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

Choosing a safe car for your teen

Teen Car

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the risk of a car accident is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than any other age group.

In 2010 alone, nearly 282,000 teens wound up in emergency rooms after wrecks. Some good news: The most important safety feature in a car — the driver — can be improved through education. For example, about half of teens in a 2011 study by the CDC said they rarely wear their seat belt — but that’s something that can be changed. And, the CDC has found that education is one way to increase seat belt use. While reprogramming the organic software (a.k.a. “the young driver’s brain”) may be difficult, selecting hardware (a.k.a. “a vehicle”) shouldn’t be.

Rather than specific models, focus on how the vehicle is equipped.

ESC, ABS and airbags

First, aspire to get a vehicle with Electronic Stability Control (generically called ESC, but described under various acronyms by different manufacturers). ESC is a computer system that can provide a magical butt-saving by helping to prevent the car from spinning out or plowing straight off the road. Imagine having a professional race driver take the wheel when things get shaky: That’s ESC. Note: ESC is a wonderful invention, but, of course, safety systems don’t replace the need for safe driving practices.

In addition to ESC, vehicles made in 2012 or later must also have an anti-lock braking system (ABS), advanced head restraints and the latest crash structures. Many produced before 2012 had those features, as well. You might also want to check whether the car has side air bags, which are not required by the NHTSA, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. If you can’t afford a vehicle made in 2012 or later, vehicles built no earlier than about 1999 also had several safety features. These include side-impact structure and dual front airbags, both of which were required on cars built in the late ‘90s.

Buy — and maintain — a ‘safety system’

Understand that you are buying a “safety system” for your teen — but it needs to undergo basic maintenance to do its job of keeping your teen safe. The vehicle’s tires are one main area to focus on when it comes to maximizing its safety features. To keep the safety system at its peak, check your teens’ tire pressure at least once a month. And, consider replacing tires well before they were to the legal minimum (either 2/32 inch or 1/32 inch in states that have a legal minimum requirement). An easy way to measure: Insert a quarter, Washington’s head down, into the most-shallow groove, if you can see the top of George’s wig, replace the tires.

Source: Allstate Insurance

Top 5 home security gadgets priced at $20 or less

glass filmKeeping your family and your home safe is a top priority, so here’s a look at some gadgets you can get that won’t break your bank.

We all have budgets, and these top items can improve your safety for $20 or less.

They’re not a full-fledged security system, but some little things together can provide a big difference.

  • The Mpow Solar Powered Wireless Bright 4 LED Security Motion Sensor is great for your home’s perimeter. Attach it where it will receive natural light, and it picks up motion within 26 feet. Most retailers have it listed for $20.
  • Next is the Doberman Ultra-Slim Window Alarm. Your windows may have locks, but if an intruder breaks the glass, this alarm will sound– and it’s loud at about 100 decibels. It costs around $11.
  • The Artscape Etched Glass Window Film (pictured) comes in a variety of styles, but this simple film sticks on a window and prevents people from seeing valuables that could be on display in your home. It fits the average window at 24 x 36 inches and costs $13.
  • And finally, the UniquExceptional Outdoor Dome Fake Security camera looks as real as they get. A disclaimer: We recommend cameras that work, but these are extremely realistic and could fool a burglar. They cost $8.

According to a study by the Criminal Justice Department at North Carolina University, 2.5 million burglaries occur each year, and homes without security systems are three times as likely to be hit.

Some 83% of convicted burglars say a home security system would deter them from breaking into a home.

For best protection and peace of mind, consider a comprehensive, verified Solucient home security system, contact us to learn how Solucient can professionally protect your home, your family, and your belongings.

Source: WKRN-TV

Mistakes you’re making with your home security systems and what you can do about them

Young Woman Entering Security Code On Keypad: Young woman entering security code on home security alarm system keypad

Many Americans may wrongly think that property crime nationwide has increased year after year, but such thoughts are not in touch with reality.

Statistics has shown that like violent crime, property crime has decreased year after year since 1990. But does that make the task of protecting your home and properties easier or even unnecessary? Of course not.

In recent times, more sophisticated home security systems to help you protect your home and properties have become available. Of course, they exist to make your life easier. But be careful, your choice or use of home security systems could end up complicating your life.

Here are some mistakes you should avoid with your home security system:

Buying the wrong home security systems

Technically there are no “wrong” home security systems. But just like with most other purchases, what is appropriate for someone else may not be appropriate for you. Diligent research is needed before purchasing a home security system.

Scour the internet, especially review sites or just do a Google search of the security system you’re planning to purchase or install. It’s not enough to read reviews from sites like Cnet or PC Magazine. Visit Amazon and read reviews from real buyers there too.

Additionally, check for complaints about the security company. Sometimes there are legitimate issues about billing, contracts, customer service, or monitoring that you need to know about before choosing a home security system. Here are some recommended features of a home security system you should consider:

  • Remote monitoring
  • Real-time notifications
  • 911 and emergency services
  • Input capacity
  • Ease of installation

In the end, to help you save time and/or make the right decision, you may still need to speak to a security professional. This will minimize chances of trial and error.

Not testing your configurations

First a word of caution here. It is rare that one home security system is enough for all your home security needs. A secure home will include different security components for different purposes.
Here are some components:

  • Indoor and outdoor cameras
  • Motion sensors
  • Smoke detectors
  • Carbon monoxide detectors
  • Glass break detectors
  • Door and window sensors
  • Freeze sensors
  • Water sensors
  • Driveway sensors

The point is, whatever components you’re installing or adding to your home security system, test them.

Lack of/poor maintenance of the home security system

Depending on what you’re looking out for, you should conduct a weekly, monthly, semi-annual or annual check of your home security system. It may involve updating software, changing batteries, changing faulty components, and other measures.

Professional maintenance

This can be done annually or even semi-annually. Check to see if your vendor offers any maintenance package in the service contract. If they do, fine. If they don’t, you may need the services of a home security inspection company to help with professional maintenance.

Keep these mistakes in mind, and avoid them with the tips above, and you’ll find that your home security systems will be a blessing, not a nuisance.

Source: ValueWalk

Home security tips for winter

winter home

Did you know home break-ins increase during the winter months? Since the days become shorter, the evenings become darker quickly, which normally means homeowners are not around when the home is dark.

Motion sensor lighting and video can help to protect a home from burglaries. Coming home to a break-in is a devastating moment for anyone, which is why it is important to consider installing a professionally-monitored, verified security system. Use the following winter home security tips to help prevent serious concerns.

Lock the doors and windows
A thief will search for areas of weakness in a home. The doors and windows are areas of the home that are common weak points. Always check each window and door to ensure they are locked before you leave the home. If you have a home security system installed, the windows will beep if they are not locked properly.

Motion detection
The other thing you need to consider adding to your home is motion detection lighting. Keeping your home well-lit is important to prevent burglaries as most burglaries occur in the darkness. When the lights are on, it makes it harder for someone to break-in unnoticed. A good security system will include automation options that allow you to program the system from your computer or your smartphone. Automatic timers are another option that will help to keep your home safe if you are not around.

Remove greenery
The best way to keep your home safe during the winter is to remove the trees and other things that are around the home. It will eliminate hiding spots, and you can see people’s tracks in the snow. If you have patio furniture and other things outside the home, lock them in the garage so they cannot be used to help a person climb onto a roof.

Shovel the driveway and walkway
One easy sign that no one is home is a driveway that is not shoveled. The best winter safety tips for home and apartment owners is to ensure it looks like you are home. Hiring a company to shovel your walk and driveway is a great way to improve your home safety.

Invest in a security system
The best way to keep your home safe in the winter is by investing in a quality security system. They will alert the police if the windows and doors are opened without the proper code input within a few seconds. Staying safe is vital to your family’s safety and keeping your assets and loved ones protected from intruders. Contact us to learn how Solucient can offer a professional, verified level of home protection.

January deadliest month for carbon monoxide poisoning

CO detector

According to a study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first month of the year is the worst for carbon monoxide poisoning. At least two people die each day from carbon-monoxide poisoning in January—three times the fatality rate recorded in August and July. Unintentional carbon monoxide exposure accounted for 15,000 emergency room visits annually between 1999 and 2004, with an average of 439 people dying each year.

Fatalities are highest among men and senior citizens: Men because they are engaged in more high-risk behaviors such as working with fuel-burning tools or appliances and seniors because they are likely to mistake the symptoms of CO poisoning (headaches, nausea, dizziness or confusion) for the flu or fatigue.

It should come as no surprise that CO deaths are the highest in winter (December is the second highest month). Cold weather increases the use of gas-powered furnaces as well as the use of risky alternative heating and power sources (portable generators, charcoal briquettes, propane stoves or grills) during power outages. It’s also understandable that the highest CO death rates are in colder states: Nebraska, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and North Dakota. By contrast, California has the lowest fatality rate.

With these sobering facts, it’s a good time to remember the following safety tips to prevent CO poisoning:

  • Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil or coal-burning appliance inspected and serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Install battery-operated CO detectors on every level of your home.
  • Don’t use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside the home, basement or garage or outside the home near a window.
  • Don’t burn anything in an unvented stove or fireplace.
  • Don’t let a vehicle idle inside a garage attached to a house, even if the garage door is left open.
  • Don’t heat a house with a gas oven.

If a CO detector sounds, leave your home immediately and call 911 from outside. Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and if you or someone in your household is feeling dizzy, light-headed or nauseated.

Source: Consumer Reports

 

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