Jackpotting

ATM machines across the country are being targeted by a wave of criminals in search of an illegal high-tech payday. The Secret Service calls this phenomenon “jackpotting,” and are warning U.S. bank attacks are imminent.

It’s a modern day version of a bank robbery, but no weapons are used — only malware, a small device or two and a special key that can be purchased on the Internet. When cyberattackers take control of the machine, cash spews out of the ATM like a Las Vegas jackpot.

It’s a crime that Paulo Shakarian, an entrepreneurial professor at Arizona State University’s School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering, is quite familiar with. Shakarian directs the Cyber-Socio Intelligent System Laboratory for the university, which specializes in cybersecurity, social network analysis and artificial intelligence. Additionally, he is the CEO of CYR3CON, which creates software that uses machine learning to find actionable intelligence for cybersecurity.

“Jackpotting” got its start in Asia, Europe and Central America and has taken a year to reach the U.S.

Shakarian said there are factors that point to why a certain type of attack affects one company/country/locale and not another. These include:

Is there local hacker expertise relevant to a certain ATM model to make the attack profitable? For any attack to occur, there has to be a hacker who understands the target system and enough of the target system to make it worthwhile. Are there other attacks that are more profitable or less risky? While jackpotting was previously not seen in the U.S., credit card skimming was very popular, and this can provide better profits (a credit card skimmer can capture hundreds of cards before going detected) and lower risk (i.e. not every device accepting a credit card has a camera watching).

He explained cybercrimes are cyclical because of an inherent cat-and-mouse nature.

“When a certain attack gets popular, more people start to do it. We see this repeatedly with hacker communities on the dark web latching on to recent exploits and malware. Then, once the popularity reaches a certain level, more and more network defenders put in protective measures. This in turn makes the attack less profitable, so the hackers move on to the next thing,” said Shakarian.

Consumer information isn’t likely at risk with this particular crime, he added.

“Jackpotting deals with affecting the local machine and tricking it to disperse money—not money that is connected to a given account. However, a related attack called skimming does involve stealing personal information,” Shakarian said.

Recently, Connecticut police say they found more than $9,000 in $20 bills when they arrested two men suspected in an ATM “jackpotting” scheme.

The Hartford Courant reports security personnel at a Citizens Bank branch in Cromwell called authorities Jan. 27 after observing the men working on the machine while dressed as ATM technicians.

Officers arrived just as the ATM began to spew $20 bills. Police arrested 31-year-old Alex Alberto Fajin-Diaz, a Spanish citizen, and 21-year-old Argenys Rodriguez, of Springfield, at the scene.

The Secret Service had previously warned New England financial institutions that jackpotters may be arriving to the area. Officials say the crime involves installing malicious software or hardware at ATMs, forcing the machine to release as much as $50,000.

Fajin-Diaz and Rodriguez have been charged with federal bank fraud.

He explained the best long-term solution to combating these attacks to gain information on hacker plans via places like the dark web, “as it allows us to understand where they are headed in terms of target selection.”

Source: Arizona State University and the Associated Press contributed to this article.
This article is a repost from Claims Journal and can be found here.

NFL Players Could Really use some Disability Insurance

Most NFL players don’t purchase disability insurance despite the risk of injury from playing professional football, according to insurance underwriters.

Many players are unwilling to pay for the coverage and are sometimes advised against buying it, said Chris Larcheveque, an executive vice president of International Specialty Insurance, one of four companies authorized by Lloyd’s of London to underwrite these policies He estimates that only about 40 percent of NFL players have this coverage.

“A lot of guys who need it are rookies,” Larcheveque said. “They don’t want to spend $20,000, $30,000 or $40,000 on insurance. It’s a big chunk of money on something that is a safety net.”

For some players, though, the benefits of playing football with a net can be huge. As Bleacher Report noted, former USC wide receiver Marqise Lee stands to collect $5 million on his insurance coverage because a knee injury resulted in his getting drafted in the second round of last week’s NFL draft, instead of the first as had been widely expected. Lee, who was picked by the Jacksonville Jaguars, had what is known as a “loss in value” rider in his policy that triggers a payout if an injury caused him to get a less valuable contract than expected. 

Lee’s USC teammate Morgan Breslin wasn’t so lucky. Experts had expected him to be drafted in the first round, but he wound up not being selected at all. He has signed with the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent,” but the odds of making the NFL are long for him, making his benefit perhaps his only payoff for his years of football,” Bleacher Report says.

Kurt Peterson of Peterson International Underwriters says that while disability coverage is uncommon in football, most players in the National Hockey League purchase it. NHL contacts are guaranteed only when players are hurt during a game. Players buy separate coverage to protect them when they are off the ice, Larcheveque said. 

Fewer baseball and basketball players bother to buy disability insurance because their contracts are guaranteed. They tend to purchase this coverage when their contracts are coming to an end in case an injury lowers their value in free agency. Top European soccer stars also purchase this type of insurance.

“You really need to be coached and sold on it,” Peterson said.

Last year, International Specialty Insurance underwrote policies for about 80 college football players, roughly one-third of which included loss in value riders. Peterson says his company provides coverage to a third of the NFL’s first-round draft picks.

The NFL does provide limited disability coverage that offers benefits of about $180,000 after taxes. That’s not enough to compensate an injured player for the wages they could have earned, according to Larcheveque. 

An NFL spokeswoman referred questions about player insurance to the NFL Players Association. Union spokesman Carl Francis told MoneyWatch that it doesn’t discourage players from buying the coverage. Player careers last an average of three and a half seasons and are often shortened by injury.

Amid the growing concern about health problems with current and former players, the NFL Players Association last year teamed with Harvard University for a $100 million study of 1,000 retired players. Earlier this year, a federal judge rejected a$765 million settlement between the NFL and former players over the health effects of concussions. Because of the dangers of head injuries, many parents are becoming increasingly reluctant to allow their children to play tackle football.

This article is a repost from CBS News and can be found here.

Amazon, Berkshire, JP Morgan to form new Health-Care Company

It’s no secret Jeff Bezos has been looking to crack health care. But no one expected him to pull in Warren Buffett and Jamie Dimon, too.

News Tuesday that Bezos’s Amazon.com Inc., Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., led by Dimon, plan to join forces to change how health care is provided to their combined 1 million U.S. employees sent shock waves through the health-care industry.

The plan, while in early stages and focused solely on the three giants’ staff for now, seems almost certain to set its sights on disrupting the broader industry. It’s the first big move by Amazon in the sector after months of speculation that the internet behemoth might make an entry. The Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan collaboration will likely pressure profits for middlemen in the health-care supply chain.

Details were scant in a short joint statement on Tuesday. The three companies said they plan to set up a new independent company “that is free from profit-making incentives and constraints.”

Stocks Sink

It was enough to sink health-care stocks. Express Scripts Holding Co. and CVS Health Corp., which manage pharmacy benefits, slumped 9.7 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively. Health insurers such as Cigna Corp. and Anthem Inc. also dropped.

The group announced the news in the very early stages because it plans to hire a CEO and start partnering with other organizations, according to a person familiar with the matter. The effort would be focused internally first, and the companies would bring their data and bargaining power to bear on lowering health-care costs, the person said. Potential ways to bring down costs include providing more transparency over the prices for doctor visits and lab tests, as well as by enabling direct purchasing of some medical items, the person said.

“I’m in favor of anything that helps move the markets a bit, incentivizes competition and puts pressure on the big insurance carriers,” said Ashraf Shehata, a partner in KPMG LLP’s health care and life sciences advisory practice in the U.S. “An employer coalition can do a lot of things. You can encourage reimbursement models and provide incentives for the use of technology.”

“Hard as it might be, reducing health care’s burden on the economy while improving outcomes for employees and their families would be worth the effort,” Bezos said in the statement. “Success is going to require talented experts, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation.”

The initial focus of the new company will be on technology solutions that will provide U.S. employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent health care at a reasonable costs. In the statement, JPMorgan CEO Dimon said the initiative could ultimately expand beyond the three companies.

“Our goal is to create solutions that benefit our U.S. employees, their families and, potentially, all Americans,” he said.

High Costs

Health-care spending was estimated to account for about 18 percent of the U.S. economy last year, far more than in other developed nations. Despite efforts to curb costs, studies suggest that U.S. doctors and hospitals continue to provide too much health care. In a survey of physicians’ perspectives published last year in the journal PLOS One, the average estimate was that 20 percent of medical care was unneeded, including about a quarter of tests, a fifth of prescriptions and more than one in 10 medical procedures.

Amazon, Berkshire and JPMorgan are among the largest private employers in the U.S., with a more than 1 million workers combined. And they’re among the most valuable, with a combined market capitalization of $1.6 trillion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

This isn’t the first time big companies have teamed up in an effort to tackle health-care cost. International Business Machines Corp., Berkshire’s BNSF Railway and American Express Co. were among the founding members of the Health Transformation Alliance, which now includes about 40 big companies that want to transform health care. The group ultimately partnered with existing industry players including CVS and UnitedHealth Group Inc.’s OptumRx.

Todd Combs

The latest effort is being spearheaded by Todd Combs, who helps oversee investments at Berkshire; Marvelle Sullivan Berchtold, a managing director of JPMorgan; and Beth Galetti, a senior vice president for human resources at Amazon.

Buffett handpicked Combs in 2010 as one of his two key stockpickers. Combs, 47, has been taking on a larger role at Berkshire in recent years, and Buffett has said that Combs and Ted Weschler, who also helps oversee investments, will eventually manage the company’s whole portfolio. Combs also joined JPMorgan’s board in 2016.

Sullivan Berchtold joined JPMorgan in August after eight years at the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis AG, where she was most recently the global head of mergers and acquisitions, according to her LinkedIn profile.

The management team, location of the headquarters and other operational details will be announced later, the companies said.

Buffett has long bemoaned the cost of U.S. health care. Last year, he came out in favor of drastic changes in the U.S. health system, telling PBS NewsHour that government-run health care is probably the best approach and would bring down costs.

“The ballooning costs of health care act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy,” Buffett said in Tuesday’s statement. “Our group does not come to this problem with answers. But we also do not accept it as inevitable.”

This article is a repost from Bloomberg and can be found here.

New Earthquake Faults Discovered in Beverly Hills

New data from state geologists show that an earthquake fault runs below Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills’ shopping district, heightening the known seismic risk in an area famous for Cartier, Gucci, Prada and other luxury brands.

The California Geological Survey’s final map has the Santa Monica fault zone cutting through the so-called Golden Triangle, running between Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards.

 
Sources: California Geological Survey, Mapzen, OpenStreetMap Raoul Ranoa/@latimesgraphics


The new map is a change from a draft version released last year that showed the fault zone ending on the western edge of Beverly Hills, near the corner of Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards. Based on more information, the state now says the fault zone extends a mile farther northeast, through Beverly Hills’ central district and into the city’s civic center area.

Faults runs through Westside

The Santa Monica is one of several faults running through highly populated areas of Southern California to generate interest and concern from seismic experts and government officials. The fault zone cuts through the heart of the Westside, straddling or paralleling Santa Monica Boulevard through Century City and Westwood before veering due west, with segments running into Brentwood, Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades.

It’s capable of producing a major magnitude 7 earthquake. Experts believe the most recent earthquake on the Santa Monica fault occurred 1,000 to 3,000 years ago.

Interactive map
Interactive map: See where the new fault zones are located LAT/CGS/Google Maps


Over the last few years, the state has stepped up drawing official so-called Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zones across California, a required first step before seismic safety laws can apply to areas.

Areas with fault zones face limits on development. Owners of properties in these zones are obligated to hire geologists to ensure that new buildings or major renovation projects aren’t located directly on an active fault line.

The Beverly Hills shopping district has some of the priciest retail real estate in the nation, but the area is already fairly developed out with a mix of shops and mid-rise office buildings. It’s unclear whether there are any major developments that haven’t yet been approved by local governments that are on the drawing board in the fault zone.

“We’re all afraid of earthquakes,” said Norbert Wabnig, who runs the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. “To know that there’s [a fault line] close to us, that’s even scarier.”

Rodeo Drive
PHOTO: Pedestrians stroll along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Christopher Reynolds


Buildings directly on top of faults can suffer major damage and destruction, as one side of the building moves away from the other.

During both the 1971 Sylmar and 2014 Napa earthquakes, homes built atop a fault suffered major damage as their foundations were torn apart, while homes just a few hundred feet away suffered far less damage, said Tim Dawson, senior engineering geologist with the California Geological Survey.

Larger buildings straddling a fault could be more vulnerable and completely collapse, Dawson said.

“We don’t want to put essential facilities on top of active faults, such as fire stations, hospitals, schools,” he said.

Along Santa Monica Boulevard

The Santa Monica earthquake fault zone is generally 1,000 feet wide, and runs west of Beverly Hills for more than eight miles, with the zone running through the Westfield Century City mall and the Mormon temple.

Earthquake faults can change land in ways that made them appealing generations ago for developers who were unaware of the seismic risk.

It was past earthquakes that made Santa Monica Boulevard a perfect spot for a major roadway and the Red Car trolley line — a flat area just below a hillside, Dawson said.

Los Angeles Marathon
PHOTO: Los Angeles Marathon runners make their way along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills on March 15, 2015. Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times


Prehistoric earthquakes threw up the north side of Santa Monica Boulevard, Dawson said, forming the dramatic hillside perch that the Mormon Temple now calls home and moving it west toward the ocean. The area to the south of the boulevard is getting relatively lower and has also been shifting to the east.

California law does not require existing buildings in the zones to be altered. But it prohibits new development on top of fault lines.

State scientists have various degrees of certainty about the fault’s location. Some drawn paths are considered accurate based on detailed geology investigations on specific plots of land to identify a fault. Other sections of the fault are considered approximately located.

Yet other parts of the fault’s path are inferred, in which geologists connect the dots between two points along the fault and “we see a fault at point A, and there’s good evidence there’s a fault at Point B,” Dawson said. “Faults are typically continuous features — they don’t typically stop.”

State officials said the part of the Santa Monica fault they now believe runs through Beverly Hills’ shopping district is considered inferred based off of a geology investigation done in preparation for the Metro subway and geology data east of the civic center.

Beverly Hills spokeswoman Therese Kosterman said the city is aware of the new Santa Monica fault map issued by the state. “The current map has significant revisions from the earlier draft map that the city had commented on and so we are currently in the process of evaluating the changes,” Kosterman said in an email.

More study over the coming years and decades will help improve maps of the fault. One research technique state geologists hope to pursue with the U.S. Geological Survey is to send waves of energy underground, such as through a hammer, and then see how they move through the earth. If a fault is there, the energy will move in a specific way, and studying it will help scientists better map the fault.

Faults change development

The threat of destruction on top of faults is such a risk that some agencies have taken steps to vacate or demolish buildings directly on top of them. San Bernardino Valley College demolished seven buildings along the San Jacinto fault in the 2000s; in 1991, Los Angeles Southwest College tore down two that sat on top of the Newport-Inglewood fault.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, officials in Hayward ordered its historic city hall vacated after the Hayward fault was slowly tearing it apart. Fremont demolished its city hall after geologists said it was on top of the same fault.

In areas that were developed after fault map studies were published, developers have avoided building on top of the fault, placing buildings away from fault lines while still building in the fault zone.

Developers in Signal Hill built homes carefully away from the Newport-Inglewood fault; parks and trails were instead placed where the fault could more safely split in two.

In Huntington Beach, after the discovery of a fault underneath the northern portion of the Seacliff Village shopping center, developers demolished the center and rebuilt it, placing a parking lot directly on top of the fault.

Sometimes, though, it can be impossible to transform a small plot of land bisected by a fault line into a new development.

The release of this fault map does not mean scientists are done. Geologists don’t know where the Santa Monica fault ends.

“It’s possible it connects up with the Hollywood fault, and that’s what we’d really like to answer,” Dawson said. The Hollywood fault runs along the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood and through the heart of downtown Hollywood.

Connections to other faults

The Santa Monica fault, along with offshore faults as well as the Hollywood fault and the Raymond fault, which extends east into Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley, form a major tectonic boundary in Southern California between the Santa Monica Mountains to the north and the Los Angeles Basin to the south. It is possible that the Santa Monica, Hollywood and Raymond faults could rupture nearly simultaneously in the same earthquake.

If there’s one silver lining, it is that the Santa Monica fault and its cousins, the Hollywood and the Raymond, move far more slowly than California’s most famous fault, the San Andreas.

One side of the San Andreas is moving past the other at a rate of 25 to 34 millimeters a year, far faster than the Santa Monica-Hollywood-Raymond system, which is moving around 1 to 2 millimeters a year.

That means while the southern San Andreas fault is expected to have large earthquakes every 100 to 200 years or so, thousands of years could pass between large earthquakes on the Santa Monica fault.

This article is a repost from LA Times and can be found here.

How Much Auto Insurance Coverage Do I Need?

How Much Auto Insurance Coverage Do I Need?

An auto insurance policy can include several different kinds of coverage.
Your independent insurance agent will provide professional advice on the type and amount of car insurance coverage you should have to meet your individual needs and comply with the laws of your state. Here are the principal kinds of coverage that your policy may include:

Liability for Bodily Injury – The minimum coverage for bodily injury varies by state and may be as low as $10,000 per person or $20,000 per accident. Many auto policies stop at a maximum of $300,000 or $500,000 per accident for Liability coverage. If you injure someone with your car, you could be sued for a lot of money. The amount of Liability coverage you carry should be high enough to protect your assets in the event of an accident. Most experts recommend a limit of at least $100,000/$300,000, but that may not be enough. This is no place for cheap auto insurance. If you have a million-dollar house, you could lose it in a lawsuit if your insurance coverage is insufficient. You can get additional coverage with a Personal Umbrella or Personal Excess Liability policy. The greater the value of your assets, the more you stand to lose, so you need to buy liability insurance appropriate to the value of your assets.

Liability for Property Damage – The minimum that you must carry varies by state, but that minimum is not likely to be enough to protect you in a serious accident. With many cars costing upwards of $50,000, you could easily be responsible for a substantial repair bill if you hit someone’s car and it is totaled. If you have a Personal Umbrella policy, you will be covered for excess costs, but your insurance company may require that you carry more than the minimum to qualify for a Personal Umbrella policy.

Collision – Covers the cost of damage to your own car in an accident. You don’t have to figure out how much to buy – that depends on the vehicle(s) you insure. But you do need to decide whether to buy it and how large a deductible to take. The higher the deductible, the lower your premium will be. Deductibles generally range from $250 to $1,000. Collision coverage is important to have if a car is new and valuable, but less important as the value of the vehicle declines. If the car is only worth $1,000 and the deductible is $500, it may not make sense to buy collision coverage. Collision insurance is not generally required by state law.

Comprehensive – Covers the cost of miscellaneous damages to your car not caused by a collision, such as fire and theft. As with Collision coverage, you need to choose a deductible. The higher deductible you choose, the lower your premium will be. Comprehensive coverage is generally sold together with Collision, and the two are often referred to together as Physical Damage coverage. If the car is leased or financed, the leasing company or lender may require you to have Physical Damage coverage, even though the state law may not require it.

Medical Expenses – Covers the cost of medical care for you and your passengers in the event of an accident. The limit you choose under Medical Expenses coverage is the maximum that will be paid for medical claims to each driver. Therefore, if you choose a $2,000 Medical Expense Limit, each passenger will have up to $2,000 coverage for medical claims resulting from an accident in your vehicle.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage – If you are involved in an accident and the other driver is at fault but has too little or no insurance, this covers the gap between your costs and the other driver’s coverage, up to the limits of your coverage. In some states, this coverage is limited to bodily injury, while in others it may cover property damage, as well. The limits required and optional limits that may be available are set by state law.

Personal Injury Protection (“PIP” or “No-fault”) – This coverage, required by law in some states, covers your medical costs and those of your passengers, regardless of who was responsible for the accident. The limits required and optional limits that may be available are set by state law.

This article is a repost National General Insurance and can be found here.

The Bitcoin Effect

Hey, want those photos and files back? It may cost more than it used to.

Thank bitcoin.

Chubb Ltd., best known for catering to wealthy families and corporations, is among at least three insurers facing a jump in costs tied to claims from ransomware attacks. The firms attribute much of that to the surging price of bitcoin, the currency of choice for online extortionists. And that’s bad news for everyone.

There’s been “a massive escalation” in both the number of attempts and the size of demands as criminals scramble for the hot cryptocurrency, said Michael Tanenbaum, an executive vice president at Zurich-based Chubb. “The rise in price of bitcoin correlates,” he said in an interview, declining to specify total costs. Around midyear, top payouts in corporate ransomware attacks began to exceed $1 million, dwarfing the previous maximum of about $17,000, he said.

Insurers like Chubb are a good place to look for information on costs from ransomware — a type of malicious software that blocks access to computer files until victims pay a toll. Globally, security firms say incidents have exploded, ranging from precision hacks to this year’s mass assaults, like WannaCry. Insurers have a unique view of what actually gets paid, especially in the most expensive cases, because they may shoulder the burden.

Typically, they enlist third-party specialists, such as Kivu Consulting and Navigant Consulting, to facilitate cryptocurrency payments and investigate perpetrators. Those firms say business is booming.

This year’s frenzy for bitcoin has made hackers bolder, demanding larger payouts, said Winston Krone, a global managing director who oversees Kivu’s ransomware services. Demands of $250,000 to $500,000 were nonexistent six months ago, and now they’re a weekly occurrence, he said.

“We can make immediate payments of six figures,” Krone noted. His firm has teams of multi-lingual investigators trained to negotiate with hackers or ensure clients aren’t dealing with a terrorist group, which can run afoul of U.S. laws. Short of that, it’s the customer’s decision whether to give in to extortion, he said. “The ethics of paying ransoms and paying criminals, we take a neutral stance.”

It might seem counterintuitive that ransoms would rise because of bitcoin’s price. After all, the cryptocurrency can be split into tiny fractions, allowing payments of any amount.

But some extortionists have been slow to adjust bitcoin-denominated demands amid the rally, according to Christiaan Beek, who leads strategic threat intelligence research for McAfee Inc., the cybersecurity firm. A criminal network initially seeking a few bitcoins per victim might keep collecting that amount for months. Yet this year the digital currency has climbed ever upward, from roughly $1,000 in January to surpass $19,000 this week.

“Because the price of bitcoin has seen a dramatic spike in the latter half of 2017, it has made the overall price of demands much larger,” said Kimberly Horn, an executive at insurer Beazley Plc who oversees breach-response and information-security claims.

Ransomware claims at Beazley are on pace to rise more than 70 percent this year to 260. McAfee projects average payouts are about $900 to $1,200, up from roughly $600 in 2015. XL Group Ltd., another insurer, said it’s fielding demands of $20,000 to $60,000 — compared with about $300 before bitcoin took off.

To be sure, observations vary. Symantec Corp. said it sees more instances of hackers ratcheting up the frequency of their attacks, while tempering individual demands to ensure victims will pay. In contrast to McAfee, Symantec estimates average ransom demands may even drop this year.

There are additional trends driving up total costs. Early ransomware attacks proved people and companies are willing to pay, luring more opportunists. Pioneering hackers are now flanked by rogue nations and novices. Extortionists can buy malicious software on the dark web and pump out emails to infect computers. There were more than 12 million attacks in the third quarter of this year, up from roughly 4 million in the same period of 2015, according to McAfee. And many people don’t have policies to offset their costs.

Ransom insurance started as a niche in the 1970s, pioneered by firms including Lloyd’s of London Ltd. and American International Group Inc. Companies concerned about executive abductions and wealthy families vulnerable to kidnappings snapped up coverage. Over the years, some policies added protection for online extortion. Insurers also rolled out separate products for cyber attacks.

Ransomware is now rattling that market. In May, days after WannaCry grabbed global headlines, law firm Covington & Burling posted a memo to clients, warning them to review terms in their contracts.

Within general kidnapping policies, there often was little to no deductible for online extortion schemes, said Anthony Dagostino, global head of cyber risk at Willis Towers Watson. But that’s changing.

“The insurance companies woke up to this, saying this is almost way too much,” said Dagostino, whose firm doesn’t provide cyber coverage but works with clients to find a carrier. “We’re already getting word that some insurance companies are not providing the coverage or are adding to the deductibles.”

This article was written by Sonali Basak and Jenny Surane for Claims Journal, copyright Bloomberg.
The original article can be found here.

California Wildfires

The last few days have brought several brush fires to the Southern California area. We want to ensure that your family and property are safe. Here is what to do before, during and after a fire provided by https://www.ready.gov/wildfires. From an insurance standpoint, if you are a policy holder with us, we have all your policy information on file here. Any standard home policy in CA will cover damage due to wildfires and smoke in addition to water damage caused by firefighting efforts.

Please call our office at 818-302-3060 if any of the following apply to you;
1. Your home is damaged in some way due to the wildfires (smoke, fire, water, wind).
2. You are forced to leave your home and get a hotel due to a mandatory evacuation.
3. You have some other personal financial loss due to the wildfires.

Our team is standing by to file claims and answer any questions you may have.

This page explains what actions to take if you receive a fire weather watch alert from the National Weather Service for your local area and what to do before, during, and after a wildfire.

Know your risk

Wildfires can occur anywhere and can destroy homes, businesses, infrastructure, natural resources, and agriculture. For more information, download the How to Prepare for a Wildfire guide, which provides the basics of wildfires, explains how to protect yourself and your property, and details the steps to take now so that you can act quickly when you, your home, or your business is in danger.

What

A wildfire is an unplanned, unwanted fire burning in a natural area, such as a forest, grassland, or prairie. As building development expands into these areas, homes and businesses may be situated in or near areas susceptible to wildfires. This is called the wildland urban interface.

Wildfires can cause death or injury to people and animals, damage or destroy structures, and disrupt community services including transportation, gas, power, communications, and other services. The impact may cover large areas with extensive burning, embers traveling more than a mile away from the wildfire itself, and smoke causing health issues for people far away from the fire. Wildfires damage watersheds leave areas prone to flooding and mudslides for many years.

Where

Wildfires can occur anywhere in the country. They can start in remote wilderness areas, in national parks, or even in your back yard. Wildfires can start from natural causes, such as lightning, but most are caused by humans, either accidentally—from cigarettes, campfires, or outdoor burning—or intentionally.

When

Wildfires can occur at any time throughout the year, but the potential is always higher during periods with little or no rainfall, which make brush, grass, and trees dry and burn more easily. High winds can also contribute to spreading the fire. Your community may have a designated wildfire season when the risk is particularly high.

Fire Weather Watch

Fire weather watch = dangerous fire weather conditions are possible over the next 12 to 72 hours

Steps to Take

Turn on your TV/radio. You’ll get the latest weather updates and emergency instructions.
Know where to go. If you are ordered to evacuate, know the route to take and have plan of where you will go. Check-in with your friends and family.
Keep your car fueled, in good condition, and stocked with emergency supplies and a change of clothes.
Before Wildfire season
Make a Wildfire plan
Know your wildfire risk.
Familiarize yourself with local emergency plans. Know where to go and how to get there should you need to evacuate.
Make a wildfire emergency plan including an evacuation plan and a communication plan.
Many communities have text or email alerting systems for emergency notifications. To find out what alerts are available in your area, search the Internet with your town, city, or county name and the word “alerts.”
Build or restock your emergency preparedness kit, including a flashlight, batteries, cash, and first aid supplies.
Stay tuned to your phone alerts, TV, or radio, for weather updates, emergency instructions or evacuation orders.

Prepare Your Home

Create and maintain an area approximately 30’ away from you home that is free of anything that will burn, such as wood piles, dried leaves, newspapers, brush, and other landscaping that can burn. From 30 feet to 100 feet reduce or replace as much of the most flammable vegetation as possible and prune vegetation, create “fuel breaks,” such as driveways, gravel walkways, and lawns. Work with neighbors to create spaces up to 200 feet around your homes where vegetation is thinned to remove underbrush and tall trees do not touch each other for continuous canopies.
Regularly clean the roof and gutters.
Connect garden hoses long enough to reach any area of the home and fill garbage cans, tubs, or other large containers with water.
Review your homeowner’s insurance policy and also prepare/update a list of your home’s contents.

During a Wildfire

If there is a wildfire in the area, be ready to evacuate on short notice.
If you see a wildfire and haven’t received evacuation orders yet, call 9-1-1. Don’t assume that someone else has already called.
If ordered to evacuate during a wildfire, do it immediately- make sure and tell someone where you are going and when you have arrived.
If you or someone you are with has been burned, call 9-1-1 or seek help immediately; cool and cover burns to reduce chance of further injury or infection.

After a Wildfire

Returning Home

Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
For several hours after the fire, maintain a “fire watch.” Check and re-check for smoke, sparks or hidden embers throughout the house, including the roof and the attic. Use caution when entering burned areas as hazards may still exist, including hot spots, which can flare up without warning. Evacuate immediately if you smell smoke. Cleaning Your Home
Wear a NIOSH certified-respirator (dust mask) and wet debris down to minimize breathing dust particles.
Discard any food that has been exposed to heat, smoke or soot.
Do NOT use water that you think may be contaminated to wash dishes, brush teeth, prepare food, wash hands, or to make ice or baby formula.
Photograph damage to your property for insurance purposes.

Fire Extinguisher Recall

More than 40 million fire extinguishers in the U.S. and Canada are being recalled because they might not work in an emergency.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says on its website that it’s aware of one death because of a problem with extinguishers made by Kidde. In 2014, extinguishers didn’t work for emergency responders who were trying to fight a car fire after a crash. The agency reports there have been approximately 391 reports of failed or limited activation or nozzle detachment, including the fatality, approximately 16 injuries, including smoke inhalation and minor burns, and approximately 91 reports of property damage.



The recall covers 134 models of push-button and plastic-handle extinguishers made from 1973 through Aug. 15 of this year, including models that were previously recalled in March 2009 and February 2015. The extinguishers were sold in red, white and silver, and are either ABC- or BC-rated. The model number is printed on the fire extinguisher label. For units produced in 2007 and beyond, the date of manufacture is a 10-digit date code printed on the side of the cylinder, near the bottom. Digits five through nine represent the day and year of manufacture in DDDYY format. Date codes for recalled models manufactured from January 2, 2012 through August 15, 2017 are 00212 through 22717. For units produced before 2007, a date code is not printed on the fire extinguisher.

The government says the extinguishers can become clogged. Also, the nozzle can come off.

The extinguishers were sold by Menards, Montgomery Ward, Sears, The Home Depot, Walmart and other department, home and hardware stores nationwide, and online at Amazon.com, ShopKidde.com and other online retailers for between $12 and $50 and for about $200 for model XL 5MR. These fire extinguishers were also sold with commercial trucks, recreational vehicles, personal watercraft and boats.

Owners should contact Kidde to ask for a replacement and for instructions on how to return recalled models.

Kidde can be reached at (855) 271-0773 or at www.kidde.com.

This article is a repost from Claims Journal and can be found here.

Open Enrollment for Health Insurance

Open enrollment for Health Insurance in California is now through January 31st, 2018.

We encourage everyone to explore their options and find solutions that best fit their needs.

We are happy to provide you with assistance in your search for health care, so contact us at your earliest convenience.

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Call us today!

As Wildfires Raged, Insurers Sent in Private Firefighters to Protect their Client’s Homes

During the worst of last month’s wildfires in Northern California, Dick Fredericks got a phone call that passed on “some magical words”: His house was safe.

The message from a private firefighting service hired by his home insurer, Chubb Ltd. CB +0.39% , was accompanied by an email with some two dozen photos, including one of the service’s firefighters pumping water from Mr. Fredericks’s swimming pool to extinguish a brush fire on his Sonoma Valley property.

Increasingly, insurance carriers are finding wildfires, such as those in California, are an opportunity to provide protection beyond what most people get through publicly funded fire fighting. Some insurers say they typically get new customers when homeowners see the special treatment received by neighbors during big fires.

“The enrollment has taken off dramatically over the years as people have seen us save homes,” Paul Krump, a senior executive at Chubb, said of the insurer’s Wildfire Defense Services. “It’s absolutely growing leaps and bounds.”

The services are complimentary to policyholders in certain ZIP Codes or states that are prone to wildfires. Some insurers require policyholders to enroll in the programs in advance, to give permission for workers to access the property and to obtain contact information.

Chubb’s service, which began in 2008, is offered in 15 states. American International Group Inc. AIG +0.43% launched its Wildfire Protection Unit in 2005 in 14 California ZIP Codes. The unit has since expanded to 385 ZIP Codes in California, Colorado and Texas. Other insurers extending services include​Privilege Underwriters Reciprocal Exchange, or PURE, and USAA.

Tens of thousands of people benefit from the programs. For their overall insurance, policyholders can pay anywhere from thousands of dollars in annual premiums with these firms to more than $100,000, depending on the number and types of homes and other possessions they insure.

Consumer advocates lament that the programs mean the rich can get better fire protection, because the services mostly have been available at insurers of the well-to-do.

“Do we like the idea of a two-tier system for wealthy individuals and people with less means? No,” said Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, a national insurance-focused consumer nonprofit based in California.

“But do we want to see their approaches work? Yes,” she added.

The private-sector activity calls to mind the early days of fire insurance in the U.S., in the 18th and 19th centuries before municipal fire services became common. Back then, metal-plaque “fire marks” were affixed to the front of insured buildings as a guide for insurers’ own fire brigades as to which fires to put out, said spokeswoman Loretta Worters of the Insurance Information Institute.

Scott McLean, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, said the state has procedures in place to coordinate with the private-sector crews. They are allowed to visit properties only after obtaining permission of an incident commander.

The insurers run “intelligence” or “command” centers from which they deploy these field forces.

“Our goal is to be out in front of a fire…before the fire is burning up the hillside,” said Stephen Poux, head of risk-management services and loss prevention at AIG.

The private crews seek to clear combustible items from a property: wood piles, outdoor furniture including cushions, weeds, straw floor mats and leaves in gutters. They may set up sprinklers with water available at the location, or with water they bring to the site, along with sprinkler lines and a generator to operate them.

Insurers sometimes spray a property’s perimeter with fire retardants, such as foams or gels. The may even spray the home itself, though they typically don’t take this step until a fire is closing in.

“The foam is short-lived, which is why we proactively work with members and take multiple precautions,” said Martin Hartley, chief operating officer of policyholder-owned insurer PURE.

The logistics are challenging, he said, because crews may not get access later if they have misjudged the fire’s speed.

Mr. Fredericks, the founding partner of Main Management Fund Advisors LLC in San Francisco and a former U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, said he began checking in with Chubb’s Wildfire Defense Services team as fire became a danger to the Sonoma area.

“The fire was so pervasive,” he said. “As a homeowner you want to try everything to save your home, and the first responders can’t be everywhere at once. The fact that Chubb supplemented an unbelievable effort by the first responders is probably what saved our home.”

By Leslie Scism Updated Nov. 5, 2017 1:49 p.m. ET

This article is a repost from The Wall Street Journal and can be found here.

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