Protect Your Loved Ones With a Safe Room

The National Weather Service has just announced that a tornado may hit your neighborhood in the next 15 minutes. Or maybe hurricane force winds and rain are pounding your home. Or a stranger has broken in. Where do you and your family go to protect yourselves? Increasingly, American families are choosing to equip their homes with safe rooms.

A safe room (also known as a “panic room”) is a hardened structure designed to give its occupants a very high probability of being protected from injury or death during extreme weather events. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has developed specific criteria for safe rooms. For example, doors and walls must be able to withstand the impact of a 15 pound two by four inch wood board traveling at 100 miles per hour. FEMA credits the existence of 6,000 safe rooms in Moore, Oklahoma with preventing any deaths from occurring during a 2003 tornado.

There are multiple ways to add a safe room to a home. The easiest and least expensive time to do it is when the home is first being built. However, if the foundation can adequately transfer the load of the safe room to the ground, a safe room can be added to an existing home. It can be located inside or outside and above or below ground. However, it should not be more than 150 feet from the home. Also, it should not be located below ground in areas at special risk of flooding.

A safe room should contain an emergency supply kit that includes:

  • A three-day supply of nonperishable food that does not require cooking
  • One gallon of water per person per day
  • Disposable plates, utensils, cups and napkins
  • Medical supplies (prescriptions, first aid, bandages, etc.)
  • Flashlights, radios, TV’s, and cell phones, and batteries to power them
  • Hand tools for turning off gas and water and for opening jammed doors
  • Clothing, bedding, portable toilet, hygiene supplies, and outerwear
  • Pet supplies
  • Items to entertain children
  • Items for baby needs, such as diapers and bottles
  • Other items such as fire extinguishers, dust masks, extra cash, and matches

Once the safe room is ready, the owners should notify emergency responders (police, fire fighters), extended family and friends about the safe room.  When construction is complete, register the entrance’s latitude and longitude with local officials, so that they can quickly locate and free the occupants after a storm that blocks the exit.

In addition, they should practice getting to the room in a hurry. Every member of the household should understand what he or she must do if an emergency occurs.

FEMA estimates the cost of adding a safe room to a home under construction at between $8,000 and $17,000, depending on its size, construction, location, foundation and amenities. Adding one to an existing home will cost more. However, if you live in an area with a higher than normal risk of windstorms, floods or burglaries, a safe room will protect you and those you love until help arrives.

How to Handle Water Damage

People often worry about fires damaging their homes and commercial buildings. While fires are dangerous and can cause extensive damage to property, they are rare compared to another element that is in the home or building every minute of every day: Water.

Properties suffer water damage more frequently than they do other causes of loss. Water damage emergencies occur 14,000 times a day in American homes and businesses, according to insurance industry data. In comparison, fires occur in fewer than 3,600 homes per day, and burglaries occur 8,200 times a day. The basements in 98 percent of US homes will suffer water damage during their lifetime. The average home water damage insurance claim is almost $7,000. Insured losses from water damage equal $2.5 billion per year; that figure does not include uninsured losses caused by floods and other naturally occurring waters.

Those waters can cause immense damage to buildings and the property within them. Just one to four inches of water causes an average loss of $7,800. The average loss caused by a leaky water heater ranges from $3,600 to $5,800, depending on the source of the leak. The average for leaks from bathroom fixtures exceeds $10,000. Plumbing leaks run an average $17,000. Water can damage walls, floors and ceilings; ruin carpeting, furniture and other home furnishings; destroy electronic equipment; and cause mold to grow. Beyond the mess, inconvenience and expense, dirty water and mold can cause health problems in people exposed to them.

In addition to getting a damage restoration company involved quickly, one insurer recommends the following steps to take If a plumbing fixture, appliance or roof springs a leak:

  • Shut off the main water valve if the water is flowing from a pipe.
  • Turn off electrical power and gas supplies when a major water event occurs.
  • Do not use electrical appliances on wet surfaces.
  • Turn on fans to circulate air.
  • Mop or dry the area quickly.
  • Move wet property to dry locations.
  • Remove wet area rugs, but leave tacked-down carpeting in place.
  • Clean your wet clothes.
  • Wipe excess water off of furniture and other belongings.
  • Be on the look out for sharp debris, snakes, rodents and other critters.

Home and business property insurance policies cover some water damage losses but not all. Most policies will cover losses caused by water that enters through holes in roofs, broken or leaky windows, leaky pipes, and faulty dishwashers and washing machines. Many will not cover loss caused by the backup of water from plugged sewers and drains unless the policyholder has purchased extra coverage. They usually do not cover damage caused by floods, rising tides and rainwater, overflowed rivers, and other natural causes. Insurance available from the National Flood Insurance Program is necessary to cover these losses.

We need water to run our homes and businesses, but it can cause problems. If you have a water damage loss, contact a restoration company as soon as possible, notify your insurance company, and work with them closely. By taking sensible steps, you can prevent unnecessary damage and return to normal quickly.

Fake Health Plans Spreading Rapidly: What You Need To Know

Identifying Fake Health Plans

Fake health plans are spreading across states and are appearing more frequently. With rising health insurance premiums, job layoffs and more people going without health insurance, these fake health plan companies are taking advantage of vulnerabilities. When the fake plans do not pay for medical costs, scammed members are left paying thousands for medical bills. These plans usually feature one or more of the following:

  • Stripped-down policies for inadequate coverage.
  • Medical discount cards that provide little to no actual discount.
  • Full coverage that actually covers nothing.

These scam artists may set up booths near markets. They may appear as door-to-door salespeople, and some scammers may use emails, Internet sites or phone calls to contact potential victims. When they contact people, they create a sense of urgency by saying that there is limited enrollment. Although they target all eligible age groups, seniors are usually their main target group. It is important for everyone to know how these fake plans work and what to do.

Dangers Of Health Plan Scams

Most fake health plans sound too good to be true. They offer full coverage or great discounts for a very small premium. In some cases, doctors may try to bill the companies. Some companies may tell plan members to file their own claims. When it is time to pay up, the company will not cover expenses. This can cost victims their life savings. Also, it poses a danger to a person’s health. When people have to find new coverage or pay upfront for more procedures or doctor visits, important care may be delayed. This can cause existing conditions to worsen.

Signs of A Fake Health Plan

  • Invasive sales pitches through email, fax or phone calls.
  • Ads stapled to light poles and on public bulletin boards.
  • Pushy salespeople who create a sense of urgency about enrolling now.
  • Salespeople who ask for personal information and bank account information upfront.
  • Salespeople who use terms such as “health care reform” and “Obamacare” during their pitch frequently.
  • Deals that seem too good to be true with low premiums, extensive coverage and great discounts.
  • Sales representatives who provide evasive or vague answers to important questions.
  • Full plan details are unclear or inaccessible until after enrollment.
  • Membership requires enrollees to join a special association or a fake union to get coverage.
  • Official Internet site looks very convincing, professional and attractive.
  • Internet site focuses on selling points but provides no real details.
  • Insurance card or policy is slow to arrive after enrollment.
  • Payment delays are long enough that medical offices start calling about past-due bills.
  • Plan representatives pass off payment delays as glitches or errors.
  • Plan representatives say that the plan does not require state licenses due to ERISA or similar exclusions.


Avoiding Fake Health Plans

Never act hastily when signing up for health insurance. Always research a plan and learn the terms before enrolling, and verify that the terms match the sales pitch. This is especially important when the health plan claims to offer full coverage. Do not give a credit card number or bank information to someone over the phone, through email or via a chat message. Verify the plan’s license details, and check consumer reviews for complaints. If membership requires joining a union or association, do some thorough research on it. Does it have an address? How long has it existed? What do people say about it on third-party sites? If it does not have an official site or establishment, beware that it is probably fake. If a health plan claims to be part of a major insurance company, contact the major insurer directly to verify this. Never believe a pitch with an ERISA exclusion. Private health insurance companies are not licensed by the federal government.

By knowing how to spot a fake plan, it is easier to avoid losing savings, time and important health care. To learn more about legitimate health plans, discuss concerns with an agent.

Group Versus Individual Health Insurance For Small Businesses

The Affordable Care Act requires employers with 50 full-time equivalents or more to provide qualified group health insurance plans to all full-time employees. Otherwise they have to pay significant penalties. But if you are a smaller employer, you still have a choice: You can offer a qualified group health insurance plan to your employees, or you can save on premiums by deciding not to offer health insurance – effectively sending all employees to the individual market for coverage.

Group Insurance 

With group insurance, the business is responsible for paying premiums – and must generally pay at least half of the total premium for the plan to qualify as a group health insurance plan.

While not every small employer is able to pay for health insurance for all employees, there’s no denying that health insurance is an important part of most companies’ employer value proposition. According to a 2013 survey by Metlife, 61 percent of employees who report that they are “very satisfied” with their compensation package at their current employers say that their health insurance benefits were a key component of why they were satisfied. 38 percent of employees surveyed report that their health care benefits were an important part of why they were satisfied with their compensation.

This is, of course, why most large companies offered health insurance to employees even before they were required to by the Affordable Care Act: Quality employees demanded health insurance coverage, and employers had to offer it to recruit and retain the best available talent.

  • Your business may qualify for a tax credit. The tax credit is available to businesses with fewer than 25 full-time employees, with average wages of $50,000 per year or less, provided you pay at least 50 percent of the total premium. The tax credit is worth up to 50 percent of the premiums you pay (35 percent if you are a tax-exempt organization). You must purchase the coverage through the Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, to qualify for the tax credit.


  • The costs of offering a group health insurance plan are 100 percent deductible to the employer.


  • Benefits tend to be richer in group plans than in individual plans, with generally lower deductibles available.


  • The employer doesn’t have to pay the entire cost of the plan. Employees can be responsible for part of the premium.


  • Group coverage has more enrollment flexibility: You can start a new qualified group at any time. You and your employees will not have to wait until the next open enrollment period to get new coverage in place. Those on the individual insurance market must generally wait until the Affordable Care Act open enrollment period to initiate coverage, unless they qualify for a ‘special enrollment period.’


The Individual Market

Alternatively, smaller employers can go without a group health plan for their employees but in order to remain competitive, they must offer compensation in other forms in order to compete for talent. Typically, this takes the form of higher cash compensation. Employees have the option, of course, to use this extra cash to purchase their own health insurance, but employers cannot require them to do so. You also cannot write off sums spent paying individual health insurance premiums on your employees’ behalf.

While every business is different, most businesses soon find that they are better off going with a group insurance plan, rather than leaving employees to the individual market. Individual plans may work well for very small ‘mom and pop’ companies with few employees beyond the owners themselves. But as your hiring needs grow, the balance of the argument shifts swiftly to offering a full-fledged group health insurance plan.

Study Shows That Cell Phone Use Is Causing More Teen Car Crashes

Statistics have long shown that young drivers have car accidents at higher rates than the older ones. Lack of experience, overconfidence, underestimation of risk, social pressure and risky behaviors are generally seen as the primary explanations for these results. However, a recent study shows that distractions, especially cell phones, are playing an increasingly bigger role in accidents involving the youngest drivers.

Researchers for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety examined accident data compiled over an eight-year period, from 2007 to 2015. The data came from drivers, aged 16 to 19, who participated in a program that captured video, audio and accelerometer data in 12-second chunks when it detected an accident or “high g-force event,” such as hard braking. The files captured the eight seconds before the event and four seconds after. The database included 8,200 files, but the researchers excluded minor incidents such as curb strikes. That left more than 2,200 moderate-to-severe incidents to include in the study.

The data revealed a significant increase in the rate of rear-end crashes. These accounted for just over 20 percent of crashes in 2007 but nearly 40 percent in 2015. A higher percentage of accidents involved teens not paying attention to what was in front of them.

Almost 60 percent of crashes involved some type of potentially distracting behavior in the six seconds prior to impact. The rates did not vary greatly from one year to the next. The most common distractions were passengers, cell phone use, and other in-vehicle distractions.

The researchers found that the ways cell phone use distracted drivers changed over time. The proportion of crashes resulting from teens talking on or listening to a phone declined slightly each year. However, the rate of crashes following drivers operating or looking at their phones climbed four percent per year. One in five rear-end crashes during the eight years resulted from operating or looking at a phone. However, the percentage of such crashes rose from 15 percent in 2008 to 28 percent in 2014.

As might be expected from these figures, drivers taking their eyes off the road was a significant factor. Where the data permitted this to be determined, average eyes-off-the-road time for rear-end crashes jumped from 2.0 seconds in 2008 to 3.1 in 2014. The duration of the longest glance rose from 1.5 to 2.1 seconds. Average reaction times also lengthened, from 2.0 seconds to 2.7 seconds.

There was some good news. Rates of accidents involving driving off the road or loss of vehicle control were down. The authors speculated that this may be because teens are checking their phones at times they perceive to be safer, such as when they are stopped in traffic, and because more cars have automated safety systems.

The data clearly shows that teens, who are seldom without their phones, are at risk behind the wheel with them. Parents, educators, law enforcement and insurers must all emphasize to young drivers the dangers of cell phone use while driving. Distractions of all kinds are a threat, but cell phones stand out.

A Home-Based Business is not covered under Homeowners Insurance

With recent advances in both technology and the internet, even more people are running home-based businesses, full-time or part-time. But will your homeowner’s policy cover the risks of a home-based business? In nearly every case, the answer is no.

Exceptions exist, in the form of special endorsements, such as an endorsement to run a child-care operation from your home, yet fewer and fewer companies offer such endorsements. Even with a special endorsement, policies may give a very limited amount of coverage for business property, like computers and other electronics. The bottom line is, nearly all homeowners policies clearly exclude business operations and not having a proper coverage in place can leave you with uninsured exposure. This is why you need separate business insurance to cover your home-based business risks.

Home-based business owners may feel that they do not need coverage because nobody steps foot on their premises. Even if this is true, liability claims often happen away from the business premises. Business insurance covers you in situations where someone takes action for information on your website, or if someone is injured by the product, or service, you provide. Off-premise injury can occur when someone trips on or is injured by property you have taken into the field, such as to a trade show or event. A business policy will cover these injuries as well as meet the insurance requirements of most trade shows and events you may attend. Competitors and customers both may sue a business owner for personal injury. Business policies include coverage for personal injury lawsuits, should someone take legal action against you for things like libel or slander.

From a property standpoint, any business property you may have in your home is usually excluded or has very limited coverage under a homeowners policy. Getting coverage to protect your computers, equipment, furniture, inventory and any other physical assets helps keep your business in operation with minimal disruption and financial loss. A business policy also usually covers loss of income, which is payment for income you did not earn as a result of a loss covered under your policy. Policies may also include coverage for things like valuable papers, damage to property of others, property coverage off-premises and a number of other additional coverages.

A business owner’s policy includes the coverage described above, and is specifically designed to protect the unique interests and property of a business owner. This package policy includes nearly all, if not most, of the coverage you need. However, if you are providing some kind of professional advice, consulting, or other non-tangible professional services, you may also need a professional liability policy. This is also known as Errors & Omissions Insurance. In addition, if you have any employees, you are probably required by law to get Worker’s Compensation insurance. Depending on the type and size of business you own, you may have further insurance needs.

Hoping that your homeowner’s policy is going to cover you in the event of a claim will leave you frustrated if your business experiences a loss. Businesses have a much higher risk than a homeowners policy allows for, and homeowners claims adjusters will quickly deny coverage for business-related claims in the event of a loss. Talk to your insurance agent today to explore your business insurance needs and options. 


Turning 65? Here’s What You Need To Know About Medicare

When you turn 65, you have some important decisions to make about your Medicare benefits. You must also make these decisions within a specific time frame. It’s important to understand your choices, and the timeline by which you must make them in order to avoid penalties.

Normally, most Americans become eligible for Medicare benefits when they turn 65. The process differs however, depending on whether you are currently receiving Social Security benefits.

Enrollment Period 

First, it’s important to understand your Medicare enrollment periods. When you turn 65, you have an initial enrollment period of three months before the month in which you turn 65, the month in which you turn 65, and the three months after it.

After that, the Medicare open enrollment period, also called the Fall open enrollment period, is October 15th through December 7th every year. If you want to enroll in a new Medicare program – for example, enroll in a Part C (Medicare Advantage) or Part D (prescription drug) plan, you must do so between these months, or you will have to pay a penalty in the form of a higher premium.

If you enroll in a plan during the Fall open enrollment period, coverage starts January 1st.

If you are already receiving Social Security benefits

If you are already receiving Social Security benefits, you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare Part A, which provides basic hospital insurance, and Part B, which covers doctors’ fees, lab fees and durable medical equipment. You don’t need to take any action or contact anyone. Three months prior to your 65thbirthday, you should receive a package in the mail with a Medicare card and a letter explaining the enrollment process.

Your monthly Part B premium will be automatically deducted from your Social Security check or your railroad retirement check when your coverage begins.

You don’t have to take Part B if you don’t want it. However, if you are low income, you may be able to qualify for a reduced Part B premium. Most planners don’t recommend opting out of Part B unless you are covered under an employer’s medical insurance plan. Otherwise, you will not be able to enroll in Part B without paying a much higher premium for late enrollment. If you do nothing, you will be automatically enrolled in Part B.

Note: If you are covered by an employer plan and you are considering opting out of Part B, contact your employer’s HR professional and opt out if your employer plan is the primary insurer. If your employer plan is not the primary insurer, you may want to go ahead and remain enrolled in Part B.

If you are not yet receiving Social Security benefits

If you are not receiving Social Security benefits yet, you will need to take proactive steps in order to enroll in Medicare. To do so, contact your local Social Security office. If you are covered by an employer’s plan either via your own workplace or via your spouse’s, you may wish to delay applying for Medicare. You will not be penalized if you are covered by an employers’ plan. However, COBRA coverage does not count as credible coverage for this purpose. If you are only covered by a COBRA plan from a former employer, you will not want to miss the next Medicare open enrollment period.

Note: For most people, Medicare pays for only about half your actual Medical costs, once you account for copays and deductibles. For additional protection, you may want to enroll either in a Medicare Advantage plan, or a Medigap plan, both of which provides additional coverage in exchange for a monthly premium. If you want prescription drug coverage, you can also enroll in Medicare Part D, or elect a Medicare Advantage plan that includes prescription drug coverage.

For details, or to design a combination of Medicare and Medigap policies that works for you, contact your insurance professional.

Culture of Wellness

A recent report from Optum, a health services technology and consulting company and a subsidiary of United Healthcare, finds that for all the investment in and publicity surrounding workplace wellness programs, a ‘culture of wellness’ remains elusive to employers.

All employers, of course, would like to reduce costs due to absenteeism, presenteeism and employee health care costs. 60 percent of large employers surveyed say they believe it is important to achieve a culture of health at work. But only one employer in five reports that they have had success.

The report explores ways to bridge the gap between the ‘culture of health’ that employers want to create, and the reality of the American workplace.

How can employers do a better job of leveraging their wellness programs and creating the culture of health they say they desire? Optum makes the following recommendations:


Get leadership more engaged.

Human resources departments should do a better job selling business leaders in other units on the benefits of workplace wellness initiatives. For example: 74 percent of HR workers believe that workplace wellness programs can help reduce employee health risks, and 77 percent of them believe that these programs have a positive effect on the company health care claims profile. 

Only 64 and 60 percent of non-HR executives, respectively, believe that these two metrics are reasons to offer a wellness program. The difference represents a lot of untapped leadership potential, as leaders outside of the HR department are not selling the program as much as they should be.


Expand focus from physical health to include more aspects of human health.  

There are lots of factors that contribute to the overall well being of your workplace. Physical health is just one of them. But while fully 95 percent of employers do take some steps to address their employees’ physical health, only about two thirds of employers address mental health and behavioral health issues in formal wellness programs at all.

Furthermore, only 37 percent address employees’ financial health, even though multiple studies confirm that both mental health issues and financial stress can contribute significantly business costs.

Optum analysts urge employers to introduce new behavioral and mental health, financial health and social health solutions to existing workplace wellness programs, both to address these problems directly and to get more people engaged with their employee benefits program in general.


Increase Incentives for Successful Participation in Employee Wellness Plans

On average, employers committed about $400 per year to incentivize employees to participate in workplace health and wellness programs. Companies are providing cash incentives, company contributions to health savings accounts, reductions on health care premiums, gift cards, additional vacation or time off, and of course cash incentives though these are less common, amounting to only 15 percent of employers in 2015, compared to 36 percent who made company contributions to health accounts and 32 percent who offered reduced health insurance premiums to individuals who successfully completed certain wellness milestones, such as engaging in a biometric screening or completing a health assessment.

These last two milestones, of course, are one-offs, not long-term changes in actual behavior. And recent rule changes from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have restricted the way employers can incentivize employees for completing surveys and biometric screenings, anyway.

The report’s authors encourage employers to provide incentives not just for these specific activities, but for successful attainment of actual health goals and the sustainment of positive results.

Ideas include group incentives to leverage peer encouragement for meeting targets as a group, participating in wellness coaching, disease management objectives, and other activities.


Other Measures

Optum’s researchers also make note of other options to help create a culture of wellness:

–  Have programs that support employees who travel

–  Change the environment at work

–  Provide on-site medical clinics or appointments

–  Have an on-site health promotion specialist

–  Integrate telephone and in-service delivery

–  Track and improve key metrics including participation levels, claims reduction, absenteeism/presenteeism and productivity levels.

The full study is available here.


These Factors Influence The Cost Of Auto Insurance

The average annual rate for an auto insurance premium is $800. However, this number varies widely based on individual factors. Different risk factors that have been linked to accident statistics affect the final rate. These factors are often better at determining risks than analyzing individual driving records alone. While not all companies use every determining factor in this article to price an auto insurance premium, they use several. 

Driving Record
This is something used by every insurer to determine policy pricing. Those who have had multiple at-fault accidents in the past are more likely to be involved in an accident in the future. However, a person who has not had any prior accidents is a lower risk for insurers and enjoys a lower premium as a result. Tickets for speeding and other infractions affect insurance rates. An incident of driving without insurance will cause a person to have to pay a much higher rate for a year or more after the incident, and the individual cannot drop the special required coverage.

Driving Frequency
People who drive more face a greater risk of being involved in an accident. Those who commute long distances for work every day usually pay higher premiums. However, someone who works at home and drives once or twice per week would be considered a lower risk and may have a lower premium. Insurers often ask for mileage readings every year.

Vehicle Vulnerability
If a vehicle is parked outdoors on a street in a large city, it faces a higher risk of vandalism and is exposed to the elements. These risks may result in a slight increase in the cost of insurance. However, a vehicle that is parked in a garage in a small town where there is rarely severe weather might have a lower insurance premium with the same insurer. Some states also have higher rates of fraud, litigation, medical expenses and other premium-raising incidents. The cumulative cost of these incidents is passed down to policyholders.

Driver Age
Drivers who are under the age of 18 are considered a higher risk than those who are over the age of 18. Also, drivers under the age of 25 are in a higher risk category. As a rule, most drivers who maintain a good record see a noticeable drop in insurance costs after they turn 25. For younger drivers who earn good grades in high school and college while maintaining a clean driving record, some insurers offer special discounts.

Driver Gender
While many insurers do not use this as a major pricing factor, it is one to consider. As a rule, women are not involved in serious accidents as often as men. Also, men have higher rates of DUIs, which considerably impact the cost of insurance.

Type Of Vehicle
A vehicle’s value, its likelihood of being stolen and its safety ratings affect insurance rates. The presence of certain safety features lowers insurance costs. Engine size, make, model and age are some additional factors considered by insurance companies. For example, a used hybrid sedan with several safety features would cost less to insure than a new Corvette.

Driver Credit
An individual credit score is not the sole determining factor with credit. Insurers use payment history, bankruptcies and other information from a credit report to create a special insurance credit score to help with premium pricing.

Coverage Provisions
Most insurers offer several types of coverage and some add-on bonuses such as roadside assistance or rental car coverage. These add-ons are usually several extra dollars per month. Some people choose comprehensive coverage, which includes a wide range of incidents such as vandalism, cracked windshields, body dents and more. Liability insurance covers medical care and property damage to another party if the insured driver causes an accident. Pricing varies based on the dollar limits for these policies. However, drivers must carry at least their state’s minimum liability requirements for insurance. Comprehensive and add-on features are optional but recommended.

The best way to find out how much insurance costs is to request a free quote. To learn more about insurance and pricing factors, discuss concerns with an agent.


You Will Have a Data Security Breach. Are You Ready?

Organizations of all types need to prepare for breaches of their computer networks. No one is immune. That is the message in a report from law firm BakerHostetler on data security incidents in 2015.

The firm’s Privacy and Data Protection team examined more than 300 data security incidents on which the firm provided legal advice in 2015. The 2014 study found that human error was the leading cause of these incidents. The 2015 study found something different – almost one-third of all incidents were caused by phishing, hacking and malware.

In a phishing attack, the perpetrator attempts to obtain sensitive information (passwords, credit card information, etc.) by pretending in an email or other electronic communication to be a trustworthy entity. A fake email message with a bank’s logo in it is an example of a phishing attack. In a hacking, the perpetrator seeks out and exploits weaknesses in the network’s security to gain unauthorized access. Malware is software used to disrupt computer operations, gather sensitive information, gain access to private computer systems, or display unwanted advertising.

The study found that 31 percent of incidents were caused by these three types of attacks. This implies that organizations can better protect themselves by training employees on how to recognize phony messages; beefing up network security systems; and limiting the ability of employees to download and install software.

Other causes of incidents included employee mistakes, external theft, outside vendors, internal theft, and lost or improperly disposed of equipment.

The top target industries were health care, financial services and education. These three combined to account for more than half of all incidents, but no industries were safe from cyber incidents.

When a data security incident occurs, the organization may need to notify affected individuals, damaging the firms’ reputations and finances. The study showed that, where notification was required, organizations had to notify an average of 269,000 people. Half of all notifications were to more than 190,000 people. Still, 40 percent of the incidents did not require public notification.

While more than half of all incidents were self-detected by the victims, the average time it took to detect them was more than two months. Health care organizations took almost twice as long as others. Once detected, containment of the incidents took an average of a week.

Almost one quarter of the incidents produced inquiries from regulators. Legal action was taken after six percent of them were disclosed to the public.

The report shows that all organizations should prepare for data security incidents. While striving to prevent them from happening, organizations should plan for the day that they happen. That means taking steps to detect and contain the attacks as quickly as possible. Arrangements should be made in advance with a computer forensics firm to help fight off the attack. Also, purchasing insurance to cover costs like legal defense and settlements, notification, and answering regulators’ inquiries is a good idea.

Data security incidents are inevitable. Organizations that prepare for them will survive and minimize the damage.