Post-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganzas – a few safety tips

After Thanksgiving sale

Once upon a time, we all celebrated Thanksgiving, watched a few football games and had a leisurely post-holiday weekend. Now it’s a shop-til-you-drop extravaganza that extends over 5 or 6 days – yikes!  We offer a rundown with some consumer safety tips.

Black Friday – The day after Thanksgiving is either a shopper’s paradise or a total retail nightmare, depending on your competitive shopping appetite. And check your stores – Black Friday may start on Thanksgiving Day itself at some of the nation’s biggest box stores. (Some naysayers call this “Grey Thursday).

Small Business Saturday – Go Local! – Small Business Saturday encourages holiday shoppers to support local “real world” businesses – the small, local shops, stores and businesses in your neighborhood or town.

Cyber Monday – Shop and get good deals online! But don’t let your guard down in the pursuit of good deals – cyber criminals will be out in full force.

Giving Tuesday – #GivingTuesday is a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.

Here are some “real world” shopping tips

  • Keep packages out of site in your car. Lock them in your trunk and keep car doors locked
  • Be aware of your purse and wallet at all times – pickpockets love crowds. If you can, avoid a purse or wallet entirely and store phone, cash, credit cards and IDs in a secure inner pocket.
  • Carry only the money and credit cards you need. Don’t flash cash.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Thieves and con-artists specialize in distraction techniques.
  • Don’t overload yourself with packages and impair your awareness, mobility or vision – take some to the car.
  • Remember where you parked your car. Have your keys ready and be alert for strangers when you approach it.
  • Shop with a friend or family member, particularly at night. There’s safety in numbers.

Here are a few safe online shopping tips:

  • Update your web security, anti-virus and malware detection programs snf be sure your firewall is on.
  • Watch out for email phishing offers, the spoofed mails look authentic. Don’t click the link, type in the website.
  • Purchase only in a secure environment – check for “https” in the address in your web browser – the “s” stands for “secure” – never conduct a transaction without it.
  • Public Wi-Fi is not secure so avoid doing banking and transactions that would expose your credit cards, passwords, or personal info.
  • Update your passwords before shopping. Create unique passwords for each site – here are some tips for creating secure passwords.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Watch out for “free” gift offers and contests from unknown sites. Don’t give away any personal information or credit card numbers to anyone you don’t know.


Best & Worst Thanksgiving Driving Times

If you’ll be driving to visit friends or family on Thanksgiving, you’ll enjoy remarkably low gas prices. Gas Buddy reports that the national average per gallon is $2.139, down .73 from last year’s average of $2.876! And last year, we thought that was cheap! Here’s a map so you can see state-by-state gas rates.

It’s a good idea to plan your best routes and times now. You can get some tips about the best and worst times for Thanksgiving road travel via Waze, a community-based mobile app that tracks traffic trends around the world. Waze analyzed data from 2014 to make predictions for the best and worst times for traffic this Thanksgiving.

First, the best time for driving to and fro is Thanksgiving Day itself.

They predict a number of “worst days” for pre-holiday

  • Tuesday, November 24, beginning at 1 pm, with a peak between 4 pm and 8 pm
  • Wednesday November 25, starting at 11 am and lasting through the day

…and worst days for post-holiday

  • Sunday, November 29 – rush hour will last all day
  • Monday, Monday November 30 – expect a heavier rush hour from 10am through noon

Google Maps also offers a day-by-day breakdown of predicted traffic. They suggest that Tuesday is slightly better travel day than Wednesday for getting there – but one local place that might be an exception is in Boston, where Tuesday tends to be historically worse. For traveling back home, they suggest that Sunday is a better day to travel back home than Saturday, which can be 40% worse. We’ve excerpted a few visual tips from their 2014 blog, check them out below.

And if you plan to be on the road, Consumer Reports offers some good Thanksgiving driving planning and safety tips – check them out!





Vintage insurance advertising!

Photo from the library of Congress

Photo from the library of Congress

Photoshop has nothing on the photo montage specialists of the 1800s, who were adept at “trick photography.” Witness this historic Civil War era image title “Union Commanders” from the Library of Congress. Linton Weeks of NPR’s history department took a closer look, noting that although the photo is dated 1884, several of the people in the photo had been dead for decades by that point.

It turns out it the “photo” is an example of an early insurance ad – from one of our insurance company partners, no less: A caption on the photo says “With compliments,” signed by Travelers Life and Accident Insurance Co. There was a similar image produced of Confederate generals.

NPR asked the folks at Travelers about the photo:

“The photo-artist “used individual photographs of the Confederate commanders and created a composite picture of them together,” she says. “The figures were cut from the print and pasted on a painted background. This process would be similar to using software like Photoshop in today’s terms to place images together in one photo.

“The idea of using the pictures as advertising came from Maj. Edward Preston, the Travelers superintendent of agencies, Davidson says. “The first copy of the ‘Confederate Commanders’ was delivered to Jefferson Davis by the Travelers representative in Montgomery, Ala. Copies also were sent to all the living generals in both pictures.”

She adds that the success of the ad campaign prompted more composites, including “Famous American Authors,” “Eminent Women” and “Famous Editors.”

Photoshop may have made photo manipulations easier for the average person, but photo manipulations go way back. Check out this fun gallery of 15 Photo Manipulations Before the Digital Age.

Whether using photos or illustrations, trade cards were a common form of advertising in the 1800s for all types of products and services. Life Insurance was a pretty common theme. Explores some fascinating examples of Victorian Trade Cards.

Many thanks to all veterans! Here’s a guide to some freebies on Veterans Day

We salute and honor our veterans this week! Here’s a touching tribute video of Norah Jones singing the American Anthem with some great portraits of veterans through our history.

On Veterans Day, as a small token of appreciation for service, many businesses offer free meals, beverages or discounts to current and former military members on Veteran’s Day. Here are some that we’ve found.

Veterans Day Discounts and Freebies

2015 Veterans Day Free Meals, Discounts, Sales and Deals

2015 Veterans Day free meals and discounts – find local offers

2015 Veterans Day Free Meals and Discounts

Giving Back

Support these organizations that are not only offering discounts to vets but are also contributing a portion of sales to donations for veterans’ causes.

If you’d like to support our veterans, Charity Watch and Charity Navigator offer lists of organizations.

Don’t let a valuable collection go up in smoke: Talk to your agent about insurance

Comic book big explosionAre you a collector? If you’ve amassed a significant collection, you may want to have its value appraised and consider adding specialty coverage or an endorsement to your homeowners insurance policy. Whether your collection is fine antiques, stamps, musical instruments, vintage costume jewelry or comic books, it can amass in value. You should talk over your collection with your insurance agent and see if it makes sense to protect your investment.

Take comic books. Vintage comics that were bought for mere pennies in the last century are now valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. A few prized comic editions have even reached into the millions at auctions.

This PropertyCasualty360 video is a case in point. Shawn Moynihan interviews Vincent Zurzolo, COO and co-founder of Metropolis Collectibles, a large and respected rare comic book dealer. It’s interesting from several perspectives: as a business case study of a fascinating niche business, as a discussion of commercial risk management, and also in the lessons it offers to personal hobbyists and collectors about protecting investments.

Zurzola shares interesting information about Metropolis Collectibles’ huge comics collection and the risk management steps they take for protection. He also has a few words for personal collectors. He says that just the way you protect the investment in your home or car by having insurance, you should protect your valuable collections too. He says, “… collectors feel like they are insured through their homeowners insurance policies sometimes they are and sometimes they’re not and finding out when its too too late is a tragedy.” He shares a cautionary story about an uninsured client who lost a valuable collection in Hurricane Sandy. He also notes that because collectibles frequently increase and decrease in value, it’s a good idea to do an annual review every year when insurance policies are up for review. He suggests that if you can’t evaluate your collection yourself, seek the help of an expert.

Halloween history and tips to keep the monsters at bay

Ever wonder about how Halloween first started? This interesting video guide gives you a historical look at how the holiday evolved. It’s a fun overview from FastCompany’s Brand Evolution series.

Pop Quiz: What’s the scariest place to be on Halloween?

If that is not scary enough, please note that the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America says that Halloween sparks more vandalism claims than any other day of the year: “The average cost per claim on Halloween was $1,660, which is approximately 9 percent higher than the annual daily average cost per claim.” Vandalism isn’t the only seasonal peril – here’s a witches’ brew of liability issues for homeowners.

Here’s a roundup of some other handy links to help ensure that you have a safe and fun weekend:

Oh! And don’t forget to get your zombie insurance!

Curb that road rage!

Angry driverLast week, another person was killed in a road rage incident in New Mexico, shot in cold blood. This sad event is notable mainly because the victim was a sweet, innocent four-year old child. According to statistics, at least 218 people have been murdered in road rage incidents over the last 7 years; another 12 thousand plus have suffered injuries. Two-thirds of traffic fatalities are caused by aggressive driving.

Aggression is often matched by aggression, resulting in escalating tensions: Half of drivers who are on the receiving end of an aggressive behavior, such as horn honking, a rude gesture, or tailgating admit to responding with aggressive behavior themselves. Think twice next time you are tempted to retaliate or escalate because 37% of aggressive driving incidents involve a firearm.

Jayleen R. Heft of talks about these and other stats in her article, Scary drivers! What you need to know about road rage. In the article, she draws the distinction between aggressive driving and road rage – although the lines often blur:

“Although defining road rage is complicated and varies by jurisdiction, generally, the difference between aggressive driving and road rage is that aggressive driving is a traffic offense while road rage is a criminal offense. Currently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines aggressive driving as occurring when “an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property.”

On the other hand, road rage is generally defined as “an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by a vehicle’s operators or passenger(s) upon another person, when the assault was precipitated by an incident, which occurred on a roadway. Road rage requires willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others.”

If you have a road rage incident on your record, it is “a serious red flag” that will, at minimum, result in higher insurance rates. Not only will it be more difficult and more expensive to obtain coverage, if you have any accidents that result from your road rage, you may have difficulty with any associated claims because road rage is often listed as an exclusion in many auto policies.

Heft’s article offers a laundry list of driving behaviors that would be considered aggressive, such as tailgating, making hand gestures at other drivers, using emergency lanes or shoulders to pass, and unnecessary use of high beams.

Protecting yourself from road rage incidents

Driving experts say that it in addition to safe, courteous driving, it is very important not to escalate a situation or to retaliate in any way. You have no idea who the other driver is, whether they have a weapon, and how far they will take a situation. You can’t control them or their behavior — but you can control your own temper and your own behavior. For some, it may take practice. Heft’s article offers some excellent tips to help you avoid road rage encounters. We’re reprinting an abbreviated version here:

  • Don’t assume other drivers are evil. Sometimes, people make mistakes, or they might be driving more slowly for a reason.
  • Don’t honk your horn insistently. It’s really annoying and increases everyone’s stress level.
  • If someone is tailgating you, don’t aggravate yourself and the other driver by playing cat and mouse with your speed. Move out of the way and let the other driver pass you.
  • Crank some tunes, not the engine. Try listening to music as it can help keep you calm.
  • Leave space to pull around the car in front of you. Leaving some wiggle room can reduce vulnerability if the driver in front of you gets aggressive.
  • Try not to run late. When you’re in a hurry, your patience is short, and you’re much more likely to become aggravated.
  • Avoid cutting other drivers off in traffic.
  • Signal several hundred feet before you change lanes or make a turn.
  • Avoid making any gestures or eye contact with another driver.
  • Be courteous in the use of high-beam headlights.
  • Obey speed limits.
  • Drive in the right or middle lane; pass on the left.
  • Stop at stop signs and red lights; don’t run yellow lights.
  • Don’t block intersections.
  • Report any aggressive driving incidents to the police immediately. also offers Top 10 Tips To Prevent Road Rage. Here are a few that we found particularly noteworthy:

Your car is not a therapist. Many of us love and identify with our cars (part of why launched CarSpace), but sometimes you can take the “car as extension of self” idea too seriously. If your boss or your spouse left you steaming, take care not to use driving as a way to blow off steam. Competitive types (you know who you are) shouldn’t try to prove themselves on heavily traveled thoroughfares — save that enthusiasm for weekend romps on your favorite back roads. No matter how much power you’ve got under the hood, your vehicle is first and foremost a mode of transportation, not a weapon.

Practice kindness. Dr. Leon James, a.k.a. “Dr. Driving” and author of Road Rage and Aggressive Driving, says that remembering simple courtesies, like allowing someone to merge or apologizing when we make a mistake, can go a long way in making the driving experience positive for ourselves and others. His basic motto is the old “do unto others” rule: Treat fellow drivers how you would like to be treated. As additional incentive, reducing your aggressiveness on the road can also keep you out of serious trouble: Several states have created special law enforcement teams to seek out and cite aggressive drivers. Depending on the frequency of offenses, violators may be fined, lose their license temporarily or even face jail time. Often, they are required to take a behavior-modification class as well.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety also offers great tips: Road Rage: How to Avoid Aggressive Driving (pdf). One tip we think bears repeating:

Adjust your attitude – – The most important actions you can take to avoid aggressive driving take place inside your head. By changing your approach to driving, you can make every trip more pleasant. Try these ideas for a pleasant change:

Forget winning. For too many motorists, driving becomes a contest. Do you allow the shortest possible time for a trip and then race the clock? If something happens to slow you
down do you get angry? The solution: Allow more time for your trip. You’ll be amazed at how much more relaxed you feel when you have a few extra minutes. So instead of trying to “make good time,” try to “make time good.” Listen to soothing music or a book on tape. Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing. You’ll arrive much calmer, fresher, and in a less stressed-out frame of mind.
Put yourself in the other driver’s shoes. Instead of judging the other driver, try to imagine why he or she is driving that way. Someone speeding and constantly changing lanes may be a volunteer fireman, or a physician rushing to a hospital. Someone who jerks from one lane to another may have a bee in the car or a crying baby. Whatever their reason, it has nothing to do with you. Stay cool and don’t take other drivers’ actions personally.

What Americans fear the most

man hiding behind a tableWe’re in the spooky season, so it’s a perfect time to deal with the stuff that scares us. And just in time, we have a survey about America’s Top Fears, 2015 style.

In its second year of surveys on the topic of fears, Chapman University researchers conducted a random sampling of more than 1,500 U.S. adults last spring and have recently published the results. Participants were asked what frightened them on a variety of topics ranging from crime, the government, disasters, personal anxieties, technology and many others. The research team leading this effort pared the information down into four basic categories: personal fears, natural disasters, paranormal fears and drivers of fear behavior.

You can read about all the fears and see infographics. We’ve included a list of the 10 fears with the highest percentage of Americans who reported being “Afraid,” or “Very Afraid.”

  • Corruption of Government Officials – 58.0%
  • Cyber-terrorism – 44.8%
  • Corporate Tracking of Personal Information – 44.6%
  • Terrorist Attacks – 44.4%
  • Government Tracking of Personal Information – 41.4%
  • Bio-Warfare – 40.9%
  • Identity Theft – 39.6%
  • Economic Collapse – 39.2%
  • Running of out Money in the Future – 37.4%
  • Credit Card Fraud – 36.9%

Now as you read the above list and the much more extensive list in the link, contrast it with this: the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S.

  • Heart disease: 611,105
  • Cancer: 584,881
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 149,205
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 130,557
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,978
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 84,767
  • Diabetes: 75,578
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 56,979
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 47,112
  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 41,149

Some of our fears are real and some are outsized based on the actual odds. Auto accidents weren’t on the list, but they caused more than 30,000 deaths last year. The insurance business is about risk and odds. Our fears are often out of step with reality – what we fear the most is frequently less risky than other common every day occurrences. See our post about What’s actually dangerous

Some other related posts that may be interesting include:
Life expectancy and your chances of reaching 100

What are the odds? Mortality calculators

Hedge your bets: Talk to your local agent about Life Insurance!

Ten dog breeds that might cause problems with your home insurance

angry dog with bared teethPeople love their pets so discussions of dangerous dogs can be a controversial topic — but when it comes to insurance, it’s a costly issue. In 2014, dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars paid out – a total of more than $530 million, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The number of dog bite claims are going down – they dropped by 4.7% in 2014 – but the average cost per dog bite claim is climbing. In 2014, it was up 15 percent to $32,072 – compared with $27,862 in 2013.

Some insurance companies will limit homeowners insurance availability based on dog breed or dog history. PropertyCasualty360 has an article on the 10 dog breeds most often blacklisted by home insurance carriers. They say:

“The breed of dog you own could make it more difficult to secure Homeowners insurance. Insurers are hesitant in offering coverage to homeowners who own breeds and mixes that insurers believe are more likely to bite and cause injuries. According to, more than 700 cities in the U.S. have adopted breed-specific laws since the mid-1980s, following the rise in popularity of pit bulls in the general population.”

Is it legal for an insurance company to deny coverage or otherwise discriminate based on dog breed? Yes, and the MSPCA explains why:

“The law does not prohibit insurance companies from discrimination based on breed. While breed-specific city and town ordinances have been challenged on constitutional grounds, such as due process and equal protection, insurance companies–because they are not part of the government–are not subject to these constitutional restrictions.”

Many insurance companies don’t have a blanket breed ban. The MSPCA cites several national insurers that will instead “… work on a case by case basis, considering the individual dog’s behavior and history, and may require a meet and greet with the dog and/or a Canine Good Citizen certification.”

If you have a dog or are thinking of getting a dog, talk to your insurance agent about the insurance considerations.

Here are some other dogs & insurance resources that might be helpful


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.