The holidays are just around the corner, and it’s time to start thinking about what gifts to buy your loved ones. The holiday shopping season is a fun-filled time, but it presents risks since there are so many transactions taking place and more opportunities for identity theft to occur.

Did you know that according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 17.6 million persons, or about 7 percent of U.S. residents age 16 or older, are victims of at least one incident of identity theft every year?

The most common type of identity theft is the unauthorized misuse or attempted misuse of an existing account—experienced by 16.4 million persons. Most identity theft victims discovered the incident when a financial institution contacted them about suspicious activity (45 percent) or when they noticed fraudulent charges on an account (18 percent).

Two-thirds of identity theft victims reported a direct financial loss. And of those that experienced losses, approximately 14 percent lost $1,000 or more. With that information in mind, we have put together a list of 10 tips to avoid identity theft during this busy shopping season.

Be Wary of Contests
Many online contests promising large prizes could be scams, such as sources of computer viruses that will try to hijack your information.

Change Your Passwords
Have you had the same password for the last five years? It’s time to change it up. Create a long and complicated password and doesn’t reference any of your personal information like your birthday. Stay away from using coherent phrases by breaking up words with exclamation points and other symbols, and of course, don’t use the typical “password” or “1111.” It’s also crucial that you use a different password for each account. If you need help with this, try using a password vault instead of trying to memorize them all yourself.

Check Websites
Make sure that the websites you’re using are secure. To lessen your chances of becoming a victim of credit card theft, only enter your credit card information on sites with URLs beginning with “HTTPS.” The “S” in the address stands for “secure” and lets you know that your connection to the site is less likely to be overseen by hackers. This is especially important whenever you enter sensitive information, such as credit card or Social Security numbers.

Check Your Credit Score
As the end of the year approaches, take a look at your credit report to check for inaccuracies as well as monitor your credit score. Every person can receive one free report from each of the three credit bureaus.

Cover Up
Shield your credit card and PIN from view when making transactions so that thieves can’t steal your numbers by looking over your shoulder.

Don’t Trust Public WiFi.
It’s tempting to do your online shopping at Starbucks, but you shouldn’t trust public WiFi networks to protect your identity.

Email with Care
Don’t submit personal information via email, even if it’s for a reputable organization.

Only Use One Credit Card
Shopping online is a very efficient way to get every item on your list checked off, but consider ways to practice internet safety. For instance, designate one credit card for online shopping purposes instead of using multiple ones across different sites.

Take it with You
Identity theft doesn’t only happen over the internet. The police also advise against leaving items in the car as you go shopping. If someone breaks into your vehicle, they could steal something that reveals your identity and puts your information at risk.

Are you aware of the risks lurking in your laundry room? According to the U.S. Fire Administration, an estimated 2,900 clothes dryer fires are reported each year. And in 2013, more than 10,000 children were exposed to dangerous detergent, reports the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

Clean, check and store to maintain a safe laundry room.

What to Clean

  • Spills – Wipe them up as soon as they happen. Soapy detergent can cause falls, and clear bleach could be mistaken for water.
  • Lint Traps – Empty it after every load, and clean it with a nylon brush every six months.
  • Dryer Ducts and Vents – Hire professionals to clean your ducts and vent if you notice a decrease in dryer performance. If­­ you have pets or a large family, this could be necessary as often as twice a year.

What To Check

  • Dryer Ducts – Plastic dryer ducts are a fire hazard. Replace them with straight or flexible metal ducts.
  • Dryer Manual – This should tell you the space a dryer needs for proper airflow. Keep your dryer cool by keeping the area around it clutter free.
  • Dryer Vent Check the vent’s exterior output for blockages, such as leaves or bird nests.
  • Washing Machine Base – Make sure to place the machine in a pan connected to a drain to collect leaks before they cause major damage. This is especially important if your washer is located on an upper floor in your home.
  • Hoses – Replace washing machine supply lines every 3 to 5 years as part of a proactive maintenance plan.

What to Store

  • Detergents – Store detergents, bleach and fabric softeners out of reach of children and pets. Also talk to your kids about what’s safe to touch and what’s not.
  • Fire Extinguisher Thousands of fires start in laundry rooms each year; therefore, it’s smart to keep an extinguisher close.
  • Important Numbers – Keep your local poison center’s number posted in the laundry room in case of an emergency.

So another glorious summer is over, and what do we have to look forward to now? Just imagine it: 10-degree temperatures, icy slush to drive on, and cold, drafty breezes inside our homes. If that excites you, you’re living in the right area, and you’re in the right month. If the whole idea sends a chill down your spine, you’re in good company.
While most of us can’t do anything about the icy slush or the outside temps, we do have a good deal of control over how warm our homes can feel. The following list of tips provides some ideas on getting your home winter ready. Surprisingly, a few dollars spent upfront not only saves money all winter but makes us warmer as well. It’s kind of like having your warmth and your wallet, too.

Most of us would prefer to ignore our roof and hope it keeps taking care of us. Shingles can look OK from the ground but can be cracked, curled, and wind damaged when you get a closer look. And when there is a problem, you can’t fix it in the winter. That foot of snow that will be on your roof in January? Well, that will pretty much prevent any attempts at stopping the mold momentum that will be growing with each passing January hour.

If you can safely inspect your roof yourself, please feel free. If not, hire a home inspector or roofer that you trust. This is one of those items that meet the $10/$10,000 rule: a few dollars spent now can save you a bundle later this winter.

Rain Gutters
Many of us are quite unaware that rain gutters perform a vital purpose. Their job is to capture all that water from the roof and run it well away from the structure — especially the window wells. If your gutters are full of leaves, pine needles, kite string, and tennis balls, then water that doesn’t drain stays right there and freezes leaves you with a problem: an 800 lb. ice cube tray lurking over your head. And it’s just waiting for that perfect moment to fall.

Even worse: when your gutters don’t drain, you get water that drains where it shouldn’t. Now you have water into your window wells and mold in your manor. As a bonus, wet basements are an awesome way to introduce termites into your living space. To prevent all of the above, make sure your gutters are clean, drain toward the down spout, and drain tube at the end of the spout to run water well away from the foundation.

Nobody loves that waft of cold air flowing through your home in the middle of winter. Where does it come from? The usual suspects are the doors and windows, but it can come through electrical plugs and other openings on the exterior. There are solutions for all of the above, but the easiest and cheapest fix will be the weather stripping and door sweeps at your front and back doors. If you close your door and see daylight around the edges, then you have work to do. Don’t wait until you’re doing this project with the door open in 10-degree weather.

Hose Bibs
Ah, the lowly hose bib. Home inspectors will routinely see where homeowners leave a hose bib attached to something. One thing is pretty much certain: If you leave your hose on the hose bib all winter, you’ll have frozen pipes in the winter and broken pipes in the spring. When that valve is turned next March, you’ll find you’re the proud new owner of a swimming pool in your basement. The rot, mold, and termites will be soon to follow.

To avoid this, get all attachments off your hose bibs — now. Make sure that your hose bib is securely attached to the structure so you can’t pull the hose out of the house. It only takes two screws to do this right, but the absence of those two screws can mean the $10,000 fix is heading your way.

Heating and Cooling Systems
To be able to take care of you safely, your furnace needs to see some love. Get a good filter, and then make sure it goes where it actually filters the incoming air to your furnace. Take a look at where the air comes in and make sure your filter won’t lean, fall, or lift improperly when the air flow happens. Next, take a look at your furnace. If it looks like the place where all the dust on earth comes to die, you might have a problem. Get your furnace serviced regularly.

If you have a swamp cooler, you have some tasks to do. First, start saving — central air is better in 1,000 ways. Until then, make sure that the pan is drained, the supply line is drained, the supply valve is off, and the supply line is disconnected. Next, please make sure the unit is protected against drafting cold air into your home, the power is off, and for good measure, take out the motor and bring it in. Or roll the whole thing off the roof.

As we continue to experience freezing weather all across the country, it’s important to ensure your home is prepared for the plummeting temperatures.
A frozen pipe or collapsed roof will not only cost thousands of dollars in repairs to either you or your insurance company, but it will almost certainly displace you and your family from your home until the work is complete.
Below you will find a few tips on preventing potential damage to your property from freezing weather.
If you would like to know how your homeowners insurance policy would respond to the scenarios below, please feel free to give our office a call.

PREVENT ROOF COLLAPSE: Heavy snowfall can put a strain on a roof that could cause significant damage and even potential collapse. Unless your roof structure is damaged or decayed, most residential roofs, regardless of the house’s location, should be able to support 20 pounds of snow per square foot of roof space before they become stressed. Here’s how to determine the weight of snow/ice on your roof:
  • Fresh snow: 10-12 in. of new snow is equal to 1 inch of water, or about 5 lbs. per square foot of roof space, so you could have up to 4 ft. of new snow before the roof becomes stressed.
  • Packed snow:  3-5 in. of old snow is equal to 1 inch of water, or about 5 lbs. per square foot of roof space, so anything more than 2 ft. of old snow could be too much for your roof to handle.
  • Total accumulated weight:  2 ft. of old snow and 2 ft. of new snow could weigh as much as 60 lbs. per square foot of roof space, which is beyond the typical snow load capacity for most roofs.
  • Ice:  1 inch of ice equals 1 ft. of fresh snow.
Snow Removal: If you feel the load on your roof exceeds 20-25 pounds per square foot, you should consider removing snow from your roof.  For safe removal that won’t endanger you or damage your roof, use a snow rake with a long extension arm that will allow you to remove the snow while standing on the ground or hire a snow removal contractor.
PREVENT ICE DAMS: During freezing weather, heat from your home can escape through your roof and melt snow on your roof. The snowmelt can then trickle down to the roof’s edge and refreeze, creating an ice dam that leaves additional snowmelt with no place to go but possibly under your roof.

A two-step approach is the most effective way to reduce the size of ice dams. First, keep the attic floor well insulated to minimize the amount of heat from within the house that rises into the attic. Second, keep the attic well ventilated so that the cold air outside can circulate through it and reduce the roof system’s temperature. The colder the attic, the less thawing and refreezing on the roof.
Step One: Insulating the attic.  The attic floor should be airtight, have sufficient insulation, and keep the transfer of heat from the downstairs to the attic at a minimum. Even a well-insulated attic floor may have several openings that can permit warm air from below to seep up into the attic. For instance, these items may cut through the attic floor:

  • Exhaust pipes and plumbing vents
  • Fireplace and heating system chimneys
  • Light fixtures

Seal all openings around these penetrations, but be careful not to block attic vents with insulation. Additionally, pull-down stairs or a set of regular stairs leading up to the attic from the lower level can be avenues for rising heat. Weatherstripping around the edges of the attic access door and insulation on the door’s attic side should minimize the passage of heat to the attic.
Step Two:  Ventilating the attic. There are several ways to ventilate your attic. To the extent that household heat penetrates the attic, it should be able to rise and escape through, for instance, a ridge vent, while soffit or eave vents pull in cold air to replace it. Proper ventilation of the attic to let cold in, together with air sealing and insulation on the attic floor to help keep household heat out of the attic, work to minimize the likelihood of ice dams.

PREVENT FROZEN PIPES:  Frozen pipes are among the biggest risks of property damage when the temperature drops. In fact, a burst pipe can result in more than $5,000 in water damage. Prevent costly water damage caused by frozen pipes by using the following guidance.
  • Insulate all attic penetrations.
  • Ensure proper seals on all doors and windows.
  • Seal all wall cracks and penetrations, including electrical conduit and other utility service lines.
  • Place a monitored automatic excess flow switch on the main incoming domestic water line to provide early detection of a broken pipe or valve when the space is unoccupied.
INSTALL WEATHER STRIPPING AND SEALS:  Prevent freezing temperatures from entering your home or business by installing weather stripping and seals. This offers two major benefits – it will keep severe winter weather out of your home or business, and sealing your property also shut greatly increases energy efficiency by limiting drafts and reducing the amount of cold air that enters. Inspect the following areas of your home or business for leaks to determine possible areas to seal.
  • Windows and doors
  • Vents and fans
  • Plumbing
  • Air conditioners
  • Electrical and gas lines
  • Mail chutes

Today’s furnaces do an amazing job at simultaneously keeping our homes safe and warm. But just like any fuel-burning appliance, your furnace can develop problems that can lead to safety hazards in your home. To keep your home protected all season long, today, we’re providing you with six furnace safety tips to keep in mind this winter!

6 furnace safety tips to keep in mind this winter

  • Schedule your annual tune-up. One of the most important aspects of an annual furnace tune-up is where a serviceperson checks to ensure that your system is running safely. During your tune-up, he or she will look for any problems like a cracked heat exchanger or frayed electrical wires that could lead to safety hazards in your home. That’s why a tune-up is essential if you want to have the peace-of-mind that your furnace will run all winter safely long!
  • Test your carbon monoxide detectors. A carbon monoxide leak is one of the biggest safety threats that a malfunctioning furnace can pose to your home. That’s why it’s important to check that all of your home’s carbon monoxide detectors are working properly. Be sure to test all of the detectors in your home and install a fresh pair of batteries in each unit.
  • Test your smoke alarms. Certain severe furnace problems can lead to fire hazards, which is why this is the time of year that you should also be checking your home’s smoke alarms. Just like with your CO detectors, test all of the smoke alarms in your home, and install a fresh pair of batteries in each unit.
  • Keep the area around your furnace clear. You can help minimize the chance of fire hazards from your furnace by keeping the area around your system clear. Although you should avoid storing anything near your furnace, this is especially true for any flammable products or materials.
  • Change your air filter when it’s dirty. A dirty air filter will restrict airflow to your furnace, which will overwork your system and potentially increase the risk of a carbon monoxide leak. Also, a dirty filter will allow dirt to build upon your furnace’s components, which can cause several efficiencies, performance, and safety issues. That’s why it’s important to check and/or change your filter once a month this winter.

If you ever wondered what the chances are that an intruder will find his way into your home, you’ll want to read on. According to the FBI, the United States leads the world in burglary occurrences with over 2.2 million instances each year.\

In fact, 23.8 percent of property claims involve burglary, causing an estimated $4.6 billion in lost property. Plus, with only 13 percent of burglaries cleared by police, the likelihood of retrieving your stolen items is fairly small.

This brings up two important questions:

  1. Are there items that make homes more susceptible to burglary?
  2. What can be done to help prevent it?

Below is a breakdown of where and how burglaries occur, along with some additional information on protecting your residence from potential break-ins.

If you have additional questions on how your homeowners insurance responds to burglary, please feel free to give our office a call.

Where do burglaries occur?
Of all burglaries, 60.5 percent involved a forcible entry, with another 33.2 percent as unlawful entries (without force). The majority of break-ins occur in the following locations:

  • Front Door: 34%
  • First-Floor Windows: 23%
  • Side Entry: 22%
  • Garage: 9%

What can I do to help prevent it?

Protect the House:

  • Make your home look occupied and make it difficult to break in.
  • Leave lights on when you go out. If you are away for a length of time, connect some lamps to automatic timers to turn them on in the evening and off during the day.
  • Keep your garage door closed and locked.
  • Don’t allow daily deliveries of mail, newspapers, or flyers build up while you are away. Arrange with the Post Office to hold your mail, or arrange for a friend or neighbor to take them regularly.
  • Pushbutton locks on doorknobs are easy for burglars to open. Install deadbolt locks on all your outside doors.
  • Sliding glass doors are vulnerable. Special locks are available for better security.

Don’t Tempt a Thief:

  • Lawnmowers, barbecues, and bicycles should be stored out of sight.
  • Always lock your garden sheds and garages.
  • Use curtains on garage and basement windows.

Locks…Get the Best:

  • No lock, regardless of its quality, can be truly effective. Key-in deadbolt locks provide minimum security.
  • Change locks immediately if your keys are lost or stolen.
  • When moving into a new home, have all locks changed.

Targeting the Outside:

  • Have adequate exterior lighting. A motion-sensitive light is recommended for backyards.
  • Trim trees and shrubs so that they cannot be used as hiding places for intruders.
  • Make sure your door hinges are on the inside.


  • Most windows can be pinned for security.
  • Drill a 3/16″ hole on a slight downward slant through the inside window frame and halfway into the outside frame – place a nail in the hole to secure the window.


  • An alarm system is excellent for home security. It provides peace of mind to homeowners, especially while on vacation. There is a wide variety of alarm systems on the market.
  • If you have a home alarm system, use it! Activate your alarm system — Alarm systems are only useful when you remember to activate them.
  • Many individuals have alarm systems but do not arm them because it is inconvenient. Many burglars know this and will not be deterred by a window sticker or sign indicating that the home has an alarm system.

If Your Home Is Broken Into:

  • If you come home to find an unexplained open/broken window or door:
  • Do not enter – the perpetrator may still be inside.
  • Use a neighbor’s phone to call the police.
  • Do not touch anything or clean up until the police have inspected for evidence.
  • Write down the license plate numbers of any suspicious vehicles.
  • Note the descriptions of any suspicious persons.

Other precautions you should take:

  • Never leave keys under doormats, flowerpots, mailboxes, or other “secret” hiding places — burglars know where to look for hidden keys.
  • Keep a detailed inventory of your valuable possessions, including a description of the items, date of purchase and original value, and serial numbers, and keep a copy in a safe place away from home — this is a good precaution in case of fires or other disasters. Make a photographic or video record of valuable objects, heirlooms, and antiques. Your insurance company can assist in making and keeping your inventory.

Comprehensive Coverage: A Definition

When people hear the word “comprehensive,” they might think “all-encompassing”— but in car insurance terms, the word has a different meaning.
Simply put, comprehensive coverage protects you against damages to your car that are the result of covered perils not related to a collision. Think of a scenario that could cause damage to your car that has nothing to do with striking another vehicle. In many cases, this can include:

  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Fire
  • Natural disasters like a hurricane or a tornado
  • Falling objects
  • Damage done to your car by animals
  • A civil disturbance, like a riot that results in damage or destruction of your car

As with all insurance policies, you should check with your insurance agent to make sure what perils are included under the comprehensive coverage of your auto insurance policy.

Why Buy Comprehensive Coverage?

When you’re shopping for an auto insurance policy, you should determine whether comprehensive coverage suits your needs. Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself to determine if you may want comprehensive coverage.
Does your lender or lease holder require comprehensive coverage? Many auto lenders and lease holders make it mandatory for your car to have comprehensive coverage. If you still owe money on your vehicle, or you lease your vehicle, you should check with the institution that holds your auto loan or lease to make sure comprehensive coverage is a requirement.
How old is your car and what’s it worth? If you have paid off your car, comprehensive coverage is optional. When you’re considering purchasing comprehensive coverage, it may be a good idea to find out what your car’s Kelley Blue Book value is, so that you know if you will be able to afford to repair or replace your vehicle if something happens to it. With an older car that’s not worth as much money, you may be confident that you could afford to pay to repair or replace it. But, if your car is worth more or if you would not have the money at hand for repairs or replacement after an accident, buying optional coverages, like comprehensive and collision coverage, may be a smart investment.
It may be tempting to save money on car insurance premiums by opting not to buy comprehensive coverage on your vehicle. But, if your car was damaged, would you be able to afford to fix or replace it? When you’re deciding to get comprehensive coverage, it may be a good idea to weigh the higher premiums that comprehensive coverage will likely lead to against how much money it could cost you to repair or replace your car in the event of a covered loss. Comprehensive coverage can provide you the peace of mind of knowing you are protected in the event of a covered peril.

Rental reimbursement (or rental car coverage) is optional car insurance coverage that helps pay for the cost of a rental car. At the same time, your vehicle is being repaired after a car accident or after suffering damages that are covered through your car insurance policy.

This coverage is not required as part of your car insurance policy. Still, it is beneficial if you do not have a secondary vehicle and need to travel to work or school while your car is undergoing auto repair.

About Rental Reimbursement Coverage

Rental car reimbursement coverage typically helps pay for rental car costs when your car’s damages are covered by your comprehensive and collision coverages. For example, you may need to rent a car if your own car has been damaged:

  • In a car accident.
  • By theft or vandalism.
  • By severe weather.

When using rental reimbursement coverage, there are usually 2 different options:

  1. You can rent a car from an approved provider and have them bill your insurance company directly. Contact your car insurance provider to learn more about this option.
  2. You can rent a car from the business of your choice and pay for the cost upfront. Then, you will need to submit receipts and a claim form to be reimbursed for the rental vehicle’s cost.

There is often a per-day and per-accident limit for rental reimbursement coverage.

For example, your rental reimbursement coverage may have a limit of $25 per day or $750 per accident. This means that your insurance policy will only pay $25 per day for a rental vehicle, and that coverage will stop once you’ve hit the $750 limit.

You are generally allowed to rent a similar vehicle that is being repaired when you’re using rental reimbursement coverage. However, if you’re expecting the repairs to be time-consuming, you may want to choose a lower-cost vehicle to ensure that your rental reimbursement coverage does not run out before your vehicle has been repaired.

The cost for rental reimbursement coverage will vary according to your auto insurance company and the level of protection you select. The coverage is usually fairly inexpensive.

Rental Reimbursement Policy Exclusions

If you consider purchasing rental reimbursement coverage, keep in mind that this protection only covers rentals needed. At the same time, your car is being repaired for damages covered under your car insurance policy.

It will not offer reimbursement for rentals needed while your regular vehicle is in the shop for normal maintenance or repairs, and it will not cover rentals for recreational purposes.

Insurance for Rental Vehicles

Many car rental businesses will ask if you want to purchase additional coverage to insure the rented vehicle in the event of an auto accident. Your rental reimbursement insurance coverage does not cover this added cost.

Fortunately, if your car insurance policy includes collision and comprehensive coverage on your regular vehicle, this protection typically transfers to the rental car you are driving while your vehicle is being repaired.

Mobile Home Insurance

Mobile home insurance policies provide two basic kinds of coverage: physical damage and personal liability coverage.  Making sure you have the right insurance policy is vital to protecting your family and assets.
The coverage options are available depending upon the type of mobile home you have.  Rental mobile homes, commercial mobile homes, mobile homes used seasonally, or mobile homes located in a park or on private property all require different types of coverages.

Physical Damage

Physical damage coverage pays for accidental damage to your mobile home, belongings, or other structures (such as attached patios or decks, garages, or storage sheds) resulting from fire, hail, wind, theft, and vandalism, or falling objects. The amount and degree of coverage vary from one policy to another, so compare policies carefully.

Some policies only cover specific causes of loss (named peril policies). This is basic coverage, and while the low premiums may seem like a bargain, it could cost you hundreds of dollars in the event of a claim if the damage is not caused by one of the named perils.

Generally, coverage under a regular policy doesn’t apply while the mobile home is in transit. Like regular homeowners insurance, a flood is not generally covered, so be sure to find out whether you are in a flood zone and can purchase flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program.

Personal Liability Coverage

Property damage isn’t the only hazard of modern life. Liability insurance coverage applies when there is a claim or a lawsuit against you after someone is injured or their property is damaged because of your activities. That amount may be more than what comes standard with a mobile home insurance policy, so it may be wise to consider purchasing additional liability insurance. Claims might include medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and even property damage. However, liability coverage does not pay claims for injuries to you or the members of your household.