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Focus on Phishing: Take these quizzes to see if you are smarter than the criminals

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the time of year when cybersecurity experts from government, academia and industry remind us of the importance of safeguarding our digital information and reviewing our online safety practices.

One of the most common ways that crooks and criminals get your personal financial data is through phishing. Phishing is using email spoofing and other tricks to get you to give up personal info or click to a dangerous website that might expose you to a virus or a computer hijack. Never ever click on links or download things from a stranger!

But don’t just worry about bad emails from strangers – worry about bad emails from people and brands you trust. Many of the big brands we use everyday – Microsoft, Netflix, PayPal, Amazon, Apple – are regularly spoofed and we are tricked into clicking when we see messages like “your account is being disabled” or “thanks for your recent purchase” when you hadn’t made one. Or from a friend or family member, emails saying “this is a riot – click here” or a boss saying “We need your bank credentials for direct deposit.” If something seems off or strange or odd, it probably is. It’s better to be safe and not sorry so double check if you have doubt. Phishers are good at gaining our trust or exploiting our fears.

It’s vital to learn about how to avoid being caught by a phisher. We’ve assembled some quizzes to give you practice. But be warned, these are pretty difficult. If you take the time, however, even wrong answers will teach you something about what to look for and how to spot a fake.

Our top tips for avoiding phishing scams

  • Don’t click any links or download anything from a sender you don’t know or trust. It’s always worth double-checking. If it’s a web link from your bank, instead of clicking, go to your bank website directly by typing in the Web address in your browser. If it’s a phone call, hang up and call your bank.
  • Get in the habit of hovering over links to see who the email is really coming from and where a link is actually sending you. Learn how. On a mobile device? It’s a little trickier but you can and should still learn the source of a link from someone you don’t know. Here’s how: How to Check Embedded Links on Your Mobile Device
  • Phishing emails often have poor grammar or spelling mistakes. That’s a big clue that it’s a fake.
  • Be suspicious of any email or phone calls that demand you take action right away or that threaten you. The IRS and Medicare don’t call or email to threaten you or demand money. Urgency and threats are hallmarks of fraud.
  • Avoid filling out forms in email messages that ask for personal financial information. You should only communicate information such as credit card numbers or account information via a secure website or the telephone.
  • Always ensure that you’re using a secure website when submitting credit card or other sensitive information via your Web browser. Look for “https” in the URL. How Can I Tell If a Website Is Safe? Look For These 5 Signs
  • Consider installing a Web browser tool bar to help protect you from known fraudulent websites
  • Regularly log into your online accounts to ensure that all transactions are legitimate
  • Ensure that your browser is up to date and security patches applied
  • Always report “phishing” or “spoofed” e-mails to the following groups: forward the email to reportphishing@antiphishing.org; forward the email to the Federal Trade Commission at spam@uce.gov; when forwarding spoofed messages, always include the entire original email with its original header information intact
  • Take extra precaution when traveling. Don’t login to financial sites when on a free, public Wi-Fi..

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.



Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

Fall is time to batten down the hatches before old man winter comes to call. Depending on where you live in the country, your maintenance may vary a bit. While snow can happen in all 50 states, in some states it’s pretty darn rare. Louisiana, Florida and Hawaii are the least likely states to get snow, while New York, Wyoming and Vermont top the list – check your state. But surprise storms do occur, even in the south. And the toll that winter takes on your house and yard isn’t limited to snow: winter cold snaps, freezing rain, harsh winds, hail and ice can also cause damage so it’s good to prepare now while the weather is mild. And don’t forget that hurricane season continues through November!

Check out our prior post on Winterizing: Money saving ideas for heating your home – something to think about over the autumn months. We’ve also compiled a checklist of other tasks to tackle before the colder weather sets in.

  • Have your furnace, heating and hot water system inspected and cleaned by a professional, This is important for oil-fired  to prevent puffback.
  • Inspect and clean chimneys and fireplaces.
  • Clean air ducts and vents.
  • Check and replace air filters and reverse ceiling fans.
  • Winterize water pipes.
  • Turn off exterior faucets and water sources.
  • Drain lawn irrigation systems.
  • Check roof and shingles and make any repairs.
  • Take steps to prevent ice dams
  • Clean gutters.
  • Check foundation, cellar and garage for gaps where critters could get in.
  • Insulate doors and windows to prevent drafts.
  • Test smoke and CO2 detectors; replace batteries.
  • Check and repair walkways, stairs, driveways.
  • Check and repair garage doors.
  • Clean outdoor pools and prep or cover for the winter.
  • Store or cover outdoor furniture and grills.
  • Bring in summer yard equipment.
  • Cover air conditioners.
  • Check and repair outdoor lighting.
  • Clean the clothes dryer to prevent fires.
  • Check and test winter equipment such as your snowblower.
  • Ensure you have shovels, sand, ice scrapers on hand.
  • Stock up on firewood if you have a fireplace or stove. Here are good tips for storing firewood.
  • Review your homeowners policy to understand what it covers. Have a talk with your independent insurance agent to address any gaps.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.



Scam and Fraud roundup: The latest cons

Thieves are highly creative and spend 24-7 just trying to figure out ways to separate you from your money. Even if you are super safe and cautious, you can be a victim of a con, a phish or a fraud. Scams happen both online and off – but it’s quite efficient for criminals to mass target potential victims via the phone and email. Check our our roundup of some of the latest scams, according to some of our favorite security sources.

Social Security is not trying to take your benefits
The Federal Trade Commission posts a robocall of the latest scams which threaten to end your benefits. They offer this reminder:

  • Your Social Security number is not about to be suspended.
  • The real Social Security Administration will never call to threaten your benefits.
  • The real SSA will never tell you to wire money, send cash, or put money on a gift card.

American Express Phishing Attack Targets Customers
If you are an American Express cardholder, learn the email phishing and phone scams. Learn more about it and how to avoid it. Also remember this good advice:

Never click a link or download an attachment that you are not expecting
If the email came from your boss, pick up the phone and verify it. If it appears to come from a company you do business with, ignore the email and go directly to their website. From there, you can see if there is an issue with your account.

Don’t pay for help with student loans
If you have student loan debt, a program that promises to reduce or erase it might sound like just what you need. But some of these programs just take lots of your money and give you no help — or do only what you could have done easily by yourself.  Don’t pay for help finding money for College; Don’t pay for the Application for Federal Student Aid(FAFSA®) form – it’s free; Avoid scams for loan or forgiveness – you can contact the lender yourself. The Department of Education has a great resource on Avoiding Scams that offers detailed explanations of common scams and reputable sources for grants and scholarships. Also, see this one page handout: Don’t Get Scammed on Your Way to College

Don’t Fall for Equifax Settlement Scams
Scammers are looking to cash in on the buzz surrounding the Equifax data breach, specifically the ability for consumers to check their data and file a claim if they were affected. If you were a victim of the Equifax breach, learn how to avoid scammers and get to the legitimate sources.

The latest news on romance scams
People reported losing $143 million in romance schemes last year, more than any other type of fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission.

How not to get scammed, according to a former con artist
You may recall Frank Abagnale – or if not him, you may recall Leonardo DiCaprio’s depiction of him in the 2002 Spielberg film, Catch Me If You Can. Abagnale was a highly successful conman until he was caught and served 5 year in prison decades ago. He later became a security consultant for the US government and FBI. Read his recent interview in Vox, where he talks about his latest book dealing with robocalls, IRS fraud, and good old-fashioned stolen passwords. He says these are still some of the leading ways that Americans lost $16.8 billion to scams in 2017. According to Abegnale, “Crime is basically the same; the only thing that’s changed is today there are so many forms of communication and the ability to scam someone from thousands of miles away without ever really having personal contact with them.” See our past post on Abegnale, A conman you should listen to.

Past posts on scams & fraud

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.



When should you book your holiday flights? Experts say right now!

OK. We know that the leaves haven’t turned yet, and the smell of pumpkin spice is barely wafting through the air. We aren’t even in Halloween prime time yet. We assure you, we aren’t trying to rush things, but we’d like to offer some seriously good advice: If you plan to fly someplace for the holidays – either for Thanksgiving or for the Christmas / Hanukkah / Kwanzaa window – it’s not too early to book your plane travel now. In fact, it may be the ideal time.

According to AAA Travel’s flight booking data from the last three years, Sept. 25 marks the start of the best booking window for air travel over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. It’s generally the best time for both availability and price deals. While it’s true that there are sometimes last-minute deals for travel, there is limited availability – so if you want the best availability and choice, start looking soon.

See AAA’s advice for the best days to travel on both holidays windows: The Best Time to Book Your Holiday Flights? Now! Check their article for some detailed advice. We’re reproducing two of their handy charts.

AAA Thanksgiving travel -chart of best dates

AAA - Christmas holiday travel = best times chart

SmarterTravel offers their take on timing: The 12 Best and Worst Days to Travel This Holiday Season. They show the busiest travel days around both holidays by share of bookings from travel booking site Hipmunk. They also offer some advice on snagging the best fares.

For train travel, Amtrak offers Tips for Successfully Booking Your Trip. They say that “The earlier you book your tickets, the more likely you are to get the lowest fare available for the dates you want on the routes along your journey. You may book your travel up to 11 months in advance.” See their Tips for Savvy Travelers.

In planning your trip, consider whether you need trip insurance. If you are just zipping home on a domestic flight to visit your folks, you might not need it. Instead, before you book, check your credit cards to see if any offer baggage protection or other travel benefits when you book a flight – many do. And know your consumer rights – see the Department of Transportation’s Fly Rights: A Consumer Guide to Air Travel.

But if you are taking an expensive family trip over the holidays and traveling overseas or on a cruise, you might want to talk trip insurance over with your agent to protect your investment. The Insurance Information Institute offers a good primer: Should you buy travel insurance?

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.



When will you be driving a robotic car? Take an interactive online trip

Whatever you call them – robot cars, driverless cars, autonomous vehicles, self-driving cars – they are definitely in your future. But the question is, how far in your future?

They’re being tested already – more than 1,400 self-driving vehicles are operating in 36 states right now. Most states, but not all, require a backup driver.

Take an interactive urban trip as the backup driver in the Washington Post’s autonomous (self-driving) car simulation. It offers an interesting perspective on  the strengths and weaknesses in the way these cars work and how they interact with the environment around them. The Post invites you to sit in the passenger seat and play the role as the backup driver. And that’s an important role because the cars may miss some hazards and they can’t operate in certain weather conditions that interfere with their sensors, causing them to pull over suddenly and shut down entirely.

This interactive  feature is a fun way to learn more about how the cars work and their limitations. You can learn more about some of the system’s weaknesses in article in Insurance Journal by Alan Levin and Ryan Beene: Automated Driver Assist Cars Still a Work in Progress:

The radars and cameras used to sense obstructions ahead each have their limitations and computer software that evaluates the data is still a work in progress, according to the experts and advocates. In many cases, they are better at tracking moving vehicles ahead than recognizing parked ones.

But there are definite pluses, too:

To be sure, automated driving systems have clear potential to improve traffic safety by supplementing the driver. Automatic emergency braking alone has been found by IIHS to reduce rates of rear-end crashes by half, and the insurer-funded group estimates that the system could reduce police-reported crashes of all types by 20%.

Many autonomous or self-driving features are already making their way into our new cars now. These are generally referred to as advanced driver assistance systems. See 7 Self-Driving Car Features You Can Buy Now (and Some You May Already Have) from Autotrader. And cars.com breaks down self-driving features by car make.

But event these new tech features have a ways to go before they are up to par and winning driver acceptance. A recent survey by JD Power showed that many driver-assist features are seen as annoyances;

J.D. Power’s 2019 U.S. Tech Experience Index Study, published today, surveyed more than 20,000 consumers earlier this year, most of whom purchased or leased a model-year 2019 vehicle during the previous 90 days. Nearly a quarter of the group found alerts “annoying or bothersome” from systems that mitigate lane departure or actively center the vehicle, the study said. Such alerts range from hands-on-the-wheel warnings to lane departure chimes. For those who find them annoying, more than half said they sometimes disable the systems; among those who weren’t annoyed, only one-fifth or so indicated the same.

Some of the complaints can be chalked up to drivers being unfamiliar with the technology and uncertain about how it operates, so presumably we’ll all get more comfortable with things as we grow familiar with them.

So it’s not likely you’ll be able to read the latest best sellers while lounging in the back seat of your robot car on your upcoming commutes. But on the other hand, sophisticated technologies are leading to safer cars and fewer accidents – a big win for us all!

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.



Fall foliage planner: find the best times and places to enjoy the season

Plan the best of the foliage season this year with an interactive fall foliage map from SmokeyMountains.com. The national map offers a slider so you can search by date to see where and when has reached minimal change, partial, near peak, peak or past peak across the nation from September through November. It also includes interesting information about why leaves change colors.

And here are some suggestions of where to get the best views.

New England foliage and autumn activities

Of course, those of us who live in New England are a little snobby about our status as a prime fall destination and foliage viewing point. From Yankee Magazine, find a New England foliage map, as well as links to articles on the best seasonal things to do, from festivals and fairs to places and driving routes:

  • 10 Places to Visit in New England in Fall
  • Favorite Fall Foliage Drives in New England
  • Best Corn Mazes in New England
  • Best Apple Orchards in New England
  • Fall Foliage Train Tours
  • 5 Best Pumpkin Festivals in New England
  • 12 New England Fairs to Visit This Fall

Yankee also offers a free Yankee Magazine’s Ultimate Guide to Autumn in New England, one of many free New England Guides. Also see Town & Country for their picks of 14 Incredible Spots to See Fall Foliage Across New England

As you’re out on the roads leaf-peeping, visiting apple orchards or commuting to-and-from work this autumn, keep a sharp eye out: The likelihood of striking a deer more than doubles in the fall. Your normal odds of a ruminant-related collision claim are about 1 in 169, but the likelihood more than doubles during October, November and December. See our post: Watch the roads: Autumn is peak deer-vehicle collision season

Florida in the Fall
For our agents, clients and friends in Florida, while the foliage may not be quite as brilliant, you can indeed enjoy the change of season in the great outdoors through wonderful trails, scenic highways, beaches, festivals and fairs. Here are some suggestions:

These suggestions should give you some good options. One more thing: When you’re on the road, it’s always a good idea to have your local insurance agent’s name and number with you in case any mishaps occur on the road. Make sure you have your independent insurance agent’s info in your phone contacts listing!

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.



Hurricane Dorian Toolkit: Emergency Prep and Tracking Resources

As we approach the Labor Day weekend, Florida is under a state of emergency as Hurricane Dorian approaches. Today, the storm is a Category 2, but weather experts warn that it holds the potential to develop into a Category 4 when it hits land. It’s still early to project, but landfall is expected late Monday or Tuesday. Everyone is on standby.

We’re deploying resources in a Hurricane Toolkit as a just-in-case. September is National Preparedness Month and, remember, hurricane season lasts thorough November so it’s a handy bookmark. We’ll be keeping an eye on things over the weekend and may add to the resources if evacuations or other emergency measures are needed.

Florida Emergency Resources

FloridaDisaster.org (Division of Emergency Management) is the single best source for information. See specific information on Emergency Information for Hurricane Dorian. You can also visit the sister site for commercial businesses: FloridaDisaster.Biz

On social media, you can find updates from the Florida State Emergency Response Team (SERT) on Twitter and on Facebook

US Coast Guard Southeast on Twitter and on Facebook

Florida Power Tracker

Florida Department of Education – Hurricane Dorian

Florida 511 APP – Get up-to-the-minute, real-time traffic conditions and incident information for the State of Florida with Florida 511 app.

Florida Storms APP – Florida Public Radio Emergency Network

FEMA App

Hurricane Dorian – tracking & live weather coverage

Hurricane Prep & Checklists

Insurance Information Institute: What to do when a hurricane threatens
When the storm approaches, don’t get caught with your windows down

Insurance Information Institute: Hurricane Awareness
Hurricanes can shatter lives as well as damage property. Fortunately there are steps you can take to minimize a hurricane’s impact.

Insurance Information Institute: Five Steps to preparing an effective evacuation plan
Disaster readiness will help keep you and your family safe and secure

Red Cross – Hurricane Safety Checklist

FEMA: How to Prepare for a Hurricane

Common sense advice …Before and after a hurricane

Hurricane Preparation Checklist To Protect Your Technology

Taking Care of your pets during hurricanes & floods

FDA Offers Tips about Medical Devices and Hurricane Disasters

Food and Water Safety During Power Outages and Floods

Red Cross Free Emergency Apps – includes a hurricane app, first aid, and many other useful apps.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.



School bus safety tips for kids and for drivers

Now that we’re in back-to-school season, take the time to teach your children school bus safety. Even if you’ve done it before, good habits can be forgotten over the lazy summer days so be sure to review procedures at the start of every new school year. Consumer Reports offers School Bus Safety Tips for Back to School. They suggest tips for safety while waiting for and getting on the bus, while riding the bus, and exiting the bus. It’s particularly important to give kids safety rules about remaining visible to the bus driver at all times when entering or exiting the bus or crossing in front of our behind the bus.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a helpful back to school safety tip sheet. We’re reprinting the safety tips that deal with traveling to and from school safely.

SCHOOL BUS SAFETY FOR KIDS

  • Children should always board and exit the bus at locations that provide safe access to the bus or to the school building.
  • Remind your child to wait for the bus to stop before approaching it from the curb.
  • Make sure your child walks where she can see the bus driver (which means the driver will be able to see her, too).
  • Remind your student to look both ways to see that no other traffic is coming before crossing the street – traffic does not always stop as required. Practice with your child how to cross the street several times prior to the first day of school.
  • Teach your child to respect all the bus rules, including staying seated and listening to the driver.
  • If your child’s school bus has lap/shoulder seat belts, make sure your child uses one at all times when in the bus. (If your child’s school bus does not have lap/shoulder belts, encourage the school system to buy or lease buses with lap/shoulder belts).
  • Check on the school’s policy regarding food on the bus.  Eating on the bus can present a problem for students with allergy and also lead to infestations of insects and vermin on the vehicles.
  • If your child has a chronic condition that could result in an emergency on the bus, make sure you work with the school nurse or other school health personnel to have a bus emergency plan, if possible, prior to the first day of class.

MOTORISTS, TAKE HEED!

Train yourself to be as alert for school bus lights as you are for traffic lights. Motorists need to a complete stop when lights are flashing. Failure to do so can result in steep fines and points added to your driving record for years to come. In Massachusetts, failure to stop can result in a ticket of up to $250. That fine can go up to $2,000 and a suspended license of up to a year for subsequent offenses. In Florida, the minimum fine is $165, or $265  if you pass on the side where children enter and exit, In Connecticut, failure to stop for a school bus with flashing red warning lights can result in a hefty fine of $465 for a first offense. See state school bus laws for motorists and state motorist fines for school bus violations.

KIDS AS PEDESTRIANS OR BIKERS

If your kids are walking or riding a bike to school, they need to learn how to be safe around vehicles and traffic. Here are more tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics about walking or biking to and from school:

WALKING TO SCHOOL

  • Children are generally ready to start walking to school at 9 to 11 years of age as long as they are at the right developmental skill level and show good judgment.
  • Make sure your child’s walk to school is a safe route with well-trained adult crossing guards at every intersection.
  • Be realistic about your child’s pedestrian skills. Because small children are impulsive and less cautious around traffic, carefully consider whether or not your child is ready to walk to school without adult supervision. If the route home requires crossing busier streets than your child can reasonably do safely, have an adult, older friend or sibling escort them home.
  • If your children are young or are walking to a new school, walk with them or have another adult walk with them the first week or until you are sure they know the route and can do it safely. If your child will need to cross a street on the way to school, practice safe street crossing with them before the start of school.
  • Identify other children in the neighborhood with whom your child can walk to school.  In neighborhoods with higher levels of traffic, consider organizing a “walking school bus,” in which an adult accompanies a group of neighborhood children walking to school.
  • Bright-colored clothing or a visibility device, like a vest or armband with reflectors, will make your child more visible to drivers.

BIKING

  • Practice the bike route to school before the first day of school to make sure your child can manage it.
  • Always wear a bicycle helmet, no matter how short or long the ride.
  • Ride on the right, in the same direction as auto traffic and ride in bike lanes if they are present.
  • Use appropriate hand signals.
  • Respect traffic lights and stop signs.
  • Wear bright-colored clothing to increase visibility. White or light-colored clothing and reflective gear is especially important after dark.
  • Know the “rules of the road.”

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.



How well do you know your stuff? Create a home inventory!

Pop quiz – without looking, see how you do answering these questions:

  • What are the makes and years of your major kitchen appliances?
  • How many pairs of pants do you own? Jackets? Shoes? Boots?
  • What year did you buy your mattress and bed frame and what brand is it?
  • Name all the power tools you own. List the contents of your tool chest?
  • What brand of dinnerware and flatware do you own and when did you buy it?
  • List all your AV equipment, the make, the brand and the year you bought it.
  • Write down everything in your living room. Include what’s in the drawers and closets.

It’s not so easy remembering that stuff, is it?

It would be even harder if you were trying to recall all your stuff right after your house was destroyed in a fire or demolished in a hurricane. That’s why it’s important to keep a home inventory. If you find yourself under the terrible stress of recovering from a disaster or even a burglary, you don’t need the added burden of trying to remember all the possessions you lost so that you can be properly reimbursed by your insurer. A good home inventory will help you document your losses and make it easier to file a claim and get it processed.

You can record your “stuff” in a notebook (old-school style), but phones and computers have really simplified the process. A simple spreadsheet will do the trick, or use your phone to take  room-by-room videos and document with photos. Or download an inventory app. Just be sure that you have multiple copies, that you store your inventory in a safe and accessible place and you keep it updated. Even if you make a hand-written version, you can scan it and keep it online in cloud storage.

If you’ve never done a home inventory, it can be a daunting job, but there are tools to help. And going forward, things will be much easier if you get in the habit of taking photos of new purchases and saving receipts. Log serial numbers, when available.

Consumer Reports offers advice on How to Inventory Your Home for an Insurance Adjuster – including this short video:

Here’s more home inventory advice from people who should know: insurers.

If you are interested in an app to help you create a home inventory, here are some reviews of top picks:

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.



Buying a used car? Don’t get scammed by title washing

You see a nice used car at the local dealership that would be great for your college-bound son. You buy the car, and a few weeks later, you get a call that your son is being held by police on a charge of car theft. What!?! You spend considerable time to prove he is not a criminal and that you recently bought the car. You clear things up for your son but the issue of the car is not so simple. You are the victim of title washing. The car is indeed a stolen vehicle so you won’t get that back.

If that sounds like a far-fetched scenario, it’s not. It’s exactly what happened recently to a Chicago couple who suffered a $24,000 loss on a used car they’d recently bought. Both they and the car dealership where they bought it were victims of a title washing ring that is now under investigation.

A title washing scam might seem like a relatively obscure thing, but it’s not. It’s estimated that used car buyers are scammed up to $30 billion a year in what the National Association of Attorneys General calls the worst problem used car buyers face. Experts say that as many as 1 in 44 titles in some states have been washed.

In simple terms, title washing is a scam in which the paperwork for stolen vehicles is faked or forged. But it’s not just stolen cars – title washing is also a way to clear a troubled car’s history, a common way to re-market cars that have been totaled, salvaged or flood-damaged. This article offers a good overview of the practice: Title Washing in America – Lemons without the Lemonade  It includes a handy list of red flags to look for when buying a used car, which we’ve reprinted below.

One lesson to be learned from this is not to rely solely on the title when buying a used car. In buying a used car, be sure to check if it has been declared stolen or totaled by searching the car’s VIN:

Of course, there are other best practices beyond just checking the title when buying a used car. See these sources for more tips:

red flags for buying aused car

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.



 


Contact

Pope Insurance Agency, Inc.

25 Taunton Street
Plainville, MA 02762

Ph: 508-695-7938
Fax: 508-695-0448
Email: info@popeins.com

Hours of Operation
Monday-Friday 9:00 am — 5:00 pm

Please check our Facebook page for early closings due to holidays or inclement weather

25 Taunton Street, Plainville, MA 02762

(508) 695-7938 •  FAX (508) 695-0048 •  info@popeins.com  •  Compensation Disclosure