Archive | October 2015

Kids & Halloween – Fun, Not FEAR!

Are your kids this Halloween dreaming of Spiderman or Elsa, the Snow Queen of “Frozen”? Whether they want to be costumed princesses or saviors of the city, your kids are focused on the fun. But we know that parents may be feeling the fear. From dangerous streets and potentially tampered candy to some crazy adult indulging an inner costumed fantasy, the sources of scary things aren’t just goblins and ghouls.

kids and halloween

To help you accent the treats while minimizing the tricks, here are a few solid safety tips from the good warlocks and witches of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Safe Kids Worldwide:

  • Always provide adult supervision to children under the age of 12.
  • Add reflective tape to costumes, bags or sacks.
  • Makeup is better; masks can obstruct vision.
  • Check treats for tampering before allowing child to consume.
  • Provide flashlights and/or glow sticks to each child.
  • Be sure children are traffic wise. Advise them to cross streets at corners or crosswalks, to stay on sidewalks, to walk facing traffic, and not to walk while looking at handheld devices. If possible, take young children out during daylight hours when cars and their movements are more visible.
  • Stick to well-lit homes, not dark.
  • Be aware of potential obstacles created by decorations, pathway obstructions or lawn objects.

And when preparing your home or apartment for the yearly invasion of costumed kiddos, minimize the chance you’ll need to call on your liability insurance protection by taking a few preventative steps:

  • Remove potential obstacles from your walkway, porch or lawn.
  • Be certain decorations are safe. Be certain wiring for electrical objects is well-maintained and not creating a tripping or shock hazard. Keep candles or candle-lit items such as jack-o-lanterns away from flammable furnishings or other decorations.
  • A spooky atmosphere may create an eerie mood, but don’t sacrifice lighting for trick or treater safety.

And if you will be taking to the roads this Halloween, don’t forget to be extra cautious in looking out for the little ones. Our goal is simple: Make this Halloween a safe and enjoyable one for all!

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Microsoft & IRS Scam Phone Calls

phone scamA few weeks ago a friend received a call on her cell phone. A gentleman said he was calling from “Microsoft” to fix her computer. She told him he needed to talk with “her techie husband” and handed the phone to her husband. He promptly hung up. She wanted to string him along. He did not want to waste his time.

The number and sophistication of scams seem to be increasing. A popular one is a phone call from the IRS demanding payment for overdue taxes.

Two weeks ago the Internal Revenue Service issued another warning to taxpayers to remain on high alert and protect themselves against the ever-evolving array of deceitful tactics scammers use to trick people.

These schemes – which can occur over the phone, in emails or through letters with authentic-looking letterhead – try to trick taxpayers into providing personal financial information or scare people into making a false tax payment that ends up with the criminal.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has received reports of roughly 600,000 contacts since October 2013. TIGTA is also aware of more than 4,000 victims who have collectively reported over $20 million in financial losses as a result of tax scams.

Scammers posing as IRS agents first targeted those they viewed as most vulnerable, such as older Americans, newly arrived immigrants, and those whose first language is not English. These criminals have expanded their net and are now targeting virtually anyone.

In a new variation, scammers alter what appears on your telephone caller ID to make it seem like they are with the IRS or another agency such as the Department of Motor Vehicles. They use fake names, titles, and badge numbers. They use online resources to get your name, address, and other details about your life to make the call sound official. They even go so far as copying official IRS letterhead for use in email or regular mail.

Brazen scammers will even provide their victims with directions to the nearest bank or business where the victim can obtain a means of payment such as a debit card. And in another new variation of these scams, con artists may then provide an actual IRS address where the victim can mail a receipt for the payment – all in an attempt to make the scheme look official.

These scam artists often angrily threaten police arrest, deportation, license revocation or other similarly unpleasant things. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests, sometimes through “robo-calls,” via phone or email. The emails will often contain a fake IRS document with a telephone number or email address for your reply.

It is important to remember the official IRS website is IRS.gov. Taxpayers are urged not to be confused or misled by sites claiming to be the IRS but ending in .com, .net, .org or other designations instead of .gov.  Taxpayers should never provide personal information, financial or otherwise, to suspicious websites or strangers calling out of the blue.

Below are five things scammers often do that the real IRS would never do:

The IRS will never:
1.     Angrily demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
2.     Threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
3.     Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
4.     Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
5.     Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
Here’s what you should do if you think you’re the target of an IRS impersonation scam:
If you do owe taxes, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.
If you know you don’t owe taxes or do not immediately believe that you do, you can report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484.
If you’ve been targeted by any scam, be sure to contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their FTC Compliant Assistant. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.
For more information on reporting tax scams, go to IRS.gov and type “scam” in the search box.

FBI Reports Hackers are a REAL Problem

cyberThe FBI reports hackers have stolen $1.2B from more than 7,000 businesses in the past 2Ys, most often using a scam known as business email compromise (hacking the CEO’s email account and then sending emails from that account telling employees to transfer money).

Some things to keep in mind:
·      Establish a multi-person approval process for transactions above a certain dollar threshold.
·      Get the word out in your office. If your colleagues or employees know about the scam, they will be more likely to spot a suspicious email.
·      Be extra careful with wire transfers. Wire transfers and, increasingly, pre-paid debit cards are scammers’ preferred methods of payment. Always confirm that any request for a wire transfer is from an authorized source.
·      Double-check email addresses. Scammers may use emails that look very similar to those used by the actual business, such as jsmith@xyzbusiness.com instead of jsmith@zyxbusiness.com. Be suspicious of requests for secrecy. Speak to the executive on the phone or in person to confirm changes in payment information. If you still have doubts, speak to another senior executive.
·      Slow down. Scammers pressure you to take immediate action, so you don’t have time to think it through. Take time to verify any request – even an urgent one.

More information available at:
http://www.ic3.gov/media/2014/140627.aspx

New Malware Strains Grow 125 Percent: What Does That Mean For Employers?

malwareThe latest research from a German cybersecurity firm reveals an increase in new malware strains in 2014. The data reflects a 125 percent increase in malware variants, with almost 70 percent of the total number of samples identified occurring in the second half of the year. According to these figures, a new strain of malware is created every 3.75 seconds.
This sizable jump in late 2014 is the largest increase seen yet. The biggest increase came from adware variants, which made up 31.4 percent of all malware signatures identified, five times greater than in the first half of the year.
Cybercriminals are not necessarily creating entirely new malware programs, but are continually changing and updating existing malware in order to increase their effectiveness and avoid detection.
Organizations spend vast amounts of money on system security technology, but in truth, these efforts are undermined if employees are not properly trained on secure policies and practices.
Employee training can never fully eliminate poor user choices, but passing on relevant information on a recurring basis will help. Employers can reduce the threat of attack by conducting regular training updates that teach employees to identify malware and identity theft schemes.
Make your network security training more personal by linking home computer security with workplace security. Illustrating the risk of an employee’s personal information may make more of an impact, and employees who develop good computer habits at home are likely to carry them over into the workplace.
Educate employees on the value of firewalls, anti-virus software, and other security technologies.

The Essential Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

leaves

When the chill starts creeping in through the windows and doors, it’s time to get ready for the big freeze. We’ve put together a quick and easy checklist, so you can prepare your home for the cold with confidence. Some of these items are regional. For instance, you probably won’t need to insulate your pipes if you live in Southern California. But many of these apply to just about everyone. Act on the ones that are right for your home, and skip the ones that don’t apply.

Inside the Home

Indoor preparations focus on two major components: efficiency and warmth. You want to keep as much heat inside the home as you can to use energy more efficiently, which means taking care of leaks and insulation problems. You also want to have the fireplace, heater, wood stove and ventilation system ready to go. Here’s a list to help you get it all done.

  • Fill in cracks around window frames and door frames with caulk. Bob Vila, well-known home improvement guru and host of This Old House, says that this is one of the cheapest and most significant ways you can cut heating costs in winter.
  • Check insulation in attics, garages and basements. If you have a bug or animal problem, you may need to tear out and replace old or chewed up insulation.
  • Make sure any exposed pipes in the attic, basement and garage are properly insulated.
  • Get a check-up for your heating and ventilation system to make sure it’s running as cleanly and efficiently as possible. This can save you a lot of money on utilities.
  • Have a chimney sweep inspect the flue and clean the chimney before starting a fire. There may be bird nests or animals blocking the opening, or a highly flammable buildup of creosote. Either of these can start a chimney fire.
  • Check for cracks and openings in your wood stove. Get a professional to replace compromised glass or crooked vent covers.
  • Change the batteries in your smoke detectors.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector, if you have not done so already. Change the batteries on your existing detectors. The winter months are prime time for carbon monoxide accidents.
  • Have a licensed technician inspect your fire sprinkler system, and ensure it is ready for cold weather.
Outside the Home

To prepare the exterior of the home, you need to focus on protecting it from the elements, especially if you live in a snowy climate. It’s also a good time to start prepping your yard for next spring.

  • Clean out the gutters, spouts and drains around your home. Usually there is a thick accumulation of leaves after fall, and this can cause trouble when you need your roof to shed snow and water quickly.
  • Fill in any cracks in your foundation or driveway with caulk or a patch, to keep moisture out.
  • Inspect the roof for cracks, loose tiles, or other signs of weakness. Get all repairs finished now, before the snow or winter rains begin.
  • Have a tree service trim the trees near your home, especially around the roof, power lines and back deck. Heavy snow and strong winds can cause branches to break and fall on your home.
  • Insulate outdoor water pipes and pipes beneath the house that are exposed to outside air.
  • Install a thermometer where you can easily see it from inside your home. The Centers for Disease Control says this is especially important for those over 65, because the ability to gauge temperature decreases with age.
  • Empty and store your water hoses.
  • Insulate outdoor water spouts. In mild climates, an old sock and a strip of duct tape is enough to do the trick.
  • Drain and store your lawn equipment for the winter.
  • Inspect and organize snow removal items like your snow blower, snow shovel and rock salt. Make sure they are in a spot that will always be accessible, even if you get surprised by a heavy winter storm.
  • Put away or cover the barbecue and patio furniture, if you do not plan to use them during the cold months. This will extend the life of your patio set considerably.
  • Fertilize and reseed your grass, and plant any bulbs you want to see sprouting in the springtime.
Animals

If you have pets in the home, there are even more preparations to be made before winter hits. Make sure to plan for their warmth and comfort, too.

  • Prepare your home for more indoor dog time. If your pups usually stay outside, you may need to reorient them to indoor life. Give them time to adjust to crate sleeping and set clear boundaries for the rooms and furniture they can use.
  • Give goats, chickens and other outdoor animals adequate shelter. Install heaters where necessary, and be sure coops and stalls are watertight and well insulated.
  • Plan ahead to make sure all animals on your property have constant access to unfrozen water.
  • Strengthen your fencing, and be extra vigilant against predators over the winter months. Small animals are much more likely to be poached by coyotes, wild dogs, bears and mountain lions when food is scarce. Try to keep cats inside as much as possible.
Winterize Your Finances

Now is the time to get ready for all the costs that come with owning a home in wintertime. Decide on a cold weather budget ahead of time, so that you can have adequate funds on hand for the unexpected.

  • Save and keep a reserve of cash on hand. You never know when you may be without electricity, or the car could break down, or the roof might start to leak from the heavy snow load.
  • Contact your insurance agent to make sure your homeowners insurance is up to date, and that you have enough coverage to take care of a leaky roof, a broken pipe, or a fallen tree branch. You may need a home repair policy on top of your homeowners coverage. Check that your deductible is set at a level you can afford if the worst happens.
  • Prepare for winter illnesses and accidents with good health coverage. Your insurance agency can help you find the right policy for your family, at a rate you can afford. Sometimes an independent agent can get you an even better deal than group coverage from your employer.
Get Cozy and Enjoy

You worked hard to get ready for the cold. So now…

  • Start a fire in the fireplace.
  • Put on some fuzzy socks.
  • Snuggle up on the couch.
  • Drink a hot cup of cocoa. You’ve got less to worry about than ever before.