Protect your parcels: Tips for thwarting 'porch pirates'

porch parcels

Online shopping has made life easier for a lot of us, but it’s also created more opportunities for thieves to prey on parcels left on our doorsteps.

Beware the so-called porch pirate. They count on our being lax, but a little preparation can help thwart their plans and leave them empty handed, said Gary Miliefsky, CEO of SnoopWall, a company that specializes in cyber security.

“A more sophisticated porch pirate might send you an SMS message or email with malware,” Miliefsky said. “That would let them gain access to your computer or smartphone, and they could install a RAT (Remote Access Trojan). Then they can eavesdrop on your orders and deliveries.”

They also might be able to locate you through the geolocating feature on your phone, he said. That would tell them when you are away from home, the final link in their well-laid plan.

“If they know you aren’t home and that a package is scheduled for delivery, it’s going to be easy for them to steal it,” he said.

There are, however, ways around even cyber criminals. Miliefsky offers these tips for outwitting porch pirates and keeping packages safe:

• Get permission to ship all your packages to work. That way they aren’t left unguarded at your doorstep for hours where anyone walking by could snatch them. If this arrangement works out, be sure to tell all your friends and family also to ship packages to your work address.

• Ask a friend or neighbor to receive your packages for you. You might not be home on work days, but plenty of people are. Trusted friends who are retired or who work at home might be happy to let you have packages delivered to them for safe keeping.

• If a neighbor can’t receive your packages and you can’t get them at work, another option is available. Miliefsky suggests trying Doorman, a service that lets you arrange for a package to be held at a warehouse until you arrive home. Then you can arrange delivery for evening hours that better suit you.

• Disable geolocation on your smartphone so that thieves – or other hackers for that matter – can’t track your location. No need to make it easier on them.

• Set up a live recording video camera aimed at your porch. That could allow you to spot a theft as it happens and alert law enforcement, or at least provide you with video later that might help identify the thieves.

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

How to build your home repair expert crew

handymen

A home needs its support crew — tradespeople like plumbers, electricians, handymen and gutter cleaners willing to show up in an emergency, but also reliable enough to do the regular maintenance needed to prevent a disaster.

Finding reliable and seasoned professionals takes time and means keeping in touch with the ones you have so that your name lands at the top of their list when your furnace fails on a holiday weekend because, face it, things invariably go awry after business hours.

Here are some tips for building your crew:

A good plumber should top any homeowner’s list of go-to contractors. Water accounts for 45 percent of damage to homes, according to Chubb, a property and casualty insurance company, with plumbing failures cited as the top cause of non-weather-related water losses. “Water is your house’s worst enemy,” said Angie Hicks, a co-founder of Angie’s List. “So, having a plumber is imperative.”

Plumbers have different specialties, with some focusing on larger remodeling projects and others handling the everyday problems with water heaters, boilers, sump pumps and pipes. Most plumbers charge by the hour — usually between $45 and $200 — for ordinary tasks, according to HomeAdvisor.

Ask potential hires what they charge for emergency calls and how quickly they can respond on nights and weekends, because at some point you’re going to need one to come fast.

Where to look and what to ask

Friends and neighbors can be a valuable resource, particularly ones who have owned their homes for a long time. Connect with a wider network of neighbors through social media groups like Facebook and NextDoor. Ask pointed questions about how quickly the workers respond to calls, how well they clean up after they’re done and how they respond to mishaps.

Real estate brokers often have a long roster of tradespeople, so ask yours. The workers you hire can refer you to other professionals, too. If an electrician installs some recessed lights in your living room, for example, he may be able to suggest a painter to repair any damage done to the walls or ceiling.

Ask potential hires for references, proof of license and liability insurance. Find out how long the company has been in business, and if it offers warranties for the work. Get a sense of their personality and working style, as you want to develop a comfortable rapport with anyone who will be coming into your home.

Source: The New York Times

Make safety part of your winter workout routine

winter workout

Michigan winters mean snow, ice, freezing temperatures and darker days.

Even though staying active during these conditions may not seem ideal, there are many health benefits, both physical and mental, to working out during the winter months. Of course, adding snow and ice to a workout routine presents additional challenges and health risks.

Before you step outside, keep these health and safety tips in mind:

Prepare for the cold. Before you walk out the door, make sure you take necessary precautions. Know the weather and dress accordingly to avoid frostbite. Wear sunscreen to protect against UV rays and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

Wear appropriate footwear. Shoes that are insulated and have a rubber bottom are ideal for slippery conditions. As you walk outside in your rubber-bottom shoes, take smaller steps- it will reduce your risk of falls. To help prevent the buildup of snow and ice, spread deicer around the sidewalks and driveways before, during or after snowfall.

Know the differences in ice strengths. If you plan to take advantage of ice to go skating or play hockey on a backyard pond, make sure it’s safe. According to the Michigan Department of Environmental Resources, fresh, clear ice with a blueish tint is the strongest. The DNR warns that ice under snow is almost always weaker than ice that is exposed. Avoid patches covered in snow and/or slush; that is a sign the ice is no longer freezing. Most importantly, proceed with caution. Ice can change thickness and strength quickly.

Wear a helmet when sledding, skiing or snowboarding. Winter sports usually involve sliding down a slippery slope. To avoid head injuries, be sure to wear a helmet as you slide down the hill.

Pick a safe spot to work out. If the winter activity involves sliding or skating, make sure the area is free of obstacles that may cause injury. Fences, trees and poles all pose dangers to the individual working out.

Additionally, certain health conditions may worsen when exercising outdoors. Before you head out, consult a doctor to make sure you are physically prepared to take on winter exercises.

Now that you know how to be safe outdoors, bundle up and get your best winter workout in!

Source: A Healthier Michigan

Why do people die shoveling snow?

snow shovelingSnowmageddon, Snowpocalypse, SnOMG!

There is no end to the terms for "really big snowstorm," and those terms came in handy, particularly in America's snowiest cities. Just check out these average annual snowfall totals, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

  • Mt. Washington, NH – 281.2 inches
  • Houghton, MI – 207.7 inches
  • Syracuse, NY – 123.8 inches
  • Sault St. Marie, MI – 120.4 inches
  • Caribou, ME – 108.7 inches
  • Flagstaff, AZ – 101.7 inches
  • Traverse City, MI – 101.4 inches

With big snow storms – and even every day, run-of-the-mill snowfalls – there is a risk of death by shoveling. Nationwide, snow shoveling is responsible for thousands of injuries and as many as 100 deaths each year.

So, why so many deaths? Shoveling snow is just another household chore, right?

Not really, says the American Heart Association. While most people won't have a problem, shoveling snow can put some people at risk of heart attack. Sudden exertion, like moving hundreds of pounds of snow after being sedentary for several months, can put a big strain on the heart. Pushing a heavy snow blower also can cause injury.

And, there's the cold factor. Cold weather can increase heart rate and blood pressure. It can make blood clot more easily and constrict arteries, which decreases blood supply. This is true even in healthy people. Individuals over the age of 40 or who are relatively inactive should be particularly careful.

The National Safety Council recommends the following tips to shovel safely:

  • Do not shovel after eating or while smoking
  • Take it slow and stretch out before you begin
  • Shovel only fresh, powdery snow; it's lighter
  • Push the snow rather than lifting it
  • If you do lift it, use a small shovel or only partially fill the shovel
  • Lift with your legs, not your back
  • Do not work to the point of exhaustion
  • Know the signs of a heart attack, and stop immediately and call 911 if you're experiencing any of them; every minute counts
  • Don't pick up that shovel without a doctor's permission if you have a history of heart disease. A clear driveway is not worth your life.

Source: National Safety Council

Selling your Home? How to Keep the Criminals Away

Home For Sale Real Estate Sign and Beautiful New House.

A news story featured on ABC's "Good Morning America" highlights the vulnerability of homes that are listed “For Sale.” According to the report, unknown teens broke into a home that was listed for sale and threw a destructive party while the homeowner was away.

Unfortunately, homes that are listed “For Sale” are often targets for criminals, whether it is teens throwing a party, an opportunistic burglar or someone using more sophisticated measures to target and rob homes that are on the market.

Below are some tips to help you manage the security of your home while you are in the process of selling it:

Install door and window sensors. No less than 30 percent of burglars gain access to a home through an unlocked window or door, according to a report featured in Consumer Reports and published by the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

When placing your home on the market, consider installing a smart home security system with video surveillance. These advanced systems can detect potential criminal activity while you are away. They continuously capture and analyze everyday activity in and around the home, automatically sending an alert to your smartphone or professional monitoring center when unusual activity is detected, or a sensor is triggered.

Prominently display your home security sign. More than 60 percent of convicted burglars said they would avoid a potential target home if they see an alarm system is present, according to a University of North Carolina at Charlotte survey.

Set the environment. Keep your landscape neatly trimmed, especially shrubs and trees surrounding your home, so you are not providing a place for a burglar to hide. Incorporate motion-sensor, remote-controlled and/or timed lighting into your home and your landscape. If you have automated lighting, all the better. Use settings as if you were home to create a “lived in” environment.

Remove valuables to a safe place, including firearms and prescription medications.

Ensure your system stays armed after the real estate agent is gone. Smart home security can alert you when the system is disarmed and remind you if the agent forgets to arm it when leaving.

Solucient offers homeowners simple, smart, and professionally installed, monitored, and verified security solutions to protect your home. Contact us to learn more.

Source: Electronic Alarm Association

When it Comes to Skiing, Don't Take a Crash Course

ski shot

Many of us remember the day we heard that Sonny Bono, a California congressman and half of the singing duo Sonny and Cher, had died while on a ski trip with his family in Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Bono was no amateur when it came to skiing. In fact, CNN quoted a family spokesperson as saying Bono was a "very proficient skier" and an "athletic guy." He had been skiing on those same slopes for more than 20 years. Media reports said that Bono was skiing alone when he slammed into a tree at a high rate of speed. The New York Daily News reported he skied off the main trail and was likely weaving in and out of trees in fresh powder when he was killed.

Hone your safety skills
Skiers and snowboarders, no matter how experienced, should never ski alone. Nor should they ski off the designated trails. Experts believe Bono was killed on impact, but in many cases an injured skier could be saved if someone is there to help.

According to the National Ski Areas Association, while "less dangerous than other high-energy participation sports," about 42 people die and about 45 people are seriously injured each year skiing and snowboarding. Excess speed, loss of control and collisions with stationary objects, like a tree or lift tower, are the most common factors associated with fatalities.

The National Safety Council advises all skiers and snowboarders to take the time to review proper skills and safety techniques.

Get in shape for the season, and not just the week before a ski trip; a regular exercise routine will help reduce fatigue and injury.

Beginners should invest in proper instruction, including learning how to fall and get back up; experienced skiers should take a refresher course

Always know the weather conditions before heading to the slopes; time of day can also affect visibility and make obstacles difficult to see.

Give skiers in front of you the right of way; they most likely can't see you.

If you must stop, stop on the side of a run, not in the middle.

Look both ways and uphill before crossing a trail, merging or starting down a hill.

Use skis with brakes or a snowboard with a leash to prevent runaway equipment.

Never ski on closed runs or out of boundaries because these areas are not monitored and there is no way to know what the snow conditions are; a rogue skier could even cause an avalanche.

Be safe with proper gear
Helmets reduce head injuries between 30% and 50%. However, even though helmet use has increased over the years, traumatic brain injuries still can occur, even with a helmet being used.

Severe injury and death are best prevented by avoiding risk-taking behaviors.

Skiers and snowboarders also should select quality equipment. Improperly fitted or misadjusted gear can cause injury, so it's best to ask for expert advice when purchasing and fitting boots, bindings and skis. While trendy ski apparel may look good on the slopes, clothing should be functional. Wear bright colors, dress in layers and make sure outerwear is made of fabric that is not only water repellent, but slide-resistant.

Following these basic safety tips will go a long way toward ensuring that next powder run isn't your last.

Source: National Safety Council

Spinout! How to Avoid Them on an Icy Road

Icy road down hill with slippery when wet sign.

If you live in a climate with cold winters, you may run the risk of encountering icy roads. Even if you’re an experienced driver, it’s a good idea to take precautions to help prevent your car from spinning out on slick pavement.

Preparing to drive on icy roads

Winter tires may help give your car additional traction when you drive on snow or ice, Popular Mechanics magazine says. The treads on winter tires are designed to better grip the road while accelerating, stopping or turning.

In some areas, you may be legally required to use tire chains in snowy or icy conditions, even if you have snow tires, Consumer Reports says. In other areas, tire chains may be prohibited. It’s a good idea to check the laws in the areas in which you’ll be driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says it’s important to plan ahead before you head out into wintry conditions. You may want to have your car inspected to help ensure your battery’s power is sufficient, your lights are functioning, and your car’s fluids are adequate, the NHTSA suggests. It may also help to practice driving on ice in low-traffic areas, like empty parking lots, before you need to use main roads.

Driving on icy roads

If you encounter ice on the road, drive slowly, the NHSTA says. And be sure to keep plenty of space between your car and the one ahead of you to help give you more time to stop.

Even the most prepared driver can find themselves beginning to spin on a patch of ice. If the front end of your car begins to slide, do not try to speed up or slam on the brakes. Instead, ease your foot off the accelerator and hold the steering wheel until your car slows down, Edmunds says. If the back end of your car starts to slide, turn your steering wheel in the direction of the slide without hitting the brake, Consumer Reports advises. Be careful not to turn the wheel too far, though, as that may cause your car to spin.

To stop, it’s important to use your brakes properly, the NHSTA says. If your car has anti-lock brakes, apply firm and continuous pressure to the brake pedal. If your vehicle does not have anti-lock brakes, you’ll typically need to pump the brake pedal to help prevent your wheels from locking.

Of course, it’s always smart to avoid driving in winter conditions whenever possible. If you must drive in the ice and snow, check local weather warnings before leaving and keep the radio tuned to a local channel for the latest traffic alerts. Then, armed with these preparedness tips, carefully begin your drive.

Source: Allstate Insurance

Make Better Home Security Your New Year's Resolution

new year 2019

Now that 2019 has finally arrived, your home security is going to need some assessment.

A lot can change in a year; crime may have increased where you live, and it’s important to stay on top of the best technology to help you deter that crime. This year make it a personal commitment to make your home safer.  Read on for some tips that could help you.

1. Adjust your security habits
Has your smoke detector been without batteries for a few months?  Is your doorknob a little wobbly?  It’s easy to notice these problems while simply looking past them, thinking a repair is too much effort.  But recovering after your home security is compromised will take far more effort than a quick fix.  Practice good habits, like regularly replacing the batteries in your smoke detectors and start locking all your doors always, even if someone is home. And, of course, now is a great time to invest in a home automation system; this will allow you to keep your home safe from afar.

2. Update your systems
With the new year comes new technology.  You may have security cameras to help protect your home, but it’s possible they’re more than a bit out of date now that it’s 2019. Ensure that your security technology is the absolute best quality; tech updates happen for a reason, and it’s likely that newer models of cameras and automation systems are likely to protect you better than the previous model would.  Consider keeping the same attitude towards other security measures, such as carbon monoxide or fire detectors.

3. Add more features
You can never have too much security.  If you’ve already got an alarm system, consider investing in cameras for the exterior of your home.  And home automation, as mentioned, is a great tool for keeping your home safe and efficient at the same time.  Carbon monoxide detectors are also not present in every home, when they really should be.  Consider purchasing several to keep your family that much safer.

Solucient Security offers homeowners simple, smart, and professionally installed, monitored, and verified security solutions to protect your home. Contact us to learn more.

Fishing's big freeze: How to stay safe on the ice

ice fishing

During the winter months, a frozen lake can be the center of many outdoor activities, including ice hockey, dog sledding, and ice skating. But another big winter pastime in the United States and Canada is ice fishing.

While this favorite winter sport can be fun, it can also be dangerous. In some cases, serious injury or death has occurred due to unsafe ice fishing practices. So, if you're angling to stay safe on any icy lake or river, let's start out by tackling some of the root causes of unsafe ice fishing.

The dangers of ice fishing

Ice fishing injuries and fatalities are usually the result of hypothermia (a condition that dramatically lowers the body's temperature, causing severe metabolic dysfunction) or vehicle-related accidents. Some of the other common dangers of ice fishing include:

Not dressing properly. Due to the risk of hypothermia, keeping your head, hands, and feet warm and dry is essential.

Not packing adequate equipment. Death from drowning can occur if you're not wearing a life jacket. Packing the right equipment, such as picks and rope can help you beat the odds.

Excessive alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol can slow your reflexes and reaction time, which can be risky in the event of an emergency. Excessive drinking also increases your chances of getting hypothermia, because alcohol constricts blood vessels and lowers body temperature.

Falling through thin ice. Ice doesn't freeze evenly on the surface of a lake or river, and thin patches can't always be detected by sight alone. Ice strength is affected by current, wind, and other factors. Thin ice will not sustain the weight of a human, let alone a snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle (ATV), or truck.

Tips for safe ice fishing

Being safe on the ice requires patience and preparation. Here are some practical things you can do to ensure a safer outing:

Bring a friend. Don't fish alone. Also, make sure friends and family know where you're fishing and when you plan to return home.

Spread out. Do not drill too many holes in one place. The more holes, the less stable the ice surface.

Wear a life jacket. Life vests have excellent flotation properties in case you fall into the water.

Wear appropriate footwear. Crampons (or creepers) fit on the bottom of your shoes to give you more traction on ice. Spray them with vegetable oil to prevent snow or ice from sticking.

Bring a pair of ice picks or screwdrivers. Keep them in your jacket in case you fall into the water and must pull yourself out. Make sure they have wooden handles so they won't sink.

Pack a rope. It's easier to pull someone out of the water with a rope than by the arms.

Avoid snow-covered ice. Snow has insulating properties, which prevents cold air from keeping the ice at freezing temperatures.

Pack a first aid kit and matches. Keep these items in a dry and secure place so they will be usable in case of emergency.

Keep away from shipping lanes. Tankers and barges disrupt the integrity of the ice, even if you're fishing miles away.

Park your vehicle on dry land. Refrain from parking your car or truck on the ice. The added weight could cause the ice around you to break.

Source: State Farm Insurance

Heating your wintertime home safely

woodpile

There’s nothing better than settling into a warm house while the cold wind blows outside. But, getting — and keeping — your home heated may pose a safety issue if you don’t take the right precautions.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the leading months for home heating fires are December, January and February. Additionally, some of the methods used to heat your home may expose your family to toxic carbon monoxide levels if they are not used properly.

Follow these tips for heating your home safely when the temperature drops outside.

Furnace

Before the winds of winter roll in, consider having your furnace inspected by a professional, says U.S. News and World Report. This may help lower the chances you will encounter a heating problem during the cold winter months. The professional will look for various problems, including carbon monoxide leaks, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). They may also vacuum out the furnace’s vents and check to see if the furnace’s filter needs replacing, according to HGTV.

The magazine also recommends making sure no furniture is placed in front of your vents so the warm air can flow evenly throughout the room. Finally, changing your air filters on a regular schedule may help to reduce your energy bill because the furnace doesn’t have to work as hard to heat the space.

Fireplace

Before lighting your first fire of the season, consider having your fireplace professionally cleaned and inspected. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, a technician will inspect the chimney’s interior and exterior, ensure that it doesn’t contain any combustible deposits and isn’t obstructed. During the cleaning, you can also ask the technician to show you how to inspect the chimney in between visits, suggests HGTV.

When you’re ready to light a fire, be sure to check the fireplace area for anything flammable. The NFPA recommends using a sturdy fireplace screen to stop sparks from flying out of the fire and into the room and keeping anything flammable at least three feet away from the fireplace.

Finally, before you light a match, learn how to safely build a fire.

Space heaters

According to the NFPA, space heaters cause 43 percent of home fires. To keep your family and home safe when using a space heater, make sure you are purchasing a space heater with an Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) label, according to the DOE. You may also want to consider looking for a space heater with advanced safety features, including sensors that shut it off in case it overheats or tips over, says Consumer Reports.

Once you get the space heater home, it is important to set it up in the room correctly. The Electrical Safety Foundation International recommends placing the heater on a level surface, out of reach of anything flammable and plugging it directly into the power outlet.

Following the tips above can help make sure your home is safely heated all winter long.

Source: Allstate Insurance