Is your home ready for Spring? This checklist can help

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Spring at last! It’s an exciting time of year, but it’s also a time to get things done. While spring cleaning is common, there are actually a few other things you should do to keep your home safe as the seasons change.

The checklist below can help you make sure your home is ready for spring weather, inside and out.

Replace batteries
Start by checking the batteries in your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms—it’s crucial that they work if there is an emergency. While you’re at it, spring is a great time to check other batteries around your home. For example, if you have wireless equipment for your home security system, make sure it has fresh batteries.

Make sure you’re breathing clean air
Spring is allergy season for a lot of people, and while you can’t control what is in the air outside, there are a lot of things you can do about the air in your home.

Invest in a HEPA air purifier (HEPA stands for high efficiency particulate air. HEPA air filters are especially good at eliminating small particles from the air in your home)

Replace the HVAC filters in your home. We suggest replacing them at the beginning of each season, but if you have pets or are prone to allergies, you should replace them more frequently. We also suggest cleaning your filters in between replacements so they’re more effective. (It will keep the air cleaner and make your air conditioning and heating systems more efficient.)

Clean out the dryer vent
The vent behind your dryer can become a fire hazard if it isn’t cleaned out often. Take a few moments during your spring cleaning to make sure the vent is clear.

Check for mold
Mold can build up in cold, dark, damp places around your home. Spring is a smart time to inspect your house. We recommend checking areas where there’s less ventilation and areas where moisture accumulates. Just be sure to wear a mask and gloves while you’re inspecting your house. If you find mold, we suggest calling a local professional since there could be mold you can’t see on your own, and a professional is able to safely eliminate the problem.

Check your roof for weather damage
Winter can be hard on your roof, especially if you live in an area that gets heavy snowfall. As spring approaches, check your roof for missing or broken shingles and replace them as needed.

Secure your home’s entrances
Spring is a great time to reevaluate your home security. Check all the entrances to your home and make sure they’re secure. Check windows to make sure the screens are still intact and that the locks work well.

Install outdoor security cameras and motion sensor lights near your doors, especially back entrances that aren’t as visible to the public. And, swap out old garage door codes for new ones.

Source: A Secure Life

Help prevent slips and falls in and around your home

A quiet street in a cozy neighborhood of anywhere America.

Something as simple as a decorative rug or lamp cord can lead to an accidental fall in your home. That’s why it can be helpful to look at each area of your home with fresh eyes, and work to spot any potential hazards that may cause someone to experience an injury in or around your home.

Minimize indoor trip hazards
According to the National Safety Council (NSC), common locations for falls include doorways, stairwells, cluttered hallways and areas prone to wetness and spills.

Here are some things the NSC suggests doing to help prevent slips and falls in these and other areas inside your home:

Make sure you have adequate lighting.
Arrange furniture so there are clear pathways for walking.
Install handrails on both sides of stairways.
Tuck electrical cords out of any traffic areas.
Clean up spills as they happen and keep everyone off freshly mopped floors.
Remove throw rugs or use non-skid backings to keep them from slipping.

It’s also important to consider overnight guests who may not be as familiar with the layout of your home. Here are some steps the NSC says you can take to help make your home safer for visitors:

Place nightlights in the kitchen, bathrooms and hallways.
Keep food, drinks and other frequently used items accessible, so that a stool or ladder isn’t needed to reach them.
Set down non-slip mats in the bath or shower.

Reduce trip hazards outdoors
Of course, trip hazards aren’t only possible indoors. Stairs, ramps and uneven walkways are also common locations for falls outdoors, says the NSC. These are some measures the NSC suggests that may help reduce hazards outside your home:

Use adequate lighting, especially near steps, stairs or doorways.
Direct downspouts so that water doesn’t accumulate on walkways.
Install handrails on both sides of stairs.
Remove debris from sidewalks and other pathways.
Check the condition of walkways and stairs periodically, and either make immediate repairs or arrange for a professional to do the work.

Just remember, a walkthrough of your home to eliminate trip hazards shouldn’t just be a one-time occurrence – it’s something you may want to consider doing on an ongoing basis. Doing periodic walkthroughs and fixing any hazards you see can help ensure that everyone who moves around your property can do so with peace of mind.

Source: Allstate Insurance

Edit obituaries: Scam artists are reading them

obituaries

More con artists and thieves are targeting the deceased and their families by combing obituary listings, according to AARP.

Publicly sharing personal information is risky enough in everyday life. It gets worse in death. It’s never wise to let strangers know your name, address, birth date, birthplace, family members’ names or even hobbies, whether you post the info on social media, take surveys, or fill out product registration forms.

But obituaries can take the risk to a whole new level. When published in newspapers and on websites, they can spoon-feed scammers the precise nuggets they need. We all want to acknowledge a loved one’s life completed. But be aware that the devil is in the details. The more personal facts provided in an obit, the greater risk of scams—for the departed and survivors alike.

When it’s time to write the notice, give the deceased’s age but leave out the birth date, middle name, home address, birthplace and mother’s maiden name. Don’t even include the names of family survivors. This last advice will be hard to follow, but otherwise you put family members at risk of scams like these.

Identity theft
Each day, thousands of dead people fall victim to identity theft, costing their survivors pain and financial loss.
Spare the details in an obit. And quickly send requests to each of the major credit-reporting bureaus to flag the person’s account as “deceased.” This permanently stops new credit from being issued in the person’s name. You’ll need a certified copy of the death certificate, proof that you are the executor or spouse and other details about the deceased. Also notify the Social Security Administration, IRS, banks, insurers, brokerages, credit card issuers and mortgage companies, in case scammers approach them. Also, close accounts on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Grandparents scam
Scammers use names published in obits to pose as grandchildren of the deceased, calling grieving survivors with sob stories about being mugged or arrested and needing money. Research shows that with any scam, your vulnerability is highest in the three years after a major stress. Obits are pure gold for scammers, who can target grieving spouses immediately following the death and seem credible by citing names.

Deceptive debt collection
Crooks often call spouses, children or siblings to make a claim that survivors must repay the deceased’s debts. Not true. Unless you cosigned the obligation or are otherwise legally responsible, debts are paid from the estate—not from the pockets of relatives. Anyone saying otherwise is deceiving the grieving for a quick buck.

Fictitious life insurance
In another name-dropper, self-described insurance agents and attorneys get in touch with survivors to claim the departed took out a huge (but often “secret”) life insurance policy. But before benefits can be collected, a final premium (or taxes, handling fees, etc.) must be paid. Legit insurance companies don’t request upfront fees by wire transfer or prepaid debit card.

Burglary
If the deceased’s address and the time of the memorial service are in the obit, burglars know when to strike the unoccupied home, as well as those of neighbors paying respects. Leave the home address out and have a friend or neighbor forgo the service to keep watch.

Source: AARP Bulletin – March 2018

Apartment security tips for Spring and Summer

spring living room

As temperatures begin to rise and you’re excited for the warmer seasons ahead, it’s still a good idea to remain vigilant with your apartment security.

Here are some security tips to consider to help protect your apartment and valuables this spring and summer.

Use outdoor lighting and timers
Does your apartment come with an outdoor light? If so, you may want to consider turning it on each night. This lighting may help deter potential burglars from your place. Some apartment buildings also try to keep walkways, parking areas and courtyards well lit. If you notice a light is out, or there’s an area that may benefit from some additional lighting, notify your landlord right away. And, when you’re away from your apartment — particularly if you’re heading out of town for some time — consider installing timers to power a light or two, or a TV, to help give the appearance that someone is home.

Store important valuables in a safety deposit box
To help protect important documents like a Social Security card or precious jewelry like your grandmother’s pearl earrings, you may want to consider getting a safety deposit box at a local bank to give yourself another level of security in case of a potential burglary in your apartment.
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Get to know your neighbors
To help report any suspicious activity around your apartment complex, it may help to get to know your neighbors a little bit. You may be able to watch out for one another and notice when someone or something is out of the ordinary.

Always lock doors and windows
Law enforcement experts say most burglaries are likely the result of unlocked doors and windows. If you’re running down to get the mail or up to the rooftop deck to enjoy a fresh breeze, the last thing you want is to return to your apartment to find your valuables have been stolen. Keep all doors and windows locked, and make sure there’s a security bar in sliding patio doors or windows. Work with your landlord or the apartment complex’s management company to make sure exterior doors and those to common areas, laundry rooms, etc., are also kept secure.

Be aware of ‘deception crimes’
Deception burglars are criminals who masquerade as contractors, utility workers, or some other type of professional repair people to take advantage of unsuspecting residents. Be cautious of anyone coming to your door asking to make repairs or requesting for access to your apartment for any reason. Request identification and call the company to get authorization before you ever consider allowing someone in. Workers offering special deals and bargains.

A bit of caution may go a long way in helping protect your place and all your stuff. But if you feel like you need additional advice, or some tips that are specific to your unit, considering speaking with your landlord or your apartment complex’s management company for more help.

Source: Insurance Information Institute

Preparing kids safely for Spring sports season

soccer

Participation in sports offers tremendous social, emotional and physical benefits for children. We know that one of the worst things for kids is being on the sidelines with an injury. As parents and coaches, there are simple things we can do to help reduce preventable injuries – so our kids can continue playing the games they love.

The hard facts
In 2013, more than 1.24 million children ages 19 and under were seen in emergency departments for injuries related to 14 commonly played sports.

Top tips
Before playing organized sports, make sure your child receives a pre-participation physical exam, or PPE, performed by a doctor, or a nurse practitioner or qualified clinician under the supervision of a physician. Whomever performs the exam, the same practices should be followed including the need for a medical history.

Bring a water bottle to practice and games. Encourage children to stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water before, during and after play.

Stretching before practice and games can release muscle tension and help prevent sports-related injuries, such as muscle tears or sprains. Make sure there is time set aside before every practice and game for athletes to warm up properly.

Take time off from one sport to prevent overuse injuries. It is an opportunity to get stronger and develop skills learned in another sport.

It’s also a good idea for coaches to get certified in first aid and CPR, learn the signs and symptoms of a concussion and help avoid overuse injury by resting players during practices and games.

Source: SafeKids.org

Protect your identity at tax time

Tax time

Whether you owe money or are expecting a refund, preparing your own tax return or hiring a professional, tax time can be, well, taxing. The last thing you probably want to worry about is identity thieves tapping into your financial accounts, opening new lines of credit or committing other types of theft or fraud.

But according to CyberScout, tax season may be a prime opportunity for identity thieves. W-2s and other Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax forms contain a wealth of information — everything from Social Security numbers to financial account information — that can be a target for resourceful criminals.

Protecting your identity, however, doesn’t have to be difficult. Follow these simple steps from the IRS to help safeguard your personal information from hackers and identity thieves during tax season.

Be vigilant with your information
According to the IRS, impersonation schemes thrive during tax season. This is when thieves claiming to represent the IRS send emails, make phone calls or send traditional mail to steal people’s Social Security numbers or other sensitive personal information. However, it’s important to remember the IRS will NEVER contact people by email or social media. So, if you’re the recipient of any electronic messages, you should know that they are fraudulent. If you suspect that a piece of mail you’ve received is part of a scam, you can visit IRS.gov for more information on how to determine whether it is authentic.

Keep an eye on your mailbox
While cybercrime has become many thieves’ preferred method of obtaining personal information, it’s still important to closely monitor your home’s mailbox. Some forms are still delivered by mail and identity thieves may steal them to gain access to your personal information.

Leave your Social Security card at home
You should not, at any time, carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse. The card should be kept in a safe place, preferably in a safe deposit box or another secure location. If your Social Security card is in your wallet and your wallet is stolen, then it’s possible your personal information may fall into the hands of identity thieves who may use it to compromise your bank account and open new lines of credit.

Be crafty with passwords
Refunds from electronically filed tax returns are typically direct-deposited into financial accounts, which can help protect a refund check from being stolen from your mailbox. However, if you e-file, you need to know how to do so safely. One way to help protect yourself is by creating a strong user password on the website through which you file your tax return. To help ensure Internet security, incorporate a series of numbers, letters and special characters into your password.

Know your tax preparer
Fraud rings have been known to front as tax preparation centers. Scam artists prey on the unsuspecting customers of these centers, stealing personal information and sometimes redirecting their tax refunds. It’s a good idea to research your tax preparer or accountant and make sure they are legitimate and ethical.

Source: Allstate Insurance

How to protect your debit card from fraud

debit card

Debit cards now account for almost 60 percent of purchases made with plastic, and 90 percent of households with bank accounts have a linked debit card. With the increased use of debit cards over cash and credit cards, it is also easier for thieves to steal your personal information. Take these preventive steps to keep your information secure:

⦁    Check your bank statements immediately.

⦁    Make sure all payments are yours.

⦁    Periodically check your account balance and transactions by utilizing online or telephone banking or an ATM.

⦁    Keep your receipts to check your statement. Shred receipts with your account number printed on them.

⦁    Keep a record of card numbers, PINs, expiration dates and your bank’s 1-800 numbers to contact the issuing bank easily in case of theft.

⦁    Memorize your PIN. Do not use your birth date, address, phone number or social security number. Never store your PIN with your card and do not make it available to others.

⦁    Do not give your PIN to anyone over the phone. Thieves can steal a card and then call the victim for their PIN.

When at the ATM:

⦁    Do not use an ATM if it looks suspicious, or has an unfamiliar device attached.

⦁    Be wary of those trying to help you at the ATM. They may be trying to steal your card number and PIN.

⦁    Only use ATMs at bank branches, not at a convenience store or gas station. Bank security cameras can offer evidence of fraudulent ATM withdrawals.

When banking or shopping online:

⦁    Turn off your computer when you’re finished online shopping. Hackers can access your information only when your computer is on.

⦁    Arm your computer with antivirus and anti-spyware software.

⦁    When shopping online with your debit card, make sure that the “http” in the browser bar turns to “https” on the checkout page before you enter any billing information. This means the site and your information are secure.

Helpful suggestions:

Contact your bank immediately if your card is lost, stolen or subject to fraudulent use.

⦁    Instead of signing the back of your card, write “See ID” in the signature space. A cashier should ask to see your driver’s license before processing the card.

⦁    If you fall victim to a scam, search the Better Business Bureau’s database to see if other debit card customers have had similar problems.

Source: American Bankers Association

Why personal security is everyone’s responsibility

police car

The national “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign was developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to raise public awareness of indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime, and to emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity to the proper authorities.

Police and security forces are hard at work, but public safety is the responsibility of all individuals. The participation of ordinary citizens is an integral part of our homeland security efforts. You know your everyday surroundings best – neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, parks and transportation systems, and chances are you will notice when something seems strange or out of place. Be alert for suspicious behavior including abandoned vehicles, unauthorized individuals, strange packages or unusual odors.

Additionally, all employees and students need to be alert for potential risks at their workplaces and campuses. Strange behavior or suspicious activity should be reported to proper authorities immediately. If you see something, say something!

Who to notify:

⦁    Police

⦁    Security officers

⦁    Workplace managers, teachers, and school administrators

⦁    Call 911

What to report:

⦁    Describe exactly the suspicious activity

⦁    Precise location

⦁    The number of people, ages, gender, and physical descriptions of everyone observed

⦁    Date, time and duration of activity

⦁    Note vehicle color, make, license plate, etc.

Homeland security begins with hometown safety. Security is a shared responsibility, and each citizen has a role in identifying and reporting suspicious activities. Your community is safer when you are engaged and alert.

Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Spring safety reminders for your home

Nice Curb Appeal Of Grey House With Covered Porch And Garage: Nice curb appeal of grey house with garage and driveway. Column porch with American flag. Northwest USA

Yearning to get outside?

After a long cold winter hunkered indoors, it’s time to get outside and start working on our spring cleaning and home to-do list. As you prepare for the spring and summer months ahead, here’s a handy checklist for you to easily reference to ensure you have a safe and secure home.

The change of season is always a good reminder to do some period check-ups on your home. Like getting a physical at the doctor, it’s important to check in on a regular basis and fix any wear and tear damages to maintain a happy home.

⦁    Check all your smoke detectors for low batteries. They are no good if they can’t go off!

⦁    Sign up for a P.O. Box and send important mail there to prevent identity theft.

⦁    Make sure all your door locks are working and install deadbolts on all doors with outside access.

⦁    Install motion sensitive outdoor lights – they not only make for safety for you but deter criminals from breaking in.

⦁    Trim your shrubs around the home where burglars can hide when breaking into your home.

⦁    Go through old files – shred unnecessary paperwork and file important documents in a fireproof safe.

⦁    No more putting this one-off, if you don’t have a security system this is the single most important thing you can do to secure your house from fire, flooding and crime.

⦁    Emergency preparedness: Consider preparing a 72-hour kit for you and your family to have in your home.

Traveling for Spring Break? While you are packing up your bags and preparing for a week off, don’t forget the home is an easy target for criminals while you are away. In addition to the usual making sure the neighbors check your mail for you, and locking the doors before you go, here are some extra tips to send you on your way to your stress-free vacation!

⦁    Resist the urge to broadcast your whereabouts to the world on social media – you’re basically telling burglars you are out-of-town.

⦁    Don’t leave anything of value out in plain sight, especially near windows.

⦁    Give a spare key to a reliable and nearby friend, neighbor or family member (or all three). They can periodically go by your house to check on things if need be while you are gone.

The best possible way to have a stress-free vacation is to get a home security system. The last thing you want is to come home and find your valuables gone. Or worse, a destroyed home. Contact us to learn how a Solucient security system can help provide safety and peace of mind.

Potholes everywhere! How to handle them safely

Potholes-Thinkstock

It’s an unwelcome sign of Spring across Michigan. Motorists encountering multiple miles of pothole-ridden highways. While a few of them may be small, most of them are quite large and create for a very bumpy, uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous ride to work, school. or shopping.

Many potholes are caused when relentless freezing and thawing of water under the pavement weakens the road and causes large cracks, which, when combined with the weight of vehicles driving over, eventually turn into potholes.  Because of the role freezing can play in pothole formation, severe winter weather can often lead to lots of potholes. But, strong, long-lasting rain storms can also contribute to the number and severity of potholes and even sinkholes.

If you live in a city with lots of potholes, here are a few safety tips from the Michigan Department of Transportation:

⦁    Properly inflated tires hold up better against potholes than tires that have too much or too little air.

⦁    If you can’t avoid a pothole, slow down before you hit it. But don’t brake directly over a pothole, which can cause more damage.

⦁    When driving over the pothole, hold the steering wheel firmly to avoid losing control.

⦁    Use caution when driving over a puddle of water because it might be a pothole in hiding.

In addition to causing structural damage to the tire itself, potholes may cause additional damage to your tires if they are over- or under-inflated. Potholes may also cause alignment, suspension or steering problems.

Here are some symptoms of pothole damage to vehicles:

⦁    Bulges or blisters on the tire sidewalls.

⦁    Dents in the wheel rims.

⦁    Undercarriage damage, including fluid leaks and wear that could lead to rust.

⦁    Odd noises coming from the exhaust system due to dents or punctures.

⦁    The car pulling toward the left or right, instead of going straight, which could indicate an alignment problem.

⦁    Uneven tire wear, which could indicate an alignment problem.

TIP: If you encounter a pothole, you should report it to your city, county or state transportation authorities. In some cases, your state, county or city may reimburse you for some of the repair costs.

Source: Allstate Insurance

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