As we head into the most wonderful time of the year, cybercriminals are gearing up for their busiest season. And this year, with so many of us working and schooling from home, they are counting on a bonanza of unsuspecting online targets.
While you are carefully crafting your holiday gift list (and checking it twice!) these criminals are perfecting their cyber scams, online fraud schemes, and identity theft plans.
So before you join the millions of others searching out those perfect stocking stuffers, check out these 10 tips to protect yourself and your family online.
1. Secure your home network – Use strong passwords and WPA2 or WPA3 encryption (see tips here to secure your network). Change your router/modem’s default name and pre-set password.
2. Update your antivirus software – Antivirus software is always being updated (thanks to a continuous stream of new threats) so make sure yours is up to date on all your household’s devices.
3. Use a password manager – Create strong passwords on all your devices and use a password manager to keep track. Consider using two-factor authentication to add an extra layer of protection.
4. Update your devices – Operating system and software updates often include security updates. Make sure your computers, tablets, and phones are all updated. Turn on auto-updates so you don’t have to think about it.
5. Use one or two credit cards and monitor them – Using just one or two cards for your holiday shopping will make it much easier to track purchases and spot any fraud early on. Some lenders will even alert you when your card logs transactions that are out of your normal spending pattern and ask your permission before completing the purchase. Mobile pay options such as Apple Pay or Google Pay also offer good protection because they use secure tokens instead of an actual card number.
6. Only shop reputable websites – Big brands and companies are more likely to have strong security on their sites’ transaction platform. But no matter the website, if a link, landing page or online shopping cart looks suspicious, log off immediately.
7. Watch for phishing – Phishing spikes during the holidays. These emails and texts usually look like they’re coming from a source or company you know. They typically ask for sensitive information such as personal or bank information and ask you to click on a link or attachment. Remember that government agencies and reputable companies will never ask you to send sensitive information this way. Delete these messages without clicking on anything. If you’re on the fence about its legitimacy, you can open a separate browser and log in to your account fresh – or call customer service to double-check.
8. Be smart on social media – If you’re headed out of town during the holidays, don’t post plans or info publicly on your social channels. This could make your home vulnerable to a break-in.
9. Be savvy with donations – Many people generously open their wallets during the holidays to help those in need or causes they support. If you’re planning on donating this year, be extra cautious. Stick to reputable, well-known charities. Contact them directly to donate, rather than clicking on a link or giving your information over the phone.
10. Watch your front porch – More online shopping means more deliveries. Bring packages in as soon as possible so they don’t tempt thieves. Neglected packages may also make it look like you’re out of town, making your home a target for burglars.
Make sure all family members are on board with, understand, and carry out the above tips before logging on to find those hot holiday deals. This includes kids and teens who are at home and on screens all day – and who usually aren’t as savvy about security and scams. For more safety tips, check out our articles here and here.
If you’re a California Casualty member, take comfort in the fact that you’re automatically enrolled in ID theft resolution services — which provides free help if you are ever the victim of identity theft. Learn more about the services here.
This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.
Whether it’s a flood, tornado, hurricane or earthquake, a natural disaster can turn your world upside down in a matter of seconds. Besides stress, adrenaline, and fear, there may be injuries to deal with and damage or loss of property. Many people don’t know what to do in the wake of a disaster, which can hinder their coping efforts and recovery.
Here’s a list of the 6 main steps to take immediately following a natural disaster and in the days, weeks, and months that follow.
Deal with the Immediate Aftermath
Make sure all household members are accounted for. If anyone is missing, seek help from first responders.
Attend to physical injuries or emotional distress. In cases of serious injury, summon professional help.
If you and your family need to evacuate, follow your family’s evacuation plan, grabbing emergency kits, go bags, and essentials as assigned.
Notify family and friends that you’re safe. If you can’t connect directly, you can register with FEMA’s emergency family locator online or by calling 1-800-588-9822. See more FCC & FEMA communication tips here.
Be aware of any new safety issues created by the disaster, such as damaged roads/bridges, chemical spills, downed power lines, and washed-out roads. Inform local authorities if possible.
Find Temporary Shelter or Housing
If your home is damaged and rendered uninhabitable, take photos of the damage, remove any valuables you can, and secure the property. Call your insurance company as soon as you’re able.
If you need to find an open emergency shelter near you right away, you can text SHELTER and your 5-digit zip code to 4FEMA. You can also use the FEMA Mobile App.
If you need to secure a hotel or other short-term housing, check FEMA’s resources for interim housing.
Remember that COVID-19 safety and health precautions may still be in effect so be sure to protect yourself and your family and stay informed on general guidelines.
If you have a pet, be sure to ask all sheltering or housing inquiries if pets are allowed.
Keep all your receipts from temporary housing costs, as you can most likely submit them for reimbursement.
Emergency Food and Water
Listen to local radio or television to find disaster feeding sites.
Check with local agencies, emergency shelters, and food banks for food assistance.
If you have to boil or otherwise disinfect water, follow the proper guidelines.
Seek Disaster Assistance
Check local radio and media for information on housing, food, first aid, clothing, and financial assistance.
The American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and other volunteer organizations also provide assistance, supplies and help with clean-up efforts.
FEMA helps homeowners and renters who have lost their homes as a result of a presidentially-declared disaster. Assistance includes temporary housing, counseling, low-interest loans and grants, and other assistance. Register at gov or call 1-800-621-FEMA. You’ll need your:
social security number
insurance information, address (location of damaged home and current address)
total household annual income
routing and account number for bank account
a description of damage and losses
Wait until your area is declared safe.
If returning at night, use a flashlight to inspect your home and property. Keep an eye out for animals, including dangerous ones such as venomous snakes.
Inspect the property and perimeter first, checking for hazards such as gas leaks, downed power lines, and structural damage. Do not enter if you smell gas, see floodwaters, or if there’s fire damage.
If you do enter your home, you’ll need to be extremely cautious. Follow the dos and don’ts of inspecting your home in FEMA’s guide here.
Replacing Lost Records & Protecting Your Property
Ideally, your important records and financial documents were part of your emergency kit.
If you need to replace records such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses, marriage certificates or social security cards, follow the instructions at USA.gov here.
Contact your creditors to inform them of the situation and work with them for current and ongoing payments.
If the disaster is a declared Federal disaster, you may be eligible for federal income tax deductions. Check with your tax planner.
If a member of your family is injured and you’re caring for them, check with your employer to see if you’re eligible for the Family Medical Leave Act or disability benefits.
While checklists and logistical aspects all need to be dealt with, also keep in mind the mental toll that natural disasters exert. Seek help if you can, take breaks and walks, and practice self-care. Remember that children are especially affected. Community and support networks are especially important in times like these — lean on them when you need support, and offer help to others when you have some extra energy to give.
As the nation begins to open its doors and more people get back on the road, it’s important — now more than ever — to make safety your number one priority. Not only following all of the traffic laws, but also making sure your vehicle is clean and free of any harmful bacteria or viruses, like coronavirus.
Routine vehicle cleaning and disinfecting will ensure the safety of you and your passengers. So, whether it’s a few trips to the grocery store, getting a much-needed haircut, or returning to the office, as we head into our “new normal,” remember to consistently clean and disinfect your vehicle to help you stay healthy and safe.
Items You’ll Need
A bucket of warm water
Soap (preferably anti-bacterial)
Disinfectant wipes (if available)
A portable vacuum
Cleaning Your Vehicle
Before you start, make sure to suit up in gloves and a facemask, as well as clothes that can be washed as soon as you’re done.
Next, thoroughly clean the most high-touched areas. These include:
Turn signal/wiper lever
Door handles (inside and outside)
Heating/cooling controls and vents
Seats and armrests
Seatbelts and latches
And don’t forget other places that you or someone else has touched, such as the seat adjustment controls, grab handles and cup holders.
Just as with washing your hands, you’ll need to (gently) scrub for at least 20 seconds to break down the virus. Disinfectant wipes and other automotive cleaning solutions are your best option for surfaces. If those are not available, use warm, soapy water and dry with a microfiber cloth.
For your seats, leather or upholstery, you can use disinfectant wipes, upholstery cleaner, or a small amount of warm, soapy water. To avoid damage, make sure you aren’t using too much water or scrubbing too aggressively. After washing leather seats, apply a leather conditioner/restorer to keep them from cracking, and let dry. When using any alcohol-based disinfectants, make sure they contain at least 70 percent alcohol.
Finally, make sure to regularly shake out and vacuum your floorboards and mats. These are frequently touched, yet overlooked areas of vehicles that have the potential to carry harmful germs from the bottoms of shoes.
DO NOT USE bleach, hydrogen peroxide, or any ammonia-based cleaning products in your vehicle.
Safely Riding with Passengers
It is always a good idea to keep safety and disinfectant items in your car, especially if you are transporting others. These include:
Sanitizer (at least 70% alcohol)
PPE – gloves and face coverings like masks, bandanas, or scarves.
When you are riding with others or using a rideshare service, it may be impossible to maintain the CDC recommended social distance guidelines. So, when in a car with others, consider wearing your mask and roll down or crack a window. It’s important to let fresh air in because ventilation in cars is usually poor.
If you are riding with someone who is infected but asymptomatic, coronavirus particles can build up inside the cabin, increasing your chances of contracting the virus. Cracking a window will help disperse the particles and decrease your chances of infection.
How California Casualty is Keeping Vehicles Clean
Customer safety and satisfaction is our main priority. That is why California Casualty partners with Enterprise to handle the vehicle rental needs of our customers during the claims process.
All vehicles rented from Enterprise carry the Complete Clean Pledge– to follow best practices recommended by leading health authorities to ensure your safety. In addition to vacuuming and wipe-down cleaning, between every rental, Enterprise uses a disinfectant to sanitize key areas throughout the entire vehicle. View them here.
While winter weather has been lingering for a couple of months, there’s still more to come. Did you know that heavy rains, blizzards, and ice storms often arrive in February and March across many parts of the country?
Here are a few life-saving tips to remember as you get on the road this season.
Remove bulky coats/jackets when buckling children into car safety seats.
In an accident, the material will squish down and the harnessing system will be too loose to be effective. Layer blankets on your child’s lap after buckling them in.
A list of recommended warm clothing that won’t interfere with car seat safety can be found here.
Keep your gas tank at least half full.
This prevents water condensation from getting into and freezing up fuel lines. A frozen fuel line means limited gas supply to the engine, stopping you in your tracks.
Use wiper fluid that is formulated to NOT freeze.
Windshields coated with ice or splashback from roads create dangerous visibility. You will need to clean your windshield while driving, and only fluid that stays liquid will do the job.
Experts recommend carrying tire chains, jumper cables, a shovel, ice scraper, and even spare wiper blades. Otherlife-saving itemsinclude bottles of water, high-calorie foods and snacks, blankets or sleeping bags, a spare pair of boots, flashlights, gloves, solar cell phone chargers, and a first aid kit. Kitty litter for traction is also a good idea.
Be aware of deadly carbon monoxide in your vehicle(s).
If you can smell exhaust in your vehicle’s cabin, you should have your systems checked. Leaks in exhaust systems, defective ventilation systems, and even an unsecured back hatch or partially open trunk can allow carbon monoxide gas into your vehicle. Tailpipes blocked with snow or ice can send carbon monoxide into the vehicle too.
Also, warming a car in a garage, even with the door open, allows dangerous concentrations of the gas into the vehicle and even into your home.
It’s important that everyone knows the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Bring essential medications in case you get stranded.
Don’t venture out in extreme conditions unless it’s an emergency.
You are not only putting your life in danger, but also the lives of first responders who will have to venture out to search for you if you get lost or stranded.
Many of us will be using smartphones and laptops for our holiday shopping. While it may be more convenient than a drive to the mall, going online presents dangers to your credit and personal data. Cyber-crooks are lurking, just waiting for a slip-up to steal your identity and get into your bank and credit card accounts. As you tap in and surf for deals, be cautious about where you go and the information you give others. It’s estimated that one-in-five Americans have been a victim of identity theft, and 43% of those had their identity stolen while shopping online during the holidays.
It’s more important than ever that you protect your personal information. Here are some important internet shopping safety tips to remember:
Don’t open suspicious or unsolicited emails that can often take you to dangerous sites
Shop with familiar companies, looking for the secure “https” in the URL (“S” indicating it is a secure site), and beware of copycat sites with slight misspellings
Use strong, unique passwords for online accounts
Avoid using debit cards and pay with a credit card for online shopping (credit cards offer the most fraud protection)
Refrain from shopping or banking while using free or public Wi-Fi
Be aware of fake charity, pet adoption and lonely-hearts solicitations
Check your credit card, bank and other accounts often for suspicious or fraudulent charges
Never send a gift card for payment (a trick many crooks use)
If you are planning on giving to a charity, you also need to take your time and do research to make sure your donation goes to a good cause. Scammers know that people’s good hearts make them easy targets for rip-offs. Remember to:
Be skeptical of email solicitations from charities you have never heard of or supported before
Avoid giving to any organization requesting gift cards, wiring money, or transferring funds to an overseas bank
Realize that many social media donation sites may not be legitimate
Seek out each charity’s authorized website (crooks often use sound-a-like sites and misspellings)
Check the legitimacy of charities through sites such as the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator and GuideStar
If you suspect that you have been an ID theft victim, the Federal Trade Commission recommends:
Placing a freeze on your credit report (locking down your credit to anyone)
Placing a fraud alert (protecting your credit from unverified sources) with one of the three nationwide credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion)
Filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
One of the many benefits that California Casualty offers with every auto and home/renters policy is free ID theft resolution services from CyberScout. Learn more at www.calcas.com/identity-theft or call 1.800.800.9410, option 3 to learn more.
It also protects your assets… if you have the right amount of coverage. In today’s world, having the right amount of auto insurance is imperative. The costs to repair vehicles are increasing, and many times accidents involve lawsuits.
If you do not have high enough liability limits and an accident victim chooses to pursue greater compensation for their injuries, your financial assets – such as your home, your savings, future earnings and even your retirement – are at risk. One serious crash could result in some serious financial distress, even bankruptcy. (Please read that again.)
How is that?
Well, your auto insurance is made up of the coverage limits you choose: Bodily Injury Liability (BI), Property Damage Liability (PD) and Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury (UM).
The minimum liability insurance required varies by state, but generally, it looks something like this:
$25,000 bodily injury liability per person
$50,000 bodily injury liability per accident
$25,000 property damage liability per accident
That means if the insured driver is at-fault in a crash, their insurance would pay up to $25,000 to each person in the other vehicle(s) for injuries – up to a total of $50,000, and pay up to $25,000 for the damage caused to the other vehicle(s), public property, etc.
That might sound like enough, but considering the high costs of medical care, the amount someone might suffer in lost wages, and that the average vehicle now retails for almost $40,000, the at-fault driver could pay out-of-pocket tens of thousands of dollars (or more) above what their insurance would cover.
The Insurance Information Institute recommends each person carry at least $100,000 bodily injury protection per person, $300,000 bodily injury protection per accident, and $50,000 for property damage. If you have a lot of assets (a home, investments, vacation property) and a higher earning potential, you should buy even more protection ($250,000, $500,000, $100,000).
Don’t forget uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage (UM). It’s estimated that one out of eight drivers has no insurance, with many others carrying minimal coverage. You’ll want higher limits to pay for any injuries and damage to your vehicle if you are hit by one of these drivers.
Insurance companies urge everyone to purchase as much liability insurance as they can afford, and we are no different.
As your insurance partner, California Casualty takes seriously our obligation to inform you about important insurance gaps, and to offer higher limits (that cost very little for the protection they provide).
Call one of our customer care representatives at 1.800.800.9410, option 3 to review your current policy limits and discuss your coverage amount options.
Get a $25 gift card when you complete an auto quote with a representative.
*Please allow 6-8 weeks for delivery. One gift card per household, per year. Offer not valid when a California Casualty policy is already in force. Offer not valid in FL, GA, MD, NC, ND, TN and UT.
Offer not available to United MileagePlus® Members.