Summer vacation safety: Avoiding travel fraud & scams


You may be on vacation, but rest assured, scammers never sleep – they are hard at work thinking of new ways to separate you from your money and your identity. Consumer Reports features an article on Summer Scams to avoid – a few of these are about travel: .

  • Vacation rental scams – you book a cute cottage via the web that requires advance payment. Except the cottage doesn’t exist. Remedy: stick to established online rental vendors.
  • Discounted hotel stays. Fraudent websites can look real and make bogus offers. Remedy: Watch out for third party sites selling hotels or other goods and services at a discount. Use reputable services and be sure to dig around on a site to make sure it is the real thing before you take out your credit card.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)  talks more about vacation rental listing scams, common signs of a scam, and how to avoid being bilked. They also have an excellent
resource with travel tips designed to help you avoid scams during the travel planning and shopping process.

If you are traveling internationally, you could become an inadvertent victim of a common scam around International Driver’s license. This FTC tip sheet talks about what International Driving Permits are and what they aren’t. It says, “AAA and AATA are the only organizations authorized by the U.S. Department of State to issue IDPs to U.S. residents. Both AAA and AATA charge less than $20 for an IDP. If you’re asked to pay more, consider it a rip-off.”

Rick Steves has certainly done his share of international travel over nearly five decades as a travel expert and author. He offers a great collection of common Tourist Scams and Rip-Offs. For another good resources, see this guide to other Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them.

Summer is a great time for travel but all too often, when in a new or relaxing place, it can be easy to lower your guard. When you’re in an unfamiliar place, it’s more important that ever to be alert and maintain high situational awareness. If something seems too good to be true, it almost always is.

See more posts on common scams and frauds
And if you are going on vacation, here are 5 steps to secure your home while you are away!

MA commercial truckers take note: New requirement to carry US DOT number in September


delivery trucks and vans

If you are a Massachusetts commercial trucker engaged in intrastate commerce take note: Effective September 1, 2018, you must obtain and display a US DOT number for designated vehicles. The number must be obtained and filed with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and made visible on vehicle markings by that date, as per 540 CMR 2.22, the Commercial Marking section of the Registry of Motor Vehicles regulations.

According to State Police, “failure to obtain and display a USDOT number on your vehicles may result in a civil fine and/or placing your CMVs Out of Service until such time as your company obtains a USDOT Number.”

What MA commercial vehicles does this affect?

According to the MA Association of Insurance Agents, “The changes could affect customers that are written on a Massachusetts Auto Policy class 30 such as plumbers, carpenters, electrician, etc.”

The MA Department of Public Utilities Transportation Oversight says that affected vehicles include those that are:

  • Engaged in intrastate commerce having a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 or more pounds; or
  • Used in the transportation of hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placarding; or
  • Designed to transport more than 15 passengers including the driver, used in intrastate commerce in Massachusetts.

Note: Intrastate operation means you conduct business solely within Massachusetts.

How do you obtain a US DOT number?

According to the MA State Police, to obtain a USDOT, go to the FMSCA website. Follow links to obtain an intrastate USDOT number. Your company will be issued a USDOT number that must be displayed on all CMVs that your company operates, including leased vehicles. There is no charge to obtain this number from the USDOT-FMCSA.

What are the new rules about DOT markings?

For guidance on displaying the DOT number on your vehicles, see:

 

Seniors: Be alert for a new Medicare scam


Nationwide, commissioners of insurance departments and state attorneys general are sounding the alert: there’s a new wave of Medicare scams.

Medicare is issuing new cards to beneficiaries – they started mailing them in April and it will take a year to distribute them all. The purpose of the new cards is to make them more secure and reduce the potential for identity theft by replacing a beneficiary’s Social Security number with a new, secure number. Here’s a picture of what the new card will look like.

picture of new Medicare card

These cards are issued by mail and they are free. You don’t need to do anything as long as your address is up to date. You can sign up at Medicare.gov to get an alert when your new card is in the mail. If you need to update your mailing address, visit your My Social Security account.

Of course, scammers are jumping into action to try to sow confusion and get between you and your new card. Medicare issues these tips to avoid scams:

  • Medicare will never call you uninvited and ask you to give us personal or private information to get your new Medicare Number and card.
  • Scam artists may try to get personal information (like your current Medicare Number) by contacting you about your new card.
  • If someone asks you for your information, for money, or threatens to cancel your health benefits if you don’t share your personal information, hang up and call us at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).
  • Only give personal information like your Medicare Number to doctors, insurers acting on your behalf, or trusted people in the community who work with Medicare like your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).

Do you need smartphone insurance?


cracked smartphone screen

Smartphones are more and more essential to daily life, but as the features and technology improve, the costs continue rising. While there are some decent bargain phones for under $300 on the market, so-called flagship models range from $800 to $1000 – and even more with some add-ons and options. When you buy a pricey new phone or replace an old one, one of the first questions you’ll be asked is if you want a coverage plan. It pays to research these things in advance and to understand the pros and cons so you don’t wind up making a quick decision on the spot. You want to weigh the cost of your phone and potential repairs against the cost of coverage. That entails checking with your insurance agent to see what coverage you have on existing policies and what the limits are. Once you know that, research coverage available from the phone manufacturer and your phone provider.

Does your homeowners insurance cover a smart phone?

One question that many people have is “doesn’t my homeowners policy already cover me if my phone is stolen or damaged?” That depends. If your phone is stolen or if it destroyed by a fire or some other covered peril, your homeowners or renters policy would generally cover that – check with your insurance agent to be sure. If it isn’t covered on your existing policy, you could probably have the phone and any other electronics added to your coverage for a small fee. Of course, any claim would be subject to a deductible.

Learn what the coverage limits are. Most homeowners or renters policies will not cover mishaps like screen breaks, technology failures or lost phones. If you feel you need coverage for those types of problems, there are plans available from phone manufacturers and providers so check in advance to see what coverage plans they offer, what they cover and what the cost is.

Here’s a handy article that offers some guidance to help you think things through: Consumer Reports: is insurance for your smartphone a smart idea?

A Consumer Reports survey found that over the last two years, half those who were surveyed reported a major incident with a phone in their household. The incidence rose to 81% if there were kids in the house. Cracked screens are the most common problem reported. The article notes that repairs for a cracked screen can range from $145 on an Apple iPhone 8 to $277 on a Samsung Galaxy S8+. AppleCare+ currently costs $129 for a 2-year plan; Samsung Premium Care is $11.99 a month. Other phone models can have different pricing.  Many describe the manufacturers’ plans as more extended warranties than insurance. Major phone service providers also offer plans that offer various coverage options. Some plans include repairs, loss and theft. With any plan, find out about what the plans do and don’t cover, what the deductibles are for any claims and what the coverage limits are.

So should you get a smartphone insurance plan?

First, check with your agent to learn what insurance coverage, if any, you already have. Learn the limits to your coverage, such as repairs or screen breaks. Then, weigh the cost of your phone and the cost or repairs/replacement with any available plans. You might want to factor in your past experience with phones. Have you had expensive repairs or frequent screen breaks with prior phones? Consumer Reports offers this rule of thumb: if you feel like within a two year period you’re likely to have two or more incidents occur to your phone, you may want to get a coverage plan.

32 ways to explore New England this summer


children looking through nautical glasses

How many ways are there to enjoy New England in the summer? Thousands! From beaches and festivals to museums and parades, there’s absolutely no shortage of places to see and activities to participate in.  We’ve compiled a list of 32 of the best ideas and guides to ensure you don’t miss a thing.

AAA offers many great ideas for exploring New England:

Yankee Magazine and its sister site New England Today consistently offer great ideas for seasonal activities.

Visit New England is a state-by-state guide encompassing places to visit, things to see and do and a calendar of events:

Discover New England is another popular travel guide that offers state-by-state ideas for events, activities, and places to visit.

Here’s a list of some other good guides from various sources: