Does Your Homeowner’s Insurance Cover a Stolen Cell Phone?

You just realized your cell phone has been stolen. Not only are you out the cost of the phone, but more than likely, the thief is placing hundreds of dollars of charges on your phone bill right now.

As people increasingly rely on cell phones, this type of loss is becoming more common. In fact, a recent Better Business Bureau report indicated that an estimated 600,000 cell phones will either be lost or stolen this year. Unfortunately, a homeowner’s policy probably won’t be of much help in protecting you in this unfortunate event. Here’s why.

The most popular homeowner’s policy, the HO-3, provides the broadest coverage. It insures you for direct physical loss to all personal property described in Coverage C, as long as the loss was caused by a covered peril and not specifically excluded. The theft of the phone is considered a direct physical loss of property, but not the thief’s subsequent use of the phone. Unlike charges made on a stolen credit card, which have limited homeowner’s insurance coverage via a separate “Additional Coverage” grant, there is no such grant for unauthorized cell phone charges.

Here’s how to protect yourself from cell phone theft and fraudulent charges:

                    Keep as close watch on your cell phone as you would your wallet or purse. Be mindful of where your phone is at all times and be careful about who you lend it to.

                    Password-protect your phone. Read the user guide that came with your phone to find out how to “lock” your phone or enable the “password” feature to prevent a thief from making unauthorized calls.

                    Call your cell phone provider as soon as you realize your phone is missing. Be sure to keep detailed records, including the date and time you called your carrier, the name and ID number of the representative to whom you spoke, and what instructions you were given.

                    File a police report. This is an official record of the theft and your carrier may require you to provide a police report number when you report your missing phone.

                    Ask your carrier to open an investigation. If your phone company isn’t working to resolve the situation, request an investigation. This should stop collections agencies from taking action, as well as delay the reporting of non-payment of charges to credit bureaus.

                    Contact the Federal Communication Commission. The agency will forward your complaint to your service provider and mandate that they respond within 30 days. You can log on to http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.html to file a report.

                    Contact your state attorney general’s office. They handle complaints about cell phone fraud, in addition to disputes about contracts. Find your state attorney general by logging on to http://www.naag.org/ag/full_ag_table.php.

                    Contact your state’s public utility commission. You can find your state’s commission by logging on to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners web site at http://www.naruc.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=15.

Minimize the Likelihood of a Homeowner’s Insurance Non-Renewal or Rate Increase

Almost three million households have lost their homeowner’s insurance since 2003 according to a 2007 national telephone survey conducted on behalf of Trusted Choice and The Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America.  Two-thirds of the households that lost coverage were located in the South. Only half of the non-renewed households said they were able to find other coverage.

As part of the current study, respondents were asked about changes they’ve made since 2003 to secure their home in the event of a natural disaster. Overall, a mere 28 percent of households indicated they have taken steps to secure their homes. Even in the South, where the threat of hurricanes is an annual occurrence, only 31 percent indicated that they had secured their homes.

The survey results also showed that about 35 percent of all American households had experienced a homeowner’s insurance rate increase in the previous 48 months. Twenty-two percent of the respondents answered that they had received anywhere from an 11 to 25 percent rate hike, while 13 percent said that they had received more than a 25 percent increase.

Trusted Choice offers the following tips to lessen the possibility of non-renewal or rate increases:

·   Monitor your claim activity – Insurance companies track how many and what type of claims you file. Frequent claim activity, no matter how small, can impact your rates and chance for renewal.

·   Stick with one insurance company – An insurance company is more inclined to look past an item on your claims record if you are a long-term customer. Changing insurance companies on a regular basis makes it difficult to build a relationship with an insurer.

·   Bundle your coverages – Keeping your homeowner’s and auto policies with one insurer makes you a more attractive customer. An insurance company may think twice about dropping your homeowner’s coverage if it may mean losing your auto insurance business, too.

·   Review your deductibles – Make sure that your deductible isn’t so small that you will be submitting every potential claim for payment, nor so large that it will cause financial hardship in the event of a loss. 

·   Home improvements help – Your home’s wiring, plumbing, heating and roofing should be in good repair at all times. At least twice a year, walk through your home and inspect it for developing problems.

·   Know a house’s claim history before you buy it – Ask for a disclosure report, which can be obtained from your real estate agent or the seller’s agent. Insurance companies will be wary of a home with previous structural or water-damage claims.

·   Consult your insurance agent – Working closely with an agent may be the easiest way to stay insured affordably.  And they will be your advocate when you have a claim or other problem. 

Thorough After-Flood Cleanup Minimizes Mold Growth

If you and your home are the victims of a flood, your cleanup must be thorough to ensure that mold growth is eliminated to the greatest extent possible. You should completely dry wet structures as soon as possible after the event. However, while you want to act quickly, approach the cleanup process carefully, to avoid the mishaps and accidents that can occur in the less-than-safe environment that a flooded home can be.

The following tips, courtesy of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, can help you to thoroughly clean up while protecting your own health and safety:

• Keep children and pets out of the area until you have completely cleaned it.

• Wear rubber boots, rubber gloves and goggles during cleanup.

• Discard items that cannot be washed and disinfected, including mattresses, carpeting, carpet padding, rugs, upholstered furniture, cosmetics, stuffed animals, baby toys, pillows, foam rubber items, books, wall coverings and paper products.

• Discard drywall and insulation that has been contaminated with sewage or flood water.

• Clean all hard surfaces such as flooring, concrete, molding, wood and metal furniture, countertops, appliances, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures with hot water and laundry or dish detergent.

• Use fans, air conditioning units and dehumidifiers to help dry the area.

• Wash your hands with soap and water after you have finished cleaning. Use water that has been boiled for one minute and then cooled. You can also disinfect water for personal hygiene by creating a solution of household bleach mixed with water.

• Wash all clothes worn during the cleanup in hot water and detergent, separately from uncontaminated clothes and linens. Use a self-service laundry for washing large quantities of clothes and linens until your onsite wastewater system has been professionally inspected and serviced.

• Get immediate medical attention if you become injured or ill.

If you need to turn off the main power and have standing water inside your home, remember to do so only when you are in a dry location. If you must enter standing water to reach the main power switch, call an electrician to turn it off. Never use an electric tool or appliance to turn off power while standing in water. Be sure the electrician checks the house’s electrical system before turning on the power.

If the house has been closed up for several days, enter only long enough to open doors and windows, and then leave them open for at least 30 minutes before you stay inside for any length of time. This allows potentially hazardous air to circulate out of the rooms, while letting fresh air inside.

As always, don’t hesitate to call a qualified professional for advice and/or help with the cleanup process.

Choose a Safe Car for Your Teenage Driver

If you’re the parent of a teenager, you may have very mixed feelings about the day your teen gets a driver’s license. On the one hand, you’re proud that your teen has reached this milestone, but on the other hand, you’re worried about reckless driving and safety issues.

You have good reason to be concerned. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control, accounting for 36% of all deaths in this age group. In 2004, 4,767 teens ages 16 to 19 died due to motor vehicle crashes, and during 2005, nearly 400,000 teens sustained nonfatal injuries serious enough to land them in the emergency room. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), per mile driven, teens are four times more likely than older drivers to crash.

The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), together with the IIHS, advises parents of teenage drivers to do more than worry. They should take a proactive role in protecting their teens. This starts with selecting a safe vehicle:

-Avoid vehicles that encourage reckless driving. Teen drivers not only lack experience…they also lack maturity. As a result, speeding and reckless driving are common. Sports cars and other vehicles with high performance features, such as turbo charging, can encourage speeding. Choosing a vehicle with a more sedate image will reduce the chances your teen will be in a speed-related crash.

-Don’t let your teen drive an unstable vehicle. Sport utility vehicles are inherently less stable than cars because of their higher centers of gravity. Abrupt steering maneuvers-the kind that can occur when teens are fooling around or over-correcting a driver error-can cause rollovers where a more stable car would, at worst, skid or spin out.

-Pick a vehicle that offers good crash protection. Teenagers should drive vehicles that offer state-of-the-art protection in case they do crash. Review the IIHS and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration test results when selecting a vehicle.

-Don’t let your teen drive a small vehicle. Small vehicles offer much less protection in crashes than larger ones. However, this doesn’t mean you should put your child in the largest vehicle you can find. Many mid- and full-size cars offer more than adequate crash protection. Check out the safety ratings for cars in this group.

-Avoid older vehicles. Most of today’s cars have better-designed crash protection than cars of six to 10 years ago. For example, a newer, mid-size car with airbags would be a better choice than an older, larger car without airbags. Again, before you make a final choice on the car your teenager will drive, consult crash test results and safety ratings.

With time and experience, your teen will become a seasoned driver and move out of the highest-risk category. Incorporating these suggestions into your car selection will help him or her to get there, safely.

Risky Behaviors Behind the Wheel Can Lead to Car Crashes

Drivers do the strangest things when they’re behind the wheel, but how many of those activities actually cause accidents? Dr. Sheila Klauer, a senior research associate at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, and her research team examined driver behavior to find the answer to this question.

The researchers, sponsored by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, looked at the daily driving habits of more than 240 study participants in and around Washington, D.C. The drivers’ vehicles contained five digital video cameras and a “black box” that registered following distance, lateral acceleration, speed, forward acceleration, braking and other data.

After viewing videos of 82 collisions, 761 near-crashes and 8,000-plus incidents in which the study participants were involved, researchers identified four specific behaviors that increase the odds of having a crash:

·   Speeding-The researchers defined speeding as driving faster than prevailing traffic or driving at a speed “inappropriate” for conditions.

Speeding nearly tripled the crash odds.

·   Driving while drowsy-Drowsy drivers were defined as those who stare fixedly through partially closed eyes. The chief characteristic of this type of driver is lack of eye movement. Most drowsy-driving episodes occurred during broad daylight. This behavior also tripled the crash odds.

·   Becoming distracted while driving-The distractions that caused accidents required drivers to look away from the road for two seconds or more. They included such activities as applying make-up, dialing a cell phone, searching for a CD or reading behind the wheel. This kind of behavior doubled the crash odds, and the increased crash risk shows how quickly and unexpectedly traffic conditions can change. Even when the driver maintained a safe following distance, this didn’t prevent distraction-related accidents. For example, many of the rear-end crashes in the study occurred while a driver was keeping a greater-than-two-second headway behind the car in front.

·   Aggressive driving-Researchers defined aggressive driving as using a vehicle to menace another driver or pedestrian. This included behaviors such speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, running stop signs, tailgating and frequent lane changes. Oftentimes the driver exhibited a combination of these activities. Aggressive driving doubled the risk of a crash.

The researchers’ work has a number of potential applications. For example, the risky behaviors can be studied independently to determine how they contribute to crashes when associated with particular types of drivers, and videos and black-box readings can be used to develop collision-avoidance systems. But most importantly, for each and every driver on the road, this research shows just how important it is to stay alert and keep your eyes on the road at all times.

Know When to File an Auto Insurance Claim

If your car has become damaged in an accident, through vandalism or from another cause, filing a claim with your auto insurance company isn’t always the best course of action. For example, if your deductible is more than the cost of the damage, it’s a good idea to pay for the repairs yourself and not report the claim. Each time you do decide to file, even if the damage is less than your deductible, the report goes on your insurance record. Although small claims don’t affect your individual premium, insurance companies use information from policyholders to establish the overall premium rates they charge their entire customer base. The more accidents reported, the higher the premium rates the company charges.

Legally, you aren’t required to report an accident to your insurance company. The reason your company requests that you report every accident is so that it can protect itself against possible fraudulent claims. Documenting each accident helps an insurer spot a current claim for damages that really happened in an earlier accident.

If you already have a speeding ticket on your record, and your car is damaged at a later time, you have another reason to think twice about filing a claim with your insurer. That’s because in some states, if you file a claim for an at-fault accident and you have been previously ticketed, you may not be able to renew your auto insurance policy.

However, if there’s another car involved in the accident, or someone else in the car with you at the time, it’s important to report the accident. You never know if the passenger or other driver will file a claim on your insurance, and you should report the accident to make sure that your side of the story is documented with both the police and your insurer.

Another reason to report an auto accident involving another car or passengers is that injuries are not always immediately apparent. Your carrier should have a report on file in the event you, or someone else involved in the accident, sustain injuries that show up the next day and which require medical treatment.

While you should always consider carefully before you file an auto accident claim, you should never stockpile comprehensive claims. It may seem logical to file a number of small damage claims together; however, insurers watch for excessive repair estimates for comprehensive claims and your carrier may question the validity of the claim.

There is a growing trend toward nonrenewals and tighter restrictions on what is covered across the industry. Save your car insurance for expensive damage, and plan ahead so you can pay for the smaller repairs yourself.

Reduce the Dangers of Driving in the Dark

With winter’s arrival, most people find themselves spending more time driving in the dark with decreased visibility. While you can’t change the fact that there are fewer daylight hours, you don’t have to be hampered by poor visibility.

Protect your night vision by wearing a hat and sunglasses during the day when exposed to bright sunlight. The retina in the human eye contains photoreceptors, which have pigments that change shape when struck by light. This change process is called “bleaching.” Very bright light, like sunlight, may bleach so many of the pigments in a photoreceptor that it cannot respond to any other visual stimuli for a while, which means your eyes can have trouble adjusting to the dark. The longer your eyes are exposed to the sun, the worse your night vision gets.

Consider taking a daily multi-vitamin to enhance your vision. In numerous studies and clinical trials antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamins A, C, and E, have been linked with eye health. They help to maintain healthy cells and tissues in the eye.

There also are things you can do to your car, and steps you can take while driving at night, to enhance visibility-

·   Clean your windshield at least once a week. Light is refracted through a dirty windshield, which intensifies glare. In addition, a clean windshield will have less reflection. Wash your headlights as well. Even a thin layer of grime can reduce the light headlights emit by as much as 90%.

·   Dim the dash lights. The dimmer the light inside the car, the better you can see outside. Your instrument panel should just be bright enough for the instruments to be readable.

·   Adjust your outer (side view) mirrors. Sit in the driver’s seat, and tilt your head until it rests against the window. Adjust the driver’s side outboard mirror until you can see the rear fender at the edge of the glass. Then tilt your head to the right until it’s at the center of the car. Adjust the passenger side outboard mirror until you can see the rear fender at the edge of the glass. These adjustments will reduce blind spots, and prevent the bright spots in trailing cars’ headlights from shining directly into your eyes. 

·   Avert your eyes away from the lights of oncoming cars. When oncoming headlights shine into your eyes, look at the white line marking the edge of the pavement.

·   Fill your gas tank with one eye closed. This helps you recover from “flash blindness,” the condition that results when a few seconds of brightness temporarily interfere with your night vision. Closing one eye preserves night vision in that eye, and you can use it when you resume driving while your other eye adjusts to seeing in the dark.

Though nighttime driving is a time of reduced visibility, you can make it a safe driving time by following these suggestions.

Wise Up When It Comes to Auto Theft

In 2006, almost 1.2 million vehicles were reported stolen in the United States, according to the annual Hot Wheels study from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). The 1995 Honda Civic topped the most-stolen-vehicle list, followed by the 1991 Honda Accord. Car thieves continue to prefer imports to domestic brands, and vehicles that are 10 or more model years old over newer models. That’s because these cars have been consistent top sellers for many years and some of their parts are interchangeable. Thieves steal these cars for their parts.

Anyone can be a potential car theft victim. Since just 59% of stolen vehicles were recovered, according to the study, all car owners have a strong motivation to do what they can to protect their vehicles. To help consumers lessen their risk of auto theft, the Council of Better Business Bureaus and the Insurance Information Institute have joined forces to create the “Wiser Drivers Wise Up” program. Here are some of the tips from this program:

·   Don’t rely solely on manufacturer-installed vehicle theft protection. Experienced thieves can disable these devices, as well as unlock a Club and other such anti-theft deterrents. Aftermarket vehicle anti-theft systems are usually more sophisticated and are worth paying a professional to install.

·    Don’t think your old clunker is safer than a new model. It is also a myth that a luxury sedan is more attractive to thieves than a less expensive model. Older vehicles are usually stolen for their parts, which are no longer being manufactured; newer cars are stolen for their popularity.

·    If your car is stolen, contact the police immediately, preferably while still at the scene of the crime. Speed is essential to recovering stolen cars, since any delay means your car is more likely to be in a chop shop or driven out of town. In addition to knowing the make, color and model of your car, you should also know the license plate number and vehicle identification number (VIN). Keep a copy of these identifying numbers and your insurance card in your wallet, and keep a photocopy of your registration and insurance card at home, so you can provide information quickly to both law enforcement and insurance claims agents.

·    Don’t assume your insurance covers you for all the costs associated with having a vehicle stolen. Review your policy to see if you are covered for a replacement rental car after a theft, and if there’s a waiting period before you’re allowed to rent a car. Many people waive the rental car coverage, even though it costs only a few dollars a month.

·    Make sure you have roadside assistance. Your insurance company will likely offer this for a few dollars per term, or you can go through an outside company such as AAA or even your automaker. Be sure you understand the terms of the coverage.

·    Don’t overlook simple theft deterrents. Park in well-lit areas. If you park in a lot, resist the temptation to park near the exit, because it makes your vehicle a more likely target for thieves. According to the FBI, more than one-third of all vehicle thefts occur at a home or residence. Always lock your car, even in your own driveway.

Following these simple tips can help you avoid being an auto-theft victim, and minimize your damages and inconvenience in the event that you are one.

What You Need to Know About Auto Body Repairs

According to the Council of Better Business Bureaus, consumers must be just as cautious about checking the credentials of the collision repair centers that fix their cars as they are when choosing contractors for home repairs. That’s because with more than 35,000 auto body repair shops nationwide, there are a lot of choices.

And, as is typical with commercial ventures, the supply of repair shops is a result of the huge demand for their services. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s most recent statistics, approximately 6 million reported non-fatal motor vehicle crashes occurred in 2005. Most of these vehicles ended up at a collision center, where the average repair bill was $2,200 to $2,300 and where 80% to 92% of the work involved auto insurance claims.

Statistics like these indicate you are likely to become involved in an auto accident and hence need vehicle repairs at some time during your driving life. If and when this does happen to you, how should you proceed?

1.   Never drive a vehicle after an accident. It could be unsafe for you or others until you know the extent of the damages and deal with them.

2.    Always insist on professional body repairs. This will keep you and your passengers safe, and preserve the value of your car.

3.    Take your car to be inspected at the auto body shop you feel most comfortable with. Your insurance company may ask you to take your car to its drive-in claims center before it is repaired. However, you can take the car to your own body shop and ask the insurance company to inspect it there.

4.    Get as many estimates as you feel necessary. Keep in mind that you aren’t legally required to get more than one estimate or appraisal.

5.    Use the body shop of your choice for the repairs. Your insurance company may offer suggestions, but it cannot require you to use a particular shop.

6.    Have the body shop explain the charges. Differences in repair estimates are common. A lower estimate may not include all of the necessary parts or labor. Be sure you are getting all of the repairs necessary to restore the car to proper working condition.

7.    Insist on original equipment parts, if that is what you feel comfortable with. The insurance company may want to use replacement parts as opposed to original equipment. Generally, there is little or no difference between the two except for price.

8.    Choose a body shop that utilizes the most current equipment and I-CAR and/or ASE certified technicians.

9.    Ask the body shop about its warranty coverage on the repairs it makes.

10.   Ask the body shop personnel if they will help negotiate your claim with the insurance company.

11.   Request an explanation of any hidden damage the body shop finds, and immediately report it to your insurance company.

The above tips can help you cope with the auto accident and repair experience as economically-and painlessly-as possible.

Take Steps to Protect Your Valuables

If you’re like most people, you own at least a handful of items that are extremely meaningful to you. Whether these objects hold financial or sentimental value, it’s important to protect your cherished treasures.

From jewelry and silverware to antiques and art, countless valuables are stolen or destroyed each and every year. The FBI estimates that more than 6 billion home burglaries take place in the United States every year. And, according to the National Fire Protection Agency, a residential structure fire occurs every 82 seconds in America. These statistics are good reasons why you should take the appropriate steps to safeguard your valuables.

Here are a few things you should consider when it comes to protecting your valuables from burglary, fire or another disaster:

• Make a list. It can be difficult to remember all the things of value that you own, especially in the wake of a difficult situation, such as a burglary, house fire or other catastrophe. Therefore, one of the simplest yet most effective steps you can take to protect your valuables is to make a list of these items.

The more detailed the list, the better. If any of your valuables have serial numbers, be sure to include that information. You also should include any identifying features of the object as well as information about the object’s value.

Keep a copy of this list either in a locked fire safe or a safety deposit box. This way, in the unfortunate circumstance that your home is burglarized or damaged, you can refer to your list to determine which of your valuables have been stolen or destroyed.

If you lose items in a house fire or burglary, it is your responsibility to prove loss to your insurance company. Providing the insurance company with a detailed written record of your valuables will increase the odds that your claim is processed fairly and quickly.

• Take photos and videos. You also should keep photos and/or videos of your most valuable items. For insurance purposes, even a simple snapshot is sufficient. However, it may be easier to shoot an entire “home inventory” video. This type of video will allow you to account for all of your belongings. Remember to keep these photos and videos in a safe place-either in a locked fire safe or a safety deposit box.

• Engrave your items. You also may consider using an electric engraving pen to engrave your name or an identifying number on all of your most valuable items. If law enforcement authorities find a thief in possession of these marked items, it will be much easier for them to prosecute the criminal and return the objects to you. Additionally, engraving your name on valuables may discourage a thief from stealing the objects in the first place because marked items are much more difficult to sell.

• Invest in a safe. You may want to purchase a fire-resistant, combination safe where you can store some valuables, as well as information about your valuables. There are a wide variety of safes available on the market today. Depending on the features included, the price of safes can range anywhere from $150 to $2,000 and above. Although this may seem costly, a good safe could prove to be well worth the expense if it protects your valuables from theft or harm.