You’ve won! Beware of sweepstakes and lottery scams

Money raining from the skyIf there’s one old adage you should take to heart and live by, it is this: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Here’s a real world application: You get an email, phone call or letter telling you that you’ve just won a sweepstakes or lottery that you never entered. Do this: throw it out. And if the correspondent asks you for money in the form of a processing or transaction fee, run, don’t walk, to report it to state or federal fraud authorities.

These phony “wins” are part of a network of sweepstakes and lottery scams that are proliferating like bad weeds. They proliferate because, unfortunately, they have a lot of takers — probably because most people have fantasies of winning. Criminals are devious, persistent, and expert at targeting our human foibles: our fears, our hopes, our carelessness – and our greed.

The November Consumer Reports focuses on fraud targeting the elderly, and they feature one article — Anatomy of a Swindle — that outlines how these sweepstakes scams work. And while the issue deals with fraud aimed at the elderly, people of all ages are susceptible to fraud. Read the article, and if you have elderly friends or relatives, make sure they are familiar with these scams too.

The FTC offers a must-read about common warning signs for prize scams. It’s worth a quick read.

The FBI also offers information about frequent scams and tips for avoiding fraud. These three are particularly relevant to this type of fraud:

  • Don’t pay for a “free prize.” If a caller tells you the payment is for taxes, he or she is violating federal law.
  • Always take your time making a decision. Legitimate companies won’t pressure you to make a snap decision.
  • Never send money or give out personal information such as credit card numbers and expiration dates, bank account numbers, dates of birth, or social security numbers to unfamiliar companies or unknown persons.

How to file a complaint

If you have a scam or fraud complaint, here are several ways to file a report.


Dying for a good selfie shot?

From a Russian Selfie Safety campaign

From a Russian Selfie Safety campaign

Globally, more people have died in selfie-taking incidents this year than were killed by sharks. Nope, that’s unfortunately not a joke. So far this year, here’s the toll: Selfies, 12. Sharks, 8. From live grenades, bull chases and clifftops: people are dying to take selfies.

There’s even a Wikipedia page that tracks selfie-related deaths and serious injuries. Some deaths are the result of daredevils trying to get just the right adventure shot. Other deaths are the result of the selfie-taker being so absorbed in photo taking that they become oblivious to surrounding dangers.

And that says nothing of the scores or injuries and near-misses that have occurred while trying to get the ultimate selfie. No matter how strong you think your selfie game is, you probably can’t outrun a bear. One phenomena that is driving park rangers crazy is the number of people who get way-too-close to wild animals so that they can snag a shot with a bear, buffalo or moose over their shoulder. So many people are doing this that at least one park in Colorado closed down to visitors to protect both the bears and the selfie-taking people. Park rangers say that getting close to a bear, bison or any wild animal is highly risky – and turning your back on them is an invitation to an attack.

In Russia, where there have been more than 100 selfie-related injuries, the interior ministry launched a Safe Selfie campaign with a motto: “Even a million ‘likes’ on social media are not worth your life and well-being.” Our post graphic shows the situations the public safety poster suggests that selfie takers avoid.

The dangers of selfie taking have been exacerbated with the popularity of selfie sticks – leading an increasing number of tourist and public venues to ban selfie sticks for for insurance liability reasons.

Pizza Hut got in on the dangers of selfie stick with a pretty humorous fake public service announcement. It’s funny because it’s true.

Don’t wait: communicate – National Preparedness Month

preparathonSeptember is National Preparedness Month and this year, the theme focuses on ensuring that you have an emergency plan in place – waiting until a disaster happens is too late. Could your household pass the 10 Minute Challenge? And in a disaster, you might not even have 10 minutes to plan!

Here are just a few of the things you should do in advance:

  • Find out about community resources and emergency services and keep on your smart phone
  • Have a plan with your family for what to do and where to meet if disaster strikes
  • Build an emergency kit and a car kit
  • Store copies of all emergency documents in a safe alternate location in case you can’t access them in your home or office
  • Have contingency plans for your pets.

September 30 is National Prepareathon Day – this site offers info on how to prepare for an earthquake, flood, tornado, winter storm, wildfire or hurricane. Find tips for creating an emergency plan and a family communication plan and get access to tools and resources to help in the planning.

Here are a few useful resources we’ve posted in the past:

How to build a survival kit

Apps that could help save your life in an emergency

Watch the roads: Autumn is peak deer-vehicle collision season

deer-in-highwayAs you’re out on the roads leaf-peeping, visiting apple orchards or commuting to-and-from work this autumn, keep a sharp eye out: The likelihood of striking a deer more than doubles in the fall.

Your normal odds of a ruminant-related collision claim is about 1 in 169, but the likelihood more than doubles during October, November and December, according to research by State Farm.

“Periods of daily high-deer movement around dawn and dusk as well as seasonal behavior patterns, such as during the October-December breeding season, increase the risk for auto-deer collisions,” said Ron Regan, executive director for the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies. “Changes in collision rates from year to year are a reflection of changing deer densities or population levels – more deer in a given area increases the potential for collision.”

Here are some other grim facts:

  • 191 deaths were the result of collisions with animals, with deer being the animal most often struck in 2013
  • The national cost per claim average is $4,135, up 6% from 2014 ($3,888)

If you see a deer in the road, should you swerve or not? Mike Winterle of Culture of Safety says don’t swerve:

“The leading cause of accidents, injuries, and deaths from deer-related accidents is when vehicles swerve in an attempt to avoid hitting a deer. Swerving can result in vehicles moving into oncoming traffic, crashing into trees and other objects, or evening rolling over. While it may be against a driver’s first instinct, the safest thing to do is slow down as much as possible and let your vehicle strike the deer. Instincts tell us to avoid an obstruction in the road, but if you can train yourself to not swerve to avoid deer in the road you will keep yourself, your passengers, and other drivers much safer.”

Here are some other tips from experts on how to avoid hitting wildlife:

III has some other advice for drivers: Cars and Deer – A Risky Combination; Consider Including Comprehensive Coverage on Your Auto Policy

For auto insurance advice, find a New England independent insurance agent – our members are the best!

Yikes – Massachusetts has some really bad drivers

bad driver

File this under “dubious distinctions”: Boston drivers, you are the worst! Your drivers are 157% more likely to get in a crash than the national average – they get in about one accident every three years. In a list of the 200 largest cities, you come in dead last at #200.

Worcester, you aren’t much better – you come in at #199. And no smirking from you, Springfield – you have the 5th worst driving record!

The honors for the city with the nation’s safest drivers goes to Kansas City, where drivers are 24.8% less likely than the average U.S. driver to get in a crash.

The ranking is from Allstate’s annual “America’s Best Driver Report.” You can read a summary of our miserable record at’s story: Bostonians crash more than twice as often as the average driver

The only consolation is that despite the number of bad urban drivers in the state, Massachusetts did not make the list of the 10 states with the worst driving records.

Hey, all you bad drivers – here’s some advice from “Uncle Bob”: 70 Rules of Defensive Driving

How to stop a runaway horse & other vintage life hacks from days of yore

We thought we’d ease you back to the work week with a fun post on vintage life hacks. The Internet loves “life hacks” – tips, tricks and shortcuts to solve everyday problems or help you increase efficiency. We’ve carried some previously here on this blog – see Handy household hacks: creative uses for everyday products and Everyday products you’ve probably been using wrong.

Back in the olden days (yes, there was life before the Internet, kids), “life hacks” were often called “household hints” and were often featured in newspaper and magazine columns. But before that, in the Victorian era, there were “trade cards.” Trade cards were typically two-sided cards with art on one side and information on the other side. The content could be fun, humorous, useful or handy. They were an important part of pop culture of the day. The goal was to carry an advertiser’s brand and get people to collect the entire series. Cigarette manufacturers eagerly seized on trade cards as a way to spark repeat purchases.

Here’s a link to a gallery of vintage household hints from Gallaher’s Cigarettes of Belfast & London on such useful topics as how to make a fire extinguisher, how to extract a splinter, how to clean real lace and how to stop a runaway horse. We’ve excerpted a few below.

Other advertiser’s also produced “how-to” trade cards of household hints. Check the site’s sidebar to explore more topics.


How to blow a brick over


How to treat squeaky boots


How to celebrate Labor Day in New England

happy Labor Day

As we begin the Labor Day weekend, AAA reports that drivers will see the lowest Labor Day gas prices since 2004 – the current average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas is $2.46, although it could vary by state. That’s nearly $1 less than the cost last year! And the lower gas prices are one factor leading AAA to predict a very high number of people hitting the road: it’s expected that 35.5 million people will travel 50 miles or more over the weekend. If you will be on the road, leave early and drive safely!

If you’re staying in New England and haven’t finalized your plans yet, we have gathered some ideas.

Ways to Spend Labor Day Weekend in New England
Get out and enjoy what many consider the unofficial final weekend of summer at these 15 events happening throughout New England on Labor Day weekend.

Boston Labor Day Events Guide 2015
Top Things to Do on Labor Day Weekend – don’t miss the section on half-price & discount ticket deals

It’s Labor Day Weekend Hartford! Play!
Suggestions in and around Hartford from the Hartford Courant

Great things to do around Massachusetts this Labor Day weekend
From western MA to Cape Cod & the Islands

Fairs and Festivals in eastern Mass.

Celebrate food, festivals, fairs and more throughout Connecticut this Labor Day weekend!

Labor Day Weekend Fun for CT Kids: Fairs, Farms, and BBQ’s September 5-7

Fairs, Festivals, & Big NH Events Labor Day Weekend 2015

N.H. Magazine events calendar and things to do

Activities and Events in Maine – September 2015

Vermont Calendar of Events

Rhode Island Monthly calendar of events


Does homeowners insurance cover flooding?

flooded streetWe’ve said it many times before and we’ll no doubt say it again: Typical homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage. This is one of the biggest consumer misconceptions we hear – and a painful, costly lesson to learn by experience. You need a separate flood insurance policy to be covered – and your policy must be in place for at least 30 days to be in effect, so a last-minute purchase when you hear about flooding potential would be too late. September is National Preparedness Month, and in this first week, the emphasis is on flood prep – so it’s a good reminder.

Now if you have water in the cellar from a burst pipe or some other household failure, your homeowners insurance may cover your flooded basement damage. But for storm-related, flooding damage, you’d need flood coverage. Here’s a listing of what is typically covered in a flood insurance policy.

While you may think your flood risk is negligible, floods and flash floods happen in all 50 states. Here are a few interesting flood facts from that you may not know:

  • In the past 5 years, all 50 states have experienced floods or flash floods; Flash floods often bring walls of water 10 to 15 feet high.
  • People outside of mapped high-risk flood areas file over 20-percent of all National Flood Insurance Program flood insurance claims and receive one-third of Federal Disaster Assistance for flooding.
  • Your home has a 26% chance of being damaged by a flood during the course of a 30-year mortgage, compared to a 9% chance of fire.
  • A car can easily be carried away by just two feet of floodwater.
  • From 2010 to 2014, the average flood claim amounted to nearly $42,000.

Learn more about your flood risk and get an estimated coverage cost. If you don’t have flood coverage, it’s time to talk things over with your independent insurance agent.

Here are some other flood tools:

Home maintenance: What’s the life expectancy of various parts of your home?

tools in a blue jean back pocketOngoing home maintenance is important in preventing any losses that may trigger insurance claims. It can be helpful to have a guideline to gauge the expected lifespan of certain home infrastructure systems and components. When it comes to experts about home longevity, who could be better than the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)? On their site, they offer general guidelines on how many years of service a home owner can reasonably expect from the various components of a home. They caution that “…numerous factors — including use, maintenance, climate, advances in technology and simple consumer preferences — can have a dramatic effect on the longevity of a product.”

Here’s a sampling of a few items that they list:

  • Roofing. Slate, copper and clay/concrete roofs have a 50-year life expectancy; asphalt-shingle roofs, 20 years; fiber cement shingles, 25 years; and wood shakes, 30 years. However, the life of a roof depends on local weather conditions, proper building and design, material quality and adequate maintenance.
  • Countertops. Natural stone, which is less expensive than a few years ago and gaining in popularity, can last a lifetime. Cultured marble, by contrast, is relatively short-lived, with an age expectancy of 20 years.
  • Garages. Garage doors last 10 to 15 years, and light inserts for 20.

Another useful guide is InterNACHI’s Standard Estimated Life Expectancy Chart for Homes from the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. These charts offer predicted life expectancy of home appliances, products, materials, systems and components.

For a guide to the life expectancy of major home appliances, Mr.Appliance offers a low, high and average expectancy for ranges, refrigerators, dishwashers, microwaves and more.

“Bad Breaks”: RJ Mitte talks to millennials about insurance

RJ Mitte — star of the hit television series “Breaking Bad” — talks about insurance in a new series of video shorts called “Bad Breaks” which are designed to raise awareness in millennials about the importance of insurance. The series is part of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ (NAIC) Insure U. If you aren’t familiar with Insure U, check it out it’s an informative, objective user-friendly resource for reliable information about insurance. It’s designed to help educate insurance consumers about various insurance products and how to avoid being scammed. It also offers tools and resources from state insurance regulators.

RJ’s Bad Breaks: Auto Accidents Aplenty is the first release – two more are planned.