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’Tis the Season…for Holiday Scams

The holiday season may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but it’s also the time of year that holiday scammers ramp up their efforts to separate you from your money. During the holidays, there are seasonal spikes in online shopping, bargain hunting, mailing packages, and charitable giving. This heightened activity can make it easier for scammers to catch you when you’re not paying full attention.

How big a problem is holiday scamming? In 2022, the FBI’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3) received complaints from nearly 12,000 victims, reporting losses of more than $73 million during the holiday season. (And that statistic only counts scams that were reported to that specific agency.)

Here are some of the things to watch out for, and a few tips to help you avoid being a victim of a holiday scam.

Most common holiday scams

Fake ads and websites. When shopping online, beware of bogus social media ads that may take you to fake websites. These websites often offer deals that sound too good to be true, but in reality, they can steal personal information like your credit card numbers, or install malware on your computer.

Watch for spelling errors, poor grammar, and slightly “off” URLs (like “amozan” rather than “amazon”), poor quality images, and fake-sounding reviews. Also use caution when scanning online marketplaces such as Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or Nextdoor for good deals on holiday gifts.

If you want to safely shop a smaller, less well-known retailer or check out an offer you’ve found, type “[retailer name]” plus “scam” into your search engine to see if it’s legit.

Charity scams. If you want to share your generosity with a charity, make sure your donation is actually going to the charity, not a scammer. Be cautious with requests for money, especially if it’s a charity you’re not familiar with. If you hear of a cause you’d like to help, go directly to their website for donation options. You can also check Charity Navigator or Charity Watch to see if the organization is legitimate.

Phishing emails. Your inbox is probably bulging with “special holiday offers”—but before you click on any links, make sure that email is really from the company it says it’s from. “Phishing” emails look like they come from companies you trust, but they actually come from scammers. Don’t click links embedded in the email. Go directly to the company’s website if you want to see if a deal mentioned is real.

Fake delivery emails or texts. You may receive an email or a text message claiming you have a package that can’t be delivered, asking you to click a link to provide more information, or to pay a fee to have the package delivered. These links take you to a website designed to steal your personal information and send it to scammers. FedEx, UPS, and the USPS will not request your social security number or credit card info to track a package.

Gift card schemes. Gift cards make great presents, but be careful where you buy them. Avoid fake stores online or ads on sites like Craigslist for discounted gift cards, and buy your gift cards from reputable websites or retailers. Always keep your receipts and activation codes, too.

A few more tips to protect and prevent holiday fraud

Pay by credit card rather than debit card. Most credit card companies offer some protection against theft and fraud.

Don’t use public wi-fi to make purchases or access password protected sites. Hackers can break in and steal your info.

Create unique passwords for your accounts, especially financial accounts. Turn on multi-factor authentication for extra peace of mind.

Monitor your bank accounts and credit card statements for unauthorized activity.

Don’t allow yourself to be rushed into making a purchase, providing information, or donating to a charity. Take your time to check out the legitimacy of the offer. If you do find you’re the victim of a scam, report the crime to the FBI’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center, the online payment service you used for the transaction, and your financial institution—it may be possible to stop or reverse the transaction.

These are only a few of the precautions you can take to protect yourself from holiday scams. For more information on protecting yourself from cybercrime, see “Four Ways to Protect Yourself from Cybercrime.”

L & M Insurance Group can help with all your insurance needs

If you own a business and want to know more about cyber insurance, one of L & M Insurance Group’s agents will be happy to help you. Please call us at (813) 672-4100, or click here to contact us online.

Don’t own a business? We also write all forms of personal insurance: auto, homeowners, renters, and more. Please consider L & M Insurance Group, your local independent insurance agency, for all your insurance needs. And have a safe and happy holiday season!

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Four Ways to Protect Yourself from Cyber Crime

Between work projects, ordering groceries, paying bills, and keeping in touch with friends on social media, most of us spend a lot of time online. While the Internet can make life so much more convenient, it can also expose us to cyber criminals trying to steal our money or our personal information.

Reducing the chance that you’ll be impacted by cybercrime doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. In honor of Cyber Security Awareness Month, here are four ways you can stay cyber safe, courtesy of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Follow these procedures at home and at work. And see below if your small business needs cyber insurance!

Choose strong passwords and use a password manager.  Avoid using simple passwords like 12345, or personal details like birthdays or pets’ names. This information is easy for hackers to discover, leaving you vulnerable to breaches. CISA recommends passwords be long (at least 16 characters), random (mix letters, numbers, and symbols, or use a memorable phrase), and unique—one for every account.

Worried about remembering all those passwords? Use a password manager—a program that stores your passwords and automatically fills them in when you log on. Then all you need to remember is your password for the password manager! Check Consumer Reports, PC Mag, or CNET for advice and recommendations for a reputable password manager.

    Use multifactor authentication (MFA), also known as two-factor authentication or two-step authentication. This means whenever you log in, you’ll be required to have a second method of proving who you are—perhaps a numeric code sent to you by text or email, an authenticator app or use of biometrics (fingerprint or face recognition). Often, you’ll find this option under Account Settings & Privacy or similar. Turn it on every chance you get, especially for banking info, online purchases or bill paying, email, social media.

    Recognize and report phishing. Phishing refers to when criminals attempt to access your computers or personal information by getting you to open harmful emails, links, or attachments. The emails or links often appear to be from someone or some organization that you know and trust. They often use urgency and/or an appeal to emotion as tactics to get you to click. Watch for incorrect or shortened email addresses, links or URLs (“amazan” instead of amazon, for instance). They may also request personal or financial information. DO NOT click on any links or attachments including the “unsubscribe” button. Report them as spam, block the sender, and delete the message.

    Keep software updated. This is the simplest of all the tips. Check for updates regularly when you log on, or, better yet, sign up for automatic updates. Updates often include security patches for known weaknesses, as well as features to improve performance and fix bugs. If you choose to download updates yourself, make sure they’re from your device’s app store. Don’t respond to random pop-up windows on websites you visit.

    Need cyber insurance?

    If you own a small business that uses or stores the personal information of clients, you should consider buying cyber insurance. Cyber insurance protects your liability in case of data breach, loss or corruption of data, identity theft, cyber extortion, and more. It’s one more way you can protect your business from the unexpected.

    Please call an L & M Insurance Group agent at 813-672-4100 if you have any questions about cyber insurance, or any of your personal or commercial insurance needs. L & M Insurance Group is a full-service, independent insurance agency, serving Tampa, Brandon, Riverview, Valrico and surrounding communities. (Click here if you’d prefer to contact us online.)

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    7 Simple Tips to Help You Stay Cybersafe

    Cyberattacks take many forms and can target both businesses and private individuals. For example, criminals may access financial information or set up new accounts in your name, or install harmful software that disrupts your computer or transmits data from your hard drive. Since October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, we would like to join others in government private industry to draw attention to cyber threats and digital security.

    The good news is that there are many ways to safeguard your personal information. These simple habits will greatly reduce your chance of becoming a victim. Here are some basic cybersecurity recommendations from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

    Cyber safe tips

    1. Create strong passwords. Choose a unique password for each account, and change your passwords regularly. Longer passwords are more secure, so consider using a phrase of four or more random words. You may want to use a dedicated password manager to keep track of your passwords. A password manager stores your login information in an encrypted database. It will help you login automatically to the websites you routinely visit, and the only password you’ll have to remember is the master password for the password manager.
    2. Use multi-factor authentication when available. Multi-factor authentication involves using two of the three following credentials: something you know—a password or PIN; something you have—a token or ID card; and something you are—a biometric marker such as a fingerprint.
    3. For security questions, use only information you would know—not information someone could discover by checking out your social media. And while we’re mentioning social media, be careful what information you share there. Pets and children’s names, schools you attended, and so on, are often used as security questions, and posting them exposes that information to bad actors.
    4. Keep your software updated. Manufacturer’s updates often patch security problems. Just be careful to update only from the appropriate manufacturer’s website or built-in application stores to avoid problems.
    5. Only use secure internet connections you trust. Be very careful of public networks, which are not secure. Don’t use public networks to make purchases or make other sensitive transactions.
    6. Install a reputable anti-virus program.
    7. Recognize and report phishing and other forms of social engineering. Phishing involves using fake communication, like an email, to trick you into sharing sensitive personal information. It may request account numbers or your social security number, suggesting there is a problem. Once you respond with the information, the cybercriminal uses it to access or open accounts.  Never click on links or open attachments from unsolicited emails.

    And beware: Criminals may capitalize on current events and disasters, such as Hurricane Ian. You may see online solicitation or social media posts from people posing as victims. If you want to help, be sure to send donations to established, legitimate charitable organizations.

    If you own a business—protect yourself with cyber insurance

    If your business uses or stores customers’ sensitive personal information, you may want to investigate cyber insurance. Cyber insurance protects your liability in the event of a data breach, something a general liability policy often excludes. Cyber insurance covers several types of risks including loss or corruption of data, business interruption, liability, identity theft, cyber extortion, and data breach.

    Call L & M Insurance Group for all your insurance needs

    Whether you need personal or business insurance (including cyber insurance), L & M Insurance Group has you covered. We will be happy to discuss cyber insurance, or any other aspect of business or personal insurance. We are an all-lines agency, independently owned and operated, located in Riverview, FL. We’ve served clients in Tampa, Brandon, Valrico, and surrounding communities for more than 30 years. Please call us at 813-672-4100, or click here to contact us online.

    For more information on cyber safety, visit the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency website at https://www.cisa.gov/uscert/ncas/tips

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    Own a Small Business? Protect It With This Liability Coverage

    Doing business in the 21st century is both easier and more complicated that it used to be. Unfortunately, the employees and tools that help you serve your clients may also be the downfall of your business. Your hard work can be wiped out in the blink of an eye by the expenses of recovering from a data breach, or if you must defend yourself from a lawsuit brought against you by an employee.

    At L & M Insurance Group, we think you should consider the following two types of liability coverage, in addition to a standard Business Owners Policy (BOP), if you’re a small business owner.

    Cyber Liability Insurance

    Many small businesses are not even aware that they are at risk for attack, believing cyber criminals are more likely to target large companies. Unfortunately, small businesses are more and more frequently the target of cyber attacks—for example, not long ago one small accounting firm in our area had to spend many hours and dollars recovering from having a hacker breach their system and access clients’ personal information.

    Any business that collects and stores sensitive personal information is at risk. If your business handles or stores customer information such as credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and even addresses, you should carry cyber liability insurance.

    It can cost your business thousands of dollars to recover from a data breach. You’ll face expenses related to investigating the crime, communicating the breach to your customers (which is required by law in most states), legal and public relations expenses, and costs you incur due to interruption of your business while you sort things out.

    Cyber liability insurance protects both you and your customers from financial losses related to a data breach. It covers a range of threats, including hacking, network failures, or a breach related to the loss or theft of an employee’s laptop or smart phone.

    Insurance companies have been working to make this coverage more affordable, as well as suit the needs of businesses of all sizes.

    Employment Practices Liability Insurance

    Another type of liability coverage you should consider buying is Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI). This coverage protects your business from lawsuits brought by employees claiming discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful discipline, wrongful termination, retaliation, and so on.

    Small businesses can be especially vulnerable to these claims because, unlike large corporations, they may not have an employee handbook or a legal department spelling out what procedures to follow when hiring, disciplining, promoting, and firing employees. You can be sued even if you’ve done nothing wrong!

    Most EPLI covers legal costs (whether or not you win the lawsuit), judgments, and settlements. Most policies cover the business itself, officers and directors, management, and employees.

    For your protection, please consider adding these two types of liability coverage to your insurance plan, either by endorsement or by purchasing stand-alone coverage.

    At L & M Insurance Group, we understand the challenges of small business because we’re a small business ourselves. Please call one of our trained agents at 813-672-4100 to discuss your small business insurance requirements, or contact us by email. As independent agents, we can tailor your insurance coverage to fit your specific needs.

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    Extra Protection With American Integrity

    During October, we’ve introduced you to one of our trusted partners, American Integrity. Not only does American Integrity offer programs for small boat owners and owners of high value homes, they also write coverage for more modest homes, condos, manufactured homes, renters insurance, and more, including:

    Coverage for rental properties. If you own rental property, American Integrity writes DP-1 and DP-3 policies.

    Umbrella policies.

    Cyber attack coverage. In conjunction with a homeowners or renters policy.

    Golf cart coverage.

    Home Systems Protection. This policy covers repairs or replacement when certain home systems, such as your central air conditioning or conventionally installed water heater, break down and cause physical damage. Most standard homeowners policies don’t cover this kind of damage. Home Systems Protection is included in their Silver, Gold, and Diamond Reserve endorsements for your homeowners or condo insurance, or can be purchased as stand-alone coverage under certain programs.

    Identity theft insurance. This coverage includes identity restoration case management as well as reimbursement for the expenses you face when restoring your identity. This coverage is also included in American Integrity’s Silver, Gold, and Diamond endorsement bundles, or as stand-alone coverage for a $25 fee in conjunction with a standard homeowners insurance policy.

    Don’t forget the discounts!

    American Integrity also offers many different types of discounts, including discounts for newly-built homes (within the past five years), alarm systems, secured communities, recent updates to your roof and/or other major systems like electrical or plumbing—even a discount if the policyholder is 55 or older. Be sure to consult with your L & M Insurance Group agent to see if you’re receiving all the discounts you’re entitled to.

    If you have any questions about American Integrity, or any of our other carriers, please call L & M Insurance Group at 813-672-4100 (or click here to email us). As your local independent insurance agency, we want to help you find the insurance coverage that will give you financial peace of mind. 

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    Protect Yourself and Your Business From Cyber Security Threats

    Cyber Security Threats can Affect You and Your Business

    You’ve probably read about data breaches at large companies such as Equifax, Target, and Home Depot as well as other types of cyber attacks. But did you know that small businesses and even individuals are also at risk and can find themselves devastated by a cyber attack? In fact, Florida has the second highest number of victims of cybercrime in the U.S., and ranks third in the nation for frequency of identity theft, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).

     

    Phishing and Ransomware Cybercrime

    Two of the most common cybercrimes are phishing and ransomware. Phishing refers to hackers trying to trick you into sharing your private information through an email or a webpage offer. Popular phishing schemes include emails that purport to be from your bank or credit card company, a friend in need of money, or threatening you for some unnamed illegal action.

     

    Ransomware is malicious software (malware) designed to block access to your system and demanding ransom payment to restore access.

     

    There are things you can do to protect yourself. These tips apply to individuals, employees, and business owners.

     

    To Protect Yourself from Cyber Attacks

    • Create strong, unique passwords. Passwords are your first line of defense against cyber criminals. DO NOT use the same password for all your login credentials. If you have a hard time remembering your passwords, download an app to store them.
    • Use extreme caution when clicking links or opening email attachments. Don’t click links appearing in emails if you have any doubt at all about their legitimacy, even if the email looks like it’s from someone you know. Be skeptical of any urgent requests for money or bank transfers.
    • Protect your personal information. If you get an email from your bank or credit card company requesting personal information, call the number on your credit card or statement to verify the request.
    • Look for the security lock symbol in the web address of any site that asks for your personal information. Click on the lock to check that it has an up-to-date security certificate.
    • Keep all system software up to date.
    • Install, update and run security software such as anti-virus and malware protection programs.
    • Back up and store data at a secure offsite location.

    How Cyber Insurance Can Protect Your Business

    One more tip, if you have your own business: Consider buying cyber insurance (also known as cyber liability insurance). Business owners policies may provide some coverage for losses related to cyber incidents such as a computer virus or hardware failure. However, to better protect your business, consider buying a stand-alone cyber insurance policy tailored to your specific business needs. Cyber insurance covers several types of risks including, loss or corruption of data, business interruption, liability, identity theft, cyber extortion, and data breach.

     

    “Virtually all businesses use information technology (IT) in some way—to communicate via email, to provide information or services through a website, to store and use customer data and more. Your business can be held liable if certain data is compromised….” notes the III.

     

    At L & M Insurance Group, we take cyber security seriously, taking steps to protect both our business and our clients’ personal information. Please call us at 813-672-4100 if you need to discuss cyber insurance, or any other aspect of commercial or personal lines insurance.