Seniors more vulnerable to home burglaries


Crime has evolved over the last few decades. Today’s wrongdoers have largely turned to hacking, scams, or fraud to get the money or personal information they want, often through digital means.

Fortunately, public awareness and education on cybercrime and scams has grown substantially, allowing people to become smarter, safer, and more secure consumers. But for every sophisticated criminal there’s one who chooses to go the old school route: home burglary.

It may not receive the same news coverage as cybercrime, but burglary is still prevalent in the U.S., with 2.5 million home intrusions committed each year, or one every 13 seconds. As important as it is to watch what is clicked online, it’s equally vital to secure homes from outside threats.

This is especially the case for older adults, whose homes are often targets for burglars. Although seniors can be more vulnerable to this victimization because of certain factors – declining physical and cognitive function and limited communication – they can take steps to protect what’s most important to them and continue living safely and independently.

Home security tips
⦁    Install a home security system. Studies show that burglars tend to stay away from homes that have a security system installed. There are plenty of providers to choose from, so research thoroughly. Most providers will give stickers to put on the home’s doors and windows from the security company, alerting thieves that a system is installed.
⦁    Keep the doors locked. It’s may be normal for people to let their guard down, especially when living in a safe neighborhood, but seniors should remember that crime knows no bounds. All doors that lead outside should always be locked day and night.
⦁    Shut the blinds whenever possible. Many burglars will look through windows of homes they’re interested in robbing. Cutting off their visibility into the home can discourage them from proceeding.
⦁    Remove tools from the yard. Be sure that any tools like hammers, screwdrivers, ladders that can aid burglars in getting into the house are kept inside and out of view.
⦁    Don’t advertise travel plans. Seniors should do their best to keep any travel plans, whether short-term or extended, to themselves or just a few trusted people, like neighbors and family. Talking about travel publicly or posting about it on social media should be avoided.
⦁    Keep personal information in a safe place. If a home is broken into, the last thing people want is for the burglar to get personal information. Keep any passports, birth certificates, financial statements, and other sensitive documents in a locked safe.
⦁    Request home security advice from the police. Seniors can also contact their local police department and have them come out to the home to provide home security suggestions and information on crime in the neighborhood.

Source: Comfort Keepers

Boom times: The importance of fireworks safety


Fireworks are often a part of Michigan's summer traditions, but it’s important to know how to handle them safely. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says fireworks are the cause of approximately 18,500 fires every year. Even a simple sparkler can reach a temperature of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to burn some metals, says the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

The NFPA urges people not to use consumer fireworks and says the safest option for you and your family is to attend a fireworks show put on by professionals. If you choose to use fireworks, however, follow these tips to help keep your season safe and fun.

Know the Laws

Before you consider using fireworks you need to know (and then follow) the laws regarding fireworks in your area. Some states prohibit all consumer fireworks, while other states permit only sparklers and some other novelty fireworks. Be sure to check your state and local laws before even purchasing fireworks.

Avoid illegal fireworks

Since fireworks contain explosive materials, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) requires a license in order to manufacture fireworks. Never attempt to make your own fireworks, as the ATF states that they can be especially dangerous and unpredictable.

You’ll also want to avoid buying illegal fireworks, which can be tricky given that firework stands tend to pop-up around the summer season. The ATF advises that you avoid purchasing fireworks at someone’s home or vehicle or buying fireworks that are not in commercial packaging. Anything resembling a roll of coins with a fuse, that is in a cardboard tube or is oddly shaped may be illegal fireworks.

The CPSC also warns that fireworks wrapped in brown paper are generally intended for use by trained professionals.

Safety tips to follow

Once you’ve determined it’s legal for you to use consumer fireworks in your area and you’ve purchased legal fireworks, it’s important to keep the following safety precautions in mind:

—Supervise children. Young children should never be allowed to handle fireworks (even sparklers), according to the CPSC. Always supervise children near fireworks.

—Take fire precautions. Keep water (a full bucket or a garden hose ready to go) and a fire extinguisher nearby, in case you need to douse the fireworks or anything they may ignite.

—Get back. When you’re lighting the fireworks (always one at a time), make sure no part of your body is directly above the device, says the CPSC. As soon as it is lit, move a safe distance away.

—Douse them when done. Once an individual item is done burning, soak it with water from a bucket or the hose before throwing it away. If one of your fireworks doesn’t seem to be working properly, the CPSC says you should not pick it up or try to light it again. Douse it with water and then throw it away.

—Protect pets. Provide a safe place indoors for your pets to stay during the festivities, suggests the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Consider turning on a TV or radio to help drown out the pops and bangs from fireworks nearby.

It’s safer to leave fireworks displays to the professionals. But, if you do decide to use fireworks, follow the law and take appropriate safety measures.

Source: Allstate Insurance

'Smart home’ security systems aren’t as safe as you think, NCSU researchers warn


Researchers at North Carolina State University have identified design flaws in “smart home” Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices that allow third parties to prevent devices from sharing information. The flaws can be used to prevent security systems from signaling that there has been a break-in or uploading video of intruders.

“IoT devices are becoming increasingly common, and there’s an expectation that they can contribute to our safety and security,” says William Enck, co-author of a paper on the discovery and an associate professor of computer science at NC State. “But we’ve found that there are widespread flaws in the design of these devices that can prevent them from notifying homeowners about problems or performing other security functions.”

“Essentially, the devices are designed with the assumption that wireless connectivity is secure and won’t be disrupted – which isn’t always the case,” says Bradley Reaves, co-author of the paper and an assistant professor of computer science at NC State. “However, we have identified potential solutions that can address these vulnerabilities.”

Specifically, the researchers have found that if third parties can hack a home’s router – or already know the password – they can upload network layer suppression malware to the router. The malware allows devices to upload their “heartbeat” signals, signifying that they are online and functional – but it blocks signals related to security, such as when a motion sensor is activated. These suppression attacks can be done on-site or remotely.

“One reason these attacks are so problematic is that the system is telling homeowners that everything is OK, regardless of what’s actually happening in the home,” Enck says.

One possible fix for device makers would be to include more information in the heartbeat signal. For example, if a device sends three motion-sensor alerts, the subsequent heartbeat signal would include data noting that three sensor alerts had been sent. Even if the network layer suppression malware blocked the sensor alert signals, the system would see the heartbeat signal and know that three sensor alerts were sent but not received. This could then trigger a system warning for homeowners.

“No system is going to be perfect, but given the widespread adoption of IoT devices, we think it’s important to raise awareness of countermeasures that device designers can use to reduce their exposure to attacks,” Enck says.

Source: WRAL-TV

How to spruce up your home security


For many of us, our spring cleaning rituals are well underway. And although clearing away the clutter, shaking dust from rugs, wiping down woodwork and dusting off outdoor furniture can bring much satisfaction, there are other tasks you should be adding to your to-do list. They don’t just make your home look better — they make your home more secure.

Your outdoor checklist
• Make sure your home address numbers are properly positioned or painted on your mailbox, front door or another visible spot. This ensures that first responders can easily find your house in the case of an emergency.
• Maintain your home’s landscaping by trimming back bushes and shrubbery, allowing you to see out all windows and eliminate potential spots for intruders to hide.
• Clear drains and gutters of leaves and debris to prevent flooding.
• Inspect and repair damaged fences or other outside boundaries.
• Check outside lighting around your house and replace bulbs and batteries that aren’t working.
• If you have outdoor security cameras, make sure they haven’t been damaged by snow or harsh winter weather. Check that cameras are plugged in and that the lenses are looking at what you want them to look at. Clean lenses with a microfiber cloth and tighten camera mounts. As summer approaches, you may want to protect your cameras from spider webs and insects that can obscure the view.

Your indoor checklist
• Check that security sensors, motion detectors, and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are free of dust and cobwebs by wiping them with a microfiber cloth. Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and change the batteries if necessary. Keep in mind that detectors don’t last forever; most have a life span that ranges from five to seven years, so check expiration dates on the device or consult the device’s manual.
• If you have an alarm system, use the change in seasons to change your access code and remove passcodes you’ve given out to contractors, cleaning people, babysitters or guests who no longer need access to your home. Test your security systems regularly to ensure they are functioning properly and communicating with the central station.
• Flooding is the single largest source of loss for homeowners, so you should install water leak sensors in flood-prone areas. The sensors will detect accumulation of water caused by cracked or broken water pipes, loose pipe connections, inadequate drainage, or flooding. Some sensors connect to larger security systems, some work alone, emitting a loud siren, and some connect to an app on your phone.
• Check window and door locks. If any seem loose or faulty, tighten or replace them.
• If cleaning your windows isn’t already part of your spring cleaning routine, add it. Clean windows will make your home brighter and improve the visibility of your surroundings.

Source: The Washington Post

What to look for when doing a final home walkthrough

Man and woman inspecting empty house

When the process of purchasing a home is nearly complete, many buyers start focusing on other details such as packing up their belongings or looking at paint samples. However, there is one more crucial step to complete before closing on a house, and that’s a final walkthrough.

This is a homebuyer’s last chance to walk around the property and make sure everything is in working condition, and that any previously agreed-upon repairs were completed.

How to prepare for a walkthrough

When your walkthrough date is approaching, prepare by packing a few items you may need during the process, recommends Trulia. Items such as a notepad and pen, a camera, cellphone, charger and a copy of your inspection report may come in handy. You should also make sure that your real estate agent can attend with you, notes Trulia. They are likely familiar with the process and can help answer any questions you may have.

Remember that this is the time to pull out the home inspection report and confirm that any prior issues, if requested, were addressed. Be sure to take notes and photos of any issues you find so they can be reported back to the seller’s real estate agent, if needed.

Here are some areas you should pay close attention to:

Bathrooms: Turn on every sink, shower and bathtub to check for potential leaks and drainage issues. Be sure to run both the hot and cold water, as this may help you ensure the water heater is working. You should also flush the toilets and check for water leaks or damage near the base of the toilet.

Kitchen: Check or turn on each appliance to make sure they are in working order and keep an eye out for any signs of water damage near the sink or dishwasher. If the sink has a garbage disposal, you may want to check that it’s working as well.

Washer and dryer: Run the washer and dryer and keep an eye out for water leaks or drainage issues with the washer.

Windows and doors: Make sure each one properly closes and opens, and, if they have screens, make sure none are missing or damaged. You should also check for signs of moisture or water damage around the window or door casings.

Electrical Outlets: Turn the lights on and off in every room, and don’t forget to pull out your cellphone and charger — plug it into various electrical outlets to help you ensure they’re working by seeing if the phone starts charging.

Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning System: No matter the temperature outside, run both the furnace and air conditioning unit to ensure both are in working condition.

How to Address Potential Issues

Depending on the extent of any issues you may find during the walkthrough, you may want to report them back to the seller’s real estate agent, says For example, finding a major water leak is something you will probably want to address with the seller.

Source: Allstate Insurance

Home security tips for seniors


Seniors are often targeted by criminals. Though many criminals target seniors from afar via telephone or internet, criminals still seek to enter seniors’ homes.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics offers that, between 2003 and 2013, the ratio of property crime to violent crime was higher for the elderly and persons between the ages of 50 and 64 than it was for younger persons between the ages of 25 and 49.

Home security is important for people of all ages, but especially so for seniors and aging individuals who are living alone. By following certain safety tips and developing a home security plan, seniors can feel safer at home.

• Lock windows and doors. It may seem like common sense, but failure to consistently lock windows and doors can and often does give burglars easy entry into the home.

• Think about a smart doorbell. Technology now enables doorbells to provide a video feed to a  smartphone or tablet that’s connected to the internet over Wi-Fi. This allows residents to see who is at the door and speak to this person without having to open the door. Some products like Ring will even register motion activity and record short videos from outside of the house.

• Don’t share or leave keys. Avoid leaving keys under a mat or in a flower pot. Others may be watching your actions and gain access to your home while you are away.

• Ask for a photo ID. When service people or other individuals come to the door, verify their credentials by asking to see some identification.

• Get a home security system. The best protection against burglars is a home security alarm, states Such an alarm often deters burglars from breaking in.

• Install a lockable mailbox. Locked mailboxes restrict access to sensitive information, such as bank account numbers, that are sent in the mail. Even better: make sure retirement checks or other payments are deposited directly into bank accounts instead of having them sent by check.

• Use home automation. Home automation, or a “smart home,” can be utilized to turn on lights, set the thermostat, lock doors and much more.

• Adopt a dog. Dogs can be an asset to seniors. Dogs provide companionship and can bark or alert seniors if someone is around or inside of the home.

Home security is serious business for seniors who are vulnerable to criminals.

Source: WVNews

Protecting your home from a hailstorm

Baseball size hail covering the ground after the storm in Georgetown, Kentucky on October 7, 2014

A hailstorm can begin unexpectedly and cause damage to your home’s windows, roof and siding.

In fact, in an average year, hail causes more than $1.6 billion in roofing damage alone, according to the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH). Here are some steps you can take to help protect your property and minimize hail damage when storms roll in:

Care for your roof
Your roof is your home’s first line of defense, says the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS). And because hail, high winds and exposure to heat and cold can take a toll, the IBHS suggests routine roof inspections. Hiring a pro in the spring and fall to check your roof can help you spot potential problems, says the National Roofing Contractors Association.

When it comes time to replace your roof, the IBHS says it’s important to invest in impact-resistant materials (identified by a Class 3 or Class 4). Asphalt shingles, which are commonly used, typically come in both Class 3 and 4 designations, according to the IBHS. They further state that impact-resistant metal, tile and slate roofing materials are also available and are considered long-lasting options.

Protect your windows
The most common way to protect your windows, skylights and even sliding glass doors from the effects of hail is with shutters, says FLASH. There are many options, from pre-installed permanent systems that roll down or slide over windows, to temporary panels that you can store when they’re not in use.

If you’re getting ready to replace your windows, FLASH suggests buying models that are wind- and impact-resistant, because standard glass can shatter easily. FLASH says the most reliable windows will have designations noting they’ve passed specific tests.

Finally, when storms approach, recommends closing drapes and blinds. This can help reduce risk of injury from breaking glass and minimize the chance of debris entering your home.

Shelter your landscape
There are also steps you can take outdoors to help protect your home. Start by maintaining the health of your trees, says the Insurance Information Institute (III). They also suggest trimming trees and removing dead branches, to help prevent them from breaking free and potentially damaging your property.

If hail is in the forecast, the III suggests moving cars into a garage or under the protection of a carport and, if it’s safe to do so, bringing patio furniture and outdoor equipment into an enclosed space.

You may even try to lessen the impact hail can have on your garden. HGTV suggests fashioning a makeshift canopy out of tarps or blankets over flower beds, and turning pots or trash cans over individual plants to help shield them. If it hails frequently in your area, HGTV says you may want to invest in greenhouse tunnels (normally used to protect plants from extreme temperatures) to help protect your garden beds.

Severe storms can happen at any time. And while you can’t control the weather, you can take steps to help minimize the impact these storms may have on your home.

Source: Allstate Insurance

Spring cleaning the yard? Follow these safety tips

spring cleaning

Blue skies, chirping birds, warming temperatures — April is prime time for getting home exteriors, yards, and gardens back into shape. But before you get started on your outdoor to-do list, make sure you take appropriate safety precautions.

Dress for the job

  • Wear shoes or boots, not sandals, to protect your toes.
  • Properly fitting gloves can not only improve your grip on tools but also help keep skin safe from blisters, sunburn, bug bites, poisonous plants, and chemicals.
  • Hearing protection is a must-have when using loud equipment.
  • Safety glasses keep flying objects out of your eyes.
  • Bug spray keeps the pests away. Shower after use to remove the chemicals from your skin. And while you’re at it, take a minute to look for ticks. If you find one, gently pull it out with tweezers.
  • Apply SPF to any exposed skin. Don’t be fooled by cloudy days; you can still get a sunburn.

Work smart

  • Take time to stretch and warm up before the work begins. Weeding, trimming, and raking are repetitive motions — change your posture or stance every few minutes and switch activities every 30 minutes.
  • Lift properly by bending at the knees and hips and using leg power rather than bending at the waist and putting the strain on your back. Instead of carrying heavy or unwieldy loads, employ a cart or wheelbarrow.
  • Drink water and take breaks in the shade. Even if it’s not hot or humid, yard work is exercise, and staying hydrated is important to avoid heat-related illness.
    Ready the tools
  • Familiarize yourself with power tools and how they work. Read owner’s manuals (many are available online) and know about various switches, modes, and required maintenance.
  • Check cords on tools and extension cords for cuts, cracks, and frayed wires — and do not use them if damaged. Also check the label to make sure you don’t use an indoor extension cord outside.
  • Make sure tools are in the “off” position before plugging them in or unplugging.
  • Use ladders safely: Set on a firm, level surface; never stand on one of the top three rungs; and use a utility belt to hold tools so you can properly climb facing the ladder.
  • Call 811 before you dig. This notifies local utilities to check your property before you plant a tree, dig a trench, or set fence posts.

Protect loved ones

  • Be sure children and pets are inside (or well supervised if out) while you work.
  • Store sharp tools, weed killer, fertilizer, and other dangerous items in a locked cabinet out of reach of curious hands and mouths.

Source: State Farm Insurance

Winter means heightened carbon monoxide risk

CO detector

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas. And although we can’t see it, carbon monoxide can be deadly. Keep your family safe by preventing exposure and knowing the signs of this possible hazard.

Preventing CO poisoning

  • Use CO alarms. Place a CO alarm on every floor of your house, especially near any room where people sleep. If the alarm goes off, leave your home immediately and call 9-1-1. Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed or nauseous.
  • Check the batteries. Check or replace the batteries in your alarms when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall.
  • Get appliances serviced. Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, wood or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Don’t leave vehicles idling. If your garage is attached to your home, don’t leave your car or truck idling inside—even if the garage door is open.

Preventing CO poisoning during a power outage

  • Never use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline, kerosene, propane or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, garage or near a window.
  • Don’t burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented to the outside air.
  • If you suspect CO poisoning and you or anyone in your family is experiencing dizziness, nausea, lightheadedness, vomiting, headache or confusion, leave your home immediately, call 9-1-1 for medical attention and stay out of the house until the problem has been corrected.

Source: Consumers Energy

How to prevent pipes from freezing

frozen fipe

For anyone living in Michigan where temperatures regularly dip below freezing, a few precautionary steps to help protect your plumbing can be a cost-effective way to help avoid cleaning up after a burst pipe.

The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) says one frozen pipe that bursts may result in more than $5,000 worth of water-related damage.

Protect pipes before a freeze

Be sure to insulate all accessible pipes well before a cold snap. If you’re not sure what type of pipe insulation to use, ask at your local hardware store. The staff there should be able to help recommend insulation that is appropriate for your home and the temperatures likely to occur in your area.

Apply pipe insulation to water pipes in unheated areas of your home, such as the garage, or in areas where pipes are near exterior walls, such as under kitchen or bathroom sinks.

Using a sealant or caulk approved for exterior use, shore up cracks and holes on your home’s outside walls. (If you haven’t done this already, you may have to save it for next spring. Caulk typically needs to be applied in temperatures of at least 45 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Act when temperatures drop

Listen on a regular basis to your daily weather report and be prepared to act when temperatures reaching freezing levels and take heed to other winter advisories.
During severe cold snaps, keep exterior doors to unheated spaces, such as garages, closed.

If kitchen or bathroom pipes are located near exterior walls, leave the cabinet doors open and use a fan to circulate the warmer air around the pipes.

Let taps slowly drip during extreme cold snaps to help prevent water from freezing and to relieve pressure if some water does freeze.

Consider installing a water leak alarm in areas where you might expect a problem, such as the basement. The alarm sounds when water is detected and can quickly alert you to a problem.

The security experts at Solucent can install water leak detection alarms to protect your property from flooding

How to check for frozen pipes (and thaw them)

To check on your pipes, the IBHS suggests turning on each faucet (both hot and cold). If there’s only a trickle of water or, even worse, there’s no water coming out at all, then you should suspect pipe has frozen. The source of the freeze is most likely near an exterior wall or where the main water supply enters your home, so leave the faucet on and use a blow dryer (never an open flame torch or other device) to help heat the pipe until there’s a steady flow of water.

Of course, if you can’t locate the frozen pipe or just aren’t comfortable doing it yourself, call a plumber, who may help with relocating certain pipes to help prevent a similar freeze in the future.

Source: Allstate Insurance