Spring is nearly here and, despite the mild winter, it’s important to take a comprehensive look at your home as it may be in need of routine maintenance. Choose a warm day and walk around the house. Here are just a few of the areas that should be inspected according to Bob Vila at bobvila.com.
Roof. Don’t climb up on the roof. Most problems can be seen from the ground with careful inspection using binoculars. Look for obvious signs of problems such as cracked or missing shingles. Less obvious signs include shifting of shingles or nails that have popped and caused the shingles to lift.
Chimney. Are the joints between the bricks or stones in good repair or have they shifted or fallen? Is there any plant growth? These conditions may indicate water infiltration. White calcium deposits indicate that the joints may be absorbing water and require resealing.
Exterior Walls and Gutters. Check for water spots which might be a sign that the gutters and downspouts are not functioning properly. Check wood siding for damage and signs of insects.
Foundation. Look for cracks. Don’t attempt to repair them yourself with caulking. Hire a foundation specialist to ensure a proper repair and prevent further damage.
Windows. Check to see that the caulking and weather stripping is in place and holding a tight seal. Condensation inside the glass on double and triple glazed windows indicates that the seal has been compromised and the glass or window will need to be replaced.
Attic. Check for insect and rodent damage. Search for mold which may look like gray-black staining. The presence of mold may indicate that insulation and/or ventilation is inadequate.
Basement. Check carefully for dampness and mold. You may need to address ventilation and use a dehumidifier. Check the foundation for cracks and use a flashlight to check exposed framing. Call a pest control company if you discover even a quarter inch of tunneling in wood.
Leaks. Check the sinks, dishwasher and laundry room for leaky faucets and clogged drains, and sweaty pipes. Look for signs of dampness. Are pipes properly sealed? Do hoses have cracks, leaks, or bulges? Does the hot water heater show signs of corrosion and leaks? Don’t wait to address these issues.
Identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain (U.S. Dept. of Justice). Typically identity thieves use your Social Security number, credit cards, and bank accounts to make purchases, open new accounts or even get a tax refund.
How does identity theft happen?
From high-tech skimmers to old-fashioned stealing, there is no shortage of ways for a thief to steal your identity.
Dumpster diving – Thieves look through trash or dumpsters to find bills or financial statements with personal information.
Skimming – Skimmers are small devices that can be attached to ATMs, gas pumps and other locations where a credit card is swiped. The device stores the information from a credit or debit card.
Phishing – Phishing is typically done via email. Emails impersonating a business will be sent out in an attempt to gather personal information.
Stealing – Pickpocketing, stealing purses or wallets, or gathering personal information during a break-in (The Standard 1/22/16).
Warning Signs and Red Flags
You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.
You don’t get your bills or other mail.
Merchants refuse your checks.
Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.
You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit.
A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.
The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.
You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account (IdentityTheft.gov).
My identity was stolen…now what?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) set up IdentityTheft.gov . This site is meant to help anyone whose identity was compromised make a report of the theft and begin the steps to recovery.
Immediate steps include calling the companies where the fraud occurred, placing a fraud alert with the credit bureaus and getting your credit reports, reporting identity theft to the FTC, and filing a police reportwith the local police department. For a list of all recovery steps see the complete list of possible recovery steps.
Identity Theft Prevention
Create strong passwords– Make long passwords, include special characters ($ ! * #), change passwords often and don’t use the same password for multiple accounts, don’t write passwords down in an obvious place and do not share them.
Know what you share – Check your privacy settings on social media and know what information is shared. Phone number? Birthday? Pet’s name?
Avoid Phishing Scams – Do NOT click on links, open files, or download programs sent by strangers.
Stay Secure – Use secure wireless networks, security and anti-virus software, and password locks on your computers.
Lock your phone – Put a password or pattern lock on your cell phone
Update – Update your operating system and apps. Be sure to check application updates to see if they are asking permission to access other apps on your phone (For example, an app that needs to access the camera to operate).
Don’t Save Logins – Especially for apps with personal or financial information
Shred – Shred anything with personal information.
Process Mail – Do not leave mail hanging around your house. You may miss charges that were not made by you and bills have personal information and account numbers.
Review credit reports and account statements – verify all charges were made by you and that no new accounts were opened without your knowledge.
Be aware when using credit and debit cards – look out for skimmer devices, cover the pin pad when entering your pin number at ATMs, gas pumps, and at stores.