Watch out for a deluge of online scams promising great deals as a result of the current Government shutdown. They’re promising anything from unbelievably cheap cars to cheap health care plans under the new Affordable Care Act commonly referred to as “Obamacare.” Online scams are in the form of fake websites, email spammers, and even phone calls or text messages. The cyber thieves’ goals can be to obtain personal information, credit cards numbers, and even so far as to attempt to con you into a wire transfer from your bank account.
Symantec’s security website issued a warning of spammers using fake headers to get past email filters and get seemingly official and legitimate offers to your inbox. Watch out for emails promising deals as a result of the Government shutdown and clearance sales on fleet vehicles, cars and trucks. For that matter it is wise to be suspicious of any offer involving special deals as a result of the shutdown. Be cautious of anyone who emails you and question why they would have your email. Spammers are able to spoof commonly known email headers and even people you know personally.
As a general rule never give your personal information such as name, address or phone number let alone more private information such as social security number, family names and employment information to any stranger who calls you on the phone no matter how official they sound. If it’s a company name you recognize, hang up and call them back at their listed number to verify the caller.
The Government shutdown couldn’t have come at a worse time for those shopping for health insurance this week. Starting October 1 the Health Insurance Exchange went live. Scam artists are taking full advantage of the overwhelming response and confusion associated with this new provision of the Affordable Care Act. Not only are the various exchanges inconsistent with their security protocols they are so new there that it’s easy for cyber thieves to take advantage of the confusion and lure people into a fake site to steal their personal information and even their money.
Trend Micro, a computer security company, has published warnings for consumers. The best way to avoid healthcare scams associated with the Affordable care Act is to head directly to the Federal Government website to either find the sites directly or verify the authenticity of sites you might find from a search engine such as Google or Bing.
Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Scam artists and cyber thieves will always jump in and take advantage of the confusion surrounding situations such as the Government shutdown and the newest provisions of the Affordable Care Act to make a quick buck at your expense. Be careful of such offers, verify the source and authenticity of anything that requires your personal or private information, and be suspicious of all emails that include links to websites or phone numbers with a too good to be true offer.
Most homeowners insurance claims are water related. Yet many policyholders are unaware of what is covered and what is not covered by their homeowners insurance policy.
Unfortunately, a lot of confusion and hard feelings result when policyholders try to file a claim only to find out that the damage caused as a result of a water event is not covered or only partially covered by their homeowners policy.
It is imperative that policyholders ask their agent what is covered and read their policy as to what is covered and what is excluded with regard to water damage. Not all policies are the same. So sometimes that cheaper policy you think you are getting a great bargain on results in creating a lot of holes in your homeowners insurance coverage.
So what water damage events are typically covered by homeowners insurance? For the most part, homeowners insurance will cover water claims that arise from “sudden and accidental” occurrences and not neglect, wear and tear or normal maintenance that is the responsibility of the insured.
For example, water entering the home through leaks, cracks and seepage are considered to be the responsibility of the owner and should be prevented through routine home maintenance.
Similarly, water entering through a roof that has shingles and tiles that have not been maintained for a good number of years is the responsibility of the homeowners. While the resulting damage to carpet, flooring and dry wall may be covered by the insurance carrier the slab, foundation and roof would not be covered.
Here are some common water-related events that may or may not be covered:
1) Burst water heaters and pipes. Generally, these are covered by the homeowners policy for both the water heater and pipes and the resulting damage to walls, flooring and home furnishings. However, none is covered if the house is unoccupied and/or without heat. If this is the case the claim will likely be denied.
2) Overflow from a backyard pool. If damage is the result of a rainstorm or tree falling on the pump the policy should cover the damage to the pool and water damage to the home caused by the rainstorm. However, there is a smaller dollar amount for damages available for lawns, trees, shrubs and landscaping. Also, if the cause is from a flash flood or river overflowing no coverage would be provided.
3) A toilet, tub, sink overflows or a dishwasher explodes. The damage to the toilets, sinks, tubs and dishwasher as well as the water damage to home furnishings would be covered by the homeowners policy if it is determined to be “sudden or accidental.” Companies vary on the amount of mold damage included in this coverage so it is wise to check what amount is provided in your policy. One possibility where it would not be covered is when the blockage of the toilet, sink or tub was caused by sewer blockage. Then, the claim could be denied if Sewer back-up coverage is not part of the policy. See #4
4) Sewer back from drains and sump pumps. Many standard homeowners policies do not include this coverage. It might include Loss of Use Coverage but that’s all without this endorsement on the policy. Ask your agent if your policy includes this coverage. If not, the cost to add it typically runs $40 – $50 per year. A wise investment. If you are a business owner you might also want to consider having this for your office that you own or lease. Most homeowners and business owners are unaware that they are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the sewer line that runs between their building and the sewer main.
5) Water from a rainstorm. Most insurers will not pay for roof repairs because this is considered to be a maintenance problem. It would, however, cover the damage inside the home caused by the water damage. If the damage to the roof was caused by wind, hail or something like a falling tree then the repairs to the roof would be covered.
6) Damage from a wash or river that overflows. Flood damage is NOT covered by a homeowners policy. You need to purchase a separate policy from the federal government for this coverage. You can easily obtain this coverage from your insurance agent.
7) In-home fire sprinklers and air-conditioning/heating unit burst pipes. These are typically covered in the homeowners policy, however, if neglect or improper use is found, there might be no coverage.
8) Large Water Spills. If a large fish tank or large bucket or cooler causes damage to flooring or dry wall it is typically covered in the homeowner’s policy.
9) Slow dripping water leaks. A slow pin hole leak in a pipe, a dripping ice maker in the refrigerator, a leaky toilet or an incorrectly sealed bath or shower will typically not be covered since it is considered negligence on the part of the homeowner.
Many times people ask if they should make repairs immediately in the event of water damage. Generally, you should make the necessary repairs to protect your property from further damage. If possible, take pictures of the damage before making temporary repairs.
When calling your carrier to make your claim, consult with them as to what additional repairs you can make before an insurance adjuster comes to inspect the damage. It is always wise to calculate the likely amount of your claim versus your homeowner’s insurance deductible. If it relatively close to this amount you might consider not filing the claim since the amount you receive from the insurance company is below what the increase in your premium will be from this claim.
The purpose of this article is to provide guidance with regard to water damage claims. Because there are so many different homeowner policies and carrier rules and regulations, it is imperative you read your application or policy and review it with your agent to make sure you have the coverage you expect and need for your home. Finding out you do not have insurance coverage for one of life’s biggest investments could cost you thousands of dollars unexpectedly when it comes time to file a claim.
With the recent bombing at the Boston Marathon there has been a lot of talk in the media the past week about video surveillance and security. The talk ranges from whether we need more video surveillance cameras to increase security and prevent future attacks to a concern about the Government watching our every move and further stepping on our civil liberties.
The role of government, the primary role of our government, is to provide protection against foreign aggression. Most people would agree that our government has done a very good job of stopping further large-scale terrorist attacks since 9/11. Our airports, harbors and mass transit systems are very heavily protected through the deployment of personnel and technology. To call for the government to go further and deploy video surveillance in every major city is an open invitation to creating a police state. That is not the answer. The role of citizens in a democratic society is to participate in public life. That means we, the citizens, are obligated to be informed about public issues, carefully watch how our elected officials and how they use their powers, and to voice our own opinions and interests. It was the citizens of Boston – the business video surveillance system, residence and visitors using smart phones – that provided the information and images that lead to the identification and ultimate capture of the attackers.
In this conversation, it is important to understand video surveillance and how the technology functions. Video surveillance systems provide for continuous viewing of live images and storage of recorded events. Continuous viewing, watching what is happening as it happens, requires a constant set of human eyes on the cameras to see and identify potential threats. Viewing recorded events can be done anytime from almost anywhere, but are rarely needed [or viewed] until after an event – crime, attack, etc. Video surveillance is a very effective deterrent and valuable for providing information and images after the fact. The truth is video surveillance, by itself, does not stop attacks and will not stop foreign or domestic aggression. Video surveillance, coupled with other technologies and the watchful, alert and informative citizens will help spot potential attacks and provide the information and identification needed to stop or apprehend attackers.
So, is more video surveillance the answer? If we are looking for one technology to keep us completely safe, then no, more video surveillance isn’t the answer. However, if we are looking to enhance our own security and provide government authorities with helpful information about crimes against the citizens of the United States, then more video surveillance, in the hands of citizens is part of the answer.
-David Murphy shares his expertise and experience on security issues for individuals, families and businesses. He is the founder and CEO of Xpress Protection Security Solutions and a featured SmartFem Expert
Review of the 2013 Ford Escape Titanium
Have you driven a Ford lately?
I have! I own a 2002 Ford Thunderbird convertible and my latest test drive vehicle was the new 2013 Ford Escape Titanium model. This redesigned, 4-wheel-drive, five seat crossover has a turbocharged 2.0 liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine which satisfied the speed in my blood and the practicality in my DNA.
The Ford escape is exactly that, an escape into the future; which includes a remote start capability, which enables one to heat or cool their seat before getting in the vehicle, and a slick parking technology package.
The optional parking technology package will cost an additional $995, but who wouldn’t want to have someone else parallel park for you? With the active park assist you can saunter along looking for a parallel parking space and the Escape’s sensors will detect a spot that will fit this five-seat SUV. This is a much better scenario than my husband yelling, “look there’s another spot you drove by!”
So, ignoring him completely, the chime alerted me to an empty spot, whereby I lined the Escape up and then let go of the steering wheel (difficult for control freaks).
I used the accelerator and brake and put the Escape into Drive and Reverse as necessary. The system safely steered the Escape into the parking spot. I have to admit, I did it more than once, as the first time didn’t look very respectable or safe.
The exterior of the new Ford Escape has more curves on this year’s model; less of a boxy look. As a result, the front end is more aerodynamic, allowing for better fuel economy. So not only is the new body style more functional, but the new curvatures and creases give the Escape a more European look. Maybe that is what I have at my age, a more European look?
My favorite feature is also something the folks at Ford are very proud of, and that is the power liftgate. Don’t confuse the “Ford power liftgate” with the ones you can control from your fob or push a button inside the cargo area to close. The 2013 Escape has a sensor under the rear bumper, so when you kick your foot under it, the liftgate opens. That means if your arms are full with groceries, babies, sports equipment, lumber or Tiffany jewelry for me, you have no reason to drop what you have in your hands.
Now let’s venture inside the Ford Escape. As I look at all the gadgets, including the MyFord Touch, I feel I need to take a breath and not leave the driveway until I understand all the great features.
The Sync system has voice-control functions for the stereo, text-to-voice for some cellphones, and Bluetooth connectivity. The Sync support was a big help for me to understand the Sync system. The Escape has a 12-volt outlet as well as an aux jack and a USB input.
Now that I am settled in, I checked with my passengers. My 30-something daughter Julia had plenty of legroom and enjoyed the second row’s reclining seatback. The child safety seat was easy to install and had two sets of lower Latch anchors. The Escape Titanium has the electronic stability system with anti-roll control, traction control and seven airbags, including side curtains for both rows. It wins all kinds of safety awards and I can see why.
The 2013 Ford Escape base model starts at $23,365, with the top of the line Titanium, which I drove, starting at $35,130. I enjoyed the drive, the parallel-park feature and power liftgate, but I’m still waiting for the Tiffany jewelry.
If you haven’t driven a Ford lately, the 2013 Ford Escape is the one to try.
For more reviews go to www.twofortheroadusa.com
Businesses, both big and small, who are privy to sensitive client information, need to protect themselves against an ever-increasing risk of data breach and having computer records fall into the hands of unauthorized individuals or organizations.
Healthcare practices such as doctors and dentists, law offices, accountants and bookkeepers, retailers, restaurants and financial services are especially at high risk because of the amount of information, the volume of the information, the sensitivity and the number of people having access to the information.
Data Breach is defined as any loss, theft, accidental release or accidental publication of information that personally identifies someone’s protected vital records or protected health information.
These include social security numbers, bank records and account information, credit or debit card numbers, driver’s license numbers, email addresses, patient history and medical records. Any of these occurrences is subject to major penalties and fines from various governmental agencies as well as major lawsuits against a company.
We are all familiar with the phrase “hacking” from many news stories reporting security breaches against government and news agencies as one-way data breach can occur. Other ways it can occur are through the theft or release due to unauthorized access from former employees or vendors, stolen or lost documents and electronic files, stolen or lost laptops, smartphones, tablets or flash drives and computer disks, stolen credit card information, and employee error or mistakes. And now as businesses move data into the “cloud”, an even greater possibility of data compromise exists.
Many business insurance carriers now provide cost-effective protection against Data Breach that can help a company maintain its reputation and long-term solvency. Insurance coverage includes:
- Legal and Forensic services to determine if a data breach has occurred and assist the client with regulatory compliance
- Notify assistance to employees, customers and other organizations with letter preparation and mailing expenses
- Crisis management and Public Relation effort assistance
- Advertising support that helps organize and create a media response
- Monitoring services to pay for credit, fraud, public records or other monitoring alerts
Small businesses are especially vulnerable to data breaches. Sixty-four percent of data breaches investigated in 2010 were from organizations with fewer than 100 employees and 95% of ALL credit card breaches are against small businesses. Further, the majority of small businesses have no data security policy in place. (Verizon Rick Team, US Secret Service and Dutch High Tech Team, 2011).
We strongly encourage you to contact your insurance agent to see what types of Data Breach coverage are available from your current carrier or other carriers he or she represents. It is an investment you need to make to keep your company viable in today’s 21st century marketplace.
When video surveillance systems were first introduced the primary applications were in banks, retail stores and high-security government facilities. Like all technology, though, prices have decreased and quality and applications have increased. Today video surveillance cameras have many uses and applications, even in our homes.
We received a call from a couple who wanted to discuss the options and costs of installing a video surveillance system in their home. In talking with the couple we discovered the driving force behind their interest in video surveillance was because they were first time parents.
Mom hated the idea of going back to work, leaving her son with a nanny and not being able to see her son until she got home each night. We also discovered that the nanny was a young lady and that she would be at the couples home each day alone with their son.
Our recommendation was to have 4 cameras and a DVR installed. We also recommended a microphone be installed so mom and dad could not only see their son, but hear him and how the nanny was interacting with him. This is what we installed for this family:
* One camera was installed at the front door. This allows the nanny to see who is at the door without having to open the door.
* One camera was installed on the back of the house allowing a view of the backyard and pool. This was done to provide a view for the nanny in the event there was someone in the backyard; again without having to open a door or go outside.
* One camera and a microphone were installed in the nursery. This allows the nanny, mom and dad the ability to see and hear the baby when he’s sleeping.
* One camera and microphone were installed in the family room. This allows mom and dad to see and hear their son and how the nanny interacts with him.
* The DVR was installed in the master bedroom. The DVR records and stores the video recordings. The DVR is also remotely accessible by mom and dad from their computers, phones and tablets. Mom and dad can check in on their son and the nanny anytime they like, as well as review video from days or weeks ago.
* The cameras are also connected to the big screen TV in the family room. The nanny can quickly see who is at the front door or in the backyard, as well as see and hear the baby in the nursery.
Video surveillance isn’t just for the ‘big boys’ any more. Video surveillance in your home provides an additional level of safety and security, as well as peace of mind knowing your loved ones are safe, even when you aren’t home.
When it comes to saving money on your mobile phone, unless you are the type who craves the latest and greatest technology every six months, resist that urge to throw in the towel on your year-old phone.
Don’t commit to another two-year contract thinking you’re getting an $800 phone for about $150, because you aren’t. Two-year contracts that come attached to discounted phones are nothing more than a finance plan. You’re paying ninety or a hundred dollars for a plan that you can get elsewhere for fifty or sixty dollars.
Take the difference and multiply it by 24 months and that’s how much you’ve financed over two years. Don’t forget to factor in all of those hidden “connection fees.” Unlike a typical finance plan, however, the mobile carriers will gladly carry on charging you that same inflated rate far beyond the two-year contract and usually won’t let you out of the contract cheaply if you lose or break your phone or your needs change.
If your mobile phone contract has expired, cancel it. There’s a cheaper plan out there if you already have a good phone and are happy with it.
Most mobile phones in the United States are sold “locked” to the carrier. Not to mention that the major carriers all use different wireless technology. Unlocking a phone is useful for using a sim card from another carrier or another country if you plan to spend time abroad and wish to connect your phone to their local mobile network.
Before buying, check to see what your carrier’s unlocking policy is once your phone is paid off and if it will work on other carrier’s networks, or outside the United States.
Don’t confuse “unlocking” with “jailbreaking” an iPhone or “rooting” an Android. Jailbreaking or rooting is for advanced users only and allows the installation of unauthorized and possibly dangerous software and will likely void your phone’s warranty.
Consider how much data and how many minutes you really need. Unlimited minutes and text is pretty standard these days and very few people will ever need more than the typical plan’s 2GB of high speed data in a month. You can save money on your mobile phone plan if you are a light user by picking a cheaper option.
Some tips to avoid using too much of your data plan: Go crazy on the emailing, texting, and mobile web sites, but avoid spending your afternoons streaming videos. Also keep in mind that using “VOIP” apps like Skype, Viber, and Google Voice won’t count toward your voice or texting limits and can save money on international and roaming. If you connect to your home or office Wi-Fi network you won’t incur data charges but your voice calls and text will still count.
There are some great deals out there. Look for the prepaid or Pay As You Go phones that don’t lock you into a contract and allow you the flexibility of change as needed to suit your needs.
There are several advantages to not having a contract: You’re not locked in to a plan, if you break or lose your phone you aren’t forced to continue paying for it, the carrier can’t hit you up with an outrageous bill for unwittingly dialing China for two hours and you can always add minutes —if you get low— to avoid paying for services you don’t need.
There are less expensive but good phones that can be picked up for contract prices without the contract hassles. What was top of the line six months or a year ago may be available for a bargain today. Consider buying a used phone or a low-cost import from overseas that is readily available online.
Go to your carrier and ask these questions and tell them you came in to save money on your mobile phone bill, not get pushed into a hard sell on an expensive new contract. Check the prepaid options sold at electronics retailers that your carrier may not willingly tell you about. Spend that saved money on something else.
It is time to get yourselves and your families protected now for a New Year of more attacks on your personal information. With the ever increasing use of Smartphone’s the opportunity for cybercriminals to steal private information is continuing to escalate. Cybercriminals are focusing on the Android phones with more than “35,000 malicious programs identified in 2012” and more expected in the New Year. A recent article posted on Marketwatch.com highlights many of the ways that “cyberthreats” can be harmful.
If you own a small business, or if you know someone who does, the use of mobile devices gives small companies dynamic flexibility, but they also create potential business nightmares. Small business fraud and identity theft is increasing even faster than individual ID theft. The proliferation of mobile devices within businesses makes the job of protecting data of all kinds a more challenging task.
Although there appear to be a multitude of solutions to try and prevent ID theft and fraud, the basic truth is that there is no way to account for all the possibilities. Technology and our “open lives”, created by a powerful social media, foster too many loops and holes to close and fill with security. So how do we protect ourselves and our small businesses when such security fails?
Identity Recovery and Restoration service memberships are available for individuals to have in place as an ultimate safety net for you and your family. We offer our members the finest resource in the USA. There are also solutions via SmartFem small business experts for protection your small business. Ask us about VBiz Small Business Services.
“ID Theft Attacks” and “Shark Attacks” Have Some Things in Common
“Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water”… remember that tag line from the movie JAWS? Well the world as we know it is becoming filled with more and more sharks and your identity is at risk from attack.
In 2011 there was a 67% increase over 2010 in the number of data breach notices received by Americans from businesses and financial institutions. What does that mean to SmartFem members? There are more and more sharks entering the world and your chances of an ID theft attack are increasing at an alarming rate…there was a 13% increase in the number of Americans attacked in 2011.
Identity theft is viewed similarly to a shark attack because: a) it is a horrifying experience that can ruin your life; b) no one seems to think it will every really happen to them; and c) everyone wishes they had taken simple precautions to avoid letting the shark get the best of them. And we are not just talking about credit card fraud.
Unfortunately, according to the most powerful law enforcement people, an attack from identity thieves is less a matter of IF it will happen, but more like WHEN it will happen to anyone. The cyber-chief of the FBI has stated that when it comes to identity theft/fraud and data breaches…“…you can never get ahead, never become secure, never have a reasonable expectation of privacy or security…”. Technology is fostering too many new ways for ID thieves to get your identity and run with it. Not even massive amounts of credit monitoring services can guarantee the prevention of ID theft.
SmartFem President, Lea Haben is a survivor of ID Theft. She now has found a solution for members that allows you, and your family, a safety net of security in case you are ever attacked. See this special low cost promotion that explains it all.
It is often said in life that first impressions are everything. Whether we judge a person based on their appearance or by what they drive, or we judge a business based on their store or office location; when it comes to your website’s appearance – it goes without saying that a first impression really is everything.
Consider that 86 percent of consumers will visit your website before doing business with you and you begin to see just how important having a positive first impression really is to growing your business and ultimately increasing your bottom lines.
Now also consider that most websites only convert about 1 percent of their website traffic to actual leads let alone converting them into paying customers. It goes without saying no matter how much traffic you have, a prime focus needs to be paid to ensure you leave as many visitors as possible with a great first impression. When they leave a site without taking action, 99 percent of the time they will never come back. Opportunity lost forever.
You might be asking, “How do you make a great first impression?” Or just as important, “What are some easy ways to convert more visitors into customers?”
Here are three action items to consider as you look to increase your leads and sales from your website.
1) You must answer two basic questions, and optimally they should be answered within the first few seconds of the future customer clicking onto your website
• Why should I buy, do or get it from you instead of your competition?
Since your competition is a mere click away, it is paramount to grab a website visitor’s attention right away. Search engine results dictate that if a visitor does not see what they are looking for or find a compelling reason to stay on your website they are simply going to click the back button in their browser and go down to the to the next listing. Your unique value should be jumping off the page to your website visitors.
2) The website should not look outdated
A website that does not fully fill the screen, or is left justified for example, can give a visitor the impression that your site is outdated. This will inevitably leave many visitors wondering, “If you don’t have an updated website, your business has in some way fallen behind the times.” This will ensure your website will never be your best sales tool.
Some other features of outdated websites include:
- Small font sizes
- Lack of social media integration
- Too much text
- Lack of supportive imagery, graphics or video
- Inconsistent navigation between your different web pages
3) Lack of conversion triggers
Conversion triggers can take on many shapes and forms. As a part of your website general layout attention should be made to place these triggers in prominent places on your website.
- Phone number: Big, bold, and above the fold (preferably in the upper right hand corner of your homepage)
- Request a Quote form or button
- Downloadable content (e.g. guides, tip sheets, or white papers)
- Newsletter sign-up forms
- Social media icons
- Buy now buttons
There is a rule of thumb when it comes to website conversion and that is, “Don’t make me think.” If you want me to go to your website and perform a specific function, then make it absolutely obvious. So many times companies think they need to tell every detail about their company and ALL of the things they do. This type of content can be reserved for the about page, but should not be the focal point of your home page. You want them to do something on your website, so make sure that is obvious.
By utilizing some of these ideas you will be able to increase your website conversion, leave a stronger impression on future customers and make better use of the website visitors that you have.