Beach lovers’ guide to Memorial Day in New England


sea shells, sunglasses and a facial mask_ beachgoing in the pandemic

The good news is that it’s Memorial Day Weekend, states are cautiously beginning to open beaches and parks, and the weather looks promising. The bad news is that the virus has not gone away so visiting your favorite coastal spots will come with many restrictions and limitations. If you are expecting a “normal” experience, you may be disappointed. You should “know before you go” and consider taking small steps to favorite outdoor activities rather than jumping in headlong … perhaps stay closer to home base to test the waters. Definitely don’t drive to another state without checking first – some states require 14-day quarantines for out-of-state visitors! But even if there is no quarantine requirement, check the status and availability of your destination, along with learning any rules and requirements that may be in place. Don’t count on lifeguards or public restrooms. Plan to bring face coverings, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and possibly your own food and beverages. Even if some restaurants are open for takeout or outdoor dining, they will likely have limited capacity.

We amassed some resources to help you plan before you go to the beach.

First, how safe are outdoor activities? The New York Times checked with experts who say that being outdoors with is probably fine and if you adhere to appropriate social distancing and think things through. They warn about lowering your guard too much and caution about outdoor dining, using locker rooms at pools, and navigating crowds in places like beaches. See What We Know About Your Chances of Catching the Virus Outdoors

They suggest that:

Ideally, people should socialize only with people who live in their homes, they say. If you decide to meet friends, you’re increasing your risk, but you can take precautions. It’s important to keep gatherings small. Don’t share food, utensils or beverages; keep your hands clean; and keep at least six feet from people who don’t live in your home.

 

Be cautious as you venture into public outdoor spaces … we all need to stay safe ourselves and keep our families and neighbors safe. Keep your expectations low, be flexible, and avoid crowded spots. This first weekend “free” might be too crowded, a walk or a bike ride in your local area might be the best bet. Public health officials will be keeping tabs on how things go in this first big holiday of the pandemic and it will affect how things go over the course of the summer, so let’s all be careful, safe, patient and respectful. We don’t want to undo all the good we did by staying at home over the last many weeks!

 

Follow the incredible one-night journey of Santa Claus


Do you ever wonder how Santa Claus manages to deliver all those gifts to all those kids in just one night?  This short video breaks down the annual global trip by the big guy in the red suit the way that an actuary might see things – using math, numbers and science.

We’re all for math and science, but there’s also the magic factor to help explain this amazing feat. We think the folks at NORAD see things our way. They’ve been tracking Santa’s Christmas eve flight and reporting on his whereabouts since 1958. They deploy the latest technologies to track Santa, including radar, satellites, SantaCams and jet fighters. They are aided by Rudolf’s bright red nose, detectable by their infrared sensors. You can track him online at the NORAD Santa tracker or you can download a mobile app to track his journey on your phone.

Homeowners & Santa Claus

Meanwhile, as a host, we hope that you are properly covered to entertain a V.I.P. like Santa in your home. What if your dog bites Santa or he gets stuck in your chimney – are you covered against these or any other mishaps while he’s on your property? If you have homeowners insurance or rental insurance, the personal liability and medical payments portions should cover you, but you may want to check your coverage limits and deductibles.

If you plan to leave any sweets out for the big guy, Mrs Claus issues this plaintive plea: Please skip the cookies – Santa has a weight problem. Consider leaving a healthier snack. If you decide to leave cookies out anyway, you may want to get Santa to sign Christmas Cookie Liability and Indemnification Agreement. And something that should go without saying – don’t leave any wine or brandy out – you don’t want to be liable if a tipsy Santa leaves your house and has a DUI accident!

Whatever holiday you celebrate – Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus or something else, we wish you the joys of the season. We’ll see you in 2020!

zmimztion of Santa riding a Christmas tree rocket

 

*Source of the Santa animation

 

Holiday fraud: How to avoid seasonal scammers


polic lineup with santa, Rudolph the Reindeer and a pretty elf

If it’s December, it’s prime holiday fraud season!

Because it’s the busiest season of the year, scammers work double time to try to maximize their take. And as many times as we’ve issued warnings, thieves are very creative about thinking up sneaky new ways to separate you from your money. The Better Business Bureau is on the case. Here are some of the top scams they see around the holidays.

Delivery scams and package thefts this holiday season – While just plain old theft of shipped packages from your doorstep or workplace is common, there are a few other things to watch out for. BBB says that phishing emails pose as official notices from delivery companies. These either contain a “tracking link” or a message that the shipper is having difficulty delivering a package to you with a number to call. Or they affix fake “missed delivery” tags on your door, asking you to call a phone number to reschedule your delivery – all are just ruses to get your personal information.

Social media ad scams – Last year, the BBB found that online purchase scams were the most common cons reported to Scam Tracker and the category with the most victims, many involving Facebook and Instagram ads. Watch out for products claiming to support charity, free trial offers, counterfeit merchandise and apps of unknown origin. Social media is also a hub for illegal gift exchange pyramid schemes. BBB says these pop up every year with new twists. When an offer seems too good to be true, it almost always is.

Is that Santa App safe? Better check it twice. BBB says that the Apple and Google app stores list tons of holiday-themed apps: children can video chat live with Santa himself, light the menorah, watch Santa feed live reindeer, track his sleigh on Christmas Eve, relay electronic Christmas wish-lists, or play Hanukkah games like dreidel. But many of these are invasive and may violate children’s privacy laws in the information they collect. For more, see our post on protecting your kids from ID theft.

Don’t get scammed out of a gift card this season – the BBB says “Before grabbing a gift card for a favorite store or restaurant, know that thieves are just as eager to use these gift cards before they’re presented to the intended recipient. Also, some retailers have terms and conditions as to how the gift card can be redeemed.” See our post about new consumer protections for prepaid debit cards.

Tips for avoiding job scams this holiday season – Many of us are looking for extra money over the holidays and a part-time seasonal job is a common way to earn that cash. But it’s also a time when scammers exploit that desire. BBB reminds you that legit employers will never ask for payment upfront for a job. They say to be wary of big money for small jobs and job offers that don’t require an interview.

8 Tips for dealing with holiday pop-up shops – BBB receives hundreds of complaints a year about temporary retail locations, reporting everything from poor quality merchandise to difficulty obtaining refunds after temporary stores have closed their doors. Pop-up shops can be fun but follow BBB’s tips in mind if you choose to buy from one of them.

See more holiday safety tips from the BBB and use their Scam Tracker to identify common scams near you.

Here are prior posts about more common holiday fraud schemes:

 

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.

When should you book your holiday flights? Experts say right now!


Santa as pilot of the plane

OK. We know that the leaves haven’t turned yet, and the smell of pumpkin spice is barely wafting through the air. We aren’t even in Halloween prime time yet. We assure you, we aren’t trying to rush things, but we’d like to offer some seriously good advice: If you plan to fly someplace for the holidays – either for Thanksgiving or for the Christmas / Hanukkah / Kwanzaa window – it’s not too early to book your plane travel now. In fact, it may be the ideal time.

According to AAA Travel’s flight booking data from the last three years, Sept. 25 marks the start of the best booking window for air travel over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. It’s generally the best time for both availability and price deals. While it’s true that there are sometimes last-minute deals for travel, there is limited availability – so if you want the best availability and choice, start looking soon.

See AAA’s advice for the best days to travel on both holidays windows: The Best Time to Book Your Holiday Flights? Now! Check their article for some detailed advice. We’re reproducing two of their handy charts.

AAA Thanksgiving travel -chart of best dates

AAA - Christmas holiday travel = best times chart

SmarterTravel offers their take on timing: The 12 Best and Worst Days to Travel This Holiday Season. They show the busiest travel days around both holidays by share of bookings from travel booking site Hipmunk. They also offer some advice on snagging the best fares.

For train travel, Amtrak offers Tips for Successfully Booking Your Trip. They say that “The earlier you book your tickets, the more likely you are to get the lowest fare available for the dates you want on the routes along your journey. You may book your travel up to 11 months in advance.” See their Tips for Savvy Travelers.

In planning your trip, consider whether you need trip insurance. If you are just zipping home on a domestic flight to visit your folks, you might not need it. Instead, before you book, check your credit cards to see if any offer baggage protection or other travel benefits when you book a flight – many do. And know your consumer rights – see the Department of Transportation’s Fly Rights: A Consumer Guide to Air Travel.

But if you are taking an expensive family trip over the holidays and traveling overseas or on a cruise, you might want to talk trip insurance over with your agent to protect your investment. The Insurance Information Institute offers a good primer: Should you buy travel insurance?