Animals enjoying Christmas


Just for the holidays, we bring you an array of videos of animals enjoying Christmas. And if you don’t get your fill here, try our Cats & Dogs of Christmas 2015.

First up – Internet favorite pooch Maymo is surprised by a puppy for Christmas

How to protect your tree

Gift wrapping tips

Not many people know it, but Santa often makes the rounds to the world’s zoos before he visits children. Here  are a few of his early stops.

Do you have a “bug-out bag” ready?


emergency preparedness checklist

If you’ve followed news about the California wildfires, you know that many people are forced to flee their homes unexpectedly at a moment’s notice. A little bit of planning goes a long way when it comes to disaster preparedness. One of the best ways to get ready for the worst is by putting together a “bug-out bag” – a collection of important documents and valuables, all in one place, ready to be scooped up and transported at a moment’s notice.

What’s In The Bag?

A quick online search will show a plethora of survival kits available for purchase, and while those are useful (and you already have a small emergency kit in your vehicle for the winter, right?), they’re not exactly what we’re looking for here. For most of us, wilderness survival isn’t our goal when putting together a bug-out bag – when the wildfire comes or the hurricane hits or the earthquake shakes, we want to have handy the documents and means to begin the long and complicated process of rebuilding our lives.

So think of your bug-out bag as a starting point. It’s going to have in it the stuff you need to get started again. And a lot of that stuff is paper records.

The Virtual Bag

One of the best ways to ensure that your valuable records aren’t lost is redundancy. And one of the best ways of storing those redundant records is electronically. Keep copies on your phone, on your tablet, on your PC, and in the cloud. Take care to encrypt and password-protect those files. Then you’ll have them at your fingertips when you need them the most. Do the same with irreplaceable family photographs and videos. Inventory your belongings by photo or video. If it can be digitized, digitize it! And then make sure it’s securely stored in more than one place.

What Records Are We Talking About?

The vital ones! Birth certificates, marriage certificates, deeds and titles, passports and visas, papers of incorporation, leases, contracts, you name it! Some of the most important documents to store in your bug-out bag (virtual or not) are insurance records. Make sure those documents have with them your policy numbers, your insurance agent’s contact information, and instructions on how to file a claim.

And While You’re There…

Since you’re already going through all that insurance paperwork, now’s a great time to review your policies and make sure you have adequate coverage. Have you built additions to the house not covered by the original policy? What’s your policy’s loss-of-use coverage? Has your property value increased? What’s the cost to replace your property? Maybe a quick chat with your insurance agent is in order! It can’t hurt to check in with her annually, anyway. Go see her. She’ll probably give you one of those little magnetic tear-off fridge calendars; those are cool. Whether you rent or own, staying up-to-date with your personal and business insurance is the best way to limit the damage a catastrophe can cause.

Peace of Mind

Now that your documents are digitized and distributed, your vital papers safely stashed, and your emergency supplies consolidated, relax! Enjoy the feeling of being prepared. Add items and remove them from your bug-out bag as you see fit and as your circumstances demand. It’s much easier to maintain a secure document cache than it is to create one. Once you’ve put a process in place, you’ll find it easy to maintain. And now that you’ve got all your unique documents duplicated and secured, go to FEMA for a comprehensive checklist of other items to keep close in case of emergency.

Related posts:

Don’t let email scams hijack your holiday!


illustration of thief robbing santa

As seasonal shopping ramps up both on and offline, there are many opportunities for scammers and thieves to separate you from your hard-earned money.  Dial up your fraud awareness radar to the max – particularly when shopping online. Today, we’ll focus on email scams, a favorite tool for crooks. We’ve been monitoring our email spam folders and monitoring news reports to bring you some common scams this year.

Shipping status phishing emails: Be alert for emails telling you to login to check shipping status for recent purchases. This often works because it uses the names and logos of large retailers that you might actually have made a recent purchase from, such as Amazon or Walmart. Or it might be an email pretending to be Fedex, UPS, or another shipping service. Take the time to check these out carefully – did you make a purchase? Look at the information of the sender in the email header – is it legit? Hover over the link to read where it is taking you before you click. If there is any doubt, go back to the site where you made your purchase and check shipping info form there.

Emails using your name. There are many ways that scammers can get your name so that is no guarantee of legitimacy. They can even spoof your email address so that an email looks like it is coming from your own account. Here are some recent scams we’ve see using our name:

  • Cash advance for {your name}
  • Verify this charge to your {name of large retailer} account
  • Are you {your name)
  • We found your missing money {your name}
  • Hey {your name} !! Do You Remember me ?
  • Why did you text me (your name}

Gift card scams. Be alert for emails or phone calls telling you that you’ve been selected to get a $50 card or that you’ve been sent a card. In the last few weeks we’ve had malicious email attempts touting McDonald’s, Kohl’s, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Target, CVS, Apple and PayPal. Some of these mails can look very legit. Here are a few tips to stay safe:

  • Don’t buy gift cards from emails or from online auction sites. If you want to a purchase a gift card, go to the actual vendor site or their offline store.
  • When purchasing a gift card, never give private information such as your Social Security number, bank account number or date of birth.
  • Only use gift cards at the intended sites. If a caller or an online vendor tells you they only accept payments via gift cards, beware. Don’t give anyone gift card claim codes. Also, no reputable vendor or service will ask to be paid in Amazon or Apple gift cards, or any other gift cards.
  • If you purchase a gift card in a retail store, ask the cashier to scan the card to verify that the card actually reflects the stated amount and correct balance.

The TN Department of Commerce & Insurance has a good list of common holiday scams: Letter from Santa? Or is it bait from a scam artist? It’s worth glancing at their list of scams as well as  checking out their tips to stay safe.

Other common email scams and pitches we’ve seen in our spam folder lately that lead to malicious sites:

  • Check you Experian score
  • Letters from Santa offers
  • Instant loans: Get approved for $15,000 Immediately
  • Credit card offers
  • Pain drugs and medical marijuana offers
  • You have been selected for clinical trials
  • Please confirm receipt
  • Free samples

A few common signs of scams:

  • Offers that are too good to be true – they usually are fake.
  • Demands or threats to take action now to avoid consequences; emails saying “Final notice.”
  • Requests to update your information or change your password

Crooks have a lot of tricks and are good at exploiting human weaknesses. Here are a few sites that will help you learn more about current scams and improve your online safety savvy.

 

 

Seasonal Toy Safety Tips and 10 Worst Toys for 2017


children playing with toys to illustrate toy safety

It’s not all fun and games when it comes to toys. In 2016, there were 174,100 children under the age of 15 treated at emergency departments for toy-related injuries; seven children died. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently issued its seasonal toy safety alerts.

Here are their 2017 safety recommendations:

  • Check the label: Choose age appropriate toys by reading the age label on the toy. Children younger than 3 should not have access to toys with small parts, which can cause choking. Also avoid marbles and small balls for children under 3.
  • Get safety gear. With scooters and other riding toys, supervision is key along with proper safety gear that includes helmets. Helmets should be worn properly at all times and they should be sized to fit. Avoid riding a scooter on a street or roadway with other motor vehicles.
  • Hoverboards: Although not considered a toy, hoverboards should be compliant with UL 2272 safety standard.
  • Be careful with magnets: High powered magnet sets are dangerous and should be kept away from children under 14. Building and play sets with small magnets should also be kept away from small children.

The 10 Worst Toys for 2017

The World Against Toys Causing Harm (W.A.T.C.H.) also recently released its 10 Worst Toys for 2017 list – check out the slide show with photos so you can recognize the toys, some of which would definitely have appeal. It’s particularly important to be alert about avoiding recalled toys online. The W.A.T.C.H. report says that the Internet is like the Wild West when it comes to outlawed toys and that shoppers should not assume that any safeguards are in place:

Regulations and safety protocols for e-commerce transactions are often nonexistent or inadequate. Consumer-to-consumer “second-hand sales”— which are inconsistently monitored, if monitored at all — provide new opportunities for recalled toys to surface.

W.A.T.C.H. offers a list of Toy Hazards to Watch Out For as well as recent Consumer Product Safety Commission Recalls.