How to Avoid Holiday Scams

Holiday Scams

Photo: dedMazay, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Holiday scams are in full swing as scam artists are at work for their busiest time of year. From attempts at credit card fraud to disappearing packages from your door step, thieves are constantly looking for opportunities to leave you in the cold this winter.

Here is a list of 8 common holiday scams that you should be on the lookout for and how to avoid them:

  1. Fake Websites:  Often times, scammers will create websites with the real company name, but adding symbols or small variations to the web address that are often overlooked by the consumer. When shopping online, make sure that you are on a verified website, with the “lock” in the URL.
  2. IRS Phone Scams: Unsolicited calls being made demanding payment for unpaid taxes. Calls often ask for credit, debit, or prepaid card numbers. The IRS Never:
    • Asks for credit card, debit card, or prepaid card information over the telephone
    • Insists that taxpayers use a specific payment method for tax obligations
    • Requests immediate payment over the telephone and will not take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversation. Tax payers typically receive prior notification of IRS enforcement regarding tax liens or levies.
    • IRS Scams can be reporting directly to the: Treasury Inspector General For Tax Administration.
  3. Fake Shipping Notifications: Emails are sent stating that an item has been shipped. If you do not recall the order/purchase, do not open the link as it will likely be encrypted with a virus or malware.
  4. Bogus Charities: Emails, letters, or door to door tactics are used to support a fake charity. Do your research before donating. Groups like the Better Business Bureau, Charity Watch or the IRS have many suggestions on how to donate safely.
  5. Free Gift Cards: Often used on social media or through email. Scammers ask for further information to “claim” the gift card. Another ploy to steal your personal information or download malware. Nothing is free!
  6.  Package Theft: One of the most popular holiday scams is for thieves to follow delivery trucks and steal delivered packages, right from your front door. To avoid this, require a signature or have packages held at a local service location.
  7. Card Theft: When shopping in stores or online, consider using your credit card instead of your debit. Credit cards offer more security and theft reimbursement.
  8. Temporary Holiday Jobs: The holiday season is a busy time for retailers and delivery services, requiring temporary job positions. Beware of solicitations that require personal information to apply for these jobs or for job leads. Search for job opportunities directly through employer websites to avoid this risk.

To find out more about holiday scams or to report one, visit the BBB Scam Tracker.

Holiday Crime Prevention Tips

holiday_safety-tips-boston

As we enter the busy holiday season, consider these holiday crime prevention tips!

  • When shopping, park in a well lit and well traveled area. As always, be aware of your surroundings.
  • When you return to your vehicle, make sure that are no signs of forced entry. During the holiday season, criminals know that vehicles are filled with gifts and purchases as shoppers make their way from store to store.
  • When storing items purchased from stores, place them out of sight. The best place is in the trunk.
  • Do not leave your purse, cell phone, or wallet in plain view as those all make for an easy target.
  • If you go to an ATM, check your surroundings before withdrawing cash.

 

2015 Daylight Saving Time

Spring-Forward

 

Daylight Saving Time begins this weekend—at 2:00 A.M. on Sunday, March 8.

Before going to bed on Saturday, March 7, remember to “spring forward” by setting your clocks 1 hour ahead. Not every place practices Daylight Saving Time (exceptions: Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa).

Fun Facts:

Credit for Daylight Saving Time goes to Benjamin Franklin, who first suggested the idea in 1784. The idea was revived in 1907, when William Willett, an Englishman, proposed a similar system in the pamphlet The Waste of Daylight.

The Germans were the first to officially adopt the light-extending system in 1915 as a fuel-saving measure during World War I. The British switched 1 year later, and the United States followed in 1918, when Congress passed the Standard Time Act, which established our time zones.

This experiment lasted until 1920, when the law was repealed due to opposition from dairy farmers (cows don’t pay attention to clocks). During World War II, Daylight Saving Time was imposed once again (this time, year-round) to save fuel.

Holiday Home Safety

 

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Winter Home

We’re heading into the heart of the holiday season.  Last minute shoppers are finishing their lists and houses are being prepped for parties with family and friends.  With all that goes on during the month of December, it’s easy to forget about the importance of home safety.  According to the FBI, nearly 400,000 burglaries occur during the months of November and December alone.  During this time of year, home invaders know that homes are filled with expensive gifts and that the good silverware is out for holiday dinners and parties.

The holiday season brings lots of in and out, family travel, and empty homes. With our minds in three different places, it’s easy to forget to keep a light on, lock the back door, or to close the garage door.  Remembering to do something as simple as keeping a light on can greatly reduce your chance of becoming a burglary statistic.  Last year, our agency suggested 8 products or services that you could use to prevent a holiday break in.  To view those items, follow this link: 8 Ways to Prevent a Holiday Break-In.  This post will offer 8 more suggestions to address home safety during the holidays.

  1. Keep a light on:  Making your home appear that it’s occupied is a great crime deterrent.  Putting lights on timers or leaving a TV or music on are also good ways to make it look like you’re home.
  2. Lock up: Keep your doors and windows locked, even if you’re stepping out for a short trip.  Keep in mind that running lights and extension cords through windows can make for easy access for home invaders.
  3. Keep gifts hidden: Leaving gifts and valuables in plain site adds further incentive for a home invader to choose you over your neighbor.  Keep gifts and valuables out of plain site when you’re away from home or out shopping!  Car thefts are also very popular this time of year, leave the bags in the trunk!
  4. Be careful what you share on social media: Whether it be your travel plans or the gifts you received, you never know who else is looking at that.  Check your privacy settings on your social media channels to control who can see what.  Also keep in mind that when a friend likes, comments, or favorites a post/tweet that others may see that as well.
  5. Break down your boxes: This is one time that your home should not offer great curb appeal.  Once gifts are exchanged, break down the boxes so that potential home invaders don’t have an easy look at what’s inside.  This is especially important for any big ticket items.  Failing to do so makes it very easy for potential home invaders to case a neighborhood and choose their targets based on the gifts you received.
  6. Don’t let mail or newspapers build up: If you’re heading out of town for an extended period of time ask a neighbor, friend or family member to collect your mail.  Again, giving the appearance that the home is occupied with mail being collected and your lights on timers will help deter home invaders.  Another option is to ask the USPS to hold your mail.
  7. Get to know your neighbors:  This suggestion follows on asking a trusted person to pick up your mail, check on the house etc.  Your neighbors are a great resource and the best security system you could ask for.  They know your vehicles and likely have a general idea on your schedule.  Talk to them if you’re going out of town for an extended period of time.  A neighborhood of informed and alert neighbors will help prevent a burglary loss.
  8. Post a sign: Purchase a security monitoring sign and place it in the window or the yard.  The thought alone might be enough to convince the home invader take a pass on your house.

No one is completely immune to a burglary loss.  However, taking these home safety precautions can reduce the risk of it happening to you.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Colonial Insurance Agency!

How to prepare for trick-or-treaters!

Trick or Treat WI

Trick-or-treaters will soon be taking to the streets, expecting a fun filled day or night with family, friends, and of course candy. Unfortunately, all of this fun can come at a cost if homeowners don’t take the right precautions to keep visiting trick-or-treaters safe. This post is designed to point out liability exposures that Halloween can present to homeowners.

(Child safety is of course number one, so reference this Reader’s Digest article on how to keep your trick-or-treater safe: 7 Trick-or-Treating Safety Tips. )

  1. Trips and Falls: Speed and efficiency are two important qualities in a dedicated trick-or-treater. Kids are often focused on how quickly they can get from house to house. To avoid any trips and falls on your property, check the path (that you hope) trick-or-treaters will take. Make sure that the path is well lit and that all decorations and landscaping features are removed from the path. A serious fall could put your homeowner liability limit on the line.
  2. Vehicle Vandalism: On Halloween, the Highway Loss Data Institute found that vehicles are almost twice as likely to be vandalized than any other day of the year. Halloween generates an average of 1,250 vehicle vandalism claims each year. Your best bet, park your vehicle(s) in the garage.
  3. Dog Bites: Halloween brings heavy traffic to the home and while it can be fun for kids and homeowners, it can be a stressful time for dogs. Even the most docile dog can act out due to anxiety. The dog may be used to kids and visitors…but those kids may not always be dressed up as Darth Vader or Batman. If a costume is enough to make you step back when opening a door, consider being eye level with it as a dog! This isn’t meant to say that all dogs need to be put in a kennel or a separate room, just be careful. The Insurance Information Institute found that in 2013, $479 million in dog related damages were paid out (not just on Halloween).
  4. Burglary: A dark and empty house usually encourages trick-or-treaters to skip you and move on to the next one. However, the local burglar would be happy to stop by for a visit. A dark empty home is an easy target and increases the chance of theft. Keep a couple of lights on and reduce those chances. Have a dog? They’ll help too!
  5. You got “TP’d”: Pranksters will be pranksters, there is no avoiding that. If you get toilet papered, please just don’t do this: Family Burns Down House Cleaning Up Toilet Paper.  If there is severe damage to the tree or property, contact your agent for guidance and policy details.

Lastly, a little laugh. Check out this video of a Mutant Giant Spider Dog.

8 Ways to Winterize Your Home

Are you ready for another Wisconsin winter?  Ready or not, you can make sure that your home is ready for the winter months ahead by following these 8 ways to winterize your home. Gutters

  1. Clean Your Gutters: Once the leaves fall off of the trees, be sure to remove them from your gutters.  Clean gutters will help prevent against icicles and ice dams.  A serious ice dam problem can lead to a very messy water loss to the inside of your home.  If you have certain areas on your roof that are prone to large ice build up, consider a de-icing cable kit, such as the Frost King product found at your local Home Depot store.
  2. Flush the Water Heater: Over time, particles and sediment will collect at the bottom of your water heater.  This reduces the efficiency of the unit and can lead to malfunction.  Winter is a bad time to be without a water heater.  Take the time to flush the water through the drain valve.  This will help remove the particles and sediment build-up.
  3. Replace Filters: This should be a routine task in maintaining your home.  The winter months in Wisconsin typically mean long run times for your heating system, making replacement filters that much more important.  A clean and quality filter can greatly improve the efficiency and longevity of your system.
  4. Insulate:  Increasing the amount of insulation in your walls, attic, floor, and basement is a great way to keep heat inside.  An insulated home typically loses about a quarters of its heat through the roof.  Apply a thicker layer to your attic to keep those heating costs down!
  5. Check the Fireplace:  To start, make sure that your chimney is clean.  If it hasn’t been professionally cleaned for a while, call a chimney sweep to remove the soot and creosote.  Chimney fires are a major cause of loss for homeowners, a clean one can greatly reduce the likelihood of it happening to you.  Also, be sure to check that your caps and screens are in place…nobody needs a critter running through their house.  Lastly, make sure that the damper is operating correctly.  If you follow these steps, your chimney will continue to be a great source of added heat and relaxation during the Wisconsin winter months.
  6. Check Your Plumbing:  Locate your water main, just in case you need to shut it off in an emergency.  Be sure to drain and remove all outdoor hoses and to close their valves.  On the inside of the house, make sure that exposed plumbing is insulated.  Taking these steps will greatly reduce the chance of experiencing a pipe burst.
  7. Check Your Safety Detectors:  Make sure that your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working properly.  Test the battery and the function of each unit.  If you’re not sure when the battery was last replaced, spring for a new one.
  8. Furnace Inspection:  Call an HVAC professional to inspect your furnace.  An HVAC professional will be able to diagnose any problems or deficiencies in your unit.  From there, their knowledge and expertise will be able to get your unit running to its full capacity, keeping you and your home comfortable during those cold Wisconsin nights.