How to Prevent Frozen Pipes During the Winter

Every winter, about 250,000 people find themselves with messes from pipes that freeze and burst. In addition to erupting and filling a room with water, a burst pipe can also cost a person thousands of dollars in damages. Carpet, photos, furniture and other belongings can be damaged to the point they need to be replaced. A crack measuring only three millimeters can spew as much as 250 gallons of water into a person’s home in just one day. Whether a person has plastic PVC or copper pipes, they are not immune to ruptures and bursts.

Fortunately, there are several steps that can be taken to protect pipes and avoid the hassles associated with bursts.

To avoid flooding, consider these tips:

– Bundle up the pipes before winter arrives. Use insulation in attics, garages and crawl spaces. Be generous with the insulation, because more protection means pipes are less likely to burst.

– Wrap pipes up with heat cables that are thermostatically controlled. Heat tape can also be used. Place this around pipes that are at a higher risk of bursting. Before using any of these types of products, make sure they are approved by testing organizations. Follow the installation instructions carefully.

– Seal any cracks, and look for air leaks close to the pipes. If there is cold air leaking in even through a tiny space, pipes can freeze quickly and burst. Every leak should be sealed properly with insulation or caulk.

– Turn up the thermostat to 65 degrees or higher during the winter. Temperatures in the attic or behind the walls can become cold enough to let the pipes freeze if the thermostat is turned lower than this.

– Put any hoses away before temperatures drop in the winter months. After doing this, shut off the indoor valve.

– Keep one faucet on in the home at all times, but set it so it will only drip warm water slowly. Even the smallest trickle can aid in preventing pipes from freezing. Whenever possible, use a faucet that is located on an outside wall.

– When leaving the home for any period of time, have someone check on it daily. Tell the individual to look for signs of pipes that are about to burst. Also, tell them to ensure the house is warm enough to prevent frozen pipes. If this is not possible, it may be best to drain the water system and shut it off before leaving. However, it is important to remember that this will render a fire sprinkler system ineffective if there is a fire.

– Know how to spot a frozen pipe. If the faucet is turned on but water does not come out, this is a sign that the pipe is frozen. Call a plumber, and leave the faucet on. It may be possible to thaw a frozen pipe with a hair dryer. Start close to the faucet, and work toward the coldest section of the pipe. Avoid using any open flames or torches to defrost pipes.

– If a pipe does burst, turn the water off at the main shutoff valve. Turn all of the faucets on, and call a plumber immediately. After calling the plumber, call the insurance agent. Adjusters will not need to come assess the spill itself, but they must know about it and assess the damages later. If possible, take photos of any spills or damages.

– Move any electronic items, rugs, furniture or other belongings out of harm’s way. Mop the water up immediately, and set a fan to help it dry. If this is not possible, use towels to dry the floor. If any temporary repairs must be made to prevent further damage, make them and keep all receipts. Insurers may reimburse policyholders for temporary repairs. Wait until after the adjuster has assessed the damage to make any permanent or extensive repairs.

To avoid having this happen, take all of the proper steps to protect pipes during the coldest months of the year. Even with preparations, there is still a possibility that pipes could burst during storms and power failures. This is why it is important to plan for them and be prepared.

What Drivers Need to Know about Backover Accidents

When it comes to avoiding objects while traveling in reverse, rear cameras are more effective than parking sensors. However, they are not helpful in every situation. Researchers recently conducted a study with drivers in an empty parking lot in Los Angeles. Their study results showed that cameras were more helpful than parking sensors in preventing backward crashes into pedestrians. They also found that cameras alone worked better in these situations than cameras and parking sensors combined.

Children are often the unfortunate victims of backward pedestrian crashes. There are many driveway tragedies of this nature every year in the United States. Experts estimate about 300 people are killed and about 18,000 are injured annually in backward pedestrian crashes. These accidents typically occur in driveways and parking lots. Elderly people and young kids are more likely to be killed than older kids or younger adults. Many vehicles have large blind zones, and this increases the backover risk. Trucks and SUVs are commonly involved in these accidents, because it is hard for drivers to see children who are playing or lying on the ground from a higher blind zone.

This study was the second study that examined parking sensors and cameras affecting visibility for backover collisions into pedestrians. The first study used people of varying sizes from small children to average-sized men in over 20 different vehicles. All of the vehicles chosen were made between 2010 and 2013. Researchers carefully looked at how each type of technology improved detection and visibility in each of these vehicles.

During their study, researchers placed a painted pole behind a vehicle to show the varying heights and head sizes of kids who were between 12 and 15 months, between two and three years and between five and six years. They analyzed which parts of the pole were visible. The pole with the band representing the youngest age group was far more difficult to see than the ones with bands representing older children. Unless the driver was further than 27 feet away from the pole, the smallest height could not usually be seen. Large SUVs were the worst offenders if they did not have any added technologies. However, small cars ranked the highest in this area of safety.

One exception to this was the Hyundai Sonata, which had a high trunk and a sloping rear window. The blind spot on this vehicle was more than 40 percent larger than the blind spot on a Ford F-150 truck, which had side mirrors designed for enhanced visibility while towing. On average, experts said that backup cameras reduced blind spots by about 90 percent. Parking sensors were also helpful in reducing blind areas. However, parking sensors only added between two and three percentage points beyond those provided by just cameras.

Making your Smart Phone “Insurance Smart”

You have the phone and the capabilities that come with it. Using the phone to manage all of your insurance affairs is not only smart, it will put you ahead of the game if you need to access your insurance information or if you end up having a claim. There is no better place than having all the information and tools on your smart phone because it is likely with you at all times. The best news is, the resources are there and putting in place what you need is a snap.

The first thing you should do is to see if your insurance company has an app for your phone. If they do, downloading such an app is a no-brainer. These apps are available as a free added value service to you. The best part is that most of these apps have a number of capabilities. This includes nearly everything from accessing your policy information to submitting a claim and everything else in between. For example, if you get into an accident, some apps included the capability to take photos and submit them along with a claims form you complete right on your phone. This means you can submit a claim within minutes after the accident happened, along with all the photos documenting the incident.

While reporting a claims incident is probably the most valuable advantage of these apps, another advantage is having access to your policy information anytime you need it. What is your policy number? When does your policy renew? When is your next payment due? How much coverage do you have? All of this is right at the tip of your fingers. For example, if you need your policy number and information for your job or you are driving kids on a field trip and the school needs it, these apps make it easy to access all this information.

While most insurance carriers do have apps, even if your carrier does not have an app, the phone itself can be a valuable resource. For claims situations, the phone’s camera is just about the best mobile documentation tool you can have. Also, if you are away from home, the ability to connect to the internet to look up resources such as the nearest towing company, the insurance company’s website, and of course your agent’s phone number can be your greatest asset. Best yet, you can use the phone’s map to get directions to the closest place you may need to get to.

In addition to insurance company apps, there are a number of other applications that may be available. One example is a home inventory app that will help you to setup and organize photos or video of your entire home inventory. This can come in handy in the unfortunate event that you have a fire or are burglarized, as insurance companies will need an entire inventory to complete forms when processing the claim. Another example of a helpful app is a document storage and sharing app such as box.net or dropbox.com. These apps allow you to store and share documents and images virtually in what is referred to as a “cloud” format. This basically means that you can upload and save images from a computer to the cloud, and then you will have access to those images from your smart phone or any other computer.

Investing a little initial time to download and setup apps and other resources to make your phone insurance smart is well worth it. It will not only save you time when you need this information, it will allow you to be significantly ahead of the game, even possibly being able to provide enough evidence to prove you are not at fault in an auto accident. You are 95% there by having a smart phone, and the benefits are too great not to take that next step in using the insurance-ready resources that are available.

 

Facebook Scammers Getting Bolder

Often times, careless users have left too much personal information on line, including birthdays, addresses, and other information that can be leveraged into identity theft.

More recently, another variation on the scam has come to light: Criminals have been trolling Facebook accounts, looking for members who post a lot of details about their own families. They will then locate and contact a vulnerable family member – often a grandmother – and pretend to be a grandchild travelling abroad.

The scammers pretend to be the grandchild, and breathlessly explain to the unsuspecting senior that they’re in jail in Spain, for example, after hitting a telephone pole – and they need her to wire them money to get let out of jail.

In some cases, the criminals don’t just stop with the first couple of thousand dollars. They will contact grandma again, telling her the judge is making her grandson pay for damages to a light pole he hit. Then a deductible to an insurance company. They will call grandma again, saying the police won’t let him leave the country until he clears accounts and hit grandma for a couple more grand.

They keep it up until grandma catches on to the scam or runs out of money – and meanwhile, her grandson is safe at home, unaware that his Facebook information is being used by criminals to victimize his family.

How they do it

To pull off this scam, criminals don’t need to steal birthdays or password information directly. Instead, they’ll go through Facebook accounts, mapping a picture of the victim’s family. They’ll gather so much information about family details and contacts that they can quickly overcome any skepticism about the scammer’s identity.

Burglaries

Criminals will also scan Facebook for information to use against members more directly: They will look for families announcing vacation plans on Facebook, for example, and then break into the house when you’re away. Police have broken up multiple burglary rings in several states, in which thieves used information gleaned via Facebook to target homes where they knew the occupants would be away.

Awareness Is Still A Factor

According to a recent survey from the Javelin Group, a large number of social media users posted information on line on Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, Tumblrs, and other social media sites that criminals could possibly leverage against them:

  • 68 percent of social media users publicly shared their birthday.
  • 63 percent shared the name of their high school.
  • 18 percent shared their phone number.
  • 12 percent shared their pet’s name.

All this is information that criminals could use to bluff their way to access to a bank account – or even to a home, especially where family members are very young, elderly, naïve or easily confused.

Halloween and Autumn Safety Tips

Autumn is a wonderful time of year and comes with colorful Fall Festivals and Halloween Celebrations.  It’s always good to take precautions to make sure that all family members, including pets, enjoy a safe experience as well.  The American Academy of Pediatrics provides some great advice to make Autumn time Safety time:

Costume Suggestions for Fall Parties and Trick or Treating

  • Plan costumes that are reflective and brightly colored. Be certain that shoes fit well and that costumes are short. Long costumes can cause tripping, entanglement or contact with flame.
  • When shopping for costumes, only consider materials that are flame-resistant.
  • Instead of a mask that can limit eyesight, consider a decorative hat or non-toxic face make-up.
  • Children and grownups should carry flashlights with fresh batteries when outside trick-or-treating
  • Never use decorative contact lenses as part of a costume.  These lenses can be dangerous and can cause infection.
  • Children should be taught to never trick-or-treat alone.  Go in a group or with a parent.

Safe Pumpkin Carving

  • Never allow young children to carve their own pumpkins.  Instead, ask your child to draw the face on the pumpkin that the parents can carve.  Or decorate your pumpkin using colorful paints, glue, and accessories.
  • Instead of putting a candle in your pumpkin, consider lighting your pumpkin with a glow stick or flashlight.  If you prefer a candle, use a votive candle.
  • Candle-lit pumpkins should be placed on a sturdy surface away from curtains and other flammable materials.  Don’t leave a candle-lit pumpkin unattended.

Making Your House Safe for Visitors

  • When getting ready for visitors at your house, remove anything that a visitor could trip over in the dark.  Make sure garden hoses, decorations, toys, and bikes are not in walkways or on porches.
  • Make sure bulbs in outside lights are working, and change any burnt out bulbs.
  • Restrain your pets so they are not tempted to follow visitors out of your yard.  Restraining pets also provides safety for your visitors.
  • Sweep any wet leaves away from walkways, steps, and porches to prevent slipping and falling.

 Monitor Your Kids’ Treats

  • Though tampering is rare, inspect treats that come home from trick-or-treating or from holiday gatherings.  Make sure nothing is spoiled, unwrapped, or looks suspicious in any way.
  • Don’t let children have unlimited access to festive candy and treats.  Teach them to eat sweets in moderation only, and save some candy for another day.
  • Keep candy, especially chocolate out of the reach of pets.  Any type of candy is not good for pets, and chocolate can be lethal.

Do You Have an Emergency Family Communications Plan?

Disaster doesn’t wait for your family to be together to strike. In fact, it may well happen while children are at school or one or both parents are away at work. Do you have a plan in place to take care of your family until you can reunite? Will you even be able to find them after a major disaster? Will your plan still work when many of the local cell towers are down?

Yes, we all hope the crisis never arises. But hope is not a plan. With that in mind, here are some here are some tips to help you through the crisis.

  • Download a locator application to everyone’s iPhones, such as Life360. Life360 allows you to track the last known location of the cell phones of everyone in your contact list.
  • Designate a trusted friend or relative in a different state to act as a go-between. Local telephone service may well be unreliable. An out-of-state friend or relative should be safely out of the way of most disasters, and can act as a conduit for information between family members directly impacted by disaster.
  • Add “ICE” to that individual’s name in everyone’s phone. ICE is short for “In Case of Emergency.” Put it into “favorites” lists to make it easier.
  • Ensure young children know how to use text messaging, if they are old enough. Sometimes SMS text messages can make it through the cell phone networks when voice calls can’t.
  • Sign up for alert services with your local emergency management agency. These alerts can give you advance warning and/or up to date information on tornados, storms, hurricanes.
  • Have a ‘meeting point’ established in advance, and an alternate, in case the first meeting point is unavailable. If you can’t make it home, tell the family to come to the meeting point, and then the alternate, if no one can contact each other.
  • Have emergency ‘go-bags’ packed in advance. Don’t forget:
  •  Formula
  •  Diapers
  •  Bottles
  •  Powdered milk
  •  Medications
  •  Moist towelettes
  •  Pet needs
  •  Insurance paperwork
  •  Contact info
  •  Medical insurance cards
  •  Identification
  •  Bottled water
  •  Toilet paper

Download and complete a family emergency plan template for children from FEMA.gov. Give it to children, and post a copy on the refrigerator. You can also laminate it and put it in children’s backpacks.

Fill out the FEMA.gov family communication plan for parents.

Know everyone’s blood type and allergies.

For more information, visit http://www.ready.org.

The Deadliest Driving Distractions Every Driver Should Avoid

Passengers, pedestrians and other motorists are endangered by distracted drivers. Statistics show that drivers who are holding electronic devices while driving are four times more likely to experience a serious accident. Teen drivers are more likely than any other age groups to be in fatal crashes resulting from distractions. There are several dangerous distractions that every driver should avoid.

Smoking
Recent research shows that about 10 percent of people who are in fatal crashes are distracted. Only about one percent of crashes result from smoking. However, drivers who are trying to light cigarettes or dispose of ashes are in greater danger of causing an accident.

Moving Objects
Moving pets, children or various objects are the culprits of some crashes. Only about one percent of accidents occur due to moving objects. Drivers should make sure children remain in their seats and have their safety belts securely fastened. Pets should be kept in carriers or in seat restraints.

Adjusting Controls
About one percent of crashes occur as a result of drivers adjusting buttons or other controls in the vehicle. It is important to ensure these controls are set before driving. Some features may not be possible to set ahead of time. For example, setting the cruise control or using the windshield wipers while driving may be necessary. When this is the case, drivers should be aware of their surroundings.

Eating And Drinking
Approximately two percent of distracted drivers were eating or drinking at the time they crashed. Drivers should stop if they need to eat or drink. Even when stopping for coffee, it is important to either wait until arriving at a destination to drink it or drink the beverage before pulling out of the parking lot.

Searching For Lost Items
People who were searching for maps, electronic devices or other items while driving accounted for about two percent of fatal crashes. Drivers should pull over to a safe area and stop before searching for any items in the vehicle.

Friends
Drivers who were distracted by or talking to their passenger friends while on the road accounted for about five percent of fatal crashes. Although it may be tempting to converse with friends while driving, it is important to stay focused on the road and surroundings at all times.

Outside Event
Almost every person has seen a distracting billboard, crash or other event outside. Many people crane their necks or slow down to look. These are dangerous habits, and about seven percent of accidents were caused by such behaviors. Drivers should always avoid slowing down for outside distractions.

Cell Phones
Talking, texting or reading cell phones while driving are all common ways people cause accidents. In several states, it is illegal to use a handheld mobile phone while driving. Texting while driving is illegal in almost 40 states, and about 12 percent of fatal crashes happen as a result of this practice. A person who is texting and driving is more likely to cause an accident than an intoxicated driver. In addition to this, more than 11 teen deaths per day and 1.5 million accidents per year are caused by drivers who are texting. To avoid the temptation, consider installing special software to disable the phone while the vehicles is moving.

Lost In Thought
There are an endless things a person could possibly be thinking about while driving. Whether a driver is looking for an address, trying to listen to the radio or daydreaming, accidents caused by general distractions account for more than 60 percent of all fatal crashes. It is important to stay mentally focused at all times.

Avoiding harmful practices is a good way to not only stay alive on the road but also to keep insurance rates lower. To enjoy the lowest possible rate, drivers need to consistently maintain a record that is free of negligent accidents. It is also important to stay vigilant and watch for distracted drivers in other vehicles on the road. To learn more, call ACBI at 203-259-7580 or visit our website

What Party Hosts Should Know about Serving Alcohol

A person’s role as a responsible party host can keep friends and family protected. Social responsibility is a term that includes everything from planning to overseeing the party.

What Hosts Should Understand
Do not rely on coffee to help the guests sober up. Only time can make a person sober, and hard liquor will intoxicate people as much as beer or wine will. A 12-ounce can of beer, a five-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce wine cooler and one and one-half ounces of liquor each contain the same amount of alcohol.

Do not rely on appearance and actions to determine if a guest has had too much to drink.
Mixers will not help dilute alcoholic beverages, and carbonated beverages such as club soda or tonic water promote quicker absorption of alcohol into a person’s bloodstream. Fruit juice and other sugary mixers mask the taste of alcohol in a beverage and may cause a person to drink more.

Office Parties
Arrange for discounted or complimentary rooms when a party is held at a hotel so employees will not drive home drunk. Consider chartering a shuttle or limousine service to provide transport for those who have been drinking. Promote the non-drinking designated driver idea when sending out party invitations. Do not push drinks on people. When offering an open bar, be certain the bartender has had server training to prevent guests’ over-consumption, and be sure the bartender knows how to avoid serving alcohol to guests who may be under the legal drinking age. To encourage party participants to drink less alcohol, consider having a contest for workers to think of creative non-alcoholic drink recipes.

Planning A Party
A host has to be prepared to dodge some curve balls and juggle the unforeseen when hosting a party and protecting guests. Hosts know that part of showing guests a good time is making sure they make it home safely. Dealing with driving safety is an important obligation, and there are several helpful tips to help hosts throw a successful party without sacrificing caution. These include the following:

– Plan activities such as sports, door prizes or amateur fortune-telling.
– Give each person a specific task to do to lessen their likelihood of drinking too much.
– As visitors RSVP, confirm that each carpooling group will bring a designated driver.
– Offer plenty of food to keep guests from consuming alcohol on an empty stomach.
– Avoid salty or empty-calorie snacks, which tend to make people parched and drink more.
– For non-drinking guests, offer mocktails or non-alcoholic beverages.
– When preparing an alcoholic beverage, use non-carbonated mixers such as like fruit juice.
– Be prepared by having the number of a cab service on hand for those who need a ride.
– Make sure there is a place for people who may pass out to sleep comfortably.

Throughout The Party
Never offer alcohol to someone under the lawful drinking age, and never ask young kids to assist in serving alcoholic beverages at parties. Do not let guests mix their own drinks. Hiring a dependable and experienced bartender will help hosts keep track of how many drinks each person consumes and prevent guests from becoming dangerously intoxicated. If a guest seems to be consuming a bit much, offer to refresh his or her drink with a non-alcoholic option. Consuming alcohol at a party is not necessary to have a good time. Have fun but not too much fun. To be a good party host, a person should stay within his or her personal bounds to ensure visitors stay within theirs.

It is helpful to close the bar 90 minutes before the party ends and start offering coffee and refreshments. However, keep in mind that only time sobers someone who has been consuming alcohol. If some visitors drink too much despite careful efforts, let them stay over, send them home in a cab or arrange for them to ride with another guest who hasn’t been consuming alcohol. Whether they are aware guests are drunk or not, hosts can be found liable for DUI accidents if their intoxicated guests drive home and cause an accident.  To discuss your coverage, and be sure you are adequately protected, call the experienced team of professionals at ACBI at 203-259-7580 or visit our website

When Second-To-Die Coverage is More Beneficial than Individual Life Insurance

For those planning to take out a survivorship or second-to-die life insurance policy, there are several benefits involved. The main benefit is that the policy insures both parties without the need of purchasing separate insurance. People who have businesses, real estate or other hard assets especially benefit from this type of coverage, because such assets can be very difficult to try to sell following the death of one of the parties. There are six important benefits to understand about these types of policies. Qualification is easier. In comparison with other individual types of life insurance qualification rules, it is easier to obtain second-to-die coverage. This is because insurers are less likely to make a decision based on one person’s health, and the risk is also spread. People who are older will find that it is easier to take out this type of policy. Also, business owners who have been denied individual coverage are more likely to be approved for this type of policy due to insurable interest and a second covered party. There is tax relief. Most people who purchase these policies are married couples, and they purchase this type of coverage to make sure the other receives enough payment to offset the estate tax liability. This coverage is best suited for people who have estates exceeding $2 million, and it is also useful to anyone with an estate consisting mostly of illiquid assets, real estate or business interests. Premiums are less expensive. If two people are insured under one policy, the insurer is able to spread the risk two two people. As a rule, premiums are about 50 percent less than an individual policy. In addition to this, the premiums are paid annually instead of monthly or quarterly. For those who are looking for policies to simply cover the cost of an estate, the policies are not expensive. An agent can provide a tax estimate based on individual details. There is a charitable trust option. These policies provide an effective way to set up trusts for heirs and charities in a cost-effective manner. It is best to choose a policy that suits a loved one’s needs as well as individual needs. For example, a person with a disabled child would be able to set up the policy so that the child would still receive the needed funds after the death of the policyholder. Policyholders have more control over their assets. With the right policy, a person could have the ability to control asset distribution and timing. For those who have concerns about family members’ spending habits, this is especially helpful. It provides liquidity to heirs. Without this type of policy in place, heirs could lose assets instead of keeping them. If a person has a second-to-die policy, it will ensure the assets are distributed to the intended heirs instead of being used to pay off the estate’s debts or final expenses. In a way, this type of policy can be considered a creditor-sheltered asset. There are other benefits associated with these policies. To learn more about second-to-die life insurance, call the experienced team of professionals at ACBI at 203-259-7580 or visit our website.

Insurance Fraud Schemes Every Individual Should Know About

According to statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there are more than 7,000 insurance companies collecting over $1 trillion every year through premium charges. The large size of the insurance industry is part of the reason why insurance fraud is such a big issue today. Insurance fraud costs more than $40 billion every year, which means the average family pays as little as $400 or as much as $700 per year due to premium increases. There are several common fraud schemes used.

Fee Churning
With this type of scheme, several intermediaries accept commissions by way of reinsurance agreements. Initial premiums are reduced until there is no more money for paying claims, and this is done using repeated commissions. Conspirators often set up companies and leave them to pay the claims. Every transaction by itself appears to be legitimate. However, the use of fraud is not apparent until after consideration of the cumulative effect.

Premium Diversion
This involves embezzling insurance premiums and it is the most common type of fraud used. With this scheme, the insurance agent does not send the premiums to the underwriter but keeps the money instead. In some cases, an individual may try to sell insurance without a license, collect premiums and avoid paying any claims.

Asset Diversion
This is the stealing of an insurance company’s assets, and it often happens during mergers or acquisitions of existing companies. It may include acquiring control of insurance companies using borrowed money. Following a purchase, subjects use the items they received to pay the debt. Any leftover assets are diverted to the subject.

Workers’ compensation fraud is another popular scheme where some people claim to provide benefits at lower costs and misappropriate premiums without providing insurance. When powerful storms hit, the fraudsters come out of the woodwork. During the famous Hurricane Katrina in 2005, over $100 billion in damages was sustained. There were well over 1.5 million insurance claims filed, which totaled a little less than $34.5 billion for insured losses. Insurance fraud costs consumed more than $5 billion of the $80 billion in government funds allowed for reconstruction. There several different forms of fraud schemes used after natural disasters. These include the following:

– Exaggerated or false claims filed by policyholders.
– Claims filed by people who do not live in the immediate area.
– Contractor bid rigging and falsification of the cost of repairs.
– Charity fraud scams that waste funds donated for disaster relief.
– Flood damages that are misclassified as fire, theft or wind damage.
– Contractors who require upfront payments for services they fail to perform.

Insurance fraud is something that all people and business owners should be aware of and familiar with. To learn more about this topic, call ACBI at 203-259-7580 or visit our website.