Scam-apalooza! Don’t let fraud ruin your holiday

ruined-holidayThe CT commissioner of insurance warns policyholders of a recent insurance phone scam. People are getting calls that their insurance is cancelled and they need to make a credit card payment to reinstate their policy. The commissioner says: Never give out your credit card information to an unsolicited caller.

Good advice – particularly over the holiday. Scams are plentiful in the holiday season so keep your radar set on high. We’ve heard about fake shipping notifications, pyramid schemes, gift card scams, fake charities and plain old package theft. Don’t let scammers ruin your holiday – learn about the most common holiday fraud schemes.

General Alerts

Gift Card Scams

Package Theft

Delivery Scams

Charity Scams

Santa Scams

Holiday Pyramid Schemes

Holiday job Scams

General shopping & holiday safety

Car thieves have new tricks: VIN cloning


Car theft used to be a major worry for car owners, but today, it’s just a passing concern. Hot-wired cars may now be a thing of the past. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reports that car theft has dropped by 58% since 1991, the high point when 1.661 million vehicles were stolen. The improvement is so dramatic that many police departments throughout the country have disbanded their dedicated auto theft investigative units.

In a recent article on auto theft, the Boston Globe reports:

“At its peak in 1975, Massachusetts ranked third nationwide (behind California and New York) in total annual thefts at 91,563, and the state remained in the top 10 states for auto theft until 1992, according to National Insurance Crime Bureau stats. The state ended 2013 with 9,122 thefts.”

Law enforcement and insurance-industry focus helped to turn the tide, but perhaps even more importantly, technology advances have changed the playing field. Transponder keys, immobilizing technologies, and tracking & recovery systems have all contributed to the drop. But criminals aren’t throwing in the towel — they are adapting and getting smarter. Some of the ways they get around things are to steal the transponder itself. Another way is through fraudulent financing. Crooks steal your identity and then secure financing under your ID to buy a new car.

One devious and increasingly common new car crime is called VIN cloning or VIN switching, a real concern for used car buyers. It works this way: Thieves steal a car. Then they locate a similar model and make and copy the vehicle identification number (VIN). The thieves then make and install counterfeit VIN plates for the stolen car. You buy the car complete with paperwork, but one day police knock on your door to reclaim the stolen vehicle. Unless your state offers some consumer protections, you may be out of luck – you still have loan payments but your car was confiscated.

Here are a few clips that explain how it works.

How can you protect yourself?
CarFax offers suggestions for how to protect yourself from VIN fraud, including these tips

–Check the VINs on the dash, driver’s door sticker, car frame, title documents and service records all match
–Examine the VIN plate on the dash for any sign of tampering
–Look at the CARFAX and check:
—–For a clone alert
—–If the mileage on the odometer matches reported mileage
—–For several registrations between states – this is a red flag which should be investigated further
–Follow our tips for detecting salvage title fraud
–Get the car inspected by a qualified, independent mechanic

Curious Klepto Critters Steal Cameras: Will insurance cover this?

Cameras are a prime target for theft — and not all thieves are of the human variety. Apparently, animals are almost as intrigued by cameras and selfies as we are. See the cute video clips below.

If a monkey or an eagle steals your camera while you’re on vacation, will your insurance cover that? If you have homeowners, renters or condo insurance, it should – most policies would cover your possessions at home and away, up to a specified dollar limit. Of course, it depends on your particular policy, so check with your agent about your coverage and limits — and to discuss any particularly expensive equipment, collections or items. If these exceed your limits, you may need a valuable property rider. And remember – keep a home inventory, if you don’t already have one.

When you buy expensive technology, it’s a good idea to register it with the manufacturer – not just for the warranty but also for the serial numbers, which can help with tracking in the event of a theft. There’s an online database that might help with recovery — at least if your thief is human. If your thief is of the animal variety, you’re on your own!

Just remember –  don’t put yourself in any danger if you are being robbed, whether animal or human. Property is replaceable – you aren’t.

Hiding your valuables


The average home burglary is a hit and run affair – burglars generally spend 8 to 12 minutes ransacking a home to find cash and valuables. Experts say that bedrooms are one of the first places checked – in bedside tables, in bureaus, and under the mattress. Bathrooms and kitchens are a high search target – often burglars are looking for drugs or money hidden in the “sugar bowl.” Also, home offices and desks are often the place where safes or valuable documents are kept.

Deadbolt locks, lights and alarms are all good deterrents. You should also take precautions before going on a trip. Plus, if you have any prized or valuable collections, make sure you tell your agent and talk over a rider to your homeowners policy to ensure they are covered should your security measures fail.

All that being said, we enjoyed some of the ideas presented in 8 Secret Spots to Hide Valuables at Home. We particularly liked the “Head of Iceberg Lettuce Safe” pictured above which is linked in the article. This is an unusual version of what are often called diversion safes – common household objects either hollowed out or with hidden compartments.

This article reminded us of some creative ways to camouflage your laptop if you worry about theft at the airport or the coffee shop.

Laptop Pizza Box disguise

How to make a laptop sleeve from a FedEx envelope

Make your Macbook a classic

Learning from the Experts: Car Thieves and Their Tricks

The Wall Street Journal features a fascinating article on Unlocking the Secrets of a Car Thief (may require site registration). It reminded us of a similar article on Confessions of a Car Thief, which interviewed a reformed professional thief.
According to the WSJ article, here’s the good news: The FBI reports that car theft has been declining for the last seven years. In 2010, the last full year f data, auto theft declined by 7.4%. But that still represents nearly three-quarters of a million cars stolen in 2010. Experts think that new technology has made it harder to steal cars than it was in the old “screwdriver theft days” of yore.
But here’s the bad news: Professionals can almost always find a way. The article notes that “It can take less than 19 seconds for a reasonably strong, savvy car thief to break through the security systems that are supposed to stop someone from shifting or steering a luxury SUV.” And Robert Hartwig of the Insurance Information Institute points out that recovery rates are dropping. Theft rings use flatbed trucks and high-tech tools to swiftly seize cars and move them for resale or to chop shops for parts.
The best thing you can do to prevent theft is to make things less appealing by providing obstacles. There are a variety of theft devices and technologies ranging from inexpensive steering wheel locks to alarms to subscription based vehicle tracking systems.
Here’s another relatively inexpensive way to protect your car that is touted by law enforcement professionals: VIN etching, or permanently etching your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) into the windows of your automobile. Many states offer free programs or you can order a variety of inexpensive kits online that you can find with a simple search for “VIN ETching.” Many insurers offer discounts on auto insurance for cars that have VIN etching — check with your local insurance agent to find out about this and other available discounts for auto theft prevention devices and measures.
We looked at the VIN etching program available through the Massachusetts Governor’s Auto Theft Strike Force, which offers the service for $10 – you can learn more at 781-393-1201. And another anti-theft measure we noted in Massachusetts: If you give information that leads to the arrest of a car thief, or the location of a chop shop, you could receive a confidential cash reward of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000.00). All you need to do is call 1-800-HOT-AUTO.
For more tips and ideas, see the Insurance Information Institute’s article on Preventing Carjacking / Theft