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Be alert for skimmers and scammers!

 

credit-card-reader-skimmer
It’s easy for a criminal to put a skimmer device on a credit card reader.

Before you swipe your bank card or credit card to make a payment or complete a bank transaction, be alert for skimmer devices attached inside or over the real card reader. Criminals use skimmers to capture the information from the magnetic strip on credit or debit cards, gaining unauthorized access to consumer accounts.

Skimmers have become increasingly prevalent as they are easy to put in place. The skimmer device fits right over or inside the real card reader. When the card is swiped, it passes through the skimmer before going into the real reader. Skimmers have popped up at bank drive-through ATMs, gas stations and other businesses, especially in remote locations or places that are difficult to monitor.

There are a few things you can do to make sure your account information stays safe.

Look before you swipe

Look for signs of tampering or bulkiness of the card reader you are about to use. If it looks too thick, damaged, loose or just does not look right, report it to the bank or business and use a different machine. Consumers have even reported parts of skimmers coming off the ATM. The FBI offers additional tips and illustrations of what to look for.  If you see someone tampering with or hanging around an ATM machine, report this information as soon as possible to law enforcement or the bank or related business hosting the machine. Sometimes criminals hang around machines to collect information via a Bluetooth connection or wait for an opportunity to add a skimmer or make changes to a machine.

Protect your chipped card

Many newer credit cards have radio frequency identification (RFID) chips. The chips use a wireless, electromagnetic field to transmit information across short distances. Criminals use small remote skimmers that can be concealed in a pocket to collect information from the RFID chip. With these skimmers, the card need not be physically swiped to compromise the information. The electronic pickpocket need only walk a few feet away from you to collect information from the chip.

To prevent information theft, use a card carrier with a lined casing to shield the signal from the card. The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation put out a Consumer Alert describing additional measures you can take, such as stacking several RFID-equipped cards together.

What to do if you’re hacked

If you do fall victim to a skimmer or RFID scam, immediately report it to law enforcement, providing as many details as possible. Contact the security department of your bank or the retailer whose card was compromised. Close the account and put a fraud alert on your credit file. Find additional information to protect your accounts on our identity theft prevention site and from the Federal Trade Commission.

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- Directors & Officers January 29, 2015

Why your privately held business needs directors and officers insurance

 

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D&O insurance protects your company and its board.

Every corporation relies on the guidance of its board of directors for success. Although lawsuits against larger, publicly traded companies receive the lion’s share of media attention, privately held corporations are also vulnerable to lawsuits by competitors, government agencies, creditors and employees. You can protect your hard-earned success by purchasing directors and officers insurance (D&O) coverage for your company.

Having directors and officers insurance coverage in place can help you attract the talent you need for your board. Directors or officers of privately held companies who do not insist that the company purchase D&O insurance are putting themselves, their spouses and their estates at financial risk. D&O insurance minimizes risk to their personal assets.

Not having D&O coverage can have a serious impact on a company’s viability. Even a financially sound business may have insufficient funds to defend officers and directors in the event of a lawsuit. A D&O policy will take care of defense costs and settlement, even if the company ends up in bankruptcy.

States impose statutory duties on corporate directors. D&O coverage protects the company and its directors from claims arising from alleged or actual failure to uphold those duties. Directors are under legal obligation to govern their corporation and carry out their responsibilities of office:

  • in good faith
  • in the best interest of the corporation
  • with the care that an ordinary prudent person in a like position would exercise under similar circumstances

Similar duties are imposed on officers of a corporation who may or may not serve on the board. Both directors and officers share the duty to:

  • grow the company by prudently managing the affairs of the business
  • exercise due diligence that is standard for operating the business
  • maintain loyalty to the corporation to avoid conflicts of interest
  • obey the corporate charter and state corporate statutes

Policy limits and other factors can vary. Your legal advisers and local independent insurance agent can help you determine how much coverage you need. Premiums are based on the coverage limit requested and other factors such as type of business, financial strength, claims history and deductibles.

Additional coverages, such as employment practices liability, fiduciary liability and cyber liability insurance, may also be available to eligible companies for an additional premium.

 
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Keep planning for your future: Buy life insurance as a young adult

 

couple-moving-in-eating-take-outWith the struggle to manage burdensome student loans, balance the cost of mortgages and meet the endless barrage of other living expenses, why should life insurance be a priority for us as young adults?

The answer is simple: it provides invaluable protection for our family’s financial future. We spend so much of our time and energy working to provide the best life for our loved ones, it is critical that we have a plan in place to protect those efforts in our absence.

Many of us are healthy and productive, advancing in our careers, buying homes and starting families.

I can use my own life as an example. We are a single-income household. Life insurance is not optional for us because the death benefit it provides would replace my income in addition to covering my final expenses. Without that benefit, my wife would be unable to afford health care, burdened with our collective student debt and unable to maintain a normal quality of life.

In our situation, her financial future is secured with a combination of affordable term insurance to replace my income. It is supplemented with a smaller, guaranteed policy that will be in place for my entire life to take care of my final expenses.

So why should we purchase life insurance young when we aren’t likely to need it? Because buying it as young adults guarantees coverage that later in life may be unobtainable. If we are able to get it in the future, the cost will rise dramatically as we age. Very few people are healthier in their golden years than they were in their 20s and 30s. Simply put, it’s just good planning.

Each of us has life insurance needs. With the help of a knowledgeable adviser, those needs can be met with the proper amount and type of coverage. A simple process can quickly identify what should be protected, and how best to do so.

I challenge you to look closely at the things of value in your life and consider if they would be sustained in the event of your passing. Most of us don’t have the coverage we need, but fortunately as young adults, now is the easiest and most cost effective time to get it.

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- Gift giving to charities January 29, 2015

Make your gift count: Check out charities

 

hands-holding-treeGiving to a charity should not be difficult. Unfortunately, it can be. It is estimated that charity fraud exceeds $20 billion each year…yes, BILLION! What can you do to ensure your charitable gift is going to a legitimate charity and being used most effectively? Here are some tips:

 
  1. Do your homework. There are reputable and independent charity rating organizations you can check to verify the legitimacy of a charity and where your charitable dollars will go, including:

    NOTE: Many legitimate charities – especially local charities – may be too small to be tracked by these services. Read on for additional tips to help your research.

  2. Give to groups you know. You remember the sage advice of your parents when you were young, “Don’t talk to strangers.” That same advice applies to your charitable giving – don’t give to strangers. When you know the charity you are giving to, you can have confidence in the organization and its cause.
  3. Review the charity’s expenses. This is a difficult one, but as a guide, efficient charitable organizations will spend less than 35 percent of their donations on expenses (such as fundraising and payroll for their staff).
  4. Give your time. Volunteer! One of the best ways to know how your money will be used by an organization is to donate your time. You will find out how well managed the organization is and have a direct understanding of the impact on the desired cause.
  5. Protect your privacy. Do not give personal information or credit card information over the phone, by email or to door-to-door solicitors. Request the information be sent to you so you can verify the recipient’s reputation.
  6. Be aware of signs of a scam:
    • High pressure sales tactics that press you for immediate donations
    • Refusal to provide proof that your contribution is tax deductible
    • Lack of details on the mission of the charity
    • A name of the charity that sounds like a well-known charity, but is spelled slightly differently
    • Offer of prize entries in exchange for your donation
  7. Do not give cash! While there are a few well-known, reputable, charities that collect via kettles around the holiday season, it is best to provide your donation via check and receive a receipt for your donation for tax purposes. Never, ever, give cash to door-to-door solicitors.

Lastly, if you have elderly family members, be certain to review these tips with them and encourage them to simply take down the information and have you contact the charity in the future. Senior citizens are easy prey for fraudsters.

Happy giving!

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- Fire prevention January 29, 2015

National Fire Prevention Week teaches fire safety for all ages

 

ReplaceBatteriesC2_1Better fire protection and materials design – along with more education – have combined to save lives and reduce financial losses from fires. In fact, due to the increased knowledge of fire protection and prevention, the number of U.S. fires over the last 25 years has been reduced by half.

Education starts early. National Fire Prevention Week, October 5-11, is a great opportunity for you and your children or grandchildren to have fun while learning important fire safety precautions.

 

This year’s fire prevention theme, Working Smoke Alarms Save Lives, emphasizes the need for properly placed, working smoke alarms in every home. Automatic detection and smoke alarms in homes have had a big impact on the improved fire safety numbers, cutting the risk of dying in a home fire by more than half. To reap the benefits of early detection, it is essential to maintain and test smoke alarms to ensure they are in proper working order in the event of a fire.

The National Fire Protection Association features Sparky, the fire dog, on sparky.org, where you’ll find activity sheets, puzzles, games, music videos and safety checklists appropriate for a variety of ages. Sparky’s page offers a smoke alarm safety sheet and calendar to remind your family to test your smoke alarms monthly. (Note: Sparky’s site uses a Flash introduction page. If the site doesn’t load for you, try right-clicking, then select “play” from the menu.)

Kids can use the safety checklist to explore other fire safety measures in place in your home. Try your luck at finding smoke alarms and batteries in the smoke alarm hidden picture. Or, write a Sparky poem or send a fire safety e-card through email. The site also features electronic games, apps and books available for download to your smartphone or e-reader. Sparky even offers resources to parents and teachers with instruction sheets, classroom lesson plans and craft projects.

Parents can get more information about smoke alarm selection, placement or testing by visiting:

Share these fire prevention techniques with the important people in your life, and increase their chances of surviving a fire.

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Preparing your business for disaster

 

emergency-evacuation-planNational Preparedness Month in September is an opportunity to emphasize business continuity practices for your organization. But preparing for disaster is really a year-round activity: Up to 40 percent of businesses never fully recover from a disaster, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). To maintain your business after a catastrophic event, it’s important to explore all the potential worst-case scenarios that may strike – and what actions you can take to minimize them.

 

While insurance coverage may reimburse you for lost income and expenses, planning ahead to continue operations with minimal interruption will help your business in the long term and reduce the likelihood of lost customers and broken contracts.

To keep your business – large or small – running under the stress of an emergency, work now to develop and implement a business continuity plan. There are several steps:

Analyze the hazards – Many business owners think of fire and windstorm as their most likely work-stop scenarios. But other potential perils – such as floods, earthquakes and winter storms – exist that may or may not be covered by insurance. A disaster need not be a large-scale event; any disruptive event can be a disaster if it impacts your operations. The first step in any planning activity is to identify the potential internal and external hazards that could affect your business.

Develop an action plan – Once you pinpoint the hazards, address them through a planning process that identifies recovery and continuity procedures. The planning process should be headed by a team and engage employees and supervisors at all levels of your organization.

Implement the plan – The best plans are adopted in writing, distributed to all associates and accompanied by a training process that allows everyone to know their roles after a disaster strikes. Practice regularly so that your new hires know the plan.

Evaluate and modify the plan – Businesses constantly evolve; disaster plans should, too. Revisit your business continuity plan regularly, testing and changing it depending upon your business’ changing risk exposures.

Encourage personal disaster planning – Don’t forget that disaster planning begins at home. After a widespread catastrophe, your employees will need to attend to their personal and family needs before they can begin to help with your business disaster recovery. Stay engaged with updates from FEMA and other entities to help promote personal family preparedness so your associates can develop their own plans in the event of a catastrophe. The American Red Cross also has disaster preparation information for families.

Seek additional resources – Two excellent resources to help get a business continuity plan off the ground include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Small Business Administration.

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If your summer vacation includes use of a rental car, a little knowledge about auto insurance could preserve your peace of mind and save you money.

Consult with your agent and check your policy for coverage, limits and deductible amounts. You may be able to save money by declining the insurance offered by the rental company if your own policy provides the coverage you need.

If you are involved in an accident while driving a rental, you could be liable for damage to the auto and any resulting injuries. You could also be responsible for the rental agency’s lost income and the diminished value of the rental car, if damaged. In addition, you may be responsible for losses other than collision, such as fire, theft or vandalism, while the rental is in your possession.

Drivers already named on your personal auto policy may be covered for use of a rental car within the United States. However, if the rental contract limits who can drive the vehicle, be aware of the restrictions and act accordingly. Some personal auto policies are contingent on the language of the rental contract, so you may not be covered if you let someone else drive the vehicle.

And, if you don’t have an auto policy of your own, the rental company’s insurance may be your only option.

Some personal auto policies cover collision losses to rental cars only if you already have collision coverage on your owned autos, subject to the policy deductible. Other policies offer “first-dollar” coverage on rented vehicles through their liability coverage, meaning you pay no deductible on a covered loss.

Purchasing an umbrella policy can further protect your interests by increasing your liability coverage. The umbrella also may extend your coverage territory beyond that of your auto policy. However, when traveling abroad, you may need to purchase the insurance offered by the rental company, because foreign countries may not recognize your U.S. policy.

Your personal auto policy may also provide coverage for rental of other types of vehicles: trailers, such as do-it-yourself moving trailers; pickups; vans; and trucks under a specified weight limit.

Take time as you prepare for vacation to assure that the right auto coverage is in place; then relax and enjoy your summer getaway.

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