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Monday, December 15, 2008

8 Tips on Homeowners Insurance

Health insurance and homeowners insurance … both are coverage we know we need but rarely take the time to understand. That is until we need it.
Hurricane IKE’s recent roll through our area sent a lot of Spring Texas homeowners scurrying for their policies. Unfortunately some homeowners were taught a painful financial lesson that they won’t soon forget.
8 things you should know about homeowners insurance?
1. Two Deductibles- Unlike automobile insurance, your homeowner’s insurance has two deductibles.
The first deductible is for wind/hail damage and it is a % of the rebuilding cost. The lowest percentage available is 1% with the deductibles of most insurance companies being 2% to 5%.
The second deductible is for “other perils” which would be fire, lightening, theft, and smoke damage. Insurance companies offer a fixed deductible with the lowest typically being $1,000.
2. Flood Insurance is separate- Flood insurance is NOT included in your homeowner’s insurance policy. The policy has to be purchased separately.
3. Flood insurance is not effective immediately - Don’t wait until hurricane season or until the weatherman says there is a hurricane on the way before securing flood insurance. Because insurance companies require you wait 30 days before your flood insurance policy becomes effective.
4. Does not cover replacement- If you have trees that fell and had to be removed, your homeowner’s insurance does not cover the cost of new trees to be planted in their place.
5. Food spoilage has a deductible - A lot of us experienced extensive power outages due to Hurricane IKE. By the time the power was restored, our refrigerated food had spoiled. Since the spoilage was caused by a wind / hail incident, our food spoilage was part of our wind/hail deductible.If food spoilage was the only damage we experienced, our spoilage would have to be more than 1% of our rebuilding cost before our insurance would kick in. Farmers has coverage on the Texas Family Home Plan of $500 for Food Spoilage with a $100 Ded.
6. Coverage not automatically adjusted - Review your policy annually and make the necessary adjustments to reflect the value of your home and its contents. Don’t put yourself in a position of being under insured. Adjust the value of your policy to match your home’s price appreciation.
7. Watch your renewal terms - Earlier this year, State Farm insurance changed their customers wind/hail deductible from 1% to 2%. There were some very unhappy homeowners who discovered through the claim process that their deductible had doubled. When your policy renewal shows up in the mail spend the time to review the deductibles. Don’t assume they are the same as last year.
8. Discounts available - Some insurance companies offer a “multi-line” discount if you purchase both home and auto insurance from them. Don’t forget to ask about discounts.
Don’t wait until the next hail storm or hurricane rolls through Houston, Texas before you review your homeowners policy. Instead make a commitment to yourself to find and review your policy before your policy teaches you some tough financial lessons.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Top 10 Most Stolen Cars

Most And Least Stolen Cars

1. Cadillac Escalade ESV
See Pictures
2. Ford F-250 SuperCrew
See Pictures
3. Cadillac Escalade
See Pictures
4. Dodge Charger
See Pictures
5. Ford F-350 SuperCrew
See Pictures
See Cars 6-10 Here, List from

In the past few years, big, bold SUVs have become almost synonymous with the success of entertainment and sports stars. You make it big, you buy an Escalade. Or a Hummer.Hopefully, there's money left over to hire a full-time driver who can watch over the car, because these two vehicles are among the most likely to be stolen.

In Pictures: Top 10 Most Stolen Cars
The 2007 Cadillac Escalade ESV, a full-size luxury SUV, has the highest theft-claim frequency of any vehicle by a long shot. It's 15 times more likely to end up in the hands of thieves than the least-stolen car, the luxurious Mercedes E Class sedan, according to the theft-claim frequency report for 2005-07 model year cars, SUVs and light trucks, produced by the Highway Loss Data Institute (an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). The E Class, Buick Rainer and Subaru Forester have the lowest theft-claim frequency reports.

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"The Escalade has been the star of the show with car thieves for the better part of the decade," says Russ Rader, an IIHS spokesperson. "It has pop-culture appeal, and thieves are attracted to it."While the Escalade is the most coveted among thieves, the Hummer H2 and the Hummer H2 SUT (a sport utility truck with a small pickup bed in the rear compartment), are also highly desirable--and among the top 10 vehicles with the highest theft claim frequencies. Given a choice between a Hummer and a small car like the Ford Focus or a wagon like the Volvo V70, a thief is eight times more likely to go for the SUV.Behind the NumbersTo generate lists of the most- and least-stolen cars, the IIHS annually reviews insurance-claim reports to determine theft-frequency rates based on the number of claims filed for every 1,000 vehicles insured each year. The 2008 report, released in October, only includes 2005, 2006 and 2007 model-year cars, light trucks and SUVs, with the exception of the Cadillac Escalades (only the 2007 model is included because it was redesigned for that model year) and the Dodge Charger (only the 2006 and 2007 models are included since it was not available in the 2005 model year). Based on the claims filed, the IIHS also calculates the average loss payment--the amount paid to the consumer by the insurance company--made for each claim filed.

Top 10 Least Stolen Cars
Model Overview
1. Mercedes E Class
See Pictures
2. Buick Rainier
See Pictures
3. Subaru Forester
See Pictures
4. Buick Terraza
See Pictures
5. Volkswagon New Beetle
See Pictures
See Cars 6-10 Here, List from

Although there are plenty of sedans and smaller models that are attractive to thieves, most of the vehicles comprising the list of the top 10 most-stolen cars are big trucks and SUVs.There are many reasons why thieves choose popular, large vehicles over everyday family cars, but one is accessibility, says Rader. "If you've got a typical family sedan ... it is most likely spending the night in a suburban garage."Desirability, however, is a big factor. The Escalade (11.3 claims per 1,000) and its slightly larger sibling, the Escalade ESV, are likely popular among thieves, says Rader, for the cars' expensive parts and accessories. Escalade owners are known to add premium audio equipment, flashy rims, extra chrome and interior accessories as well. That might explain why the average claim loss paid for a stolen Escalade is $14,657 and $13,060 for the ESV. The average loss payment, across all vehicles, is only $9,396.Thieves are also attracted to a vehicle's cargo. The Ford F-250 and F-350 SuperCrew pickups have open beds that may include expensive equipment or tools that are just as appealing to thieves as the truck itself. The average loss payment claim for these vehicles are among the highest ($19,250 and $20,138, respectively), which may also include claims for whatever equipment or cargo these trucks may have been holding at the time they were stolen.Adding DeterrentsCadillac recognizes that the appeal to thieves "is an unfortunate side effect of the desirability" of the Escalade, but says it is doing its part to make the vehicle harder to steal, according to a Cadillac spokesperson. For the 2009 model year, Cadillac added a theft-deterrent feature through General Motors' OnStar communication system. When an Escalade or Hummer is reported stolen, OnStar will remotely shut off the vehicle's power, making it virtually impossible for anyone to drive it.But reporting a vehicle stolen needs to happen quickly, since a thief wants to offload it quickly--either whole or as parts. The Insurance Information Institute, a nonprofit organization, estimates a car is stolen every 24 minutes.

In Pictures: Top 10 Least Stolen Cars
The best deterrent of all, however, is buying the kind of car that thieves tend not to steal, especially something like the Volvo V70 (the claim frequency is only 0.8 out of 1,000 per insured vehicle year). Nevertheless, if the V70 or any other car suddenly were to become attractive to thieves, auto experts say there is relatively little that a car owner can do to stop them. If professional thieves want a certain kind of car badly enough, they'll go to just about any lengths to get it."If a thief wants your car, they will load it on a flatbed," says Rader. They will either strip it for parts or head for coastal borders "where it will end up on a boat and be exported overseas."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ike Helpline 713-276-3955

Feel lost somewhere between FEMA, the SBA and your insurance company? Wondering what to do after a FEMA denial letter? Not sure where you will live in the near future? The Ike Helpline, 713-276-3955 is open 8-5 Monday through Friday...
Three More Disaster Recovery Centers to Close Next Week

DRC's in Shoreacres, Pasadena and LaPorte will close Tuesday Nov. 25 - but residents can still call FEMA for assistance at 1-800-621-FEMA (6632) City of Shoreacres Facility 619 Shore Acres Blvd. Shoreacres, 77062 Wal-Ma...
Tables, Beds, Chairs and Dresser Donations Requested

While many Hurricane Ike Victims are starting from scratch with no furniture, many other residents have extra furniture they are not using. The Furniture Bank of Houston is trying to bring these two types of citizens together. ...
Study Seeks Katrina Evacuees
The Center on Disability and Development at Texas A&M University is conducting a research study about Hurricane Katrina survivors who have diabetes or are disabled. The criteria are: - do you have diabetes? - do y...
Additional Assistance with the SBA Process
For assistance with Small Business Administration (SBA) loan packets, you can call 1-800-659-2955 or visit a Disaster Loan Outreach Center (DLOC) for face-to-face help. DLOCs are open 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. ...
Navigate FEMA with Online Video Assistance
The Harris County Housing Authority (HCHA) has produced a 12-minute video on how to register for disaster assistance through FEMA. You can view the video,at HCHA is a governmental non-profit corpora...
Do You Need Help Locating Your Pet?

Houston SPCA's Hurricane Ike rescue and recovery mission began before the storm hit, by evacuating animals from coastal shelters to safety. After the storm, the organization rescued, saved and sheltered more than 1,800 storm pets, fed and shel...
Free Legal Clinics Open This Week
Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA) is hosting free weekly legal aid clinics for families and individuals who need assistance with Ike-related issues, but cannot afford an attorney. LSLA clinics will address public benefits problems, home repair s...
Ike Relief Fund Facts and Figures
Hurricane Ike Relief Fund Fast Facts: Houston Mayor Bill White established the fund for unmet needs in Harris, Galveston and other affected counties Singer Neil Diamond has pledged proceeds from souvenir and concert sales. So fa...
College Students Affected by Ike Receive Financial Boost
Lone Star College students and employees impacted by Hurricane Ike have received a helping hand from the Lone Star College Foundation. The Foundation has awarded grants to those with the greatest need. Donations are still being accepted online or by ...
SBA Seeking Loan Application Recipients
Don't let the name fool you: Small Business Administration loans are for homeowners as well. As of Nov. 18, SBA has approved nearly $270 million in loans to homeowners affected by Hurricane Ike. Another $35 million has bee...
Help With Storm Debris Removal Nov. 22/29
The City of Houston is launching a program called "Neighbors Helping Neighbors" to assist elderly and physically challenged residents remove Hurricane Ike debris from their backyards to the curb. The program is seeking voluntee...
Heavy Trash Schedule Resumes Dec. 1
Normal heavy trash schedule resumes Monday Dec. 1. Residents are encouraged to have storm debris at the curb prior to Nov. 19. For debris removal questions, call 1-800-207-2325. For new developments, visit www.houst...
Free Legal Advice Clinic Dec. 6

Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program There will be a free legal advice clinic 9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Saturday Dec. 6, 2008. Volunteer attorneys will provide 10 to 15 minutes of free legal help to qualifying low income f...
Unemployment Insurance Deadline Extended
The deadline to apply for benefits through the Texas Workforce Commission has been extended to Dec.12, 2008. You may qualify for benefits following Hurricane Ike, if you: · ...
FEMA Registration Deadline Extended
You now have until Dec. 12 to submit applications for assistance to FEMA and/or SBA (Small Business Administration). FEMA strongly encourages individuals who receive an SBA application complete the form and return it, even ...
Transitional Sheltering Assistance Extended
The Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program has been extended for eligible applicants until Jan. 15, 2009. TSA provides short-term, transitional sheltering by directly paying hotels and motels for evacuees lodging costs. This ...
Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP)

What is DHAP-IKE? The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a temporary housing assistance program to help Texans displaced by Hurricane Ike. The program begins Nov.1. FEMA has already given HUD the names of more tha...
DHAP-Ike Step by Step
Texans who were displaced by Hurricane Ike and believe they are eligible for assistance must register with FEMA by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362), or online at, no later than Dec. 12. FEMA will determine individual...
Don't Deny Yourself FEMA Benefits Due To Insurance Coverage
Having insurance is not a reason to be denied FEMA assistance, but it can be an obstacle. For example, if you answer "yes" to the question; "Do you have insurance coverage?" FEMA will not inspect your pro...
FEMA Denial Not Always Permanent
If you are the head of a household and your home or apartment is not currently liveable, don't give up, even if you've received a FEMA denial letter. Denials often occur as a result of a lack of information or a ...
You Have 60 Days to Appeal a FEMA Decision

It may be that you have received a FEMA denial letter or you believe that the assistance provided by FEMA is not enough. A lack of information is often the simple explanation. Typical reasons include questions raised regarding: Pr...
FEMA May Audit, So Save Those Receipts

It's very important to save all of your receipts relating to disaster spending, whether or not you have yet been approved for FEMA or SBA funding. When it comes to FEMA grants, keep receipts for at least THR...
Financial Assistance for Renters
Texas renters who suffered damage to their residences from Hurricane Ike may be eligible for disaster assistance. Federal grants to rent a place to live may be available for renters whose primary residence requires repairs to make it habitable. Eligi...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Hurricane Preparations

Hurricane Preparations
Don't see your question? Go to the
What can I do to protect my home and family from a hurricane?
Besides insuring your property, there are things you can do to minimize potential loss to your home and ensure your family's safety.

  • Discuss the type of hazards that could affect your family.
  • Know your home’s vulnerability to storm surge, flooding and wind.
  • Locate a safe room or the safest areas in your home for each hurricane hazard. In certain circumstances the safest areas may not be your home but within your community.
    Determine escape routes from your home and places to meet.
  • These should be measured in tens of miles rather than hundreds of miles.
  • Have an out-of-state friend as a family contact, so all your family members have a single point of contact.
  • Make a plan now for what to do with your pets if you need to evacuate.
  • Post emergency telephone numbers by your phones and make sure your children know how and when to call 911.
  • Check your insurance coverage - flood damage is not usually covered by homeowners insurance.
  • Stock non-perishable emergency supplies and a Disaster Supply Kit.
  • Use a NOAA weather radio. Remember to replace its battery every 6 months, as you do with your smoke detectors.
  • Take First Aid, CPR and disaster preparedness classes.
  • Water - at least 1 gallon daily per person for 3 to 7 days
  • Food - at least enough for 3 to 7 days
  • non-perishable packaged or canned food / juices
  • foods for infants or the elderly
  • snack foods
  • non-electric can opener
  • cooking tools / fuel
  • paper plates / plastic utensils
  • Blankets / Pillows, etc.
  • Clothing - seasonal / rain gear/ sturdy shoes
  • First Aid Kit / Medicines / Prescription Drugs
  • Special Items - for babies and the elderly
  • Toiletries / Hygiene items / Moisture wipes
  • Flashlight / Batteries
  • Radio - Battery operated and NOAA weather radio
  • Telephones - Fully charged cell phone with extra battery and a traditional (not cordless) telephone set
  • Cash (with some small bills) and Credit Cards - Banks and ATMs may not be available for extended periods
  • Keys
  • Toys, Books and Games
  • Important documents - in a waterproof container or watertight resealable plastic bag insurance, medical records, bank account numbers, Social Security card, etc.
  • Tools - keep a set with you during the storm
  • Vehicle fuel tanks filled
  • Pet care items suck as proper identification / immunization records / medications
    • ample supply of food and water
    • a carrier or cage
    • muzzle and leash

Develop a family hurricane preparedness plan before an actual storm threatens your area. If your family hurricane preparedness plan includes evacuation to a safer location for any of the reasons specified with in this web site, then it is important to consider the following points:
If ordered to evacuate, do not wait or delay your departure.
If possible, leave before local officials issue an evacuation order for your area. Even a slight delay in starting your evacuation will result in significantly longer travel times as traffic congestion worsens.
Select an evacuation destination that is nearest to your home, preferably in the same county, or at least minimize the distance over which you must travel in order to reach your intended shelter location.
In choosing your destination, keep in mind that the hotels and other sheltering options in most inland metropolitan areas are likely to be filled very quickly in a large, multi-county hurricane evacuation event.
If you decide to evacuate to another county or region, be prepared to wait in traffic.
The large number of people in this state who must evacuate during a hurricane will probably cause massive delays and major congestion along most designated evacuation routes; the larger the storm, the greater the probability of traffic jams and extended travel times.
If possible, make arrangements to stay with the friend or relative who resides closest to your home and who will not have to evacuate. Discuss with your intended host the details of your family evacuation plan well before the beginning of the hurricane season.
If a hotel or motel is your final intended destination during an evacuation, make reservations before you leave. Most hotel and motels will fill quickly once evacuations begin. The longer you wait to make reservations, even if an official evacuation order has not been issued for your area or county, the less likely you are to find hotel/motel room vacancies, especially along interstate highways and in major metropolitan areas.
If you are unable to stay with friends or family and no hotels/motels rooms are available, then as a last resort go to a shelter. Remember, shelters are not designed for comfort and do not usually accept pets. Bring your disaster supply kit with you to the shelter. Find Pet-Friendly hotels and motels.
Make sure that you fill up your car with gas, before you leave.
Make a Pet Plan

Contact your veterinarian or local humane society for information on preparing your pets for an emergency.
Make sure that your pets are current on their vaccinations. Pet shelters may require proof of vaccines.
Have a current photograph
Keep a collar with identification on your pet and have a leash on hand to control your pet.
Have a properly sized pet carrier for each animal - carriers should be large enough for the animal to stand and turn around.
Plan your evacuation strategy and don’t forget your pet! Specialized pet shelters, animal control shelters, veterinary clinics and friends and relatives out of harm’s way are ALL potential refuges for your pet during a disaster.
If you plan to shelter your pet - work it into your evacuation route planning.
Animals brought to a pet shelter are required to have:
• Proper identification collar and rabies tag
• proper identification on all belongings,
• a carrier or cage,
• a leash,
• an ample supply of food, water and food bowls,
• any necessary medications,
• specific care instructions
• and news papers or trash bags for clean-up.
Bring pets indoor well in advance of a storm - reassure them and remain calm.
Pet shelters will be filled on first come, first served basis. Call ahead and determine availability.

Walk pets on a leash until they become re-oriented to their home - often familiar scents and landmarks may be altered and pets could easily be confused and become lost. Also, downed power lines, reptiles brought in with high water and debris can all pose a threat for animals after a disaster.
If pets cannot be found after a disaster, contact the local animal control office to find out where lost animals can be recovered. Bring along a picture of your pet if possible.
After a disaster animals can become aggressive or defensive - monitor their behavior.
Don’t forget your pet when preparing a family disaster plan.
• Proper identification including immunization records
• Ample supply of food and water
• A carrier or cage
• Medications
• Muzzle, collar and leash
• The Humane Society Disaster Center
• FEMA - Animals and Emergencies
Pet Plan Con’t
Make sure any photos or videos of all of your important possessions are in a safe place. These documents will help you file an accurate and comprehensive flood insurance claim.
Store important documents and irreplaceable personal objects (such as photographs) where they won't get damaged. If major flooding is expected in your area, consider putting them in a storage facility. Remember to talk to your insurance agent if you have questions or would like additional information.
Is my city at risk?
Nearly every year since 1851, at least one hurricane has reached the United States. During an active hurricane season, an average of two to four hurricanes make landfall on the continental U.S. Hurricane-related flooding ahs occurred as far as 600 miles inland. Although any coastal area is at risk, certain cities are particularly vulnerable and may have incurred losses even higher than those incurred when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans.
Has a disaster been declared for my area?
Check the FEMA disaster declarations page for the latest information.

I don’t have flood insurance, but doesn’t my homeowners insurance cover this?Most homeowners insurance does NOT cover damage or losses from flooding. Some damage to your property may have been caused by something other than flooding. Look at your policy and see your homeowners insurance agent for more information about what types of damage are covered by your policy.

How do I file a flood insurance claim?
Read the simple steps about how to file a claim For in-depth answers regarding claims and the flood insurance claims process, please read the Flood Insurance Claims handbook.
How can I tell what caused the damage to my property?Flooding is defined as rising waters. Damage caused by falling water and wind is not considered flood damage. Please talk to your flood insurance agent and/or your homeowners insurance company for more information about what is covered under your policy. Use the Flood Insurance Claims handbook as a reference.
What is Increased Cost of Compliance?
If your home or business is damaged by a flood, you may be required to meet certain building requirements in your community to reduce future flood damage. To help with these costs, the NFIP includes Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage for all eligible properties insured under the Standard Flood Insurance Policy. Read more about ICC.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A note from David D Lorms

I want to share with you some important information about safety as an ongoing thank-you for your business and your loyalty. It's part of my hope to give you best-in-class service in every season. If you think this information is useful, please feel free to forward it to your friends and relatives: I'd be glad to provide them the same good service I give you. I hope you find these articles helpful and informative. Let's stay in touch through this Farmers Friendly Voice.

Turning good names into bad reputations
You work hard every day to support yourself and your family. What would you do if someone used your name to get a credit card and run up thousands of dollars in charges that your credit card company wants you to pay? Welcome to the dark world of identity theft. Preventing ID theft is the obvious goal, but if your good name does fall into bad hands, Farmers Identity ShieldSM can help. I can tell you more about it.

"Sure, I'll drive more safely ... as soon as I send this text message."
Do you know what the deadliest driving behaviors are? A recent study found that while four out of five teens claim they would drive more safely at the request of a teen passenger, few would in fact curtail the deadliest driving behaviors. Talk with your teen drivers to be sure they know to help their peers understand that each unsafe choice can mean the difference between life and death.

Favorable trends and competition make it a buyer's market
If you have dependents or other people with whom you share your life, Life insurance can play a vital and valuable role at every stage of your life. According to the Insurance Information Institute, Life insurance rates will continue to go down and life expectancy will continue to go up in 2008. So now may be a good time to reevaluate your Life insurance needs.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

What is Identity Theft?

What is identity theft?

Identity theft (also known as identity fraud) is the misappropriation of another person's identifying information in order to: obtain credit fraudulently from banks and retailers;
steal money from the victim's existing accounts; apply for loans; establish accounts with utility companies; rent an apartment; file for bankruptcy; obtain a job; or achieve other financial gain sing the victim's name.
There are two main classes of economic crime related to identity theft:
Account takeover occurs when an identity thief acquires a person's existing credit or bank account information and either withdraws money or makes purchases. Victims usually learn of account takeover when they receive their monthly credit card or bank account statement.
In true identity theft, an identity thief uses another person's Social Security number and other identifying information to fraudulently open new accounts for financial gain. Victims may be unaware of the fraud for an extended period of time, which can allow the criminal to continue the ruse for months or even years.

How can a criminal steal my identity?

An identity thief needs only a few strategic bits of information — your Social Security number, your birth date, perhaps your address and phone number — to commit fraud. With this and a fake driver's license (with the criminal's picture where yours should be), the thief can often get instant credit in your name. The criminal may provide his or her own address, claiming to have moved, and thus keep you in the dark. The more accounts the criminals are able to open, the more "evidence" they have that your identity belongs to them.

Can you determine where the identity thief got my information?

We may learn the answer once the investigative phase of the victim assistance process has begun, but in many instances we can only guess where the breach occurred. Unfortunately, there are many information sources for identity thieves to mine.

If I become a victim, will you be able to solve my problem?

For the most part, the answer is "Yes" — but with important qualifications. Normally, it's possible to guide identity theft victims systematically through the crisis period, enabling them to reclaim their identities and regain their financial security. However, many cases of identity theft entail the risk of recurrence. In particular, if your Social Security number has been misused, you should never consider yourself impervious to future abuse.

What methods do identity thieves employ?

Theft of wallets and purses was once the most common way to obtain identity documents and account information. Today, identity thieves attack virtually every area of an individual's life, wherever personal information is stored or sent.

These are among the most common methods:
  • Dumpster diving in trash bins for credit card statements, loan applications, and other documents containing names, addresses, account information, and SSNs
  • Stealing mail from unlocked mailboxes to get preapproved credit offers, credit cards, utility bills, bank and credit card statements, investment reports, insurance statements, benefits documents, and tax information
  • Impersonating a loan officer, employer, or landlord to get fraudulent access to credit files
    Insider access to names, addresses, birth dates, and SSNs in personnel or customer files
  • Shoulder surfing at ATM machines and phone booths to capture PINs
    Online sources of personal data, such as public records and fee-based information sites

Are there laws against identity theft?

Yes. In 1998 Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act (918 U.S.C. §1028), which makes it a federal felony to use another person's identification with the intent to commit unlawful activity. Federal agencies such as the Secret Service, the FBI, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigate suspected violations of this law; the Department of Justice handles prosecutions. More recent federal legislation increases penalties for aggravated identity theft, workplace identity theft, or use of a stolen identity in connection with a terrorist act.

If I become a victim, should I still worry about protecting my identity?

Yes. Without a disciplined approach to protecting your data, you risk repeated victimization.

If I become a victim, will I have to file a police report?

Yes. You must file a police report and sign the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft Affidavit to be accepted as a new victim account.

What if the police won't take a report?

Some police departments may be reluctant to write a report on a crime of this kind, taking the position that since the creditor suffered the financial loss, you're not the victim. They may insist that the creditor file the complaint. The creditor, however, may choose not to cooperate, calculating that it's not cost-effective to spend time and energy assisting the police. Nevertheless, even if the creditor won't prosecute, insist that the police take a report.

If I become a victim, will I need a lawyer?

Possibly, but it's unlikely. Some identity theft victims do require services that can only be performed by an attorney. Such services normally involve going to court to remove liens placed due to fraud and/or criminal warrants resulting from the stolen identity.

If a criminal has taken my identity, should I cancel my credit cards?

The best course of action depends on your circumstances. Your goal is to reduce the risk that a given account will be abused, while maximizing your own ability to use your existing credit accounts. In weighing risks and benefits, keep in mind that if you have recently become an identity theft victim, your situation may make it difficult to obtain new credit in the near future.
Rather than canceling accounts, you may wish to notify the fraud department for each account and have a fraud alert placed. If a credit or debit card (or the data on it) has been lost or stolen, you may wish to cancel that card and have a new card issued that is based on the same account, but has a different number. If you have multiple credit cards, you may decide to cancel some to reduce your exposure. In any event, instruct credit card issuers and banks not to change your address without direct verification from you, in writing, that originates from your present address. You should also monitor closely the monthly statements for any credit card or bank accounts you do decide to keep active.

What about changing my Social Security number?

In most cases, this is not advised. Over the years, that number has been attached to numerous documents, including credit reports and various other private and government records. Moreover, the Social Security Administration is reluctant to issue replacement Social Security numbers except in very complicated or extreme cases.

What are the risks of using the Internet and other networks?

There are three main threats to the data on your computer: malicious software, network intrusion by hackers, and physical theft.

To protect your computer against viruses, spyware, and Trojan horse programs (which let hackers control your computer), you must use antivirus software — and keep it updated. To keep intruders out, connect to the Internet through a properly configured firewall, which can be software or device-based; this is especially important if you have an "always on" Internet connection, such as a cable modem or DSL. Avoid using public computers for online banking, email account access, or other sensitive exchanges of information — keystroke loggers, web "cookies," or cached pages may be capturing your data. Similarly, be cautious in sending sensitive data over wireless networks. And be careful what you send via email — unencrypted text and attachments can be intercepted as they travel across the Internet.
Finally, beware of "phishing" and "pharming" scams, which use fake corporate email, redirected web addresses, and "cloned" corporate web pages to plant viruses and con users into providing sensitive information. Never provide identity or account information in response to an email, or if you have any doubt about the authenticity of a web site.

What else can I do to protect my computer and computerized data?

Limit access to your computer to those you truly trust, and use restrictive permission levels to protect sensitive files. Encrypt files containing sensitive information whenever possible, including backup files. And don't forget to protect your computer against physical theft — "password protection" sounds daunting, but is actually easy for a tech-savvy criminal to defeat.

Farmers Offers Identity Shield on home and renters policies. Just ask!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Flood Insurance in Houston

Think you don't need Flood Insurance if you live in Harris or the surrounding counties? Well, according to, everyone lives in a flood zone. It's just some zones have a history of flooding and some don't. It only takes one flood to put in you in a zone and cause a devastating event to your financial picture. More info from

Anywhere it can rain, it can flood. If you live on a hill or in an area that has never been flooded, you may still be at some level of risk.
Flooding can be caused by heavy rains, melting snow, inadequate drainage systems, failed flood control structures such as levees and dams, as well as tropical storms and hurricanes. It is important to understand the flood risks you face before deciding whether to purchase flood insurance.
Everyone lives in a flood zone. Flood zones indicate areas of low, moderate and high risk. In low- and moderate-risk zones flooding can still occur. The risk is reduced but not removed.
The fact that a flood hasn't occurred in recent years does not mean that one hasn't happened in the past or that one will not happen in the future. But flood history is only one element used in determining flood risk. Determinations are also based on evaluating your community's rainfall and river-flow data, topography, tidal surge, flood control measures, and building development (existing and planned).

Flood Facts:

Floods and flash floods happen in all 50 states.
Everyone lives in a flood zone. (For more information,
visit our Flood Zones FAQs.)
Most homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage.
If you live in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) or high-risk area and have a Federally backed mortgage, your mortgage lender requires you to have flood insurance. (To find your flood risk, fill out the Flood Risk Profile to the left.)
Just an inch of water can cause costly damage to your property.
Flash floods often bring walls of water 10 to 20 feet high.
A car can easily be carried away by just two feet of floodwater.
Hurricanes, winter storms and snowmelt are common (but often overlooked) causes of flooding.
New land development can increase flood risk, especially if the construction changes natural runoff paths.
Federal disaster assistance is usually a loan that must be paid back with interest. For a $50,000 loan at 4% interest, your monthly payment would be around $240 a month ($2,880 a year) for 30 years. Compare that to a $100,000 flood insurance premium, which is about $400 a year ($33 a month).
If you live in a low-to-moderate risk area and are eligible for the Preferred Risk Policy, your flood insurance premium may be as low as $119 a year, including coverage for your property's contents.
You are eligible to purchase flood insurance as long as your community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program.
Check the Community Status Book to see if your community is already an NFIP partner.
It takes 30 days after purchase for a policy to take effect, so it's important to buy insurance before the floodwaters start to rise.
Your home has a 26% chance of being damaged by a flood during the course of a 30-year mortgage, compared to a 9% chance of fire.
Last year, one-third of all claims paid by the NFIP were for policies in low-risk communities.
The average annual U.S. flood losses in the past 10 years (1994-2004) were more than $2.4 billion.
When your community participates in the Community Rating System (CRS), you can qualify for an insurance premium discount of up to 45%.
Read more about CRS Ratings.
The NFIP awarded over $16 billion in flood claims in 2005.
Since 1978, the NFIP has paid $31.4 billion for flood insurance claims and related costs (as of 3/31/06).
Over 5 million people currently hold flood insurance policies in more than 20,200 communities across the U.S.

Got a question about Flood Insurance? Just ask me!