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Monthly Archives

January 2018

Tips To Boost Your Cyber Security In The New Year

By Cyber Security Awareness | No Comments

Cyber attacks threaten more than your company’s computers. They could affect your company’s ability to stay in business. Prepare for a safe and secure 2018 when you boost cyber security.

Update Software Often

Ensure that every device in your network is equipped with anti-virus software and set to update automatically. Commit to check for patch updates, too, often throughout the year.

Use Firewalls

Firewalls protect your computer from many viruses and other malicious content. They can block suspicious content and prevent employees from accessing malicious websites. Double check that your firewalls are working and updated.

Open Email Carefully

Cybercriminals often place viruses, malware and other malicious content in email attachments, or they entice readers to share personal information. Because your employees may receive hundreds of daily emails, host a training and equip them to recognize and avoid threats.

Improve Passwords

Require employees to change passwords every month or more frequently. Also, encourage them not to share their password with anyone, even with coworkers, and never to write down their passwords. For security, passwords should follow several guidelines.

  • Be hard to guess
  • Include eight or more characters
  • Contain a mix of uppercase and lower letters, characters and numbers
  • Be different for every site

Share Files Wisely

Many companies rely on file sharing, and your employees and clients can collaborate safely when you use cloud-based sharing resources like Google Docs, OneDrive or Dropbox. Remind employees never to share files with strangers, and disable sharing of all hard drives to prevent infections.

Back Up Data

All systems should automatically back up data throughout the day. Now’s also a great time to select and begin using an off-site data storage option for greater security.

Perform Regular Security Scans

Legitimate anti-spyware programs scan your computer and remove damaging files, malware and other malicious content. Choose a program carefully, then set it up to scan daily.

Implement a Cybersecurity Team and Safety Protocol Steps

Whether you hire several IT specialists or rely one one chief security officer, your company needs a team who will monitor, prevent and address cyber threats. Additionally, implement protocols that guide your employees on how to address and report cyber security challenges they face like pop-ups, outdated network security certificates or suspicious emails.

Purchase Cyber Insurance   

Insurance can’t prevent a cyber attack, but it does cover financial costs associated with breaches. Purchase or update your cyber insurance so you can pay for damages, remediation and other costs that result from a cyber attack.

Cybersecurity threats affect hundreds of businesses every year. These steps boost your security and prepare your business to stay safe in 2018.

DOG-BITES-MAN COSTS INSURERS BIG BUCKS

By Personal Perspective | No Comments

Insurance companies shelled out $479 million to pay for dog bites last year, up from $413 million in 2010.

One company alone, State Farm, paid more than $109 million in Homeowner claims related to bites. California – which has more people and dogs than any other state – led the nation with 527 State Farm claims costing more than $20 million, followed by Illinois, Texas, and Ohio. The nationwide average claim was $28,800.

Dogs bite some 4.7 million Americans a year, nearly half of them children, Nearly 400,000 of these bites require medical treatment – and an average of 16 result in death.

Children age 5 to 9 are the group most likely to be bitten. The ASPCA predicts that one of every two children in the U.S. will suffer a dog bite before he or she turns 12, in most cases by their own dog or a pooch owned by a friend or neighbor. Seniors are the next most vulnerable group, followed by mail carriers. Dogs bit some 5,600 USPS carriers in each of each of the past two years, costing the Postal Service more than $1 million worth of medical bills in 2011.

Heredity, socialization, training, physical condition, and activities of humans can all affect the animal’s propensity to bite. Because children are by far the group most vulnerable to dog bites (a child is 900 times more likely to be attacked than a letter carrier) the ASPCA recommends that youngsters should never:

Maintain eye contact with a dog
Go near a chained canine
Approach or touch a dog who is eating, sleeping, or off-leash
Scream or run if an off-leash dog approaches
Pet a dog without asking its caregiver for permission (it’s wise to have the animal sniff your closed hand first – many dogs perceive an open hand as threatening)
Approach a dog from above its eye level

WHAT FACTORS INFLUENCE CREDIT SCORES

By Personal Perspective | No Comments

Credit card companies, lenders, landlords and even prospective employers use credit scores to determine an individual’s level of financial responsibility. Credit scores are supposed to be snapshots of a person’s credit history. They are determined by Fair, Isaac & Co., which is commonly referred to as FICO. When individuals have low scores, their credit applications are usually denied. In some cases, a score that is low but not too low for approval will result in a high interest rate. Many lenders use a person’s credit score to set the loan cost. It is important for everyone to understand how credit scores are calculated.

Factors Affecting Credit Scores.

The method FICO uses to compute scores is very complex. However, several factors represent a percentage of the overall score. Here is a summary of the factors and their corresponding percentages: Payment history comprises 35% of the total score. This includes data from monthly bills, collection accounts and past bankruptcies. In today’s world, a 30-day delinquency is worse than a bankruptcy filed five years ago.

Outstanding debts make up 30% of the score. If the total amount of debts is close to the total amount of available credit, the result is usually a lower score. Having a high balance on one credit card is worse than having low balances on two cards.

Credit history length comprises 15% of the score. Accounts that have been open for a long time are better for a score than new accounts. The types of credit accounts make up 10% of the score. Loans obtained from finance companies usually result in a lower score.

Recent inquiries on a credit history account make up 10% of the score. People who have recently applied for new loans or credit accounts may see negative effects on their scores.

Some credit companies are more concerned about specific parts of a person’s credit history. For example, one company might put a heavy emphasis on payment history. However, another company might be more concerned about the types of accounts open. One of the biggest questions people have about their credit scores is which numbers are good and which ones are bad. As a rule, scores range between 300 and 900.

The average score is about 750. As peoples’ scores increase from this number, their default risk decreases. Research has shown consistent connections between high default rates and low scores. People who have scores below the average number of 750 might have difficulty convincing creditors to offer affordable loan rates. However, it is important to compare rates. Not all lenders gather data from the same reporting bureaus. There are three main bureaus, and each one might have different information than another.

For example, Experian might include information about a sizable collection account that another bureau might not. This can result in a lower score from Experian. If one lender uses Experian and another uses Equifax, the lender using Equifax would probably offer the best deal in such a scenario.

Although credit scores are usually different from one bureau to the next, it is rare to find large gaps. For example, the average person would see a set of scores such as 750, 745 and 760. It would be rare to see a set of scores that include 750, 760 and 505. However, inaccuracies can bring such rarities into reality. This is one of the reasons why it is important to monitor credit scores.

Everyone is entitled to one free annual report copy, so be sure to take advantage of this opportunity. For a fee, consumers can view their credit scores online. Ask our agents about approved sites for obtaining credit scores. Not all sites are reliable, and some are only out to collect personal data. Not all people are happy when they see their scores. If it is necessary to raise them, follow these suggestions:

Keep all payments current, and make up any missed payments.
Pay all obligations on time.
Keep low balances on credit cards and any revolving lines of credit.
Pay off debt constantly instead of letting it pile up or transferring it to a new account.

Six Small Business Scams To Avoid

By Risk Management Bulletin | No Comments

Federal Trade Commission and IRS agents encounter dozens of small business scams each year. Know the risks and steps you can take to protect your company in 2018.

1. Tech Support Calls

The caller claims to represent the Global Privacy Enforcement Network or Microsoft and says that your email was hacked or that your computer contracted a serious virus and can be fixed for a fee. Computer companies will not reach out to you via a phone call, but scammers will use this scam to access your credit card or other personal information.

2. Phishing and Malware Emails

An email appears to originate from a legitimate business and asks you to verify personal information or it states that you need a critical security upgrade. Known as phishing emails, these scams can deliver harmful malware to your computer and compromise your business. Only open emails from trusted sources as you protect yourself. Mark suspicious emails as spam or delete them.

3. Directory Listings

A consultant says she can list your business in an online directory for a fee or that you owe a fee to resolve a problem with your existing Manta, Google or other online directory listing. You can claim, manage and edit your online directory listings yourself online. This directory listing scam is a ploy to gain your credit card information. Decline the help and hang up the phone as you protect your business.

4. Fake Invoices

You receive an invoice stating that you owe money for office supplies, advertising or another expense. If you did not order these items or already paid the invoice, you may disregard the fake invoice. Be sure to keep excellent records so you and your staff can dispute any fake invoices.

5. Loan Robocalls

To help you fund your business, a caller will offer you a loan with excellent interest rates or offer to lower the interest rate on an existing loan. These scams gather your personal information, so decline the offer and only pursue legitimate small business loans.

6. IRS Fraud

Someone calls your office and says that your small business faces legal action because you owe thousands of dollars in overdue taxes. The IRS will always mail communications about overdue payment. The scam caller simply wants your social security or credit card number to steal your money or identity.

These six scams are only a few of dozens that could affect your small business. Understand potential scams and train your employees to recognize and avoid them. Purchase business insurance, too, to protect your business from liability if you do happen to become a victim.

Cost Of Cyber Breaches For Businesses

By Cyber Security Awareness | No Comments

A cyber breach occurs when someone gains access to information they should not have. In our age of digitization, all businesses face cyber attack risks that could halt operations temporarily or permanently. Discover the cost of a cyber breach and ways you can protect your business.

Calculating the Cost of Cyber Breaches

The Wall Street Journal estimated that cyber crime in 2014 cost U.S. businesses $100 billion. That figure could top $2.1 trillion worldwide by 2019. Consider these nine common cyber breach costs.

1. Loss of Customers – A 2016 study found that 76 percent of consumers would stop doing business with a company that suffered repeated data breaches.

2. Business Disruption – Business process failure and lost employee productivity account for almost 40 percent of the total cyber attack costs. This figure does not account for lost ideas or blueprints. Additionally, your business could lose half of its annual revenue if a cyber attack occurs during the busy season.

3. Breached Client Records – Lost or stolen records that contain sensitive or confidential information can cost a company more than $221 per record.

4. Notification Costs – PCI, HIPAA and other regulations require your company to notify each individual whose information was affected by a cyber attack. The average notification costs in 2016 totalled $0.59 million.

5. Public Relations – To repair your reputation, expect to spend significant time and financial resources preparing and distributing media resources, informing victims, employees and shareholders about ongoing breach repair efforts, and acquiring new customers.

6. Legal Costs – Major retailers have paid as much as $10 million to settle class-action lawsuits filed by consumers. Your costs may not be that high, but you could face hefty legal fees in addition to your legal defense costs.

7. Regulatory Fines – After a breach, your business could face fines from several regulatory agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission, Federal Communications Commission,  Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard or Health and Human Services.

8. Identity Theft Repair and Monitoring – The cost of identity theft repair and monitoring averages $10 per victim.

How to Reduce Cyber Attack Risk

Unfortunately, your business cannot protect itself 100 percent from a cyber breach. However, you can take steps to reduce your risk.

First, implement data loss prevention technologies, including encryption. Then train employees to protect information and systems. You should also prepare an incident response plan and team as well as a business continuity management plan. Purchase cyber insurance, too, since it can cover financial loss.

A cyber breach is expensive and could break your business. Contact your insurance agent for specific tips on how you can protect your company.

Cross-site Viruses

By Cyber Security Awareness | No Comments

The general understanding of viruses is that you can pretty much avoid them if you just never download anything that ends in dot exe, unless it comes from a source that you know for certain is legit. What some might not know is that simply browsing an unsafe website can infect your computer with a virus.

You’re probably thinking of those scuzzy websites that offer illegal torrents, adult content and so on. In fact, one of the worst places to go without any security software in place used to be MySpace. Youtube and Facebook have both been afflicted with cross-site scripted viruses and worms, as well (in other words, there may be more than one reason to restrict your employees from checking their social media accounts at work if you enforce that policy).

The way it works is fairly simple: Cross-site scripting means that if Youtube or MySpace grants a website permission to cross-post content from their own site, then they may also grant them permission to post any content from that site. The website may take advantage of this to spread viruses and worms without even needing to host them on Youtube, simply using an ad placement or a comment thread as a channel through which to spread viruses from their own site.

Why do people do this? In some cases, cross-site scripting may allow them to gain higher access levels to the content on the targeted site, such as user information. On the other hand, some people who write viruses are just vandals and they like the idea of messing up your private data.

Most major websites are fairly vigilant when it comes to seeking out and dealing with cross-site scripts. Making sure that the right software is installed should generally help to keep your hardware from being infected, but if something seems off, don’t write your concerns off simply because you haven’t downloaded anything recently.

HOW TO BUILD A ‘LEARNING ORGANIZATION’

By Other | No Comments

According to Wikipedia, “a learning organization is the term given to a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself.” This concept was popularized by Peter Senge in his excellent book The Fifth Discipline. No, it’s not an old rock group; Senge ran a think tank at MIT Sloan School of Management. His Fifth Discipline Fieldbook provides a manifesto that companies can use to build a learning organization.

According to Senge, there are five main aspects to a learning organization. Let’s discuss how each of those might apply to the HR equation.

Systems Thinking. This means that HR doesn’t operate in a bubble, but rather in concert with other aspects of the system. Understand how HR affects everything in your business from operations to sales, marketing, customer support, and so on. A strategic HR manager will take a cross-disciplinary approach when it comes to their HR practices, training, etc.

Personal Mastery. This means you commit yourself to the process of learning. How many books have you read in your area of expertise during the last year? Do you receive trade publications, attend trade conferences, network with your peers, and look for additional learning outside of your expertise? Do you make sure everyone else at your company is engaging in personal mastery?

Mental Models. 
Basically, this means the assumptions or framework in which each of us operates. To become a learning organization we have to challenge these models, and HR must be part of this conversation. A classic mental model in the HR arena is the management of performance evaluations. In most organizations, this model is more than 50 years old, meaning that it’s time to retire it. What new model can you develop that will generate integrity, trust, and better performance?

Shared Vision. All business authors stress the importance of this factor. Jim Collins emphasized it in his Good to Great book, as did Senge in The Fifth Discipline. How is HR helping to push out and market your organization’s vision? How are you making it “visual”? For example, if I walked into your company would I know what your vision is without having to ask about it? If not, start working with the marketing department and engage in some internal” branding” of the vision.

Team Learning. As the saying goes, none of us is as smart as all of us. How can we create vigorous dialogues in which we all learn from each other? I encourage you to go to the five-minute video I did on a very powerful team learning process that anyone can facilitate. In growing your business as a “learning organization,” you’ll probably need to deal with obstructions. Opposition might come from individuals trying to protect their turf, one department not wanting to communicate with another, a lack of empowerment among leaders or employees — or an organization that’s just too big to share information fully (Senge suggests a cutoff point of 150 employees).

Cultural dimensions can also impede the learning process. What barriers have you identified to building a knowledge organization? What strategies do you have to get past these blockages? If you have yet to do so, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Senge’s The Fifth Discipline as well as The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook.

CASE SETS WORKERS COMP SETTLEMENT RECORD

By Workplace Safety | No Comments

In 2004, a California carpenter fell 20 feet from a scaffold, suffering a head injury that resulted in brain injury — and led to a structured settlement of $8.9 million (the highest on record in the Golden State).

According to attorney Christopher Asvar, his client is suffering from a variety of injury-related symptoms ranging from multiple personality disorder, depression, and psychosis to cognitive impairment and anxiety attacks that could last for the rest of his life. Asvar won the settlement despite the fact that CT and MRI scans showed no signs of trauma to the client’s brain, and medical experts described his disability as “mild.”

This decision speaks for itself — and it carries a warning to every business.

New Year Safety Resolutions For Your Business

By Unregistered | No Comments

A new year has arrived, and you’re probably busy preparing your business for a successful year. Add safety to your checklist. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employees suffered roughly 2.9 million workplace injuries or illnesses in 2016. Implement several safety resolutions in 2018 as you create a safe work environment.

Search for and Eliminate Hazards

Schedule a workplace inspection, and look for potential hazards.

  • Evaluate the layout, condition and safety of every work area.
  • Identify potential electrical, chemical, fire and other hazards, and decide how to address and eliminate those risks.
  • Test tools and equipment to ensure they operate properly and safely.
  • Schedule regular maintenance to ensure safety precautions remain a priority.
  • Inspect the personal protective equipment and verify that everyone is using it properly.
  • Watch how employees work and note any unsafe behaviors.
  • Schedule regular inspections throughout the year.

Involve Employees

Your business is most likely to maintain its safety standards when you involve every employee from supervisors to new hires. To keep your employees involved, consider several tips.

  • Invite suggestions for safety precautions, and take those suggestions seriously.
  • Ask employees to brainstorm techniques that improve safety.
  • Maintain an open door policy that encourages employees to report safety concerns or violations.
  • Encourage all employees to participate in training new hires on safety precautions.
  • Form safety committees to perform regular safety checks, investigate reported concerns or violations and promote safety in their individual departments and throughout the workplace.

Implement Training

Whether your business performed regular safety training in 2017 or dropped the ball on this precaution, you can implement training now and during the new year.

  • Check and follow OSHA training requirements.
  • Utilize technology such as engaging videos, computer games or online quizzes to enhance and expand the training options you offer your staff members.
  • Use interactive training techniques like demonstrations and hands-on experiences.
  • Give every employee the opportunity to participate in training discussions and to ask questions.
  • Include managers and supervisors in the trainings so they know the most current safety regulations, processes and procedures and feel comfortable teaching these safety essentials to the people they supervise.
  • Create a schedule for the rest of the year that includes safety meetings, trainings and inspections.

Reward Safe Behavior

Encourage safety when you offer rewards. With a prize or recognition on the line, your team may amp up their safety consciousness and work harder to ensure everyone follows procedures. Plus, friendly competition between departments can improve morale and engagement among all your employees.

As your business prepares for success in 2018, implement several safety resolutions. For more tips and ideas on how to teach, prioritize and maintain a safe work environment, talk to your insurance agent.

FOUR WAYS TO SIMPLIFY HANDLING COMP CLAIMS

By Workplace Safety | No Comments

When it comes time to work with an adjuster on a Workers Compensation claim, you can make life easier for everyone concerned by following these guidelines:

Get the main contact involved in the process from the get-go and be sure that they provide all the information the adjuster needs: The claimant’s personnel file, documentation of the injury, eyewitness testimony, etc. Get this information to the adjuster as soon as possible, preferably within an hour after his or her initial inquiry — or at least on the same day.

Be sure to have a specific occupational clinic or physician treat the claimant — this will facilitate the process and eliminate any possible uncertainty about dealing with an unfamiliar health-care provider. Work with a clinic that understands your business and can recommend options for light activities the client can perform, rather than having to take them off the job entirely.

If you have any questions about working with adjusters to expedite claims, we’d be happy to help!