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Holiday Shopping Tips: Keep Your Information Safe Online


online-shopping2Keeping your personal information safe online seems to get more difficult every year. More and more sophisticated thieves are finding new ways to trick you into revealing your personal and financial information. But despite all of their new tactics, the old cautionary rules apply. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Avoid clicking on links you receive from unfamiliar websites; they could be phishing schemes where you are led to a false site (that can look VERY real) developed to steal your information. If you think it’s a great deal, enter the website name directly in your browser to check to see if it’s real.
  • Download your apps from trusted sources (e.g. Android Market, Apple App Store, or Amazon App Store.) And when you download, read the various permissions and make decisions carefully. (For example: does that app really need to access your contact list?)
  • Stay away from open networks when you’re shopping online. A secure network connection (i.e. at home or the office) is best. Public WiFi can be hacked, exposing passwords, billing information, etc.
  • It’s a good idea to have a security app installed on your smartphone and/or tablet; otherwise you’re potentially putting your personal info at risk.
  • Use familiar websites rather than shopping with a search engine. Search results can be rigged to lead you to sites set up by scammers to capture your credit card info. If you see misspellings or sites using a different top-level domain than the one you know to be the retailer’s address (e.g. .net instead of .com) look elsewhere!
  • browserLockIconinWindowALWAYS look for the lock! NEVER buy anything online from a site that doesn’t have SSL (secure socket layer) encryption installed. You’ll know this when the site address starts with https:// (instead of http://) Also, an icon of a locked padlock will appear, usually to the left of the URL in the address bar or in the status bar at the bottom of your web browser . (That will depend on your browser)
  • Limit what you share: There’s absolutely no retailer that needs your social security number or your birthday for you to place an order. Best rule of thumb: Give the least amount of information you can to complete the purchase
  • Go online to CHECK YOUR STATEMENTS frequently during the holiday season. You don’t want to wait until the end of the month because if there are any fraudulent charges, you’ll want to address them immediately. (You have 30 days to notify your bank or credit card issuer if you find fraud, but if someone is using your account you want that stopped ASAP!) And it goes without saying, when your invoice arrives in the mail, don’t pay any bill until you’ve carefully confirmed everything is accurate.
  • Use strong passwords. We know this is beating a dead horse, but it is critical. And if you’re not sure what constitutes a strong password, here are tips.
  • Gift cards: they’re actually the most requested holiday gift. They’re also a scammer’s favorite (selling cards with little or not funds on them on eBay!) Stick to purchasing them from the source.
  • Use one credit card for all your online shopping.
  • Always update your programs and security software before you shop.



One more tip: If you want to double check the security of a website (especially your bank or other financial site) SSL Labs (a non-commercial research effort) has a free online service.

  • Go to
  • Type the website address (the domain name) into the box.
  • Put a check in the little box that is under the testing box: “Do not show the results on the boards.” This will prevent the site’s information from showing up publicly.
  • Click SUBMIT

It will give the site a grade as well as reasons for it. Simply click on the server number and you’ll find explanations of the grades.

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Do You Know Your Health Coverage If You Travel Outside the U.S.?


worldHealthCoverageLots of people are unaware of the fact that their health insurance policy may not cover them if they travel outside the United States. So if an emergency occurs and you require medical treatment, you could incur medical bills that you need to pay for out of your own pocket.


The good news: There are numerous companies that offer short-term medical coverage for travelers. So as you decide on your next trip beyond our borders, here are tips to make sure you’re protected: Read the rest of this entry »

The 35 Most Dangerous Days to be on our Highways


DUI.CheckpointAs we begin the month of November, your thoughts may be turning to the holiday season that’s just around the corner. And holiday parties are part of the many joyful things in the season. But with the celebrations and the alcohol consumption that’s frequently part of them, that means we are also heading into the most dangerous time of the year to be on our highways: the 35 days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Consider:

  • Every day in our country, an average of 100 people die in highway accidents.
  • Of that number: there’s an average of 36 death every day related to an alcohol-impaired driver. (That’s one death every 40 minutes!)
  • During the Christmas holiday, that average increases to 45 deaths per day related to drinking and driving.
  • At New Years, that number increases to 54 each day.

Read the rest of this entry »

Getting engaged over holidays? Remember to insure the ring.


diamond-ring-on-finger-300Here’s an interesting piece of information: December is the most popular month for the purchase of engagement rings. And if you find yourself popping the question and the answer is “yes” – Congratulations!


Now since the average cost of an engagement ring in 2015 is somewhere between $4,770 and $5,580, it’s time to think about another important question: how do you insure the ring? Read the rest of this entry »

Renting Out Your Home? Check Your Insurance Coverage.


House-for-RentThere’s a growing trend among travellers to rent single rooms, apartments, or entire homes rather than arrange hotel stays. They can arrange this through resources like Airbnb and Home Away that provide “hosts” the opportunity to list their homes and set their rental prices for worldwide travellers. For example, Airbnb boasts 1,500,000 listings in 190+ countries that you can rent and enjoy the experience of “living like a local” while you save money over hotel costs.


Sounds like an interesting way for travellers to save money…and for homeowners to earn extra money in rentals of a room in their home, the entire primary residence while they’re away, or a second home or investment property. But before you decide to do this, talk with your insurance agent to make sure you have the right insurance policy for your situation because insurance companies vary in what they require. Read the rest of this entry »

Safe Use of Stepladders (Obvious: Maybe. Important: Absolutely.)


stepladderWe all probably find ourselves using a stepladder at some point in time in any given year. And as we head into the fall season, you may be looking at washing windows, cleaning gutters, doing a few more household repairs, or getting up on the roof to make sure everything is set for winter—by way of your stepladder. So before tackle those jobs, we ask you to keep this in mind:

Accident studies reveal that ladders are involved in over 300 fatalities and roughly 100,000 injuries EVERY YEAR. And stepladders are involved in a high percentage of falls. Read the rest of this entry »

The Decision to Return to Play After a Head Injury


concussion-symptomsThe issues surrounding concussion have been in the news a lot in recent years—with good reason. It’s no longer OK for athletes to tough it out and stay in the game after a head injury because returning to play too soon can have major long-term impact on the athlete’s health.

(Evidence of this recognition: the NFL has a new rule that concussion spotters in the press box can stop the game and remove a player showing signs of concussion.)


Dr. William Mullally, Clinical Director of the Sports Neurology and Concussion Clinic at Brigham and Women’s/Mass General Health Center, and his colleagues developed a five-level head injury grading system with associated return to play guidelines in an effort to help sports medicine practitioners care for their patients. We share it here Read the rest of this entry »

Radon Testing: Did you know you should test every two years?


danger-sign-Radon-GasIf you’ve bought a home, you know that before you pass papers you have to test for radon. And that’s about the only time you ever think about it.


But the EPA actually recommends that you test every TWO YEARS –or earlier if:

  • You built an addition
  • Remodeling in your home changed the ventilation pattern
  • Any major crack appear in your foundation or slab
  • There’s been significant construction or blasting nearby

Read the rest of this entry »

Identity Theft: what to do when information is lost or exposed

id-theftIf you lose your wallet, get a notice informing you that your personal information was exposed in a data breach, or find out an online account has been hacked—there are a number of steps you need to take to protect yourself from identity theft.


The Federal Trade Commission offers these recommendations depending on the information lost or exposed: Read the rest of this entry »

Get Serious About Your Passwords


strongPasswordWe’ve written before about the importance of having strong passwords. And it’s likely that many readers still think, “Why would anyone target me?” and continue to use predictable, easy-to-remember but easy-to-guess passwords. (The #1 most-used password: 123456.) But we’re here to tell you that the FTC estimates over 9 MILLION identities are stolen EVERY YEAR, and online hacking contributes to that statistic.


So, you need to have a smart strategy for creating strong passwords and of course an equally strong system for storing them securely. Here are guidelines to consider: Read the rest of this entry »