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Choose your card wisely to protect your money

By Cincinnati Insurance

Consumer rights differ for debit and credit cards.

Consumer rights differ for debit and credit cards.

Many people find it convenient to use credit or debit cards rather than carry cash or write checks for each purchase. Recent headlines concerning account information breaches should be of concern to card users.

Important differences between credit cards and debit cards may affect your decision about which to use for your purchases. Keeping these differences in mind when making purchases might help you protect your money if your accounts are hacked.

Debit cards act like an electronic checkbook. When you use a debit card, money you have in your bank account is immediately “debited” and transferred to the merchant where you used the card. When you use a debit card, you are granting access directly to YOUR money in YOUR account.

Credit cards draw the bank’s money from a line of credit the issuing bank has granted to you. In other words, when you use your credit card, you are taking a loan of the bank’s money – and the merchant (or cybercriminal) does not have access to YOUR money.

Another significant difference between these two types of cards is that debit cards may allow only two days after a fraudulent debit has been taken from your account for you to challenge that debit, while the time to challenge fraudulent credit card charges is more generous.

You can tell the difference between the two types of cards by how you use them. If you need to enter a personal identification number (PIN), the card is a debit card.

While it is bad enough to have a credit card account hacked, at least you still have your money available to you while you fight the fraudulent charges. However, when it is YOUR money that is stolen when using a debit card, you no longer have access to that money while you fight the debit from your account.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the government agency that insures deposits to banks and thrifts, offers a more detailed explanation of the differences between debit and credit cards, as well as a helpful chart describing the two types of cards.

To protect yourself, find additional information and tips from Cincinnati Insurance’s cyber-crime prevention partner, ID Theft 911.

Submitted by John Fisher

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Data Privacy Day: Protecting your personal information

By Cincinnati Insurance

dog_wifi

Data Privacy Day, observed annually on January 28, encourages all of us to make protecting privacy and data a greater priority.

Given the number of privacy-related events in 2013, it’s no surprise that Dictionary.com named ”privacy” as word of the year. Privacy and protection from identity theft go hand in hand. Identity theft is a major problem that is growing each year. Criminals can use your name, date of birth, Social Security number and other personal or account information to steal your identity.

You can minimize the chances of being an identity theft victim by:

  • Being aware of when and how you give out your personal information
  • Giving information only when necessary
  • Monitoring your accounts and credit records

Security experts recommend taking these steps if you suspect that your personal information has been compromised.

1. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends placing an initial fraud alert on your credit file by contacting any one of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies. The alert will stay on your credit reports for 90 days.

2. Obtain a free copy of your credit report from one of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies through a jointly administered website. Carefully review your credit report, credit card statements, and other personal financial account information for suspicious activity such as new accounts you did not open or purchases you did not make. If you see new accounts or other suspicious activity, consider taking these additional steps:

  • Place a fraud alert on your credit file, if you haven’t already done so.
  • Close accounts that you believe have been tampered with.
  • File a complaint with the FTC.

3. If you find your personal information has been used to commit a fraud, file a report with your local police department. Obtain a copy of the report in case you need to send it to creditors that require evidence that you allege a crime has occurred.

4. Periodically obtain a copy of your credit report. You are entitled to receive a free credit file disclosure once every 12 months from each of the three agencies listed above.

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In case of fire: Benefits of a monitored alarm system

By Cincinnati Insurance

Consider a monitored fire alarm system.

Consider a monitored fire alarm system.

We know that functional smoke detectors can save lives and protect property, and every home should have them installed. But a monitored fire alarm system can offer additional property protection and benefits. Starting at about $100, the equipment can be surprisingly affordable and effective, and the monthly monitoring fee can be worth the expense in peace of mind and far offset the expense of a loss.

An alarm system can offer:

  • Faster response time from authorities
  • Notification of events when away from your home
  • Possibility of lower insurance premiums

Alarms in a monitored system are transmitted to a constantly attended location typically using either cellular phone or landline telephone communications, and the appropriate responders are notified. The preferred method of monitoring uses a dedicated phone line with cell phone backup. Although this is not required for residential systems, it adds a level of redundancy.

When determining the type of system you want to use in your house, it’s important to know the pros and cons. While there are many alarm manufacturers, there are only two types of systems:

  • A hard-wired system offers greater reliability but tends to be more expensive and difficult to install. The main control panel should be located in a hard-to-reach area of your home, such as an interior closet. This arrangement makes it more difficult for an intruder to disable.
  • Wireless technology provides all the detection benefits of a hard-wired system without the difficulty of installing electrical conductors throughout your home. The disadvantages of a wireless system include maintaining batteries in all peripheral devices, frequency interference, and accessibility to vital equipment by intruders.

What to consider:

  • With any installation, be sure to follow your local fire and building codes. If wired-in smoke alarms are required, be sure to include that feature.
  • It’s crucial that your system maintain communication with the alarm monitoring company. The National Fire Code requires that systems “poll” the monitoring station every 30 days. Does the alarm company keep records of the connectivity attempts? It should!
  • Is your system being installed by a state licensed contractor? If the salesperson’s best friend’s brother is doing it at a discount, you may want to think twice. Improper installation is a more common problem than equipment failure.
  • Do you plan to disconnect your landline phone service in the future? If so, be sure to discuss this with your alarm monitoring service to make sure a wireless backup system is in place.
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Applying for life insurance? Here’s what to expect

By Cincinnati Insurance

measuring-blood-pressure

A life insurance application may require an exam.

You’ve completed and signed an application for life insurance; what happens next? Depending on the amount of life insurance you apply for, you may be asked to provide medical information as part of the underwriting process or to submit to a medical exam. Underwriting for life insurance is often perceived as a daunting experience, but it doesn’t have to be.

Underwriting is the process the insurance company uses to gather your information, decide whether you qualify for coverage and determine the appropriate premium. You benefit by receiving insurance at a rate that corresponds to your risk factors. The most common risk factor examined during underwriting is personal medical history. Less than perfect medical underwriting results do not necessarily disqualify you from purchasing life insurance, but they may affect the amount of premium you pay.

In addition to the information you provide on the application, a telephone interviewer may call you to obtain your medical history. The company may also request your insurance history from the Medical Information Bureau (MIB) and review medical history from your personal physician or other medical care providers.

Your agent will notify you if you need to get a physical examination, then a paramedical service will contact you to schedule a convenient date, time and place for the exam. You may choose to have the exam completed at your home or office.

Be prepared to respond to questions about your medical history, including whether or not you smoke. While you may be asked for a blood or urine test, or to undergo a non-invasive electrocardiogram, insurance medical exams are brief and do not usually require you to disrobe.

With minimal preparation, the life insurance exam is a simple, convenient procedure that supplies underwriters with valuable data needed to make an informed decision regarding your eligibility and the premium you will pay.

Submitted by Amy Hunter

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Resolve to evaluate the health of your club

By Cincinnati Insurance

Get your fitness business in shape for the year.

Get your fitness business in shape for the year.

Every January, health and fitness centers welcome a rush of participants motivated by their new year’s resolutions and the desire to improve their health, appearance and self-image. They sign up for memberships and training sessions, creating a full and vibrant health club atmosphere.

If you operate a health or fitness center, this might be a good time to evaluate the health of your club and do whatever you can to retain these new prospects and make a positive impact on their lives. By taking a look at some important practices and measuring yourself against standards, you can impact the health, look and perceived image of your club, preparing you to better serve your members.

Here is our checklist to test the health of your club and see where your resolutions need to be made:

  • Make sure written plans are in place for a health emergency, injury, weather event and more.
  • Discuss your emergency plans at staff meetings and rehearse all actions.
  • Review trainer certifications annually.
  • Inspect the physical property for any potential hazards or maintenance issues.
  • Service all fitness equipment according to manufacturers’ recommendations.
  • Where appropriate, complete background checks on staff and volunteers.
  • Put in place a crisis management plan for any allegations of sexual misconduct, and review it with your team.
  • Review all club membership policies and appropriately communicate them to the members in writing or using appropriate signage.
  • Service the automated external defibrillator to assure it is in working order, and check that all staff training is up to date.
  • Assure that all staff members are up to date with CPR and first aid training.
  • If necessary, make sure your swimming pool meets all requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. You may want to consider consulting with legal counsel to confirm your pool is compliant.
  • Where applicable, review all child watch procedures and discuss with your staff for compliance.
  • Consider having legal counsel review waivers for any state-specific language that may have been updated within the last 18 months.

By following these practices, you and your team can keep your health club in top shape, meeting all your members’ needs and keeping everyone safe.

Submitted by Brian Rawlings

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First aid for frozen pipes – steps to prevent more problems

By Cincinnati Insurance

Take steps to prevent frozen and burst pipes.

Take steps to prevent frozen and burst pipes.

With winter not even a month old, there’s plenty of cold weather ahead of us – enough to freeze pipes, causing costly water damage at your home or business.

If you suspect you have a frozen pipe – you’ve turned on the faucet, but no water comes out – call a qualified plumber immediately. Shut off the main water valve, and leave the faucets open until repairs are made.

If a pipe has burst, take the necessary steps to prevent further damage, and contact your insurance agent to file a claim. Damage from burst water pipes is covered under many homeowner and commercial insurance policies, provided you have taken reasonable precautions as specified by your policy.

You can prevent pipes from freezing by:

  • Maintaining heat to assure temperatures stay above 40 degrees
  • Repairing and sealing windows or doors that could allow cold air to reach indoors
  • Sealing walls and attics to prevent airflow around pipe openings
  • Increasing insulation wherever pipes run
  • Taking special care to monitor water-based fire protection systems
  • Allowing faucets to drip to help prevent freezing if water cannot be turned off and drained

Monitor buildings closely to make sure heating systems are operating. For example, if your commercial building or home is unoccupied for a weekend or other extended period, have someone check your property to ensure that the heating and plumbing systems are working properly. Some monitored alarm systems are capable of providing an alert via email or text when the temperature drops: a possible sign of heating system failure.

Additional tips to Prepare Your Property for Winter are available on our website.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers these tips for Winter Storms & Extreme Cold.

The FEMA Snow Load Safety Guidance flyer summarizes warning signs of overstress conditions during a snow event; key safety issues and risks a snow event poses to buildings; and what to do after a snow event.

Related blogs: A well-maintained building is ready for winter; Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow…

Submitted by Troy Dohmeyer

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Heavy equipment theft can cost time as well as money

By Cincinnati Insurance

Take steps to secure heavy equipment.

Take steps to secure heavy equipment.

As a contractor, farmer or business owner, you know that the theft of a piece of your equipment could cause you misery as well as financial loss.

The financial loss goes beyond the replacement cost of the machine; it can mean down time for your business and costly delays in your work schedule.

Some expensive equipment can be relatively easy for thieves to remove from work or storage sites and then sell for a substantial amount of money, and tracking the equipment can be difficult.

Heavy equipment is not marked with license plate numbers like cars and trucks, so outward signs of ownership are not as apparent, hindering recovery.

But heavy equipment does have identification numbers ̶ known as product identification numbers (PINs) ̶ either on a plate affixed to the machine or stamped on the machine at the time of manufacture. During heavy construction usage and over time, the PIN plates can become loose and fall off, making identification much more difficult. Like road vehicles, the machines do contain other numbers to aid identification, but finding them may require help from a professional familiar with the units.

To best protect your machine, secure the site as well as the machine.

Site security

  • Make sure the area where you store or park your machine is protected
  • Use a lighted area
  • Monitor equipment using security cameras or security personnel
  • Park the equipment in a way that makes it difficult to move
  • Surround smaller equipment inside a circle of much larger equipment

Machine security

  • Keep an accurate log of your equipment, including descriptions and serial/model numbers; remember to include any accessories or additional implements
  • Take photographs of your equipment
  • Remove circuit breakers or fuses to make the machine inoperable when unattended
  • Install hidden fuel shut-off switches
  • Install hidden electrical/ignition shut-off switches, making the unit inoperable
  • Consider installing a tracking system
  • Use physical lock-out systems or locking sleeves
  • Report a theft to law enforcement as soon as possible, providing identification information

The National Insurance Crime Bureau reports that several factors contribute to a low recovery rate for stolen equipment:

  1. Delays in discovery and reporting of theft
  2. Inaccurate or nonexistent owner records
  3. Lack of pre-purchase screening of used equipment to confirm legal ownership
  4. Limited law enforcement resources dedicated to equipment investigations
  5. Complexities in equipment numbering systems
  6. Limited or inaccurate equipment information in law enforcement systems
  7. National Crime Information Center reporting errors, in which equipment is erroneously listed in an article file rather than a vehicle file

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Texting and driving a growing concern

By Cincinnati Insurance

cell-stop-sign

At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, according to a survey from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That number has held steady since 2010.

Meanwhile, a University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study showed that a quarter of teens respond to text messages once or more every time they drive. Twenty percent of teens and 10 percent of parents admit that they have extended, multi-message text conversations while driving.

NHTSA also reports that as of December 2012, 171.3 billion text messages were sent in the U.S. and its territories every month, according to CTIA, a trade association for the wireless industry.

Engaging in visual-manual subtasks ̶ such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting ̶ associated with the use of hand-held phones and other portable devices increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times, a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study found. This study also indicated that sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph that’s the equivalent of driving the length of an entire football field – blind!

In 2011, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,267 in 2010. An additional 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 416,000 injured in 2010.

People of all ages are using a variety of hand-held devices, such as cell phones, mp3 players, personal digital assistants and navigation devices while behind the wheel. Every driver, from time-to-time has attention drawn away from the driving task. The choice to engage in non-driving tasks is usually under the individual’s control and some people do so more frequently. The younger, inexperienced drivers under 20 years old have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes. But they’re not alone. We all do it.

Remember, using any device while driving is a choice! Please choose not to!

The Distraction.gove website offers downloadable resources to assist in awareness campaigns for the general public and the workplace. Sample programs are available for employers. There are also ways for community groups to get involved.

Submitted by Michael Harrold

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Contractor selection key to successful construction project

By Cincinnati Insurance

contractor-in-office

Ask questions before hiring a building contractor.

If your family or business is planning a construction project in 2014, you can help assure your project’s success by selecting a qualified general contractor. Business owners and homeowners can mitigate construction risks by asking a lot of questions up front and weighing several factors before hiring a contractor.

Keep in mind that a building contractor needs to be a business owner first and a contractor second. To be successful with any construction project, the contracted company must properly manage its business.

Your methodical evaluation process can help you measure the contractor’s ability to make multiple complex decisions, weigh the results of those decisions and draw reasonable conclusions from that information. A successful project usually has its roots in a solid contractor prequalification program.

Carefully consider these factors when selecting a contractor for your project:

  • Company experience – Examine the contractor’s qualifications and experience; ask for past customer reviews and company history.
  • Current projects and existing workload – Does the contractor have the capacity to give your project the attention it deserves and complete the project in a timely manner? Ask to see a current project list.
  • Financial stability – Ensure that the contractor is on solid financial ground. Make sure the contractor has the appropriate insurance coverage and the financial capacity to be bonded to assure completion of the work. Request audited financial statements or, if you are a business owner, purchase a Dun & Bradstreet report. Be sure to request a copy of the company’s certificate of insurance. The certificate of insurance should list the name of the insurance company (or companies) insuring the contractor, policy numbers, the types of insurance coverages provided by the referenced policy and the policy expiration date.
  • Safety – Find out whether the contractor has effective training and orientation programs for employees. Consider whether management maintains appropriate oversight of the work and ask to see the company’s OSHA logs and safety training records.
  • Quality – Determine whether the contractor has documented programs to assure quality of workmanship and that applicable training is in place. Check for the appropriate manufacturer training certificates or installer credentials.

Identifying these issues can help you determine whether a contractor is a good fit for a particular project. Carefully analyze data submitted by prospective contractors: It would be unwise to rely only on a contractor’s answers without objective verification from other sources, such as listed references or past clients.

Finally, contractors that …read more

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