Last-Minute Halloween Liability Issues


costumed kids trick or treating

Halloween is scary enough, we don’t mean to add to your fright, but if you are a homeowner or an apartment dweller, there are some safety precautions you should take to greet the little ghosts and goblins who will be ringing your bell or roaming the streets.

A few years ago, Christopher Boggs wrote a great Guide to Homeowners Liability for Injury to Trick or Treaters. He notes:

When the porch light is on, trick-or-treaters are considered invitees; the homeowner is inviting them onto the property (though not for a mutual benefit). Because of this relationship, the homeowner owes the candy seekers the level of “reasonable” care that falls under Ordinary Negligence.

Now anytime you have anyone visit your home, they could suffer an injury or an accident – that’s why you have insurance. But on Halloween, a steady stream of small feet traipsing across your porch in the dark increases the risk. Plus, you are giving out food.

Here are some tips to minimize Halloween hazards and reduce your risk.

  • Keep porches and walkways well-lit and free of debris and clutter that might be tripping hazards
  • Put reflective tape on your steps and along your walkway
  • When decorating, avoid candles – use LED lights and battery-powered lights instead.
  • Keep pets away from kids to avoid bites, scares or allergic reactions. Even friendly pets can be overexcited or upset by the unusual activity and may be skittish or overly protective.
  • Avoid mystery treats. Distribute labeled treats and tell parents what they are and if they contain nuts.
  • Provide alternative allergy-free treats – consider small non-food trinkets.
  • Be cautious about any spooky pranks for kids or guests – make sure they are safe and not too scary to young children.
  • If you are hosting an adult party, you have particular responsibility to take care in the serving of alcoholic beverages. See our post on holiday parties and liability issues.
  • If you are driving any time on Halloween, be super cautious. Little monsters may be out at any hour and frequenting normally quiet neighborhoods. Be particularly cautious at dusk an early evening.

Protect your home and car too!

Halloween is a huge night for vandalism. Here are a few tips to protect your property from fire, theft and vandalism.

    • Don’t overload electrical circuits with lights.
    • Paper and dried plant decorations can easily ignite. Keep them away from flames, lights, and electrical cords.
    • Lock up bicycles, gas grills and other outdoor valuables.
    • Park your car in a garage, if possible. Mischief makers may egg your house or car.
    • If you don’t have shelter for your car, consider stopping at the car wash for a coat of wax that may offer some protection.
    • If you are out trick or treating with your kids or partying with your peers, make your home looks occupied. Leave lights and the TV on.
    • Doorbell cams and motion activated lights can offer added protection.
    • If your car or home is egged, deal with it right away that night or in the morning before damage can set in. See How to Remove Egg Stains From Your Car’s Paint Job and 4 Ways to Wash Egg off your home

    Call your agent

    If you should suffer any damage to your property or have any accidents during Halloween weekend, file a claim as soon as possible to get the claim process in motion. Be ready with the details of where and when the event occurred, along with the names and addresses of any injured parties or witnesses to the event. If there is damage to your property, report it to the police, take photos, and record the details so you won’t forget them later.

Spooktacular guide to Halloween events in New England


a dark iillustratin of a haunted ymansion, a full moon and fluing bats for Halloween

It’s time to get your ghoul on! Between now and early November, there’s no shortage of spooky, haunted happenings to scare and delight you. We’ve selected a variety of haunted events and spooky places to help you enjoy the season over the next week. What’s the Weather Forecast for Halloween? Here’s the Farmers’ Almanac Prediction.

But remember – there’s one spooky place you want to avoid on Halloween at all costs!

New England Halloween Happenings

Roger Williams Park Zoo’s Jack O’Lantern Spectacular – from Zipline rides to Family Fun Nights, come enjoy thousands of carved pumpkins. Providence, RI

Sturbridge Village, The Legend of Sleep Hollow – “Recognized as one of the country’s top five Halloween plays, The Sleepy Hollow Experience is an immersive, outdoor theatrical experience that reimagines Washington Irving’s iconic 1820’s tale.

The Haunted Graveyard, Bristol CT– At dusk, take a terrifying 1 mile journey through darkly glittering catacombs to an eerie graveyard, to a vampire’s haunt, to a witch’s lair, then onto a misty lake and an ancient temple.

Haunted Happenings in Salem MA – What better place to experience Halloween than the city of the witch trials? There are a variety of events to choose from – this site says:“A festive celebration of Halloween and fall in New England. From the Grand Parade and Family Film Nights on Salem Common, to ghost tours, haunted houses and so much more.” Get an event calendar, a free guide & more.

Portsmouth NH Halloween Parade 10/31 – in its 25th year, this grassroots, all-inclusive celebration of community, creativity and free expression walks, stalks, dances, trumpets and drums its way through downtown Portsmouth.

Spooky World – Spooky World presents Nightmare New England and the Haunted Hayride. It is New England’s largest haunted attraction. (Litchfield, NH)

Posted in Events

How to avoid rogue tow truck scams


couple watching their car loaded on a tow truck

Bad enough if you are in an auto accident – that’s stressful enough. You might be injured or at the very least, shaken up. Suddenly a tow truck appears on the scene saying they are from your insurance company. While that might seem like lucky timing, it should actually raise your suspicions. High pressure tactics from rogue tow truck operators can lead to exorbitant towing and storage fees or your car being taken to a body shop that is in league with the tower. The National Insurance Crime Bureau recently released a public service announcement to raise awareness about rogue tow truck operators and how to avoid becoming a victim.

NCIB offers these tips:

  • Never give permission to a tow truck operator who arrives unsolicited to take your vehicle.
  • If you or law enforcement did not call a tow truck to the scene, do not deal with that operator.
  • Do not provide tow truck operators with your insurance information.
  • Do not provide tow truck operators with personal lien holder information.
  • Determine that the tow truck signage is identical to what appears on any documentation the tow truck operator provides (they may say they “work with” your insurance company).
  • If the tow truck does not display signage identifying the name of the tow company, ask for company identification.
  • If a tow operator’s legitimacy is in doubt, call the police.
  • Do not give a tow truck operator permission to tow your vehicle until they:
    –Provide a printed price list, to include daily storage fees and miscellaneous charges that will apply if they tow your car (if the prices seem too high, ask the police or your insurance company to call a towing service for you).
    –Provide printed documentation indicating where the vehicle is being towed if it is not a location of your choosing.

The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud offers more information on tow truck cons and scams, as well as extensive tips to for what to expect and what your rights are.

Check out the full article but here are a few tips from their list:

Think ahead: Join an emergency road service club or organization such as AAA. Also know your auto insurer’s roadside assistance program, with the tollfree number printed on your insurance card. They’ll set you up with reputable towing firms and repair shops.

Photos. Take a photo of the scene, including the tow truck. Use your cell phone or a disposable camera stored in your glove compartment.

Complain. File complaints if you’re scammed. Contact your insurer, state insurance department, local Better Business Bureau and the police.

Know your rights. State laws protect you if your vehicle is towed while you were away, such as while shopping. Confirm and complain if you suspect violations of these rules in most states:

  • The property owner or manager of a business that had your vehicle towed must be at the scene and sign the towing authorization in most states;
  • The operator must leave a small sign at the scene. It should have the firm’s name, address, phone, reason for towing, and who requested the tow;
  • Towing firms must take a photo of your vehicle in the “illegal” spot and notify the local police department to ensure the car is not classified as stolen. Get the photos from the towing firm (though expect a fee); and
  • The towing operator must release your vehicle if you will not or cannot pay the requested towing free. This is true in most states, and then becomes a matter for civil courts.

Focus on Phishing: Take these quizzes to see if you are smarter than the criminals


illustration of emails for a post on preventing phishing

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the time of year when cybersecurity experts from government, academia and industry remind us of the importance of safeguarding our digital information and reviewing our online safety practices.

One of the most common ways that crooks and criminals get your personal financial data is through phishing. Phishing is using email spoofing and other tricks to get you to give up personal info or click to a dangerous website that might expose you to a virus or a computer hijack. Never ever click on links or download things from a stranger!

But don’t just worry about bad emails from strangers – worry about bad emails from people and brands you trust. Many of the big brands we use everyday – Microsoft, Netflix, PayPal, Amazon, Apple – are regularly spoofed and we are tricked into clicking when we see messages like “your account is being disabled” or “thanks for your recent purchase” when you hadn’t made one. Or from a friend or family member, emails saying “this is a riot – click here” or a boss saying “We need your bank credentials for direct deposit.” If something seems off or strange or odd, it probably is. It’s better to be safe and not sorry so double check if you have doubt. Phishers are good at gaining our trust or exploiting our fears.

It’s vital to learn about how to avoid being caught by a phisher. We’ve assembled some quizzes to give you practice. But be warned, these are pretty difficult. If you take the time, however, even wrong answers will teach you something about what to look for and how to spot a fake.

Our top tips for avoiding phishing scams

  • Don’t click any links or download anything from a sender you don’t know or trust. It’s always worth double-checking. If it’s a web link from your bank, instead of clicking, go to your bank website directly by typing in the Web address in your browser. If it’s a phone call, hang up and call your bank.
  • Get in the habit of hovering over links to see who the email is really coming from and where a link is actually sending you. Learn how. On a mobile device? It’s a little trickier but you can and should still learn the source of a link from someone you don’t know. Here’s how: How to Check Embedded Links on Your Mobile Device
  • Phishing emails often have poor grammar or spelling mistakes. That’s a big clue that it’s a fake.
  • Be suspicious of any email or phone calls that demand you take action right away or that threaten you. The IRS and Medicare don’t call or email to threaten you or demand money. Urgency and threats are hallmarks of fraud.
  • Avoid filling out forms in email messages that ask for personal financial information. You should only communicate information such as credit card numbers or account information via a secure website or the telephone.
  • Always ensure that you’re using a secure website when submitting credit card or other sensitive information via your Web browser. Look for “https” in the URL. How Can I Tell If a Website Is Safe? Look For These 5 Signs
  • Consider installing a Web browser tool bar to help protect you from known fraudulent websites
  • Regularly log into your online accounts to ensure that all transactions are legitimate
  • Ensure that your browser is up to date and security patches applied
  • Always report “phishing” or “spoofed” e-mails to the following groups: forward the email to reportphishing@antiphishing.org; forward the email to the Federal Trade Commission at spam@uce.gov; when forwarding spoofed messages, always include the entire original email with its original header information intact
  • Take extra precaution when traveling. Don’t login to financial sites when on a free, public Wi-Fi..

 

Fall Home Maintenance Checklist


fall home maintenace - technician checking the furnace

Fall is time to batten down the hatches before old man winter comes to call. Depending on where you live in the country, your maintenance may vary a bit. While snow can happen in all 50 states, in some states it’s pretty darn rare. Louisiana, Florida and Hawaii are the least likely states to get snow, while New York, Wyoming and Vermont top the list – check your state. But surprise storms do occur, even in the south. And the toll that winter takes on your house and yard isn’t limited to snow: winter cold snaps, freezing rain, harsh winds, hail and ice can also cause damage so it’s good to prepare now while the weather is mild. And don’t forget that hurricane season continues through November!

Check out our prior post on Winterizing: Money saving ideas for heating your home – something to think about over the autumn months. We’ve also compiled a checklist of other tasks to tackle before the colder weather sets in.

  • Have your furnace, heating and hot water system inspected and cleaned by a professional, This is important for oil-fired  to prevent puffback.
  • Inspect and clean chimneys and fireplaces.
  • Clean air ducts and vents.
  • Check and replace air filters and reverse ceiling fans.
  • Winterize water pipes.
  • Turn off exterior faucets and water sources.
  • Drain lawn irrigation systems.
  • Check roof and shingles and make any repairs.
  • Take steps to prevent ice dams
  • Clean gutters.
  • Check foundation, cellar and garage for gaps where critters could get in.
  • Insulate doors and windows to prevent drafts.
  • Test smoke and CO2 detectors; replace batteries.
  • Check and repair walkways, stairs, driveways.
  • Check and repair garage doors.
  • Clean outdoor pools and prep or cover for the winter.
  • Store or cover outdoor furniture and grills.
  • Bring in summer yard equipment.
  • Cover air conditioners.
  • Check and repair outdoor lighting.
  • Clean the clothes dryer to prevent fires.
  • Check and test winter equipment such as your snowblower.
  • Ensure you have shovels, sand, ice scrapers on hand.
  • Stock up on firewood if you have a fireplace or stove. Here are good tips for storing firewood.
  • Review your homeowners policy to understand what it covers. Have a talk with your independent insurance agent to address any gaps.
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