Personal Protection

5 Key Actions in Case of a Ransomware Attack

Imagine this: you are seated at home working on your computer, either answering your email or polishing a work related presentation. Suddenly, a message blinks on your screen. The message curtly demands that you send cash to a certain destination, failure to which you will be unable to access any of the documents stored on your computer. You also discover that your keyboard has become unresponsive. Logically, you decide to restart the computer. The screen comes right back on, but to your shock, you are still unable to access any of your files and folders. It dawns on you that your data has been remotely locked via a device on your network, and that no matter how much you try you cannot access it.

The above scenario clearly illustrates what happens in a typical ransomware assault. This has become an acute problem globally, with the WannaCry attack being the latest ransomware attack to affect the largest number of individuals on a worldwide scale. The victims are usually at a loss on what to do.

You can use a ransomware attack as a learning point, and consequently take measures to enhance your protection against similar attacks in the future. Here are five steps that you can take if you have been a victim:

1. Do not pay the Ransom Money

Internet security experts advise that it would be a disastrous mistake to pay off the aggressors. For one, it is an indicator that you have given up control of the situation to the attacker, and that you trust they will amicably resolve the situation. Honestly, this never happens. The aggressor is only interested in ripping you off. Once you pay the ransom, it is unlikely that they will unlock your documents. If in the unlikely event they do, be certain that they will see you as soft victim and mark you for repeated blackmail attacks. Giving in to the attackers’ demands also gives them the impetus to continue perpetrating further attacks on more victims.

Christopher Budd, a security supervisor for the electronics security firm Trend Micro, emphasized the above point in a business article he wrote last July. In the article, he advised victims of ransomware attack not to pay, but to keep in mind that they are handling bad guys. He reiterated that giving in would not guarantee that, as a victim, you would get back all your documents. It would only help the criminals perpetuate this criminal activity. As a worldwide communications threats expert, Christopher Budd definitely understands the pitfalls of giving in to the aggressors.

2. Use a Backup to Reinstall Your Files

Using a computer back up system comes with numerous advantages. Many people use computer backups to access their data in case the computer breaks down. In the same way, the backup will come in handy in case you fall prey to ransomware attacks. You will be able reinstall all your files and folders from the backup system, without having to refer to the aggressors. For this to be effective, ensure that you have set your system to automatically backup all the data that you handle via the computer. Once the backup system is well set, it will operate automatically and you do not have to keep thinking about it; unless something happens and you need to access the data.

3. Update Your OS and Anti-virus

It is important that you regularly update your OS and anti-virus with the latest versions. Microsoft is quite aggressive in addressing security concerns. Actually, the latest update of Microsoft’s Window 10 is fully secure against WannaCry -the latest global ransomware assault. There are several firms and individuals, however, who still use earlier versions of windows, or do not activate automatic updates on the later versions. These firms and individuals would not be protected in case an attack is imminent.

4. Engage the Services of Your IT Division or an Anti-Virus Firm.

The personnel in the IT department of your company may have the technical expertise to recover your data in case your computers are attacked. Inform them immediately you notice the problem, and allow them to try and salvage the situation. Conversely, you may opt to ask anti-virus companies to assist. There are some anti-virus software that could help, but do not peg most of your hopes on this.

5. Reformat Your Hard disk

This is a tough decision to make, because it means you will lose all your data. However, it is a good move compared to the alternative of giving in to the aggressors. So, if all the other solutions are not tenable, go ahead and reformat your hard disk and reinstall the OS. Take the entire ordeal of the attack as a lesson well learnt, and ensure to back up your data once you are back in business.

Importance of Identity Theft Protection

Of course, these kinds of attacks indicate that your computer has been violated. Attackers may have gotten access to important information from your system, in addition to holding it hostage. Just as it is important to protect your computers and devices with operating system updates and anti-virus / anti-malware software, it’s also important to protect your identity. Many carriers offer identity theft insurance endorsements on homeowners or renters insurance policies. Some also offer stand-alone identity theft protection options. If you are concerned about the financial implications of having your identity stolen, be sure to check with us for advice on your best options.

Controlling Auto Insurance Costs

Does it feel like automobile insurance rates just keep increasing? It is part of a national trend. Blame increased accidents resulting from distracted driving.

But there are some ways you can save on your policy:

  • If you are a student, you can save as much as 25% with good grades. It pays to strive for those A’s!
  • Higher deductibles can also help reduce your insurance premium costs. Just be careful about leaving yourself with too much exposure. (Your deductible should be something you can afford to pay.)
  • If you are over 50 you may be able to take defensive driving courses. These could qualify you for savings up to 10% per year depending on your insurance policy.
  • If you own a paid off older vehicle, it may make sense to drop coverage for collisions… but only if the car’s value is less than 10x the insurance premium.
  • If you are driving less than 7,500 miles a year, your costs may also go down since you are limiting your exposure by driving less.

Be sure to review your situation regularly with your insurance agent as life changes can also have an impact on your rates.

For example, in some states, an improving credit score can help reduce your insurance premiums.

Another life change that can have a positive impact is becoming a homeowner. If you own a home, be sure to talk with your agent about bundling. Combining auto and home policies with one carrier can offer savings. (Versus placing the home and auto policies with different carriers.)

And remember, your independent insurance agent is able to shop between multiple carriers to help you find the best rate for your specific situation. They can help you evaluate your risk profile to make sure you have the exact insurance coverage you need for your situation.

Automobile insurance rates are on the way up because of distracted driving…

More drivers are taking their eyes off the road. They are being distracted by mobile devices and it is resulting in more accidents. Worse, it’s inflating your costs for coverage as well.

In fact, a state-by-state evaluation has uncovered that rates have been increasing for the last 5 years.

There are a few factors that influence rates going up…

  • More people are driving.
  • Cars are more expensive to repair.
  • Texting while driving has become the largest cause of accidents…

(The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined distracted-driving deaths increased 9 percent in 2015 alone!)

Of course insurance companies have to bill more because of the increase in insurance claims… in some cases with rates increasing by hundreds over the span of a few years.

You can help reduce accidents by putting down your cell phone while in your car. But if you’re having a hard time separating yourself from your cell phone… you aren’t alone.

You see, it’s all about dopamine. Each time an Email or Text is responded to, it gives a feeling of satisfaction and creates a need to do more. The result? It’s difficult to stop checking cell phones for texts and Email.

And with their flashing and beeping and icons indicating there are unread messages, it all adds to the addictive effect. It’s a combination of classic conditioning and dopamine responses that make you feel like you’re addicted.

There is hope that technologies being introduced into vehicles will help to curb distracted driving. But for now, the best practice is simply to leave your device alone while driving… no matter how hard it might be.

Credit insurance scores poorly…

Many kinds of credit lines and installment loans offer credit insurance. These products are designed to “protect” an individual’s credit score by covering installment payments in case of certain qualifying situations.

Sadly these tend to be overpriced according to recent research. A study covering 2004 through 2013 demonstrated that 44.4 cents in benefits were paid for each dollar spent on such insurance policies. (By comparison, typical health plans offer 84.1 cents in benefits for each dollar spent.

So if the goal is to protect yourself in case you get sick or injured, you might be better off finding other forms of personal protection. (Be sure to check with your financial advisor for options.)

Also bear in mind, having such credit insurance is not a requirement for receiving a loan. It is always an option.

So when you are getting a line of credit, a car loan, or a store credit card, remember than this “insurance” may have a low payment but can be an expensive option when it comes to potential payout.

Also it is important to understand that options are limited. There’s virtually zero competition. Under normal circumstances you’ll be offered insurance from one provider… that’s it. There’s zero choice.

So what are your alternatives to Credit Insurance?

Term life insurance is a great way to protect beneficiaries. In the case of your death, your beneficiaries can leverage the funds to pay off your debts. Of course a life insurance benefit can cover all financial needs whereas credit insurance is limited to only covering that specific loan.

And in case you are injured, disability insurance can be beneficial. As with term life insurance, disability insurance is far more flexible than standard credit insurance.

Is Pet Insurance Really Worth The Cost?

Owning a pet can be expensive. A well-bred puppy can easily cost $2,000+ for a desirable breed. Annual costs can be $700 or more including food and wellness checkups at the vet.

And that assumes things go well. If a pet requires an emergency visit to the vet, the costs for such visits can quickly skyrocket into the thousands of dollars. Treating chronic illnesses is expensive too.

But let’s face it. Pets become a treasured part of our families. Insurance becomes about more than protecting your investment in the animal. If your dog or cat gets sick, most folks struggle with the idea euthanasia if viable (but expensive) treatment options are available. In such situations, pet insurance offers a certain peace of mind. It can also offer protection against the financial stressors if a pet develops medical needs.

Most experts agree that over the life of an animal, you’ll probably pay more in insurance costs than what you’ll receive in covered expenses. But remember, insurance is there to protect against catastrophic events. From this point of view, pet insurance becomes a great option.

Presently only 1% of family pets are covered by pet insurance in the U.S. But it is a one of the fastest growing benefits that companies offer to employees.

Different polices exist. Some cover prescriptions and wellness visits. Others exist strictly as coverage against catastrophic events.

Bear in mind that animal insurance plans can be as complex as “people” health insurance. Plans can have deductibles and co-pays in addition to the regular premium costs. Likewise, premiums will vary depending on the features of the plan and a pet’s age. Also, watch out for the “fine print”. Pet insurance can have restrictions… for example some plans only work with specific vets while other plans may cap benefits.

You can check with your favorite vet to see what pet insurance options they offer. But you should also talk with your local insurance professional whether you are an individual considering pet insurance for your beloved animal, or if you are a business looking for a great benefit to offer employees. Your insurance professional will have great advice on your pet insurance options. And because they understand insurance, you can count on rock-solid guidance.

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Watch Out For Being Over-Insured With These Handy Tips

Watch Out For Being Over-Insured With These Handy Tips

Here’s one of the core things we help our clients with. Understanding how to minimize personal economic dangers via insurance coverage. For example, the sudden death of a close relative can have a significant negative impact on your family’s financial well being. Having adequate life insurance can help address this. Your home might catch fire. Adequate homeowners insurance offers critical protection. And of course having appropriate auto insurance protects you from a loss in case your car is totaled.

It’s important to have insurance to protect against all of these different threats. But there is a cost to being over-insured… and not just in having a higher insurance premium. So here are a few tips to help you keep this from taking place.

Car insurance.

Having appropriate liability insurance on all your vehicles is critical. However, having collision and/or comprehensive insurance on a vehicle with a low resale value that’s also paid off isn’t helpful. Here’s a way you can test your need. If your car was in an accident could you afford to replace it without negatively impacting your finances? If yes, scrap the unnecessary coverage and pocket the savings.

Homeowners insurance policy.

Do you know how much it will cost to rebuild your home if it were to face devastation? This isn’t the same as what your home might be worth if you sold it tomorrow. Remember that the cost of land doesn’t factor into having adequate home insurance protection.

When you buy insurance for your home or condo, you are seeking the needed coverage in case the house (or a part of it) has to be replaced. This should be 1-for-1. For example, if you have a home that is carpeted, you wouldn’t pay for insurance that would replace the carpets with hardwood floors. When insurance is called upon, the coverage must be like-for-like. Making certain you have appropriate coverage can lower your total premiums.

Life insurance.

One of the biggest areas where folks are often over-insured is life insurance. Some folks view having a life insurance policy from a pride perspective. But do you really need a $1,000,000 policy? Carefully reviewing your needs is critical to avoid spending too much on life insurance. Having the right mix of insurance including term vs. whole can also offer savings.

Another thing to watch out for is costly riders. While there are too many to cover in detail here, riders add costs. It’s important to make certain that whatever riders you choose, they meet your unique needs.

Final Thoughts.

For the most part, being over-insured drives up the cost of premiums while offering you little genuine benefit. Eliminating these costs can help you save hundreds of dollars (or more) each year. Shifting these savings towards other goals such as investing can help you build financial security. This can include setting aside for college or retirement.

The best time to address insurance is when life circumstances change. Recently married? Having a child? Perhaps you’ve just received a big promotion? You may have won the lottery. Leverage these big life moments to be 100% certain you have adequate protection. As we review these life changes with you we’ll help you understand cost-savings opportunities. This includes making sure you avoid being over-insured. Contact us today for a complete review of your risk profile and insurance requirements.

Best of 2016: Financial Dangers of a Natural Disaster

Fires, floods, tornados, hurricanes, high winds, hail and lightning… Mother Nature has some serious weapons in her arsenal, and she’s not afraid to use them. With extreme weather becoming more common in many parts of the country, every home is likely at risk of incurring damage from more than one type of natural disaster. In some cases, even with insurance, the outcome is financially dangerous. Consider the following monetary hardships you may encounter.

You’ll probably pay clean-up costs out of pocket.

Even if these expenses are covered by your homeowner’s insurance, you may want to pay for them upfront in order to speed up the process. From removing downed trees to ripping out water damaged drywall and flooring, clean-up can run in the thousands. If you don’t have that kind of cash on hand, you’ll have to live surrounded by debris until you receive the check from your insurance company. Talk to your insurance agent about what your policy covers as well as how quickly payouts are usually made.

You’re going to need vital paperwork.

From your insurance paperwork to birth certificates, social security cards, bank account and credit card information, there are many important documents you’re likely to need in order to get your life back in order after a natural disaster. If they’re lost or cannot easily be accessed, it could delay the processing of your insurance claims and receipt of any government assistance to which you may be entitled. Experts advise making copies of important paperwork and storing it electronically using a cloud-based storage provider such as Dropbox. You might also consider keeping hardcopies of important documents in a safe or safe deposit box.

You might be on the hook for more than you realize.

You knew you needed insurance, but you also wanted to keep your premiums low. You may have bought a policy with a higher deductible as a result, and you’ll have to put that much cash towards clean-up and repairs before your insurer will cover any difference. Talk to your insurance agent now—before a natural disaster strikes—about the deductible and coverage limits on your insurance policies. If you live in an area where certain types of extreme weather are common, it might make financial sense to increase coverage and reduce your deductible.

You’re probably going to need access to cash.

After a major natural disaster, power outages are not uncommon—and they can last weeks and cover large areas as well. Whether you need to secure a hotel room for your family, buy clothing and toiletries, or just pay for pizza delivery until you can use your stove again, you may need to use cash if debit and credit card machines are down. Consider putting some cash in a safety deposit box at a bank in a neighboring town. Set up direct deposit with your employer so your earnings will automatically go into your bank account as well.

Do you know what your insurance policies cover? Are you concerned about the financial implications of a natural disaster? Call us today to review your coverage and discuss options to lessen the financial burden should Mother Nature decide to strike your home.

Tips How To Save On Home Insurance

Tips How To Save On Home Insurance

If you own a home or condo, having a home insurance policy is required. But once you have it, most folks end up ignoring it after they have it in place.

Yet for most of us, a home is the most valuable asset we’ll own… and it is filled with all the things we’ve collected over a lifetime. A home or condo policy must offer enough coverage to restore the house to its former glory in case it is damaged. But you also have to factor in the value of your belongings as well including antiques, collectibles, jewelry, high tech items, etc.

There’s no magic time to think about home insurance… so check out these tips on how to get the most value in your home owners policy.

  1. Manage Your Credit

Over the last several years, there’s been a shift in home insurance where your credit matters. For many carriers, the better your credit rating the better your insurance rates. In fact, some carriers won’t accept high-credit risk applicants. So maintaining a solid credit history is really in your favor.

  1. Let Us Search For You

As an independent insurance agency we write insurance for a number of carriers… so one call to our team is all that’s needed to shop for great rates among multiple carriers. You’ll save time & energy as well.

  1. Explore Your Deductible

Talk with us about your deductible. The key is to make sure your deductible is something you can afford to pay in case of a serious issue. For a claim on a home insurance policy, one rule of thumb is to have the deductible be high enough that you don’t make a claim for “just anything” that goes wrong with your house. Home insurance really should be reserved for catastrophic situations. The higher the deductible the more you can save… some premiums can be cut by up to 30 percent.

  1. Check Out Discounts

If you have two or more insurance policies (auto / home for example) with the same carrier, you can save 5% to 15% off the policies. Typically, that will be a less costly approach than cobbling insurance coverage together from various companies. Definitely give us a call to explore your discounts… especially if you happen to have some of your insurance with other carriers.

  1. Make Sure You Aren’t Over-Insured

Some people think buying more insurance than they need will give them some sort of advantage. It won’t. You simply need an adequate amount of coverage to cover the expense of replacing your home and its belongings. For example, you won’t replace the land, so that doesn’t factor in. Likewise, different areas have different costs of construction so factor that in as well.  IMPORTANT: Be careful not to UNDERINSURE your home. The key here is to have a candid conversation with our insurance team so that we can make sure you have the RIGHT protection.

One Final Tip

Many carriers offer extra discounts of 5% or more when you’ve been with them at least 3 to 5 years… so definitely keep that in mind as you evaluate your homeowners policy.Remember, we’re here to help you, so call us today to make sure you are getting the greatest value out of your insurance.

Factors that Affect Homeowner’s Insurance Rates

Factors that Affect Homeowner’s Insurance Rates

Unlike motor vehicle insurance, homeowner’s insurance is not required by law. However, if you purchased your home with a mortgage, your lender likely required you to buy a homeowner’s insurance policy to protect their investment in case of a fire or natural disaster. It’s important coverage to have—even if you own your home free and clear—and you may even be able to reduce your annual premium once you understand the factors that generally affect homeowner’s insurance rates.

  1. Your home’s age and construction.

When setting a homeowner’s insurance rate, the insurer estimates how much it will cost to rebuild the property in question should it be damaged or destroyed. Materials and features common in older homes—such as hardwood floors and ornate details—cost more to repair and replace. Whether the exterior was constructed out of brick or wood will also factor into the cost, as will the age of the electrical, heating/cooling and plumbing systems. Upgrades reduce the likelihood of loss and often lower homeowner’s insurance premiums.

  1. Pools and hot tubs on the property.

If your home includes a swimming pool, spa or hot tub, your homeowner’s insurance is going to be more expensive because additional liability coverage will be required. While most policies include a minimum $100,000 in liability protection, your insurance agent may recommend increasing it to between $300,000 and $500,000 as well as adding an umbrella policy with at least $1 million in protection. If you want to minimize your homeowner’s insurance costs, avoid purchasing properties without outdoor pools and hot tubs.

  1. The location of the nearest fire department.

Direct property loss as a result of home fires has been estimated at $7.3 billion annually. If your home is near a fire department (or even a fire hydrant), you’ll pay less for your homeowner’s insurance as a result. Homes in urban and suburban areas usually have better fire protection than those in rural areas as well. So if you want to keep your homeowner’s insurance costs as low as possible, consider location when buying a home.

  1. The location of the nearest body of water.

If your home is near a coastline, large body of water, or in a floodplain, you’re going to pay higher homeowner’s insurance premiums. Depending on your location, your policy may have a separate deductible for hurricanes and windstorms. And flood damage—from any exterior source—is not covered by standard homeowner’s insurance policies. You’ll need a policy specifically for flood insurance if you’re in a high-risk area.

  1. Your past insurance claims history.

Even if you’ve purchased a new home and changed insurance companies, any claims you made at your previous residence will be considered when setting your homeowner’s insurance rate. Insurers can access this information through the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, which reports filed claims for seven years. In general, the amount of the claim carries more weight than the reason for the claim.

Whether you’re in the process of looking for your next home or just want to explore ways to lower your current homeowner’s insurance rates, your insurance professional is your best resource for information on these and other factors that will affect your premium.

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