Insurance Blog

Here are important shopping tips from the mass.gov website, the official blog of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for you to use and share!

 

With the holiday season underway, knowing your rights as a consumer might be just as important as knowing where to get the best deals.

The Office of Consumer Affairs & Business Regulation (OCABR) and the Office of the Attorney General (AGO)provide important tips about consumer protection, theft, warranties, and more so you get the most out of your gift buying.

  • Make a Plan Before You Shop — Make sure you shop smart by planning your trip before you leave the house. Compare deals ahead of time, and bring advertisements for deals with you. Before you make a purchase, learn the store’s policies on refunds, cancellations, returns, and layaways.
  • Understand Consumer Protection Law — Familiarize yourself with consumer protection law before you shop to help ensure fair business practices. Consumer rights include the right to be given true information about what you’re buying, to choose between various competitive goods, and to be protected from hazardous products. Businesses violate consumer protection law if they:
    • Charge customers higher prices than what is advertised
    • Do not post a return policy where customers will see it
    • Do not meet warranty agreements
    • Fail to provide relevant information about a product or service or tell customers misleading information

If you believe that a business has misled you or violated consumer protection law, you may want to take steps to resolve a consumer problem with the business or consider filing a complaint with the AGO. The AGO uses complaints to track unfair and deceptive business practices and also offers a free and voluntary mediation service that may assist in resolving your dispute.

  • Learn Gift Certificate Laws — Review gift certificate law in Massachusetts before you use your certificate. Gift certificates must be valid for a minimum of seven years and have no fees. If no expiration date is provided by the retailer, the card is good forever. Customers can take the remaining value on a gift certificate in cash after using 90 percent of the certificate.
  • Stay Safe While Shopping Online — Take precautions to keep your transactions safe if you decide to do online shopping. Pay with a credit card, which has extra consumer protection. Only purchase from known sellers, and check that the sites you visit are secure by looking for “https” before the URL.
  • Know What to Do in the Event of Identity Theft — Follow steps to protect yourself against identity theftif your credit or debit card is lost or stolen. Report the lost or stolen card to the card issuer right away. Call the three major credit bureaus and ask for a fraud alert to be put on your credit file. Change your credit or debit card, account, and PIN to prevent additional fraudulent transactions from happening.
  • Be Aware of Warranties — Make sure you know what types of warranties are on the products you buy. Consumers can be protected by both express and implied warranties (oral or written promises and implied ones) on products, and a warranty can exist even if a seller does not use the word “warranty.” Warranties ensure that products are sold as they are portrayed and that you are entitled to repairs, replacements, or refunds if the products are not functioning properly. It is illegal for a business to fail to honor a warranty.

By becoming an informed, prepared consumer, you can have a safer and more satisfying shopping experience this holiday season.

Questions about safe shopping? Tweet @MassGov  and share this post with friends and family.

Sunday, 04 December 2016 20:54

Social Media and Identity Theft

 

Here's a terrific article by Dahna M. Chandler from the IIABA's (Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America) Trusted Choice portal.

Are you setting yourself up to be among the nine million people that the Federal Trade Commission estimates have their identities stolen each year? You may be doing so by the way you use social media, especially Facebook.

At last count, according to TechCrunch, there are nearly 1.4 billion users on Facebook alone. Of those, 890 million are daily users. Not all users are honest users. Moreover, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center  study, 79% of adults use Facebook just in the United States. And most of them use multiple platforms. Yet Pew found that most people on Facebook only know about 50 of their (average) 155 friends. Two-thirds of their connections on Facebook are strangers. And this is true across social media platforms.

But it’s not really the frequency with which you use social media that leads to identity theft. It’s how you use those social networking platforms. Remember, you don’t know most of the people you’re connected to well. But based on what you share—which is often shared by others, too—identity thieves may use your social media platforms to get to know you very well. Then, they can assume your identity.

Being a Tell-All Makes You a Target for Identity Thieves

You may be making the common identity thief’s work easy by what you reveal on social media, especially if you use poor security. You may think sharing pet pictures and names, favorite stores, purchases or intended purchases, or family pictures is no big deal. But that’s like walking through a mall showing everyone everything in your wallet. Did you know that identity thieves can use that information to build a personal profile on you?

“People share way too much on social media,” says credit expert Beverly Harzog. Her latest book, “The Debt Escape Plan: How to Free Yourself from Credit Card Balances, Boost Your Credit Score, and Live Debt Free,“ discusses identity theft through social media.

“Very little is needed by identity thieves to break into someone’s accounts,” she continues. “What you share can be used to hack your credit card, bank and other financial accounts.” Those accounts, of course, contain even more information about you that can be used to create a complete profile. Thieves use that information both to steal other assets and create ID documents that can be used to commit other crimes.

Most people on Facebook only know about 50 of their (average) 155 friends. Two-thirds of their connections on Facebook are strangers.

Harzog gives the example of giving your dog’s name on social media. “Some people use their dog’s name on Facebook or other social media and then use the dog’s name as part of their password someplace else,” she states. She says it’s common for people to use personal information they share—like kids’ names and birthdays and those of their significant others—on social media as part of passwords, too. Then the most determined identity thieves, who are adept at using that information to determine your complete passwords, can hack your accounts.

Moreover, weak passwords coupled with poor social media security settings make you a bigger target. So what’s the solution? Clam up online and lock down your social media profiles.

You Do Have Things to Hide on Social Media

Thieves of all kinds like easy victims; identity thieves are no exception. Therefore, don’t make yourself one. Maintain some mystery about your life online and hide information you don’t want stolen. Says Harzog, “Determined thieves will scan a year of your social media postings and piece a lot of things together about you that can be used to steal your identity.”

So if you’re a private citizen, stay that way. To maintain your privacy, there are lots of things you shouldn’t talk about or share on social media. Many of them are pretty obvious by now, like your travel plans, schedules, full birthdate, social security number or credit card or bank account numbers. But what else should you avoid sharing on social media or, if you must, share with care?

  • The types of credit cards you use and how you make purchases. You can talk about where you bought things but not what you used to make the purchase, particularly if you’re naming your credit card carrier.
  • Your banking information. Don’t reveal where you bank or the name of your credit union. Have those conversations privately, using secure email or phone.
  • Your home phone number. This is especially true of it’s the phone number you use for your credit card or bank accounts. Even if that’s not the case, that information can be easily used to determine your carrier and, ultimately, your address, which for most people is the one they use on their bank accounts or credit cards.
  • Your full address. It’s okay to say where you live generally, like your city, but not specifically, like your street and house number. Even revealing your neighborhood may put you at risk of identity theft. Stick with the closest metro area when revealing where you live.
  • Your hometown. Again, stick with metro areas, especially if you’re from a small town. And if you do reveal your hometown on your social media profiles, don’t use it as an answer to security questions online or part of a password.
  • Your high school or college alma mater. Be careful sharing this information if you use it as part of your security set-up on any other accounts, especially financial accounts.

Doubling Down on Security

Harzog says. “Don’t use any part of the information you share on social media as part of your passwords.” Use strong passwords and don’t use any information revealed on social media as answers to security questions, either. Make up your own randomized passwords, where possible.

Also, make sure your privacy settings are strong on social media and vet every online connection you make carefully. Using these strategies, you can protect yourself from the prying eyes of those who would rob you of your financial security by stealing your identity.

 

 

Winter will be storming into the area bringing snow, ice and plummeting temperatures that can wreak havoc on plumbing. A ruptured pipe can cause extensive, costly damage and disrupt your life or business. Worse, floodwater can pose numerous safety and health risks, ranging from electric shock to illness from waterborne pathogens or even toxic mold.

With your family or business on the line, you will want to do everything you can to prevent water from freezing inside your plumbing; or if the unforeseeable happens and you find your pipes frozen - taking the steps to prevent pipes from bursting and safely thaw them.

A frozen pipe will not necessarily burst if the faucet valve is open to release pressure moving down the pipe.

Start with prevention:

Here are five steps you can take right now to reduce the risk of frozen pipes. Make sure you winterize your property outdoors, draining pools and irrigation systems and hoses, insulating and covering outdoor faucets and securing doors and windows in garages and outbuildings with water supplies. Also, be sure to follow these tips from the American Red Cross:

  1. Check around the home for other areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas. Look in the basement, crawl space, attic, garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Both hot and cold water pipes in these areas should be insulated.
  2. Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.
  3. When the weather is very cold outside, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe, even at a trickle, helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  4. Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
  5. If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.

If pipes freeze, don’t panic, do this:

If you wake up one morning and the water won’t come on in your kitchen, don’t panic. While horrifying visions of water filling crawl spaces and mold spores sprouting may be unavoidable, a frozen pipe will not necessarily burst if the faucet valve is open to release pressure moving down the pipe. Take a deep breath, and then follow these American Red Cross tips to safely thaw your pipe:

  1. If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Likely places for frozen pipes include against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.
  2. Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.
  3. Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device.
  4. Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you can not thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
  5. Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.

These tips should help minimize the risk plumbing ruptures from frozen pipes. But sometimes nature simply shoves aside our best efforts and the worst happens. And of course, make sure you call your agent at Baldwin / Welsh & Parker to make sure you have protection in the event you find yourself facing a water damage catastrophe from frozen, ruptured pipes. 

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