Making your Smart Phone “Insurance Smart”

Using your smartphone 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 smartphone 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.

 

Insurance company app

The first thing you should do is to see if your insurance company has an application for your phone. These are available as a free added-value service.

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 include 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 plus point 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.

Even if your insurance company doesn’t 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.

Another really useful benefit is that you can use the phone’s map to get directions to the closest place you may need to get to.

 

Off-the-shelf apps

In addition to insurance company apps, there are a number of other applications that are available.

One example is a home inventory app that will help you to set up and organize photos or video of your entire 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 on the cloud, which makes them easily accessible on your smartphone.

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 smartphone, tablet or any other computer.

 

The takeaway

Investing a little initial time to download and set up 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 smartphone already, and the benefits are too great not to take that next step in using the insurance-ready resources that are available.  ACBI has our own, proprietary App.  If you have any questions about installing it, please contact our office. 

Retired and Facing Stock Market Volatility

If the recent stock market volatility has you spooked, you’re not alone. The COVID-19 outbreak that has spread throughout the world, including the United States, has damaged global supply chains, completely depressed international travel and is likely to have a significant effect on many a company’s revenues and profits.

But as the stock market goes through serious gyrations, bouncing wildly from day to day, individual investors will often over-react out of fear and sell their holdings to avoid further losses. That could result in selling off perfectly good investments that are still strong long-term plays.

If you are concerned about the effect that volatility is having on your investments and retirement funds, you can call us so we can help you devise a strategy that you are comfortable with. In the meantime, here are some tips to consider:

 

Resist the urge to panic sell

The problem with panic selling is that you will likely plan to get back into the market, and the same stocks you had before, when things settle down.

But most people are terrible at timing the market and, in order to profit from this strategy, you need to make two timely decisions:

  1. When to get out of the market.
  2. When to get back in.

 

If you get either of these wrong, it can hurt your financial situation rather than improve it.

Most people who choose to get out rarely get back in on time. This results in them missing out on rallies that are often part of a recovery.

There is another consideration as well: If you have your money in a taxable account, selling will trigger long-term unrealized gains, so you’ll take a tax hit that you could have deferred to the future.

 

Plan ahead

The key to successfully riding out stock market volatility or a downturn in retirement is to plan for it ahead of time. Some financial planners recommend allocating a few years of income in bonds, for example.

During market downturns, you can opt to remove the funds from your bond investments, which will not be affected as much by a stock market downturn ― and may even perform better.

So, during the years that stocks are down and recovering, you can sell bonds for your minimum withdrawals. In this way, you are selling investments that are up or down the least to meet your income needs.

 

Use multiple sources

Develop sources of monthly lifetime retirement income that don’t drop if the stock market crashes. Use these “retirement paychecks” to cover your basic living expenses, or at least come close to doing so. Basic living expenses include housing, utilities, food, medical insurance premiums, and income and property taxes.

For a good majority of Americans, their Social Security check is the main source of income ―

and fortunately, it’s protected from stock market volatility. Try to live a life where this check covers most of your main living expenses.

If you need additional retirement paychecks to cover your basic living expenses, consider using a portion of your retirement savings to purchase a low-cost immediate fixed-income annuity. Talk to us about what your options are.

 

Dial back on withdrawals

If you need to budget but have many of your funds in stocks, see if you can pay for your living expenses without tapping your 401(K) or IRA account. If you can leave it untouched and wait for the eventual bounce-back, you’ll be better off since you won’t be depleting your stock holdings.

So, you if you were considering removing a significant portion of your retirement account to cover upcoming expenses, you would lose money. If you can postpone that decision by tapping other funds that are not tied to the stock market, you could ride out the downturn and not be much worse off.

If you have already started taking out funds from your 401(k) or IRA and are withdrawing more than your required minimum distributions, you may want to cut back to the minimum withdrawal instead in order to reduce the impact.

Smart Home Sensors Can Save You from Calamity

One of the nastiest surprises a homeowner can encounter is finding out about damage to their home that they could have prevented had they caught the problem earlier.

For example, a leak that’s been slowly dripping behind your wall and causing extensive damage may not be covered by your homeowner’s policy since you should have caught it with regular upkeep.

Homeowners have countless stories of leaks that caused extensive damage, sump-pump failures that flooded whole rooms, frozen pipes that burst and gas leaks that led to fires, or worse.

Fortunately, technology has come to the rescue with a number of smart home sensors that can detect problems when they develop, either suddenly or slowly. Thanks to a number of smart sensors that can alert your phone is something is amiss, you can greatly reduce the damage any of the above scenarios may cause.

You can set up some smart sensors as stand-alone units with their own dedicated hub, while others are adaptable and can communicate with brand-name smart home hubs like:

  • SmartThings,
  • Apple HomeKit, or
  • Wink

 

The sensors communicate with a central hub using Bluetooth technology, while the hub uses your home Wifi to alert the app on your phone.

Here are the sensors that can give you the most bang for your buck in terms of safety and preventing damage to your home, its contents, your family – and even pets.

Water sensors

There are a number of smart leak detectors on the market, and depending on the brand, the system can shut off water in about five seconds after detecting a leak in your home. This can save you thousands of dollars in property damage.

You can place these sensors at specific points where leaks are possible, such under sinks, appliances and water heaters. This allows you to customize a leak detection solution based on your needs or concerns. Some sensors can even detect changes in water temperature, which can help you avoid damage from frozen pipes.

These sensor units may also include shut-off valves, which can be installed at strategic locations in your piping. It’s best to call a plumber because installing a shut-off valve may require cutting into the water line. Leave that to the pros. 

Freeze sensors

These are typically only necessary in regions that have freezing temperatures and snow for periods of time in the winter. When pipes freeze, they can back up, expand and burst and possibly flood parts of your home.

Many of the systems that detect leaks also can detect if pipes have frozen. Like leak sensors, freeze sensors are small devices that constantly monitor the temperature of the object or area they’re in touch with. If a sensor detects frozen pipes, it will notify you via your smart phone app or activate a shut-off valve if it’s installed.

Smart smoke alarms

A smart smoke alarm works just like a normal smoke alarm, except it has the added feature of notifying you if there is a fire and you are not home. That gives you the opportunity to call the fire department or a trusted neighbor to ensure a faster response.

If you own an Alexa speaker, it has a feature that will act as a smoke alarm by listening for the sound of your regular smoke alarm then send you an alert. There is also a smart 9V battery on the market that you plug into your smoke alarm and which alerts you in case it goes off.

Temperature sensors

Smart temperature sensors can alert you to changes in areas of your home that need to have steady temperatures, such as wine cabinets, crib rooms, pet enclosures and humidors.

Window and door sensors

For your home security needs, you may want to consider door and window sensors. They usually come in two parts – one that attaches to the door or window frame, and another that attaches to the door or window itself.

When the door or window is closed, the circuit between the two parts of the sensor is complete and so is marked as ‘closed’ – but as soon as a door or window is opened, the circuit is ‘broken,’ which triggers an alert.

Many of these devices and systems can provide a discount on your Homeowners insurance so be sure to contact us if you do install one.

How Your Staff Can Save on Childcare, Health Services

One of the most underused employee benefits available is the “cafeteria” plan ― which can benefit both the employer and the employee.

These plans allow workers to withhold a portion of their pre-tax salary to cover certain medical or childcare expenses. The benefits are free from federal and state income taxes, employees’ taxable income is reduced and that means that employers don’t have to pay FICA on those dollars.

Cafeteria plans enhance your employee benefits package, while boosting your margins. They have three specific flexible benefits for your employees to choose from:

 

  1. Pre-tax health insurance premium deductions

Premium-only plans allow your employees to elect to withhold a portion of their pre-tax salary to pay for their portion of the premium contribution to their employer-sponsored plan. The plan offers a simple way reduce the cost of their benefits.

 

  1. Flexible spending accounts

An FSA allows you to fund certain medical expenses on a pre-taxed basis through salary reductions to pay for out-of-pocket expenses that aren’t covered by insurance (think: deductibles, copayments, prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs and orthodontia).

Each paycheck, a certain amount is withheld pre-tax and put into an account. Employees pay for medical expenses up front out of pocket and then seek reimbursement from their FSA.

The average U.S. worker spends more than $1,000 every year on these types of benefits.

And there’s one more benefit: By participating in an FSA, your employees’ taxable income is reduced, which increases the percentage of pay they take home.

 

  1. Dependent care FSAs

The dependent care FSA is an attractive benefit for employees who have to pay for childcare or long-term care for their parents.

Many employees don’t take advantage of this benefit and may be unaware of the significant tax savings. Employees may hold back as much as $5,000 annually of their pre-tax salary for dependent care expenses.

Qualified dependent care expenses include, but are not limited to:

  • The care of a child under the age of 13,
  • Long-term care for parents,
  • Care for a disabled spouse or a dependent incapable of caring for her- or himself, and
  • Summer day camps.

 

What you get out of it

Every dollar that goes through a cafeteria plan reduces your payroll by the same amount. That means you don’t have to pay FICA or workers’ comp premiums on that part of your workers’ salaries.

 

The savings can add up to as much as 20% of every dollar being passed through the plan.

It’s also a great recruitment tool and an essential part of a larger employee benefits package.

Outbreak Spurs Warnings of Large Rate Hikes for 2021

One of the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak will likely be higher insurance rates coming into 2021, experts are warning.

Covered California, the state-run Affordable Care Act health insurance exchange, warned in late March that the spiraling costs of COVID-19 testing and treatment could result in massive premium increases of between 4% and 40% for public health care exchange policies as well as group health plan policies for the 2021 policy year, if there is no government intervention.

Many factors will come into play, such as costs of treatment, whether the financial stability of insurers is imperiled and if Congress steps up with new legislation to help the insurance industry cope with the surge in unexpected costs this year.

 

Expected costs

Covered California predicted that coronavirus treatment, testing and care costs for employer-sponsored health plans nationwide would be between $34 billion and $251 billion.

Estimated costs for COVID-19 treatment vary greatly depending on the severity of the case. Some people have life-threatening symptoms requiring hospitalization and ventilators to survive, others may require hospitalization and oxygen, while many people may have mild or no symptoms and can be treated on an outpatient basis and quarantined at home.

The Kaiser Family Foundation earlier estimated that coronavirus-related hospitalization for people with job-based health insurance costs on average:

  • $20,292 for patients with major complications or comorbidity issues (such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer).
  • $13,767 for patients with complications or comorbidity.
  • $9,763 for patients with no complications.

 

Many health insurers have agreed to eliminate copays and deductibles for COVID-19 screening and lab tests, but have not yet made the move to do the same for treatment or hospital stays.

 

Rate fallout

Probably the largest factor affecting rates for 2021 is whether the pandemic spills over into 2021 or it is brought under control.

Insurers are prohibited from raising rates astronomically, however, just to make up for excessive costs this year if they do not expect the same in 2021, unless their solvency is threatened.

If they eat too much into their reserves because of COVID-19, they may have a legal obligation to increase rates so they can build those reserves back up for the next emergency.

Insurers moving to hike rates substantially could also see pushback from state regulators, who may argue the hikes are not justified by expected costs next year. That’s because rates must be based on expected costs. But if the outbreak is ongoing, expect rates to climb with amounts varying depending on if a treatment or vaccine is developed, as well as on any government assistance that may be coming

 

Possible assistance

Congress is working on legislation that would provide reinsurance for health insurers that could provide financial support for group health plans, employees enrolled in those plans, as well as consumers who buy their insurance on exchanges.

Health insurance plans are also lobbying Congress to introduce legislation that would help stabilize the market going into 2021. This could include compensation to keep premiums from spiraling, providing support coverage for employees who lose their jobs and allowing them to enroll in the individual market during a special enrollment period.

In their most recent stimulus proposal, House Democrats included a program that would help health insurers cover extreme losses to avoid massive premium hikes.

 

The takeaway

For now, there is nothing you can do about your health insurance, and there are no moves you can really make at this time. It’s still unclear what kind of assistance the insurance industry will receive and how long the outbreak will last.

Much depends on if a vaccine or medical treatment is developed that can reduce symptoms, help people improve – and reduce deaths.

How to Stay Sane if You Are Isolating

As more and more of us are being told to either self-isolate with our families or self-quarantine under doctor’s orders, we are spending almost all of our time at home, inside.

Some of us will get cabin fever, especially those who live alone. Thanks to technology though, you can do different things to keep up socially with your friends and family. And there are also many low-tech ways to beat the boredom and be social.

You may want to consider the following:

Virtual coffee chats and dinners

Get together with friends you may have planned to meet for coffee, lunch or dinner ― but via video chat. You have plenty of options in tech that can be used on your computer and/or smartphone and tablet.

Brew yourself some coffee or your favorite tea and start up your Facetime, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, Skype or any other app that has a video call feature. 

If you want some human contact, you could even arrange to open one of the apps as you and a friend sit down for dinner in your respective abodes and have some nice conversation over a meal.

 

Virtual gyms

If you have a regular class with a yoga instructor, see if they want to start conducting their classes by video. There are a few teleconferencing applications that allow for a conference call-type format where participants are given a password to join the meeting.

The instructor can then teach the class to anyone of their current customers that wants to join. This is already happening in Spain and Italy.

Also, if you already have a gym membership, many gyms are starting to offer virtual classes as well. And many are also offering free classes online. Classes that are geared for groups are the most conducive to online training, such as Zumba, Pilates, yoga and aerobics-type sessions.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the coronavirus outbreak, you can use exercise to reduce your anxiety and clear your mind. One of the best ways to fight the stagnation of home quarantine is to continue to breathe properly and keep moving. Movement has an amazing effect on your mood and outlook.

 

Meet for a walk

You can go on a walk with a friend and keep your social distancing of 6 feet apart to catch up, and also to get the blood pumping. During this time of self-isolation, it’s important that you get some form of exercise and long brisk walks are not only good for you, but they also tend to cheer you up.

If you have a dog, you can use this time to give your pet extra walks. Your pooch will never decline an invitation for a walk, and a pup can keep you company.

Also, if the grocery store is a short distance and you need to pick up a few supplies, consider walking or riding your bike.

 

Reach out to your parents, grandparents

Too many old people are lonely and, because of the self-isolation that the elderly are doing now, that can be compounded. Use your newfound free time to keep in touch with your parents, grandparents and other seniors.

Use an app with video features. They will appreciate that you are checking on them and they will be happy to see your face. You can even organize one of those coffees or dinners with them, as well.

 

Establish a routine

Don’t just veg out on the couch and binge-watch TV shows all day. It’s best if you can establish a routine. If you are telecommuting, this shouldn’t be a problem as you will have to be working during a good portion of your day Monday to Friday. 

But if you are not working, resist the urge to stay up late watching movies or TV. Try to keep the same routine you had before the outbreak.

Virtual book groups

You may also be taking the time to catch up on your reading. Perhaps you could organize a book group with friends and family. Pick a book that everyone will read for a week or two, and then have regular video chat meetings to discuss the book, your opinions and thoughts.

 

The takeaway

It’s hard to fight the boredom and taking the path of least resistance if you are self-isolating, but you should try to focus on taking care of your body, mind and emotional well-being during this time.

Besides the above suggestions, you can try to learn something new, like playing keyboard or learning to make bread or yogurt or homebrewing.

And taking time to be in touch with others can stave off your loneliness and help you keep connected with the people you care about.

 

OSHA Won’t Require COVID-19 Cases to Be Recorded

Federal OSHA announced on April 13 that it won’t be enforcing COVID-19 recordkeeping requirements.

The announcement reverses an earlier decision requiring that transmission of the virus in the workplace, unlike the flu or common cold, would be considered a recordable injury for the sake of OSHA reporting.

The agency said it would only require the reporting of COVID-19 cases for non-frontline employers if there was objective evidence that a case may be work-related without an alternative explanation and the evidence was reasonably evident to the employer.

It said the new order would allow companies to “focus on implementing good hygiene practices rather than “making difficult work-relatedness decisions.”

Some employers are still required to record COVID-19 cases among their staff, including health care entities, emergency response outfits and correctional institutions.

 

OSHA complaints rise

The change comes as OSHA is flooded with COVID-19 complaints from workers reporting safety breaches in relation to the pandemic, across a range of industries and regions of the country.

Employment law attorneys say that shortly after the outbreak got a foothold in the U.S., OSHA started receiving complaints and began sending letters to employers telling them to respond by a certain time. But the agency has seen such a flood of complaints that the letters no longer require a response, and instead direct businesses to OSHA guidance and resources on how to address COVID-19 risk in the workplace.

The federal agency has received thousands of inquiries regarding COVID-19. And individual state OSHAs also report a spike in COVID-19 complaints by workers against their employers. Most are from health care workers, but others are from workers in other essential industries like grocery stores, warehouses, delivery operators, and more.

But while Fed OSHA may not be requiring employers to respond to complaints concerning coronavirus safety complaints, many state plans are in fact requiring employers to provide in-depth responses ― and some are actively investigating complaints.

 

What employers should do

If you have employees who are not working from home and are being exposed to the coronavirus to some degree while at work, you should have in place a plan to reduce the possibility of exposure. Your controls could include:

  • Shields around workspaces or workers.
  • Requiring the use of face masks and surgical gloves.
  • Placing sanitizing gel in strategic locations in the workplace.
  • Using personal protective equipment.
  • Spacing personnel apart from each other to ensure appropriate distancing.
  • Staggering work shifts.
  • Frequently wiping down high-touch areas with an alcohol-type solution.

 

The key to protecting your workers and being able to provide a defense should OSHA conduct a workplace investigation is to show that you did all you could to mitigate hazards to your employees.

There are no guidelines for COVID-19 in OSHA’s regulations currently, but its General Duty Clause requires that you take appropriate precautions to protect your workers.

What COVID-19 Services Your Health Plan May Cover

Under two new laws that were signed into law in March, all health plans must cover testing, preventative services and vaccines for COVID-19 without cost-sharing.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires that group health insurance and individual health insurance plans cover coronavirus testing with zero cost-sharing. This includes deductibles, copayments and coinsurance for items and services provided during a provider visit, whether it is in-person, telehealth-enabled, at an urgent care center, or in an emergency room.

It also waives prior authorization and other “medical management requirements.”

That law was followed up 10 days later by the CARES Act, which requires group plans and individual market plans to cover preventative services and vaccines for COVID-19 without cost-sharing. The coverage applies both to the test itself and to the visit in which the test was administered.

Unfortunately, neither law requires that health plans cover COVID-19 treatment, which would include medication and in-hospital services if you or a member of your family needed to be hospitalized.

 

Telehealth services

The CARES Act greatly expands the availability of telehealth services beyond diagnosis and treatment for COVID-19 in order to expand access to care. 

As part of the law, the Federal Communications Commission will receive $200 million to provide telecommunications and information services and devices.

Also, restrictions on health savings accounts have been waived to allow high-deductible health plans to cover telehealth services without a deductible. 

The CARES Act also removes the existing requirement that a Medicare beneficiary have a pre-existing patient/provider relationship in order to be treated through telehealth.

The new law also authorizes federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics to be sites for telehealth consultations, and it enhances payments for such telehealth services provided during the emergency period.

The mandate that a number of Medicare services require face-to-face meetings (such as home dialysis patients, home health, and hospice care) has been waived for the duration of the outbreak. The CARES Act also appropriates $25 million for telemedicine and distance learning in rural areas. 

 

Beware of treatment costs

While most private health plans likely cover most items and services needed to treat complications due to COVID-19, there is no clear federal requirement to do so.

The essential health benefits standard under the ACA defines categories of services to be covered, but it is left to states to designate “benchmark” policies that define specific covered services.

As a result, coverage for at least some services needed to treat COVID-19 ― such as home-delivered care, telemedicine visits, or respiratory therapy visits ― are likely to vary under health insurance plans that are subject to the essential health benefits standard.

Nearly all private health plans use networks of participating hospitals, doctors, laboratories and other providers.

One issue that health plan enrollees have to watch out for is going out of network for coronavirus testing or care.

HMOs, for example, could deny claims for out-of-network services, other than emergency services. Under PPO plans that provide some coverage for out-of-network care, patients can face higher cost-sharing (e.g., patients might be required to pay 20% coinsurance for in-network claims and 50% coinsurance for out-of-network claims.)

In addition, out-of-network care exposes patients to “balance billing,” or the difference between the provider’s undiscounted charge and the amount the health plan considers reasonable. If you are seeking care, make sure you are going to an in-network provider to avoid any undue surprises.

 

Businesses Hit with Malicious Coronavirus-related E-Mails

As if businesses didn’t have enough to worry about, online scammers have started sending out malicious e-mails to organizations about coronavirus that appear to be from business partners or public institutions.

The criminals send these to rank and file employees in the hope that at least one of them will click on a link or attachment in the e-mail, which unleashes malware or tries to trick them into wiring money for supplies purportedly to protect the organization’s workers.

The number of malicious e-mails mentioning the coronavirus has increased significantly since the end of January, according to cyber security firm Proofpoint Inc. The company noted that this wasn’t the first time they had seen such widespread cyber attacks associated with some type of a disaster. But because this is global in nature, it decided to track the new threat.

This practice of launching cyber attacks that are centered around global news and outbreaks (like the current COVID-19 coronavirus) isn’t anything new. Cyber criminals have long employed these tactics to take advantage of users’ desires to keep us up to date with any new information as possible, or to evoke powerful emotions (like fear) in the hope that their sentiments will get the better of them and they will not pause to check for the legitimacy of these e-mails.

The cyber criminals are using the public’s ignorance about coronavirus, as well as the conflicting claims of how to protect against it, to lure people into clicking on their malicious links or get them to wire money. Because people are afraid, their guards may be down and they may not be as careful about identifying the e-mail as dangerous. For example:

  • An employee in purchasing or accounts payable may receive an e-mail that is doctored to look like a purchase order for face masks or other supplies. The aim is to trick an employee into wiring payments to a fraudulent account.
  • Other e-mails may look like they are from OSHA or a government health agency with links on tips to protect the workplace from COVID-19. The link contains malware that is unleashed on the company’s servers. It purports to include an attached file of victims of the virus but, when opened, it instead unleashes a malicious payload designed to infect users’ systems.

 

Some real-life examples

  • Japanese workers were targeted in January and February with e-mails that looked like they came from local hospitals. The messages even included legitimate contact information for key personnel.
    The e-mails were focused on employees of various companies and came in a message that would look like it’s a reply to something, or a warning that people are getting from the government. But when they clicked, it was malware.
  • E-mails were sent to companies in the transportation sector that looked like they came from an employee of the World Health Organization. They included the WHO logo and instructions about how to monitor crews aboard ships for coronavirus symptoms, and they included an attachment with instructions.
    This phishing e-mail attack was intended to lure individuals into providing sensitive data, such as personally identifiable information and passwords.
  • Companies in the US and Australia have been receiving malicious e-mails that use a display name of “Dr Li Wei” and are titled “CORONA-VIRUS AFFECTED COMPANY STAFF.”

 

What you can do

All that it takes to break into your business is a cleverly worded e-mail message. If scammers can trick one person in your company into clicking on a malicious link, they can gain access to your data.

It’s important to train your staff to identify suspicious e-mails. They should avoid clicking links in e-mails that:

  • Are not addressed to them by name, have poor English, or omit personal details that a legitimate sender would include.
  • Are from businesses they are not expecting to hear from.
  • Ask you to download any files.
  • Take you to a landing page or website that does not have the legitimate URL of the company the e-mail is purporting to be sent from.
  • Include attachments purportedly with advice for what to do. Do not open them even if they come from relatives or friends.

Protecting Your Important Data When Employees Leave

When is a business most susceptible to losing data, intellectual property and important records? No, not during a cyber attack or a break-in, but during lay-offs.

With employees maybe feeling disgruntled after being let go, it’s common for some of them to pocket important company data – usually client lists, old e-mails, vendor contacts and even intellectual property that is essential to the company’s competitive advantage.

During lay-offs or termination, you need to take steps to protect your data and intellectual property, but there are legal implications as well for how far you can go. Consider the following:

Non solicitation agreements – These protect from a departing employee taking with them proprietary, confidential information like client and vendor lists. A non-solicitation agreement bars an ex-employee from going to a competitor and contacting your clients for business.

These are not legal in all states, so check your state laws and consult with your attorneys. In California, for example, non-solicitation agreements are not enforceable.

 

Non-disclosure agreements – These are different than the above and no states bar them. They focus instead on company data that a competitor can use to harm the business.
These agreements spell out the employee’s fiduciary obligations under the law by identifying protected company proprietary and confidential information. The agreement requires that the employee keep such information secret for a certain period of time.

Before huddling with your lawyer, your management team should identify all of your company’s protected data that you feel is worth protecting.

 

Return and inventory all company property – Before your employee leaves the premises, make sure they have returned all of your property that may contain company information. That would include:

  • Laptops.
  • Originals and copies of company documents the employee has made.
  • Data on the worker’s personal phone or home computing devices (this may be difficult to enforce, but you should make them aware that they are required to delete it).

 

Passwords and access – On their last day, remember to delete from your database and systems their user names and passwords and access codes. This could include:

  • E-mail passwords
  • Voicemail passwords
  • Teleconference and intranet passwords
  • VPN access and passwords
  • Building or office coded lock-access codes.

 

Make sure to also collect any company ID cards. If you have concerns they may try to contact your current customers or vendors for any reason that could be detrimental to your firm, you can consider notifying them that the employee is no longer with you.

 

Conduct an exit interview – During this interview, you should go over boilerplate information like why they were let go and the importance of not taking with them any physical or intellectual property.
Ask questions to determine what, if any, company data they may have been privy to or had access to. Also, if you have non-disclosure or non-compete agreements in place, use this time to reiterate the consequences for violating those agreements.

 

What to look for

It’s more difficult to avoid data misappropriation by an employee that is planning on quitting, as they can make preparatory moves unbeknownst to you.

When employees are planning to take corporate data or are in the process of doing so, there are often one or more signs, which can be monitored with the right systems in place:

  • A spike in an employee copying information to the cloud, USB drives, personal devices, e-mail accounts, and more. An increase in such activity could mean that an employee is planning to leave or has gotten wind of an impending dismissal and wants to copy useful information before they go.
  • A surge in documents being deleted from an employee’s laptop or desktop computer. Files may also be deleted from corporate file shares.
  • Sudden spikes or drops in e-mail activity.
  • An employee accessing your customer relationship management system or financial accounts during late nights or very early mornings. This could mean they are scraping your files.
  • The employee is sending and/or receiving e-mails from a competitor.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional advisor, please contact ACBI Insurance at 203-259-7580.