All posts by Tom Gibble

Top 10 Weirdest Insurance Claims and Policies

Insurance companies receive thousands of claims each year. Typically they’re the usual fender-benders, a broken water pipe, but every now and then some outlandish claims are just sometimes hard to believe. Take a look at some of our top picks for the weirdest, scariest and most unfortunate insurance claims and policies. 

1. People from the south are very familiar with how snakes love cool, dark areas. One Texas family was in for a surprise when someone went to the bathroom and noticed a rattlesnake’s head peeking out of the toilet. Once they had the one rattlesnake removed, experts discovered 23 more of them around the plumbing system resulting in some damage. 

2. One couple was greeted with an awful welcome home gift after traveling to Greece for a month. During their trip, the power went out in their home and all the food in their freezer defrosted causing everything to spill out onto the garage floor. But wait it gets worse: The couple’s home was ravaged with mice hunting for food. They had to have their home exterminated before the repairs could be made. Thank goodness for homeowners insurance right?

3. After signing a deal with Gillette, Mariah Carey took out $1 billion in insurance coverage on her legs. Her management team thought that this coverage was essential because she was getting ready to go on a big tour and her popular reputation made that investment necessary

4. A London based insurance company has sold over 30,000 alien abduction insurance policies throughout Europe. Though bizarre and unlikely to happen, policyholders will have to provide legitimate proof of the abduction to file a claim. 

5. Have you ever seen a giant flying frisbee? When a powerful gust of wind passes through a neighborhood trampolines can be transformed into frisbees. Texans are all too familiar with strong winds that can reach speeds up to 50 MPH. The Lonestar State has had multiple incidents reported of trampolines flying into neighbor’s homes that led to serious damages. If you have a trampoline, you might want to check out our post on backyard liabilities so you can find out how to better protect yourself from financial liability. 

6. The Royal Falcon Hotel in Lowestoft, England insured its staff and customers against death and disability caused by ghosts, poltergeists and other abnormal activity.

7. Dutch winemaker, Llja Gort purchased an $8 million policy on his nose after hearing about a man who lost his sense of smell in a car accident. The terms and conditions of his policy forbid him from riding a motorcycle, working as a knife thrower’s assistant, fire-breather and other activities that put him at risk of losing his sense of smell.

8. International businesses are notorious for purchasing insurance policies for kidnapping in case one of their executives are abducted in another country while on a trip. But now you don’t have to be a multinational business worker to purchase this type of coverage! The insurance company will send a team of negotiators to rescue you and will reimburse the kidnappers with a compensation price up to your policy limits. 

9. Miley Cyrus and Gene Simmons have one thing in common and it’s not being iconic singers. The Kiss rock and roll legend and former Disney pop star both have $1 million insurance policies on their tongues.

10. Hot tubs can be a relaxing place to unwind after a long day, but be sure to always check the temperature before you hop in. One man unfortunately jumped into a hot tub that malfunctioned and it had risen to a skin-burning 150 degrees. He had to quickly rush to the emergency room and was treated for third-degree burns. Yikes! 

Weird things can happen, luckily there is insurance to help cover you in ANY event. The team at Martin Insurance Agency is here to help provide you insurance for any situation and will walk you through the claims process from start to finish- no matter how strange. Give our team a shout today for all of your insurance needs! 

The 3 Most Common Backyard Liabilities

As a homeowner, spending time in your backyard can be wonderfully relaxing and a great way to unwind with friends and family. But what you may not realize is your trampoline, pool, or children’s playground could be a major liability for you. Though these activities can be fun for kids, they can also lead to serious accidents and are often referred to as “attractive nuisances.” Let’s review the three most common liabilities found in your backyard and how to protect yourself.

What Are Attractive Nuisances?

Corner Law School defines attractive nuisances as, “a dangerous condition on a landowner’s property that may attract children onto the land and may involve risk or harm to their safety.” Since curious young children can be attracted to many things, it’s important to understand what items in your backyard could put an inquisitive child at risk. If an adult were to trespass or get hurt on your property, you as the property owner would be less liable, however, this is not the case for a child. Because of this, the law requires homeowners to take proper precautions to keep your backyard as safe as possible and lower the risk of an accident. 

The Top 3 Most Common Backyard Liabilities 

Swimming Pools

Swimming pools that have a diving board or a waterslide may seem like a fun feature, but in reality, both can lead to an unexpected drowning or injury. To prevent this from happening, consider building a fence around the pool and securely lock it when you aren’t using it. If you’re worried about losing visibility to your pool, there are glass fencing options available to keep swimmers safe while also still keeping an eye on them. 

Playground Equipment

Playgrounds are a great way to let your kiddos burn some energy, but make sure to keep a close eye on them. Monkey bars and swings are the most common cause of playground injuries, so that’s why it is crucial for an adult to always be supervising. Another thing to be mindful of is the outside temperature. Hot summer days can make the swings and slides super hot resulting in burns. If the surface is too hot just by touching it with your hand, then it is too hot for a child to play on. 

Trampolines

Like swimming pools and playgrounds, trampolines can be a fun activity but without the property safety guards put in place, a trampoline can be extremely dangerous. A popular option to keep jumping kids safe is a net around the perimeter of the trampoline. This will greatly reduce the risk of someone falling or jumping off the trampoline resulting in a fractured or broken bone. Also, you’ll want to remove stools or ladders that make it easier to get on the trampoline while no one is using it.

It’s important to protect curious or rambunctious kids, but it’s also crucial as a homeowner to protect your financial welfare should a lawsuit occur. Most homeowners insurance policies do provide liability coverage, but some carriers will exclude attractive nuisances. By taking the proper precautions to ensure your backyard is a safe place, you’ll lessen your risk of being held financially liable due to an accident or injury.

If you have questions about your current homeowners insurance policy coverages or want to add more liability protection through an umbrella insurance policy, contact our team at Martin Insurance Agency. We will take the time to explain to you your different liability options, so you can have peace of mind knowing you’re protected. 

7 Anti-Discrimination Laws Business Owners Should Know

Fair and equal treatment isn’t just the right thing to do… it’s also the law.

Whether you’re hiring for a new position, planning a promotion, or letting an employee go, it’s important to be aware of anti-discrimination laws enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Why? Because if you are accused of discrimination or harassment, you could potentially face a long and costly legal battle to resolve it, whether you’re guilty or not.

These laws also protect your employees from any retaliation if they report a situation where they experienced or witnessed discrimination.

As a business owner, it’s important to understand the laws that could lead to a discrimination claim. Here’s a quick overview of protected classifications at the federal level. (Note: This is not legal advice – for specific guidance pertaining to your business, always consult a licensed lawyer with small business expertise.)

  1. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII): This established that employers can’t discriminate against people because of their race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The law also requires employers to reasonably accommodate applicants’ and employees’ sincerely held religious practices.
  2. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act: This law amended Title VII to make it illegal to discriminate against a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.
  3. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA): This law prohibits pay discrimination on the basis of sex and makes it illegal to pay different wages to men and women if they perform equal work in the same workplace.
  4. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA): This law protects people who are 40 or older from discrimination on the basis  of age in hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment.
  5. Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA): This law makes it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability in the private sector and in state and local governments. The law also requires that employers reasonably accommodate the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or employee, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.
  6. Sections 102 and 103 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991: Among other things, this law amends Title VII and the ADA to permit jury trials and compensatory and punitive damage awards in intentional discrimination cases.
  7. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA): This law makes it illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information. Genetic information includes information about an individual’s genetic tests and the genetic tests of an individual’s family members, as well as information about any disease, disorder or condition of an individual’s family members (i.e. an individual’s family medical history).

These laws also make it illegal to retaliate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. Remember: Local or state laws might get more specific than these federal laws. Be sure to familiarize yourself with any laws unique to your area, and consult a lawyer for specific legal advice pertaining to your business.

EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES LIABILITY COVERAGE CAN HELP

Even if you do everything you can to be proactive and fair in your business, you still could be faced with a lawsuit accusing you of discrimination. Even if the accusations aren’t true, a lawsuit could leave you stuck with hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills.

Good news: There’s time to think ahead and protect yourself.

Talk to your local independent insurance agent about adding Employment Practices Liability (EPL) coverage to your business insurance policy. This coverage may help you in the instance someone brings a lawsuit against your business for wrongful acts, such as discrimination.

To learn more about EPL coverage, consult your Independent Insurance Agent. And if you have a business here in South Central Pennsylvania, give us a call and see how much money we can save you while providing your business with the protection it needs. Just Call 717-872-7756 and ask for Amy.

Happy Juneteenth

This year, Sunday is not only Father’s Day, it also happens to be Juneteenth – a holiday that that honors the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States. The name “Juneteenth” is a blend of two words: “June” and “nineteenth.” It’s believed to be the oldest African-American holiday, with annual celebrations on June 19th in different parts of the country dating back to 1866.

Building a Deck

Warmer weather. Longer days. An escape from the cabin fever brought on by a long winter and an even longer lockdown (thanks for that, COVID-19).

It’s finally outdoor season. And if you’re planning on sticking a little closer to home this year, then it may be the perfect time to spruce up your outdoor space and make your backyard a place where you can relax and your kids will actually want to hang out.

While you could update your landscaping or try out those stock tank pools everyone is crazy about right now, you may want to consider investing in something that will not only boost your curb appeal, but also the overall value of your home ‒ a deck.

With a new deck, you can extend your living area, entertain, share a meal, unwind while you watch your kids play in the yard, or simply sunbathe or enjoy a summer evening.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re thinking about adding one.

IS ADDING A DECK A GOOD INVESTMENT?

Remodeling magazine reported that adding a wood deck can up your home’s resale value by more than $10,000. Decks built of composite material add more than $13,000. So chances are, you’re going to significantly recoup the value of this investment.

WHAT IS THE BEST MATERIAL TO BUILD A DECK?

It all depends on your personal preference – and, of course, your budget.

The most common decking materials include:

  • Wood: From pressure-treated (the most economical) to tropical hardwoods to redwood and cedar (the priciest), you have a variety of options to choose from. Bear in mind, a wood deck will eventually show some wear and tear. And it comes with a bit of maintenance. You should clean it thoroughly every year and re-stain it every two to three years. Lumber prices have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, so if you’re looking at building this summer, you might want to consider other options to save some cash.
  • Composite: Looks like wood. Wears like plastic. With an array of colors and styles to choose from, composite materials offer a durable solution to deck builders. It comes with an easier maintenance schedule, too. All you need is a little scrubbing to keep mildew at bay. However, this convenience typically comes at a higher price point.
  • Plastic: While composite is made of a mixture of plastic and wood materials, there also are a range of plastic and PVC options on the market. These will last for the long haul ‒ and then some ‒ and require fairly minimal maintenance. Keep in mind that these materials are pricier than composite.
  • Aluminum: Light, strong and able to withstand the elements, aluminum decks are among the most durable on the market… and the most expensive.

DECK LAYOUT IDEAS

Search “backyard deck ideas” on Google or Pinterest, and you’ll be flooded with thousands of images of designs ranging from the simple rectangle to elaborate, multi-level designs complete with built-in benches, firepits, outdoor kitchens, pergolas, lighting and more.

So do your homework. Figure out where you want your deck to be built, and identify the type of design that fits the overall look and feel you want to achieve.

HOW MUCH CAN A NEW DECK COST?

When it comes to cost, several variables come into play: material, size, any extras like lighting or a pergola, and whether you plan on building the deck yourself or choose to hire a contractor.

According to Remodeling magazine, the average cost to build a wood deck in 2020 was $14,360. Composite decks came in at $19,856 on average.

Some big box hardware stores and deck material manufacturers offer online tools that help you design your perfect deck and estimate costs. A local professional deck builder or contractor specializing in deck construction also can help. If you’ve got the skills to do the heavy lifting yourself, the internet is teeming with DIY plans.

SHOULD I HIRE A CONTRACTOR TO BUILD A DECK?

HomeAdvisor offers the following considerations on whether or not you should roll up your DIY sleeves or leave it to the pros and hire a contractor.

  • Cost: Given that contractors typically mark up materials (for perfectly valid business reasons), you may end up paying only a third of that materials cost if you purchase and build the deck yourself. Sounds good. But do you have the tools and additional materials to get the job done ‒ and to do it right? If you don’t, that’s an additional investment you’ll need to make.
  • Time: As HomeAdvisor explains, “a professional deck builder will do a better, faster job than you can.” It will take longer to build a deck yourself, because, let’s face it, life gets in the way sometimes. If you’d rather have the deck finished quickly, a local deck builder is probably your best bet.
  • Quality: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with learning a new skill (or flexing your construction know-how). Taking on a project like this can be a fun thing to tackle. But professional deck builders do this day in and day out. They’re knowledgeable and efficient in what they do, and there’s a craftsmanship they bring to their projects. They also should be up to date on any building codes that need to be followed when building your deck (more on that later).

WHAT DO I NEED TO DO BEFORE I BREAK GROUND ON MY DECK?

Before you purchase any materials, hire a contractor or think about digging a hole, make sure you do the following:

  • Get the appropriate permits. Depending on where you live, the type of deck you want to add on and its overall size, you may need a building permit. Contact your local zoning department or office to find out what’s required for your project. Keep in mind that regulations can vary across the board, and you may even need to submit your design for approval. You also should gain information on local building codes to ensure your structure meets all the necessary requirements. If you don’t, it could become an issue down the road if you decide to sell your home.
  • Get approval from your HOA (if you have one). If you live in an area with a homeowner association (HOA), these boards typically have to approve certain updates, repairs or remodels that you want to make to your home. Failing to do so could result in fines or your HOA making you redo the project to be within its standards. Check out your HOA documents (also known as CC&Rs ‒ covenants, conditions & restrictions) to see if your project needs approval. Then, go through the proper process and channels to make it happen.
  • Call 811. Did you know some utility lines are buried just inches underground? To avoid a costly and dangerous situation, call 811 (or your state-specific hotline) before you dig. At your request, the service will work directly with your utility companies to mark or flag the locations of any buried utility lines on your property. Reach out in advance of your construction date so that you (or your contractor) can either work around these lines or determine if you need to move the location of your deck. 
  • Give your insurance agent a heads up. When you’re tackling a major home improvement project, tell your insurance agent. Major improvements that add value to your home often mean you need a higher limit on your homeowners insurance. Your agent can guide you through any updates you need to make to your coverage or policy limits.

UPGRADE YOUR HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE WITH GUARANTEED REPLACEMENT COST

Your home is often the biggest investment you’ll make in your lifetime. That’s why it matters to have the right homeowners insurance.

If you ever had to file an insurance claim, do you know how much you’d have to pay to rebuild your home (and that brand-new deck) from scratch? Often, the answer is: more than what you paid for it. A lot of things can affect the cost to rebuild, such as the price (and availability) of materials and labor. 

Good news: You can take the guesswork out with a simple add-on to your homeowners policy. Ask your independent insurance agent for a quote that includes Guaranteed Replacement Cost. With this coverage, your insurance policy will pay for the full cost of rebuilding your house back to its previous size and specifications, without requiring you to shell out additional cash.

Life Jacket Essentials For Safe Boating

Warm weather is finally here! With boating season upon us, now is a great time to brush up on essential boating safety tips.

As you start to get your boat ready for fun and relaxing days out on the water, make sure that one life-saving item is at the top of your priority list: life jackets.

Whether you’re captaining a kayak or a fishing boat, you are required to have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person riding in your recreational vessel. And for good reason. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, in 2019, 86 percent of individuals who drowned during a fatal recreational boating accident were not wearing a life jacket.

While each state may have different regulations for when and where to wear a life jacket, your safest choice is to don one at all times when you’re on the water.

While all life jackets are part of the family of personal flotation devices (or PFDs, if you’re into acronyms), they are not all created equal. Here, we break down what you need to know to keep you and your passengers properly outfitted and safe this season.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF LIFE JACKETS?

There’s a wide variety of life jackets on the market with options to fit every age, size and water-bound recreational activity. You can find designs specifically tailored for recreational boating and water sports like skiing and riding on personal watercrafts, as well as styles for hunting, fishing, paddle sports (such as canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding) and offshore boating and racing.

They come in a variety of configurations and are available in five types (ranging from Type I to Type V), with each being further categorized by design:

  • Inherent or standard: These life jackets are buoyant on their own. They usually contain foam or other material that keeps you afloat. These are a good fit for all passengers, especially those who aren’t strong swimmers or can’t swim at all.
  • Inflatable: These devices inflate with air (either automatically or manually by pulling a cord) when you hit the water, thanks to a CO2 cylinder incorporated into the design. While they’re not as bulky as standard life jackets, they need to be used for the right activity (particularly ones where you’re not immersed in water) and shouldn’t be worn by anyone younger than 16 years old.
  • Hybrid: These life jackets are a combination of standard and inflatable models.
  • Special purpose: This is a class of life jackets (Type V) that are manufactured for a specific activity. These can include float coats for waterfowl hunting, vests for white water rafting or life jackets for windsurfing. The intended activity will be specifically called out on the label of the jacket.

LIFE JACKET SIZES FOR ADULTS, KIDS AND PETS

When selecting a life jacket, make sure it has been approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, is the right size and suits the activity you’re doing. For help choosing the right type of jacket, the U.S. Coast Guard put together a helpful manual.

Life jacket laws vary from state to state. In states where no children’s life jacket law is in place, a U.S. Coast Guard interim rule requires that children under 13 wear a properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket while on a boat.

Below are some other tips to keep in mind, depending on who will be using the life jacket:

  • For adults: While it’s important to pick a life jacket that is suited to your activity, it’s also crucial that you find one that’s the right size. For adults, this is mainly determined by your weight and the size of your chest. To get an idea of your chest size, measure the circumference of your chest at its widest point.
  • For kids: Putting an adult life jacket on a child won’t do. Children’s life jackets come with their own set of safety features like head supports, handles and straps that are secured between the legs to ensure the jacket doesn’t slip off. Kids’ life jackets are placed in three categories based on weight:
    • Youth (55 to 88 pounds)
    • Child (33 to 55 pounds)
    • Infant (33 pounds or less)
  • For pets: PFDs for dogs come in a variety of sizes and designs. Look for one that fits snugly, features easy-release buckles and a handle for lifting and has a low profile so they won’t get caught on anything. Keep in mind that these types of life jackets are not certified by the U.S. Coast Guard.

HOW DO I FIT A LIFE JACKET?

When it’s time to choose a life jacket for yourself or a loved one, the U.S. Coast Guard recommends the following tips:

  • Choose one that fits your size and weight. This should be clearly labeled somewhere on the jacket.
  • Make sure it’s fastened correctly. Buckles, ties, straps and other safety features can be confusing. Make sure everything is where it should be.
  • Check the fit. Lift your arms straight up above your head. Then have someone grab the tops of the arm openings and pull up. There should be no extra room above those openings, and the jacket should not come up over your chin or face.
  • Test it out in the shallows. Take that life jacket for a test drive before you set off. Make sure you float, and check that the jacket keeps your head above water and doesn’t come up over your face.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD A LIFE JACKET BE TESTED FOR BUOYANCY?

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, standard foam-filled life jackets should be tested each year for buoyancy and wear and tear. If you have an inflatable life jacket, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure you follow their recommended maintenance procedures.

HOW MANY YEARS DOES A LIFE JACKET LAST?

Strictly speaking, there aren’t precise expiration dates for life jackets. However, your jacket will need to be maintained and in proper working order for it to be considered usable. Also keep in mind that if you have an inflatable life jacket, components like the CO2 cylinder will expire, so make sure you stay up to date on the manufacturer’s maintenance requirements.

CAN YOU DROWN WHILE WEARING A LIFE JACKET?

First and foremost, it’s always better to wear a life jacket than to not wear one. Drowning while wearing a life jacket is rare, but there are some situations where the risk could be higher:

  • Your life jacket is too small. Not only are life jackets classified for activity and performance; they’re also classified by weight. If your life jacket is too small, it won’t keep you afloat.
  • You’re not wearing your life jacket correctly. If belts, ties or zippers aren’t fastened properly, there’s a risk that the device could come off. This is why it’s especially important for kids to wear child-specific life jackets that are equipped with a strap that goes between the legs.
  • You’re in cold water. When water temperatures are at 70 degrees or lower, there’s a chance that hypothermia could take effect.
  • You’re trapped. Even while wearing a PFD, canoers, kayakers and other paddlers could get stuck in capsized vessels or caught on something like a rock or branch.
  • You’re injured. What if you’re hit on the head or knocked unconscious? If you’re not wearing a life jacket that will turn you to face upright above the water, you could be in serious danger, especially if nobody is nearby to help.
  • You can’t keep your face out of the water. Any time you’re in waves, you’re bound to ingest some water. But if you’re battered by too many waves and breathe in too much water over an extended period of time, you could be in danger of drowning.

MAKE SURE YOUR NEXT TRIP IS SMOOTH SAILING

With boat insurance through Martin Insurance Agency, you gain added protection for your next voyage, just in case. Since coverage types can vary greatly based on a number of factors, talk to us and we can help you figure out exactly what you need and what type of policy is best for you before you set sail.

How To Identify A Text Scam

With any new form of communication comes the potential for scammers. Spam texts and text scams can be an unwelcome privacy intrusion and, if you fall for them, they could potentially create havoc in your life. Just ask anyone who has fallen for the Walmart text scam, which has been popular throughout 2020. SMS scams generally have the same goal: stealing your money by getting your personal information people across the globe now have instant connection at their fingertips. Plus, they’re always evolving. The Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker program added 47,567 separate text scams to its scam tracking program in 2019. Here’s how to identify a spam text to protect yourself, your friends and your family.

4 ways to identify scam text messages

Smishing is a phishing that occurs as a text (widely known as SMS) and is often easy to spot when you know what you’re looking for. If you’re trying to weed out spam and text scams from your message inbox, these are the common warning signs that can tip you off.

1. Abnormally long numbers

If a text message is legitimate, it’s usually from a number 10 digits or less. Marketing messages are either sent from a six digit short code or a 10-digit commercial long code. Note that in 2021, partially as a response to scammers, text carriers are disabling shared short codes— which means more businesses will be texting from toll-free or local numbers. If you get a text from a number that is 11 digits long, you can probably assume you’re getting a text scam. Receiving a spam text from a long number doesn’t happen often, but if it does, be extra cautious before choosing to respond. In fact, this is probably a text you just don’t want to reply to.

2. Family crisis texts

Receiving news of a family crisis is alarming. If you were to receive a text from a random number asking for help, you might be inclined to send money to an unverified destination in case it would help a loved one. Family crisis text scams use this psychology to trick recipients into thinking a family member is in danger—and that they need to send money to correct the situation.

When money is involved, err on the side of caution and proceed with skepticism. It’s likely you’re receiving an SMS scam.

If you’re unsure of the validity of a text, reach out to family members to ask whether they’ve received the same message. Additionally, if the text mentions someone by name, try reaching out to that person directly before responding to the original text.

If a family member truly is in trouble, contact the proper authorities instead of sending money.

3. Text refund

Another common text scam comes in the form of a text refund. Basically, you’ll receive a message saying that you’ve been overcharged for a service—many text scams use the guise of a phone service provider. The text will then offer to refund you, if you provide your direct deposit information.

Sounds great, right? Nope! If you send your banking details over, whoever is scamming you will have access to your routing and account number and be able to steal from you. Never send banking information through unsecured means.

4. Random prizes

Scammers have come up with a myriad of creative ways to get your personal information. One of these ways is offering up random prizes, including cash and material goods. The catch? You’ll need to give your bank details, or other personal information, in order to claim the “prize.” Heads up, a common example of this is the Walmart text scam, so if you’ve suddenly received a “prize” from Walmart, be wary of replying to that text.

While text sweepstakes are a legitimate form of text marketing, be wary of receiving news that you’ve won a contest you didn’t even enter. Despite the thrill of receiving an offer that sounds too good to be true, restrain yourself. If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. If you can’t tell whether the offer is legitimate, call the company the contest is supposedly through and ask for verification.

9 Common text scams to beware of in 2022

As the nation continues to reopen post-pandemic, there are constantly new scams to be mindful of. There are also some “classic” scams that are still around in their various forms. Some scammy techniques that are more popular than others. Here’s a 2022 list of common text scams and spam text messages examples to be wary of.

1. Walmart text scam

One of the most common Walmart spam text messages examples is where the scammer will send a spam text claiming that you’ve won a free Walmart gift card. They’ll ask you to go to a link and enter your personal information to claim your prize.

If you don’t remember entering the contest, it’s probably a scam. Definitely don’t enter any personal information on websites like these. If you think the offer might be legitimate, try to find contact information for the company who is running the contest. If you can’t find any information, then it’s definitely a scam.

Another common Walmart text scam is one where scammers invite you to take a survey about your experience at Walmart. You have to follow a link to a survey and input personal information in order to do so. Do not enter personal or account information on a site like this.

Lastly, if you receive a text message with an online order confirmation about an order that you did not place through Walmart.com, this most likely is another text scam. Watch out for scammers who claim they just need some additional personal information or payment to deliver your order. A real order confirmation should provide all the details about the order in the body of the message without requiring you to click any links.

2. Uber code text scam

Many people have reported receiving mysterious and unsolicited text messages with Uber confirmation codes despite not having recently signed up for the service. These occur when someone tries to create an Uber account with your text message. Phone numbers must be verified via text message, which is when the confirmation text is sent out.

Since the text message is going to you, and not the scammer, it is impossible for the scammer to confirm the account and use your number. To end these text messages, reply STOP.

3. Craigslist text scam

There’s more than one Craigslist text scam going around out there. The online classified website is a popular ground for scammers looking for easy targets. Scammers on Craigslist are typically phishing.

What often happens is that scammers will send a text message saying you have notifications about a Craigslist post. Watch out for the domain. A common scam domain is cl-review.org, but there could be other domains that, like this one, look somewhat similar to an actual Craigslist domain but aren’t. Your best bet is to NEVER click on ANY link, even if the text says it is taking you directly to Craigslist and definitely don’t input any information on a site that isn’t directly owned by Craigslist.

4. Bank of America text scam

Similar to the Wells Fargo text scam, with the Bank of America text scam the spammers will be sending you an illegitimate text message trying to get you to hand over personal banking information. Don’t respond to any text messages that ask for personal information. You can report Bank of America spam text messages by emailing abuse@bankofamerica.com. Include the number the spam text came from as well as what it said.

5. FedEx text scam

A popular text scam in 2021 is for the scammers to imitate a brand like FedEx, telling you they need additional information or money in order to deliver a package to you. FedEx does not require money transfer to third party or escrow service before they’ll deliver a package, so if that’s what the text message indicates then it’s definitely a FedEx text scam. While shipping services like FedEx can send legitimate automated SMS shipping updates, they’ll never ask for money or personal details before they deliver.

Sometimes, the scammers will threaten immediate action, such as suspension of your account, if you do not comply with their demands. These spam text messages will usually include a link to a site that is not owned by FedEx. Don’t click on these links or reply to these text messages. You can report them to FedEx by emailing abuse@fedex.com.

6. Paypal text scam

Paypal is common territory for scammers looking to phish personal information over SMS message. The scammers will often tell you that your account is in danger of being deleted unless you take certain actions. Or, they might ask you to provide the tracking number of an item before you’ve received payment into your account. Remember, don’t provide any sensitive information like this unless you’re directly on a secure version of the Paypal website. Paypal won’t ask you for information like your credit card number, bank account number or driver’s license number over text message. You can report spam directly to Paypal at spoof@paypal.com.

7. Western Union text scam

There are several types of Western Union SMS scams to be aware of. One of the most popular ones is a charity scam where the scammer will ask for money to be sent to help victims of an emergency. Keep in mind that legitimate charities don’t accept donations through Western Union.

The other common Western Union text scam is a smishing scam where the scammers will be trying to get personal identification information from you to proceed with identity theft. Don’t provide any personal identification through text message and be wary of any links that redirect to web pages that look somewhat “off.”

Oh yeah, and if you get a text message offering you “free money” or a prize from Western Union if you’ll just enter some personal information — that one’s a scam too. That’s probably one of the most obvious spam text messages examples, but many people do legitimately fall for it each year, causing untold personal heartache.

8. Wells Fargo text scam

Wells Fargo has four official short codes, so if you get a text claiming to be from the bank but not from one of their official short codes. Don’t respond, it’s a phishing text. Wells Fargo’s verified short codes are: 93557, 93733, 93729 and 54687.

Also, be aware that Wells Fargo will only ask to verify your identity if you’ve initiated some sort of action such as signing into online banking. If you haven’t done anything related to your banking that would prompt and identity check, it’s probably a text scam message.

You can report a text scam message to Wells Fargo by copying and pasting the text message into an email (don’t attach screenshots) and sending it to reportphish@wellsfargo.com. If you’ve accidentally responded to the text message scam, call Wells Fargo at 1-866-867-5568.

9. Someone complimented you text scam

The “someone complimented you” text scam went viral in 2018 with many people claiming it was linked to sex trafficking. The good news on this one is that it’s actually not a scam, per se. It was a marketing attempt by an app company to get people to download their app. Unfortunately, it does appear that they texted many phone numbers without prior consent, which is not compliant with federal texting laws. They did end up cancelling text invites because it was coming across as too spammy.

I think I sent my information to a scammer. Now what?

If you received a message that you now recognize as part of a scam, you still have options. If you’ve given your information, consider the following tactics to regain financial security and peace of mind.

  • If you’ve given card information, cancel those cards with your bank. This makes the information you’ve given out unusable to scammers. If you’ve given out personal banking information such as your account numbers, contact your bank immediately to begin the appropriate spam protocol.
  • Report the fraud to your phone service provider, as they may have had other customers with the same experience. Informing your cell carrier will allow them to take action if they see their clients experiencing similar spam texts, or texts from the same number.
  • Update your passwords! It never hurts to reset your online banking passwords, or any stored passwords you use online for that matter.  Doing so will make the process of hacking your account more difficult. You should have a unique password for every account and not one standard password you use across the internet.
  • Take action and block the number sending you spam text.

How to report spam text messages

If you’ve received a spam text message that claims to be from a certain company or brand, such as the Walmart text scam, you should contact the customer service or dedicated abuse email or phone number at that company to report the spam.

In addition to that, many carriers allow you to report spam text messages by forward the message to 7726 — this spells out SPAM on most phones. Verify with your carrier that this feature is supported with them.

If you are the victim of fraud, file a report with your local law enforcement agency. You can also report fraud to the FTC.

How to stop spam text messages

If you’ve been on the receiving end of text spam before it’s only natural to wonder how to block spam text messages. There are a couple of different strategies when it comes to how to stop text spam. Here’s what you can do.

  • Do not respond. If the message is clearly from a scammer, don’t reply to them at all. This just confirms that your number is active.
  • Reply STOP. If you’re dealing with a company, and not a scammer, you might take a different approach. If the spam text messages are from a legitimate company that isn’t doing anything wrong, per se, but they’re just annoying you with too many offers or SMS messages, just reply STOP to opt out. This should get you off of their text message list.
  • Block numbers. Yes, spammers and scammers can and do create new spams with different short codes. However, blocking numbers you know are definitely linked to a scammer can buy you some reprieve in the short term.
  • Report. If you’re wondering how to stop spam text messages once and for all, one of the best ways to stamp them out is to report scammers or spammers to the appropriate authorities. Also, report the scam to your carrier. They can use the information to figure out how to stop spam text messages at the source.

If you’re looking to avoid future text spam and scams, try installing an app like Truecaller or RoboKiller. These apps work to filter out spam texts, not to mention unwanted calls from telemarketers.

Why am I getting spam text messages in the first place?

The mystery of how and why your number got into the hands of a scammer in the first place can be fascinating to many people. In all likelihood you’re getting a spam text message because your number was accessed by a person or company who you did not give consent to contact you. In the United States, any entity that sends text messages must be able to demonstrate that you agreed to receiving text messages from them — otherwise it’s considered illegal contact.

What is the Difference Between Replacement Cost and Guaranteed Replacement Cost?

We understand what replacement cost is: the estimated dollar figure required to rebuild your home from the ground up in the event of a total loss. Stands to reason, replacement cost is the cost to replace your home; but what about guaranteed replacement cost? What does that mean? Is there a difference? Which coverage is better? Don’t fret – we’re here to clear up confusion surrounding the difference between guaranteed replacement cost and replacement cost.

What is Replacement Cost?

With replacement cost insurance, your insurance company will pay to repair or replace damaged portions of your home without considering depreciation. For example, if you experience hail damage to your shingles, with replacement cost, the insurance company will not factor in that the shingles are seven years old and not worth as much as new shingles, they will simply replace the damaged shingles with new ones; this is replacement cost. However, the replacement cost is subject to a maximum amount.

For example, if your home’s estimated replacement cost is $250,000 and you experience a total loss, having to rebuild from the ground up, your insurance company will pay to rebuild your house, up to $250,000.

What is Guaranteed Replacement Cost?

What if it costs more than $250,000 to replace my house? What if $250,000 wasn’t estimated properly? Now what? This is where guaranteed replacement cost comes into play.

Guaranteed replacement cost is just that, it’s guaranteed. This means if you experience a total loss and must rebuild, the rebuild is not capped at the total amount of replacement cost, i.e. $250,000.

If your replacement cost is estimated at $250,000 and the rebuild costs $310,000, the total cost of the rebuild will be covered under guaranteed replacement cost coverage. Guaranteed replacement cost coverage guarantees that the insurance company will put you in the exact same position you were in before the loss; this means you can rest assured knowing that the beautiful home you’ve created will be protected and rebuilt, no matter the cost.

What Does Guaranteed Replacement Cost Cover?

That being said, guaranteed replacement cost is put in place for your protection; it ensures your home will be rebuilt without the worry of running out of funds. As with most insurance coverage, guaranteed replacement cost is designed to put you back in the same place you were in prior to the loss. The fact that funds do not cap out is a huge stress reliever.

Does a Guaranteed Replacement Cost Insurance Policy Cover Home Upgrades?

A guaranteed replacement cost policy is a guarantee that the home you had previously will be rebuilt, while the floors and finishes will be replaced using the same or as similar as possible materials that were in place prior to the loss. Should the homeowner decide to make some upgrades during the repair or rebuild as a result of a claim, then typically the homeowner would be responsible for the difference in cost between what was in the residence at the time of the loss and the upgraded material(s) and/or fixture(s). It is for this reason that a dollar figure is still attached to a guaranteed replacement cost policy.

Ensure Guaranteed Replacement Cost is Accurately Calculated

It’s imperative that your home’s replacement cost be accurately calculated. A guaranteed replacement cost policy is designed to ensure your home is rebuilt in the event that something unexpected happens, such as:

  • Perhaps excavation of the old materials from the home is more costly now than it was when your policy was first implemented.
  • Perhaps the price of metal has sky-rocketed over the last three months and your policy has yet to renew and adjust for new the new pricing.

It is for these reasons that guaranteed replacement cost was designed. Coverage to give you peace of mind that no matter what the economic climate, or unforeseen hurdles that may pop up during rebuild, your home will be erected back to its former glory.

Does Guaranteed Replacement Cost Come at an Added Cost?

When shopping for homeowner’s coverage, guaranteed replacement cost sounds like the obvious choice. Of course, as with everything, additional promises come at an additional price.

Depending on the specifications of your home, a guaranteed replacement cost policy can come at a rather large additional premium. Some companies will not offer guaranteed replacement cost for older homes or some state that their guaranteed replacement cost is subject to 120% of the stated replacement cost. It’s important to discuss these details and limits with your agent or broker before deciding which coverage choice is best for your home.

Guaranteed Replacement Cost vs. Replacement Cost Summary

  • Replacement cost is a predetermined estimation of how much an insurance company will pay you to replace your home in the event of a total loss.
  • Guaranteed Replacement Cost means that your insurance company guarantees that they will cover the costs to rebuild your home in the event of a total loss, even if that cost exceeds your policy’s limits.  

So which one suits you best? Talk with your independent insurance agent to find out which one is right for you.

The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906: An Insurance Perspective

The earthquake and fire that devastated San Francisco on April 18, 1906 was one of the most significant natural disasters in the United States, as well as in the history of insurance. It produced insured losses of $235 million at the time, equivalent to $6.3 billion in 2018 dollars. In 1906, just as today, shake damage from earthquakes was excluded from standard property insurance policies. Damage from the fire which followed the earthquake was covered and constituted the vast majority of insured losses.

In the 100 years since the earthquake San Francisco has grown and prospered. But the threat of a similar disaster remains. What if it were to happen again? Estimates of insured losses range from $30 billion up to $105 billion.

According to the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program estimates, 1906-type earthquakes occur at intervals of about 200 years. Thus, it is unlikely (a 2 percent chance) that a quake of the same magnitude (estimated at 7.7 to 8.3) would happen in the next 30 years. However, scientists predict that there is a 60 percent chance that a strong, magnitude 6.7 or higher, quake will hit the area within the next 30 years

Though commonly known as the San Francisco earthquake, the impact of the 1906 quake in fact stretched from southern Oregon to south of Los Angeles and inland as far as central Nevada; however, with the ensuing fires in the city, the majority of the fatalities occurred in San Francisco proper. Current estimates put the total death toll at over 3,000, well over the traditionally cited figure of 700-800.

In spite of the inevitability of a severe earthquake, few Californians (about 13 percent) buy earthquake insurance. Even fewer people living in earthquake zones in different parts of the country purchase earthquake insurance.

Insurance Facts

  • Of the $235 million in insured losses, only about $180 million was paid out in claims as many financially-strapped insurers could pay only a share of the actual losses.
  • Insurers settled approximately 100,000 claims.
  • At least 12 American insurers went bankrupt as well as one Austrian and one German company.
  • The amount paid in claims was roughly 100 times the amount paid for fire insurance polices that year.
  • The earthquake losses effectively wiped out the industry profit earned over the preceding 47 years.
  • The losses occurred despite the fact that earthquake exclusions were already standard in 1906.
  • Of the buildings destroyed, only 2 percent were from the quake, while the remaining 98 percent were destroyed by fire.
  • Dynamite was used to level buildings in the path of the fire in an attempt to create a fire break. This resulted in new fires and is believed to have caused more damage than it prevented. Dynamited buildings were covered under property policies.

How your selfie could affect your life insurance

Fidelio Desbradel and his wife, Leonor Desbradel, of the Dominican Republic, take a selfie in front of a Tulip Magnolia tree in Washington. A selfie reveals more than whether it’s a good hair day. A company has developed facial analytics technology to help estimate life expectancy by analyzing your face from a photo you upload online. Life insurance companies are interested in the product because it may help them reduce your wait for coverage and boost their sales.

A selfie reveals more than whether it’s a good hair day. Facial lines and contours, droops and dark spots could indicate how well you’re aging, and, when paired with other data, could someday help determine whether you qualify for life insurance.

Several life insurance companies are testing Lapetus technology that uses facial analytics and other data to estimate life expectancy, he says. (Lapetus would not disclose the names of companies testing its product.) Insurers use life expectancy estimates to make policy approval and pricing decisions. Lapetus says its product, Chronos, would enable a customer to buy life insurance online in as little as 10 minutes without taking a life insurance medical exam.

Life insurers already gather other data with your permission to get insight beyond the information you supply on the application. For example, they often pull motor vehicle records, prescription drug histories and reports from an insurance industry database of certain information disclosed on past individual life and health insurance applications.

Many life insurance companies are exploring how to use additional data, statistical models, artificial intelligence and other techniques to help make quick decisions to ease the policy buying process and boost sales. Consumers don’t like the wait on the typical application process, which can take weeks and often requires a medical exam.

Time and testing will tell which new approaches prove effective, says Robert Kerzner, president and CEO of LIMRA, a life insurance trade group. “This one may or may not meet the vetting process to make carriers comfortable,” he says.

It’s important for the consumer to feel comfortable, too. It’s one thing to post a selfie on Instagram, another to send it to an insurer for analysis. And it’s crucial for consumers that any technology an insurer uses works. Their claims may not be fully paid if insurers make inaccurate predictions and go belly up.

IT’S WRITTEN ALL OVER YOUR FACE

If Chronos is adopted by an insurer – which would need to get regulatory approval from states to use it in the underwriting process – here’s generally how it would work.

You’d upload a selfie to the insurer online and answer health and other questions. The facial analytics technology would scan hundreds of points on your face and extract certain information, including your body mass index, physiological age (in layman’s terms, how old you look) and whether you’re aging faster or slower than your actual age.

Ricanek says the program can detect makeup, but not plastic surgery. It verifies identity by comparing the photo to the one on your driver’s license.

The insurer would combine the results with your application answers and, if it chooses, any other information it typically pulls. If approved for coverage, you could buy a policy immediately online.

Several of the largest life insurers contacted for this story declined to comment on the Lapetus product or the potential use of facial analytics in the underwriting process.

Ricanek worked on facial recognition technology for the FBI’s Biometric Center of Excellence and is a computer science professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He started Lapetus with S. Jay Olshansky, a public health professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Lapetus launched Chronos, its first product, in November 2015.

SHORTENING THE WAIT

Insurers are in a tough spot because consumers are used to buying products instantly. But it can take a month or longer to approve coverage if the insurer requires a medical exam.

Exams cost insurers money, says Samantha Chow, a life insurance and annuities senior analyst for Aite Group, a research and advisory firm in Boston.

And fewer people are buying. In 2016, an estimated 9.4 million individual policies were sold, down from 17.7 million individual policies in 1984, according to LIMRA.

Consumers don’t like waiting. Only 42% of consumers said it was OK to wait a month for policy approval, and less than 18 percent said waiting for two months was acceptable, according to a 2015 study by LIMRA and Life Happens, another trade group.

Chow tested the Lapetus platform as part of research of automated underwriting for Aite. She says the ease of the process could appeal to consumers who want a quick way to buy coverage.

PHOTO OPS

Ricanek says his company’s market research found that consumers are willing to share photos with insurers if they get something back, such as the opportunity to buy coverage quickly.

Amy Bach, executive director of consumer advocacy group United Policyholders, says such technology could be good for consumers if it makes the application process easier.

But she says she is concerned that insurers may rely too heavily on new technology and find later that their risk projections were off.

Meanwhile, Lapetus is exploring how facial analytics may identify early signs of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease or dementia. And it’s developing a feature that it says will be able to tell whether someone ever smoked. Among the clues are early signs of crow’s feet around the eyes and under-eye bagging. “Smoking is going to be written on your face,” Ricanek says. “Even if you stopped smoking, once it’s written, it’s there.”

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