The U.S. National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which was due to expire in two months, has been extended for six months under a bill approved by the House of Representatives. This will extend the program until March 31, 2010. Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) in 1968 to help millions of American homeowners, renters, and business owners to secure coverage if their community participates in the NFIP. Participating communities agree to adopt and enforce ordinances that meet or exceed FEMA requirements to reduce the risk of flooding.
Standard homeowners insurance policies don’t cover flooding so it’s important to know your relative risk of floods – it may be higher than you realize. You can check your relative flood risk, view your local flood map, and access other flood-related information at FloodSmart, the official web site of the NFIP.
If you live in Massachusetts and you own a scooter, the rules of the game are changing on July 31. Currently, many owners of 50cc scooters – such as some makes of Vespas and Hondas – have been registering these vehicles as mopeds, which requires only a sticker. But under the new law, “limited use” vehicles that can reach speeds of between 30 and 40 miles per hour must now carry license plates and owners will be required to insure them. Mopeds that do not reach speeds of 30 miles per hour do not need to be plated. The state also defines another category of “low speed” vehicles that travel between 20 and 25 mph.
The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles offers more information about the new law and the distinction between mopeds, “low speed” and “limited use” vehicles. If you are unsure about insurance requirements, call your local agent.
The new law is taking many scooter owners by surprise. In addition to the insurance and registration requirements, there was one other controversial side effect to the law – because vehicles with plates cannot park on sidewalks, scooter users were at risk of losing their special free parking status, one of the main benefits for commuters. At least for now, the city of Boston has agreed that the ban on sidewalk parking won’t be enforced unless scooters are blocking handicapped access or otherwise parked obtrusively.
When it comes to driving distractions like cellphones and texting, most people underestimate the danger that they pose and overestimate their own ability to multitask at the wheel. The New York Times has created a text while driving simulator, an interactive game that measures how your reaction time is affected by external distractions. Try it out and see how you do.
According to a news story accompanying this game, there is extensive research documenting the dangers of distracted driving:
“Studies say that drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers, and the likelihood that they will crash is equal to that of someone with a .08 percent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated. Research also shows that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting that the behavior is safe.
A 2003 Harvard study estimated that cellphone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries.
Yet Americans have largely ignored that research. Instead, they increasingly use phones, navigation devices and even laptops to turn their cars into mobile offices, chat rooms and entertainment centers, making roads more dangerous.”
When times are tough, rest assured there are always scam artists around to try to make things worse. The Federal Trade Commission recently announced that it is launching a major sweep to target fraudsters and scammers who proliferate in economic downturns. Scammers thrive on people’s very human vulnerabilities: fear, stress, anxiety, greed, vanity, honesty, and compassion. Where once scammers would use mail, phone, or even local solicitation, today easy to e-mail and websites allows scammers another avenue, one that can deploy pitches widely and quickly. Common schemes in this economy include get-rich-quick schemes, debt-reduction scams, job recruitment scams and work-at-home scams. Authorities warn people to beware of any jobs that require fees: “Pitches for bogus work-at-home opportunities involving medical billing, rebate processing, “mystery shopper” positions that promise to pay you for buying products anonymously for companies, and money-order processing jobs also are on the rise, say Better Business Bureau and consumer-protection officials.”
Then National Consumers League has recently released its semi-annual ranking of the top telemarketing and Internet scams: Top Scams, Jan. – June 2009
1. Fake Check Scams
2. Internet: Gen Merchandise
3. Prizes/Sweepstakes/Free Gifts
5. Nigerian Money Offers (not prizes)
6. Business Opportunities/Franchises/Distributorship
7. Advance Fee Loans, Credit Arrangers
8. Friendship & Sweetheart Swindles
9. Internet: Auctions
10. Lotteries/Lottery Ticket Buying Clubs
If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is
Be super cautious in giving out personal information to anyone, particularly online
Learn how to protect against phishing and other online scams designed to get your personal information or your money
Don’t send money to anyone you don’t know
Avail yourself of consumer protection tools and resources – we’ve compiled some below