

Invest in a firewall as well as anti-virus protection, and spyware- malware detection software Provide offsite backup to keep your business up and running after a cyberattack.

Secure your IT infrastructure by using a dedicated computer for all online financial transactions. If possible, avoid using it for other online activities (such as social media, email and web-surfing) which can open the system to cyberthieves.

Make sure that passwords are complex (with one upper-case letter, one number and at least eight characters), have them changed regularly, and assign different passwords for separate accounts.

Hold regular training sessions for all staff on basic security threats and prevention measures.

Use background checks for all employees who handle cash or high-value merchandise or have access to sensitive data.

Buy insurance to protect your small business against losses from fraud or cybercrime.

We’d be happy to tailor coverage to your needs – at a price you can afford. Just give us a call.

Choose A Secure Password With 11 Tips

By Cyber Security Awareness | No Comments

Celebrate National Cyber Security Awareness month with strong passwords. They protect your information from cybercriminals and keep you safe as you use the internet.

1. Use a combination of letters, numbers and symbols.

The best keywords are difficult to guess, so use a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers and symbols.

2. Use at least eight characters.

Longer passwords are more difficult to guess, so aim to make all your passwords at least eight characters long.

3. Avoid common words.

It’s amazing how many people set common words like “qwerty” or “12345” as their passwords. You secure your accounts when you use more challenging passwords.

4. Opt for unique phrases.

Single-word passwords are easy for hackers to crack with their dictionary software. Phrases like “I like ham sandwiches” or “the dog ate my homework” are more challenging to hack. Consider misspelling phrases, too, and replace letters with numbers or symbols or abbreviate words. Examples include ilIkeh@msandw!ches or tHed@g8myhomew*rk.

5. Avoid using your name or familiar numbers.

Hackers can easily find information about your life and use those details to hack into the websites you use. Never use your:

  • Name, including nickname or maiden name
  • Birth date
  • Social Security number
  • Street address
  • Family members’ names or birthdates
  • Pets’ names
  • Address, current or former

6. Don’t reuse passwords.

When you change your password, pick a unique password that you’ve never used on any site.

7. Give every site a different password.

Use the same password for multiple sites, and you invite a hacker to access all your information. Instead, use a different password for every site. A password manager can help you remember all your different passwords.

8. Use a two-factor authentication.

A two-factor authentication or 2FA increases your log-in security. It typically includes your password and a PIN, code, fingerprint or voiceprint.

9. Don’t save your passwords.

Browsers typically prompt you to save passwords. Always click no. Someone could gain access to your device and then log into websites using your saved passwords.

10. Log out of websites and devices.

After using a website or device, log out. This step reduces the chances of someone logging onto your device and gaining access the sites you used.

11. Change your passwords often.

At least once a month or more often for bank or social media sites, change the password. Set a reminder alarm on your phone’s calendar if necessary.

Celebrate National Cyber Security Awareness month by securing all your passwords. When you secure your passwords, you make it more challenging for cybercriminals to steal your personal information. For additional safety tips and details about cyber insurance, talk to your insurance agent today.

Ways to Get Back to Business Quickly After a Disaster

By Business Protection Bulletin | No Comments

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that over 40 percent of businesses affected by a disaster do not reopen. Whether your business faces a natural, technological or human-caused disaster, you can get back to business quickly in several ways.

Anticipate Disasters

Of course, you cannot always predict disasters, but you can anticipate them. Consider this list of common disasters your business could face.

1. Natural disasters

  • Floods
  • Earthquakes
  • Hurricanes
  • Tornadoes
  • Widespread illnesses or pandemics

2. Technology-related disasters

  • Computer failure or malfunction
  • Software malfunction
  • Data breach
  • Cyber attack

3. Human-caused disasters

  • Accidents
  • Intentional acts such as theft or fraud
  • Acts of violence
  • Terroristic acts

Access Your Business Contingency Plan

After creating a list of disasters that could affect your business, you’re ready to create a business contingency plan. It’s part of your emergency preparedness strategy. This backup plan outlines the steps you’ll take if you ever face a disaster, and it will address:

  • Business continuity
  • Emergency response
  • Crisis communications
  • Information technology
  • Incident management
  • Employee assistance

Some of the questions this document answers include:

  • Who is the go-to contact?
  • How will we accept, fill and track orders?
  • What alternatives are available if our vendors are non-operational?
  • What’s the best way to secure data?

Examine your business contingency plan today and make sure it addresses all your needs. With it, your business can regroup quickly after a disaster strikes.

Purchase Insurance

You probably carry typical business insurance such as liability, property and employee coverage. Read these policies carefully, and store copies of your insurance documents in a safe place where they are easily accessible any time.

If you see gaps in your coverage or notice that you don’t have coverage for certain disasters, purchase additional policies. An umbrella coverage or flood insurance are two examples of insurance products that protect your business. For more details on how to prepare insurance-wise for an emergency of any kind, talk to your insurance agent.

Seek Assistance

Several organizations are available to help your business rebuild after a disaster strikes.

1.The Small Business Administration – Apply for a low-rate, long-term loan through the SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance.

2.Your bank – Talk to your banker about a low-cost loan or other financial assistance.

3. Insurance agent – File a claim and discuss your ongoing needs.

4. Community – Ask your community, including neighbors, clients and vendors, to help clean up, rebuild and return to business as usual.

When disaster strikes, your business must be prepared. These steps can help. If you don’t have these steps in place, consider implementing them today before a disaster strikes. One day, you may be very thankful you were prepared!

Six Steps To Take When Filing An Insurance Claim

By Business Protection Bulletin | No Comments

Your small business insurance may cover data breaches, auto accidents and weather damage. To get reimbursed, though, you need to file a claim. Use these six steps to ensure your insurance claim is processed quickly and properly.

1. Contact your insurance agent immediately.

Before you touch anything, contact your insurance agent. He or she needs to see the the full picture of the damage in order to give you all the benefits to which you are entitled. Rest assured that most insurance companies employ quick-response teams that specialize in assessing damages and filing claims quickly.

2. Document all damages.

In some cases, you may need to move inventory or make repairs right away to prevent further damage. For instance, if the water line breaks and floods your office, go ahead and move furniture and equipment. Just be sure to always take pictures or a video before you move or fix anything. Even small details such as where a chair was sitting when the office flooded could be an important factor in ensuring you receive the full insurance benefit.

3. Assemble witnesses.

Eye-witness accounts of accidents and other events affect your insurance claim. Ask any witnesses to share what they saw. Their testimony verifies the event and can help you prove your case with the insurance company.

4. Save all damaged good.

The moldy insulation that caused a company-wide illness or the faulty ladder that caused an employee to break her leg is evidence. Instead of tossing damaged goods into the trash, save them for the insurance agent to inspect. These items can affect your insurance claim.

5. Know what your policy covers.

While you have a basic understanding of your business property or auto insurance policies, your coverage might not cover damages caused by natural disasters or accidents involving personal vehicles. You certainly can call your insurance agent to verify coverage, but also understand your policy. You’ll save valuable time if you skip the claims process for any damages not covered by your business insurance policies.

6. Appeal an unfair insurance estimate.

Insurance agents are on your side, but they also have to report to the insurance underwriter. That’s why you may get an estimate for damages that’s lower than what you expected. In this case, you can appeal the decision. Ask for a second opinion from an impartial party as you get the amount you deserve.

Take these six steps when you file an insurance claim. They help you and your agent process the claim as quickly as possible so you can return to business as normal. Why not take time right now, though, to review your business insurance policies. Ensure they provide adequate coverage for your needs.

Client Notice, Claim Reporting

By Business Protection Bulletin | No Comments

Consider the following chain of events:

An engineer designs the site and grading plan for a construction project. After the project’s completion, the developer finds that the parking lot is not draining.

In March, the developer writes to the engineer, accuses him of failing to follow recommendations in a geotechnical report, and orders him to create a plan to correct the drainage problem.

The engineer responds by saying that his design was sound but the contractor’s work was defective.

The engineer and developer hold several meetings to determine what caused the problem. The engineer sticks with his version of events.

In May, the developer writes again to the engineer, accusing him of committing design errors and shirking responsibility for the problem.

In August, the engineer notifies his liability insurance company that the developer is making a claim against him.

Sometime later, the developer sues the engineer, architect and contractor.

Question: When exactly did the claim occur, and when should the engineer have reported it to the insurance company?

In this case, the company said it did not have to provide defense or coverage because the engineer violated the policy conditions by reporting the claim late. In the company’s opinion, the developer’s March letter was a claim that the engineer should have reported. A court said that the case would have to go to trial, as the report’s lateness was unclear. The policy insured against claims occurring during the policy period and made within 60 days after the end. When, however, does a dispute become a claim, triggering the obligation to report it to the company? The answer turns on the policy’s definition of “claim”:

 … a demand for money or professional services received by the Insured for damages, including but not limited to, the service of a lawsuit or the institution of arbitration proceedings or other alternative dispute resolution proceedings, alleging a wrongful act arising out of the performance of professional services.

The court applied this definition to the March letter, asking whether a reasonable person would have considered the circumstances known to the engineer as a possible claim. In the court’s opinion, the answer was no. Until the developer’s May letter, the court said, a reasonable person could have concluded that the developer was unsure as to who was responsible for the drainage problem.

The letter ordered the engineer to develop a plan to correct the problem. The engineer believed he would be paid for creating this plan, an assumption the court found to be reasonable. Because one reasonable view of the letter was of a request and not a demand for services as compensation for damages, the court said that the case must go to trial to resolve the question of facts.

This case illustrates a dilemma for all sorts of organizations. If they fail to report incidents that eventually turns into lawsuits, their insurance companies might try to deny defense and coverage because of late reporting. Conversely, if they report every incident, no matter how minor, their companies could eventually decide to drop their coverage because of frequent losses, even if most of the reports amount to nothing. To deal with this problem, some policies permit circumstance reporting.

The policy that ultimately covers the claim is the one in effect when the insured reports the circumstance to the company, if a claim results from that circumstance.

Check with one of our insurance agents to find out what the reporting requirements are in your professional liability policies. Know what’s in your policy and what it requires you to do so that you don’t jeopardize your coverage.

Understanding Commercial General Liability

By Business Protection Bulletin | No Comments

The ISO Commercial General Liability Coverage Form can seem like a map that starts you out on a main road, takes you smack into a dead end, but offers you a right turn that you can take if you meet certain conditions. It begins with a broad promise and a hint that the promise isn’t quite that broad, then continues with a list of items that narrow that promise.

However, some of those items contain a few words that actually make the promise a bit broader again. Somewhere in that twisting road lies the answer to whether the insurance will cover your business’s legal liability for an accident.

The form actually has three coverages, but the one most business owners are concerned with is Coverage A, Bodily Injury and Property Damage. The first part of Coverage A is the Insuring Agreement, which states that the insurance company will cover the insured person or organization’s legal liability for bodily injury or property damage to others. A key phrase, however, is that the company will pay amounts for occurrences “to which this insurance applies.” How do you know when the insurance applies? That’s where the list comes in.

Right after the Insuring Agreement is a section labeled Exclusions. This section begins with the sentence, “This insurance does not apply to: … ” and goes on to list 17 categories of occurrences. The insurance does not apply to any occurrences that fall within the meanings of those categories. The categories include things like pollution; injuries to the insured’s employees; ownership and use of motor vehicles, aircraft and watercraft; causing or contributing to a person’s intoxication; damage to property the insured owns or possesses; and loss of electronic data.

While these items narrow the insurance coverage considerably, some of them contain clauses that add a little coverage back in. For example, while the insurance does not apply to property damage arising from a contractor’s completed work, the exclusion gives back coverage if the property damage arose from work a subcontractor performed on the contractor’s behalf.

In a claim situation, different burdens of proof apply to either the insurance company or the insured organization, depending on what each one is claiming. The insured has the burden of proving that an accident falls within the Insuring Agreement. To do this, the insured must show that an “occurrence” that took place during the policy term caused bodily injury or property damage to someone else. If the insured cannot prove any one of these elements, the policy will not cover the loss.

The policy defines “occurrence” as “an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions.” Therefore, the insured must prove that an accident (a piece of lumber falls and strikes another contractor’s employee on the back) occurred during the policy term and caused bodily injury or property damage.

Once the insured meets that burden, the insurance company now has the burden of proving that one of the exclusions applies. For example, it must prove that damage to an HVAC system the insured installed arose out of some defect in the system. If it cannot, then the insurance applies to the loss and the company must pay for the damage. If it can, then the burden shifts back to the insured to show that an exception to the exclusion applies.

If the insured can show that a subcontractor installed the defective components that malfunctioned and damaged the HVAC system, then the exception to the exclusion applies and the insurance company must pay the claim.

Contractors should work with insurance agents who are knowledgeable about the CGL policy and can answer complex coverage questions. This policy can provide millions of dollars in protection for a business, so it is important for the business owner to understand it.

Protect Yourself with Disability Insurance

By Life and Health | No Comments

In the event a disability that causes an inability to work occurs, Disability insurance works to replace a portion of your absent income. Although it should be obvious why Disability insurance is critical protection, many workers assume that they don’t need private Disability insurance since Social Security disability benefits are available. What many fail to understand is that eligibility for Social Security disability benefits hinges on the severity of the disability.

If the injury or illness doesn’t cause severe disability, the worker will not be eligible. Even if severely disabled, Social Security benefits will not begin for six-months and rarely are sufficient to fully cover living expenses. Disabilities that continue for an extended period of time can easily deplete savings before a return to work is possible. For these reasons alone, Disability insurance is the most reasonable method of financing a long-term disability.

The maximum coverage through private long-term Disability insurance is 45% to 70% of your salary, depending on how much you earn per year. The cost of the premium is largely based on how risky your job is; for example, physical labor is considered more risky than a professional employment. Age, overall coverage, and your health history are also factors that will affect policy pricing. The income provided by the policy while you’re disabled isn’t taxed if the policy is purchased on your own versus through your employer.

You might choose to supplement an employer disability plan with your own Disability policy. If so, you will want to know the amount of coverage offered, how long the benefit period will last, and what the waiting period will be so that you can coordinate the coverage appropriately.

There are six key provisions that you’ll want to look for when purchasing a Disability insurance policy:

What is considered a disability by the policy? 

Some policies might consider a disability as an inability to complete the main duties associated with your occupation. Other policies might consider a disability as an inability to perform any duties from any job. So, be sure to understand the disability provision as it relates to your specific occupation.

Does the policy have a non-cancellation clause?

A policy with a non-cancellation clause means that the provider can’t increase your premiums or cancel the policy until you’re 65-years-old. The only exception is if you don’t pay your premiums on time.

Does the policy include residual disability payments? 

These are payments that you’ll receive if you’re partially disabled and must take a lesser paying job. The benefits will be proportionate to the wage difference between your previous job and new job.

What is the benefit waiting period for the policy? 

Generally, the longer the waiting period, the more affordable the policy will be. For those that have employer disability benefits, you’ll often come out better to opt for a personal policy with a longer waiting period to reduce the cost.

How long will I receive benefits from the policy? 

The majority of private policies provide benefits until you’re 65-years-old.

Will I remain insurable?

You’ll want to make sure that the policy allows you to purchase coverage in the future without needing to be medically insurable.

Sadly, no one knows when an accident or illness will strike and cause a long-term disability. However, we do know that, if not prepared, the result is all too often financial devastation.

9 Tips That Prepare Your Teen Driver For The Road

By Personal Perspective | No Comments

Your teen is ready to drive, and you have the privilege of preparing them for this responsibility. Use nine tips as you prep your teen to navigate the road safely.

1.Ensure Your Teen Meets State Licensing Guidelines

Teen drivers may officially get behind the wheel after they earn a learners permit. Then they will probably have to complete a certain number of hours behind the wheel while supervised by a licensed driver. Be sure your teen is properly licensed before they drive on the road.

2. Purchase Adequate Auto Insurance

Your teen driver must have auto insurance. Contact your insurance agent  to purchase an individual policy for your teen or discover how to add your teen to your policy.

3. Give Your Teen Real-World Driving Experience

Give your teen time to drive on all types of roads and in all types of weather. They can learn to parallel park in residential areas and merge with existing traffic on the highway. Real-time driving gives your teen the experience they need to drive safely any time.

4. Limit Passengers

Your teen driver should only host one passenger at a time. Otherwise, they become distracted, and their accident risk and aggressive driving incidents increase.

5. Set a Curfew

Driving at night can be tricky due to lower visibility and increased fatigue. Plus, some states limit a teen’s driving to daytime and early evening hours. Reinforce the curfew you or your state set as you encourage safety.

6. Sign a Safe Driving Contract

A driving contract outlines your expectations for your teen driver. It can include where  your teen can drive, who can be in the car, what happens if your teen breaks a law and consequences for breaking the contract.

7. Take a Driver’s Ed or a Defensive Driver Course

During driver’s ed, your teen learns the latest traffic laws, safe driving techniques and strategies to avoid accidents or traffic violations. Your teen may also be eligible for an auto insurance discount after passing the course.

8. Prepare Your Teen for an Accident

Your teen driver could be in an accident even though they’re not at fault. Be sure they know what to do if they are involved in a collision or fender bender.

9. Teach Your Teen to be Cautious but not Scared

With all the dangers on the road, it’s easy for teens to be scared, and then they’re more likely to make a mistake. Instead of scaring your teen, teach them to be cautious and confident as they drive.

Driving is a rite of passage for teens. Prepare your teen to be safe on the road with these nine tips.

 

11 Steps Prepare Your Property For Safe Trick Or Treating

By Personal Perspective | No Comments

Are you planning to welcome trick or treaters to your home this month? Follow 11 steps that prepare your property for safe Halloween fun.

1. Clean your walkways.

Jack-o-lanterns are cute, but they are also tripping hazards. Remove decorations and all clutter or debris such as toys, yard tools or twigs from your sidewalks, steps and walkways.

2. Clear the yard.

Ideally, kids will stay on the walkway and front porch as they retrieve their candy. However, you will want to clear your yard so curious and excited kids don’t trip on any toys, branches or yard tools.

3. Repair broken sidewalks and steps.

Inspect your entryway and steps carefully. Then repair any broken stepping stones, loose railings or other hazards.

4. Install lighting.

Your front porch light is turned on to welcome trick or treaters, but you may also need additional lighting to ensure safety. Solar-powered walkway lights or a string of lights can illuminate your walkway and porch.

5. Change your location.

Instead of making kids walk up your long driveway or steep steps, stand or sit in a location that’s easy for them to access.

6. Lock doors and windows.

On trick or treat night, your attention is focused on your front door. Lock all the other doors and windows in your house so no one can gain access to your home while you’re out front. Remember to lock your garage and car, too.

7. Secure valuables.

Move your grill, mower and other valuables to the shed or another secure location. With this tip, you prevent potential burglars from adding your home to their future target list.

8. Protect your pets.

Some kids are scared of animals. Also, pets can become startled and bolt or bite when they see strange costumes or dozens of noisy kids. Always secure your pets so they and the kids are safe.

9. Extinguish candles.

Open flames pose a fire hazard. As an alternative, try battery-powered bulbs, or install Halloween-themed covers on your flashlights.

10. Consider allergies when choosing candy.

Many kids are allergic to nuts or dairy. Place a teal pumpkin on your step to show trick or treaters that you offer safe alternatives like books, stickers or toys.

11. Update your property and homeowners’ insurance policies.

Despite your best efforts to promote safety, someone could be injured while on your property. Be sure your property and homeowners’ insurance policies are updated and include adequate coverage.

Trick or treating is a fun family activity. As you give out treats this year, follow these 11 safety tips. They secure your property and reduce your liability risks.