Steeling seniors against scams & shams

There always seems to be someone trying to get rich quick at the expense of the unsuspecting. Insurance fraud is a $32 billion business for property/casualty insurers, and the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services estimates healthcare fraud to be more than twice that amount. While there are many fraud victim stories to tell, it’s kind of scary when one hits close to home.

I was reminded of the vulnerability of senior citizens yesterday as I cleared a pile of papers from my desk to see a letter an 81-year-old relative received months ago telling her she won a “Shoppers Sweepstakes.” Along with the letter declaring her “winning” $230,000 was a very legitimate-looking check for $3,750. The letter explained the money was an advance to pay the tax on her “winnings” and directed her to send two separate Money Grams for nearly $1,000 each to pay the “tax” on the “winnings.” Thankfully, this relative has a longtime habit of turning over all her mail for review, so nothing happened — other than astonishment over the scam.

Seniors get mounds of unsolicited mail for all types of investment “deals” and requests for iffy charitable donations. It would be great if they had a friend or family member review all such requests before any checks were written or before responding to farcical finance schemes. The state has a program called On Guard for Seniors to help Floridians develop a fraud radar to deflect scams. It’s worth checking out.


Posted in Fraud, Identity Theft | Leave a comment

Teen Driver Safety Week: Don’t touch that phone

Every day, on average, there are more than 700 traffic crashes on Florida roadways, according to the crash facts report by the Dept. of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles. About 8 percent of those crashes involve teen drivers.

Drivers between the ages of 15-19 naturally have less experience. But teen drivers also tend to think they are experts at multitasking, which is an incredibly dumb thing to believe while driving. 5toDrive_CMYK

The National Highway Safety Administration has a “5 to Drive” campaign that provides parents with reminders of rules of the road ripe for frequent reinforcement:

  • No cell phones.
  • No extra passengers.
  • Don’t speed.
  • No alcohol.
  • Wear seat belts.

Pretty simple stuff, right? Betcha can hear a teenager whining somewhere in the sunshine as his/her parent ticks off these 5 reminders each time they hit the road. Whining is easy on the ears if it means safety is being stressed. The first years of driving are risky, and safety tips are lifesavers.

A look at injury data from 2012 (the latest available) shows that while injuries among male teen drivers were only slightly higher than female teens, the fatality rate among teen males was more than twice as high. Boys will be boys, as the saying goes, and are more inclined to want to show off fast cars and fancy driving. Just stop it, fellas. The real way to impress the girls is to show up when you say you will — safely.


Posted in Auto, Driving Safety, General, Teen Drivers | Leave a comment

Got a fire alarm? Put it to the test

When was the last time you tested your home’s fire alarm? If you can’t remember, then it’s time to do it. Put your fire alarms to the test today. Please?

This is Fire Prevention Week.  And, it’s one of those times when you really need to take action. It’s great if you have fire alarms in your home, and it’s not great if they are inoperable. As the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says, “Working fire alarms save lives.”

The NFPA has a fire prevention quiz that is enlightening. Okay, I’m giving you the answers to the quiz, but this is a test worthy of a cheat sheet. Did you know that if a smoke alarm fails, it’s likely because of dead batteries or because batteries were not properly installed? Other important lessons:

  • Three out of every five fire deaths result from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.
  • Many of today’s fabrics and products are MORE flammable.
  • firetext-smoke-alarmOld fire alarms need to retire.

If you have fire alarms manufactured more than 10 years ago, you need new ones. And yes, you need multiples. There should be a fire alarm outside every sleeping area. Having an functioning smoke detector is essential.

Forget the flowers and chocolates. Be practical. Buy every loved one a smoke alarm! While it would be ideal if they never have an opportunity to be reminded about who sent such a gift, it’s better knowing a smoke alarm is standing guard.


Posted in Fire, General, Homeowners+Renters, Safety | Leave a comment

October ranks tops for hurricanes; Keep your defenses up

October in Florida means fall has officially arrived, according to the calendar. But not according to the temperature. There is no frost on the pumpkin. (It’s dew from the high humidity.)

Many people think that when the summer is over, it takes hurricane season with it. Nope. The National Hurricane Center says that peak hurricane season extends through late October. And, an article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reiterates that by pointing out the 19 hurricanes that picked October to descend on Florida over the past 150 years.

I like this chart below from NOAA that looks like red-hot flames. It seems fitting since October is red hot for tropical storm activity.  peakofseasonThere are no storms brewing in the Atlantic now, and everyone is obviously thankful.

But Hurricane Season 2014 is not over yet.

Preparedness knows no season, so don’t let your guard down.

Posted in Hurricane preparedness, Hurricanes | Leave a comment

No “last call for alcohol;” Call for a cab

A universal truth is something that everyone acknowledges as valid. So, should it be a universal truth that it is dumb to drive drunk? Drunk drivers do dumb things, and it’s killing them. Sometimes, they injure or kill others, too.

There was yet another wrong-way crash on the interstates around Tampa Bay this week. That means 11 people have died this year in crashes associated with drivers going in the wrong direction. Most of these incidents involved the use of drugs and alcohol, say law enforcement officials. And, many of the impaired drivers were under the age of 30.

72407,xcitefun-scary-crash-002According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the percentage of drivers in fatal crashes who were alcohol impaired was highest for 21- to 24-year-olds — at 32 percent. The next highest category is the next age group: Drivers between 25 and 34 years old were responsible for 29 percent of fatal crashes.

Alcohol-impaired drivers account for one out of three highway deaths, and that’s a drunk driving statistic to keep top of mind when the bartender asks, “What will you have?”  Order a cab.

Posted in Car Crashes, Driving Safety | Leave a comment

Life insurance is a lifeline for small business

If you own a small business, there is a lot riding on you. And, if the business has a few key employees, they may be equally irreplaceable. Every one of you has prime value to operations, and losing one highly valued individual may cause a major setback. That’s why it’s part of a smart business strategy to make an investment in life insurance. Losses from the death of a key employee are insurable.

Key employee life insurance pays a death benefit to the company when a key employee dies. Such a policy is typically owned by the company, which pays the premium and is named as the beneficiary. Having this insurance protection allows the business to regroup after a loss. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, only 22 percent of small businesses have key person life insurance.

There are several types of key person policies — and each is surprisingly affordable. Cost depends upon the age and health of the employee, of course. For example, for as little as $500 a year (or less), you can get $1 million in coverage for key employees in their early 30s whose loss to the business would be catastrophic both personally and financially.

Live long and prosper is a well-known Vulcan proverb. Although the Vulcans are fictional, the fact is that living long and prospering are easy to wish for and only slightly more difficult to do.  Wishing doesn’t make it so; planning does.

Posted in Business, Life Insurance | Leave a comment

The stinks on you without sewer back-up coverage

Even if you don’t live anywhere near a pond, lake or the ocean, you can get water backing up into your house — from a sewer. This type of damage is typically excluded from a standard homeowners policy; it requires a separate endorsement.

It’s not a pretty picture to have a toilet backup. Not pretty at all, especially if the backup spills past the bathroom, down the hallway for several feet and seeps over your hardwood floors. What’s even uglier is finding out you neglected to buy sewer backup coverage.

There are two types of insurance for ground water damage, and they require either separate coverage or an endorsement to your policy. One is flood insurance, and the other is water backup or overflow from sump pumps. There are probably not a lot of sump pumps in Florida considering our lack of basements, but water does back up through sewers and drains, particularly when there are aging sewer pipes clogged with decades of tree roots.

Always get the sewer backup coverage – and learn how to protect your home from water damage.

Posted in General, Homeowners+Renters, Property insurance | Leave a comment

California earthquake shows importance of exercising insurance options

SACRAMENTO, CA — By now, you’ve heard there’s been a 6.0 earthquake in California, the first major quake in more than 20 years. The intensity rivaled past California quakes. I arrived in Napa on Monday afternoon, the day after the quake rattled buildings and nerves. My role here is to help spur recovery by being a resource to answer questions about the claims process and help people understand how their insurance works.

By most measures, this latest natural disaster is a moderate one. Of course, that’s not how it feels if the disaster affects you. The city of Napa is providing  status reports and so far, 116 homes have been red-tagged, meaning they are uninhabitable. And, 513 homes have been yellow-tagged, which means proceed with caution. Here’s something to put into the mix: Only about 6 percent of the homeowners in Napa buy earthquake insurance. What that means is those without insurance will have to pay for repairs and rebuilding on their own. Additionally, without earthquake insurance, a family whose home is uninhabitable won’t get reimbursed for additional living expenses that come from having to live elsewhere while a home is being rebuilt.

There are many reasons why people don’t buy optional insurance coverage, and the biggest is that too many think the translation of optional is “I don’t need this.” Another is that humans have short memories, and until we get a powerful reminder — such as a significant earthquake or epic flood — we let things slide. Yes, it’s your money that pays an insurance premium, and it’s your money that is protected when you have the right coverage and then disaster strikes.

No place in California is immune from earthquakes, and no place in Florida is immune from flooding or hurricanes. Both states have so many pluses, but never enough to outweigh the reality of paying heed to the risks.


Posted in Earthquake, Homeowners+Renters, Property insurance, Risk | Leave a comment

What ride sharing drivers and passengers need to know about insurance

Another innovation born of mobile technology is the move to a sharing economy. People like to connect, and many like to make extra money by sharing stuff they already own. That’s what ride sharing is all about.  It links people who need a ride with car owners who want to use their cars to bring in a little extra cash by chauffeuring strangers around town. It’s a business model that seems to fit in Florida where public transportation is often spotty and hailing a cab is simply not possible on every street corner, as it is in a metro like New York City.

Companies such as Uber and Lyft are launching in Florida, and if you’re interested in being either a driver or passenger, you should know if there are any liability risks  associated with ride sharing. No matter if you are behind the steering wheel or in the back seat, talk to your insurance professional to see if the coverage you have is sufficient protection.

For ride sharing drivers, you want to make sure there are no gaps in coverage. It may be that your own insurance offers primary coverage if an accident occurs, and the ride sharing company adds coverage on top of that. Or it may be that the ride sharing company offers coverage from the get-go. An important thing to know is how the coverage works if you are on your way to pick up a passenger and get into an accident. Who pays then?

Here is a VERY important reminder: Most personal auto insurance policies have an exclusion stating that liability coverage will not be provided if the vehicle is used as a “public or livery conveyance” – which is exactly what you’d be doing if you are a ride share driver. The exclusion does not apply if you use your car as a share-the-expense car pool. What’s the difference? One distinction is that the risk of shuttling strangers in a ride share situation is different from a daily commute with friends.

The good news is that insurance companies are starting to offer specialized products to fill any gaps associated with the new ride sharing ventures. And, the best way to know about them is to ask your insurer.

Ride sharing is not the same as taking a traditional taxi, and taxi and limousine drivers are understandably not welcoming of these new companies into what has been traditionally their business. Taxi drivers are licensed by the state, have training requirements and are subject to regulations from local transportation authorities.  The ride sharing drivers have none of that. More important, taxis and limos have insurance that protects passengers and others, such as pedestrians that could be involved in an accident.

Passengers who use ride sharing services need to be protected, too. If you own a car, you likely have coverage under your own auto insurance policy. If you don’t own a car, you might consider buying a “non-owner” auto insurance policy. These types of policies provide protection for bodily injury, property damage, medical payments and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.

Wishing you safe travels – always!

Posted in Auto, Driving Safety, General, Liability Insurance, Ride Sharing | Leave a comment

20 minutes to Smartsville, Insurance Town USA

Let’s say you bought something that cost an average $1,900 each year and never took the time to figure out how it works. If you knew that in just 20 minutes you’d have it figured out, would you invest the time?

Investing time – and gaining confidence – in your insurance protection is exactly the point of the Insurance Information Institute’s new consumer email program. CHECK20 is an important new step in our mission to explain what insurance is and how it works. It’s easy, it’s free and its intent is to empower policyholders to be fully engaged in the insurance decisions affecting their family and finances.

CHECK20_270X100_LOGOWhen you sign up, you’ll get a newsletter every week offering tips on safety, preparedness and how to save money on insurance. The underlying current for this information is twofold: First is to have you spend 20 minutes each year reviewing your insurance coverage, and the second goal is to help you engage in a constructive dialogue annually with your Insurance Professional.

Knowing the basics of an insurance contract is vitally important. Your coverage is customized, and it must keep adapting to your current situation. It can’t do that stuck in a drawer somewhere. So pull it out, sign up for CHECK20, and be completely confident on your next chat with your insurance representative.

Posted in General, Homeowners+Renters, Insuring Florida, Saving money on auto insurance, Saving money on home insurance | Leave a comment