Ransomware viruses continue to lock up computers; smartphones also targeted

Burnsville, Minnesota – Feb. 26 – Aggressive computer viruses continue to make the rounds, causing unlucky computer users to see messages which threaten people with fines or prison unless they pay up. These viruses encrypt – lock up – files on affected computers, holding them hostage, hence its name: ransomware. These viruses are spread through malicious links in emails or by visiting compromised websites. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) offers tips on how to avoid ransomware and also advice on what to do if your computer is affected by it.

 

People who have been victimized by ransomware report seeing different versions of ransom demands; some ask for differing amounts of money and some have claimed to be from the FBI, local police or the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Users are told they need to pay requested amounts via prepaid debit cards or Bitcoin (a virtual currency) or they will be locked out of their computers permanently. In some cases, people have even been threatened with arrest. However, these messages are all fraudulent.

 

“This scam is both insidious and, unfortunately, effective,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Encrypting users’ files or locking screens to make computers inaccessible gives scammers a lot of leverage. Even so, the FBI is advising consumers not to pay these ransoms and we advise the same.”

 

People with infected computers should have the issue addressed as quickly as possible. It will likely take a computer repair expert or firm – one that’s been researched first at bbb.org – to restore functionality and remove any lurking malware. However, while computers may be fixable, in many cases encrypted files are not recoverable. It’s always a good idea to back up your files on a regular basis.

 

The FBI recently issued a warning that scammers are now utilizing a tactic called “drive-by” ransomware, which is generally transmitted by deceptive emails or pop-up windows. In some of these cases, scammers are pressuring victims to pay ransom with Bitcoin. This form of payment has become increasingly popular for scammers because of how difficult it can be to trace.

 

One of the newest versions of ransomware is CryptoWall. Victims are infected with CryptoWall by clicking on links in malicious emails that appear to be from legitimate businesses and through compromised advertisements on popular websites. Another growing problem is ransomware that locks down mobile phones. Just as with computers, it’s important to avoid questionable websites when surfing the Internet on your smartphone.

 

To avoid ransomware, consumers should:

 

  • Make sure their computer has the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.
  • Avoid questionable websites and don’t be lured in by pop-up windows.
  • Don’t open attachments in unsolicited emails, even if they come from people you know and trust. Better to be safe than sorry.
  • Be aware that social networks are used to transmit and spread this virus and others like it.
  • Use the same precautions on your smartphone as you would on your computer when surfing the internet
  • Watch out for scams disguised as apps. Be sure to download apps through the official Apple App or Google Play Stores. Stay clear of discontinued apps and make sure to read the user reviews.

 

If your computer or smartphone becomes infected by viruses of this nature, contact a tech expert immediately and file a complaint with the FBI at ic3.gov.

Enter online relationships with eyes wide open

MADISON – Love may be blind but if your Valentine’s Day plans include looking for love online, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) reminds you to keep your eyes open for scammers who are ready to take advantage of you-and your money.

People using online dating services or social media to find that perfect match might just be forging a relationship that could cost thousands of dollars.

“The average financial loss from these scams is between $15,000 and $20,000 per victim,” says Sandy Chalmers, administrator of DATCP’s Trade and Consumer Protection division. “You may think you’re in a real relationship, but if your online love asks for money, get out.”

Many of these scammers troll for unsuspecting romance seekers online. You may be sent an inviting profile or a photo, and the conversation that follows is used to build a trusting relationship. The person on the other end often claims to be an American traveling overseas. They may eventually send you checks asking you to cash them since they can’t. They might also ask you to wire money to help them in an emergency.

Depending on how much personal information you’ve shared with your new unseen admirer, you may find your bank accounts drained and your identity stolen. Or you may have been duped into a money laundering check cashing scheme.

Other signs your online romantic interest may be “cheating on you” include:

  • sending a too-good-to-be-true photo that looks like a supermodel
  • asking you to leave the dating site and communicate by personal email or instant messages. Sharing intimate details in these forums could possibly lead to extortion demands for money in order to keep those details from being posted to the world.
  • professing love for you in a heartbeat
  • requesting that you send personal information including Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers
  • tells you he or she will come visit you but changes plans at the last minute due to some tragic event
  • asking you to send money by wire transfer to pay for airfare for a visit, visas, government documents or to help a family member in distress.

“If you use an online dating site, stick to a well-known company with a good reputation,” Chalmers said.

 

For more information or to file a consumer complaint, visit Consumer Protection’s website at datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.

Don’t be fooled by romance scams

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota® (BBB) advises people looking to start new relationships to watch out for romance scams. This is a scheme wherein unscrupulous individuals look to defraud people by pretending to be a love interest and playing on emotions for their own financial gain. This type of scam usually occurs via email or social media, but can also happen through established online dating services.

 

“Romance scams are a double whammy,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota. “They hit victims financially and emotionally, and the consequences are often devastating.”

 

Romance schemes can target anyone, but often target older individuals, those who are new to the Internet or not as tech-savvy. The relationship generally develops online or over the phone, when people either respond to fake online profiles or are contacted by a scammer in response to an ad they posted. Conversations begin online and things can progress quickly, which is why it’s important to take things slow. Scammers prey on emotion and they’re good at telling people what they want – or hope – to hear.

 

A huge red flag for people seeking relationships online is any request for funds. Sometimes scammers who have struck up virtual relationships will ask for money to buy an airplane ticket so the couple can “finally” meet. However, these requests are nothing more than a gateway to further requests, as the scammer comes up with reasons they can’t make the trip, such as an illness, a sick relative or supposedly losing their job. A good rule of thumb is to never send money to someone you’ve never met in person. Another good rule of thumb is to remember that someone who cares about you will not ask you to place yourself in financial jeopardy for them or put you in a difficult position.

 

People going online or using online dating services to meet romantic interests should be leery of:

People who ask to talk or chat on an outside email or messaging service. Oftentimes, this allows fraudsters to perpetrate fraud without the dating site having a record of the encounter.

Anyone who declares their love for you without meeting you or knowing very little about you.

Individuals who prefer to communicate solely via email or over the phone. This is often the sign of someone who has a need or wishes to keep their true identity hidden.

Claims that a person cannot meet because they are traveling, stationed or working abroad. Dishonest people use distance as a tool and a means of keeping people at arm’s length. Scammers will also sometimes falsely claim a military affiliation in an effort to gain people’s trust.

Requests for money or credit card information. Any and all requests for loans or cash advances should be refused and prompt an immediate assessment of the person you’re communicating with. Red flags don’t come any bigger than this.

Someone who asks for sensitive personal information.Remember, a scammer’s goal might also be to steal your identity. Be protective of your personal information and watch out for suspicious emails that could have links which contain malware designed to compromise your computer.

The mission of Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.

BBB Shreds, Recycles Record Amount of Documents Helping Prevent Identity Theft

The year 2014 proved to be another busy year for the Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin and its education foundation.

 

The BBB reached millions of people and business owners through media alerts, media stories to warn against scams, social media, consumer and business newsletters, blogs, scam-stopper, tips on buying smarter, and educational events.

 

One such event is ShredFest, BBB’s bi-annual free community shredding event held this year in Milwaukee, Appleton, Madison, and for the first time, Manitowoc. In 2014, the BBB Serving Wisconsin and its Foundation helped thousands of people avoid identity theft by collecting, shredding, and recycling nearly 150,000 pounds of personal documents – double the amount of that in 2013 – and a record total for the BBB since ShredFest began in 2007.

 

Requests for BBB reports on businesses and charities in Wisconsin rose to 2,267,239, up 8 percent from 2013. The BBB responded to 18,732 telephone calls and 2,571 live chats.

 

The BBB is pleased to report that business ethics is alive and well in the state of Wisconsin. 85.5 percent of Wisconsin accredited businesses chose to reaffirm their commitment to the BBB’s standards of trust in 2014.

 

Posting of positive, negative, and neutral customer reviews to our website in 2013 was 3,757 and increased 6 percent to 3,984 postings in 2014.

 

“People are very interested in maximizing their marketplace experience by sharing that experience with others through reviews, and our statistics show that to be true”, says Ran Hoth, CEO and president. “By offering this free service, the BBB provides a platform for customers to voice positive, negative, or neutral experiences they have with local businesses.”

 

The number of complaints processed by the BBB Serving Wisconsin was 10,841. The BBB was able to obtain responses for 85 percent of the complaints, thanks to ethical businesses in Wisconsin who want to do the right thing for their customers.

 

Being able to view actual complaint detail in BBB reports was added in January, 2013, and statistics show that complaint detail was viewed by the public 197,756 times throughout 2014, a 3.28 percent increase.

 

In addition, the BBB Serving Wisconsin conducted 193 investigations and sent 62 press releases to the public including informational pieces, business alerts, and scam notifications. This resulted in more than 3,600 TV, radio and newspaper stories, a 33 percent increase. The BBB Serving Wisconsin also continued posting regular, sometimes-weekly blogs for various online and print publications, including In BusinessNow,PatchWisconsin Woman and 50 Plus.

 

Monitoring of advertising remains a significant function at the BBB. In 2014, the BBB challenged 162 ads for questionable claims, BBB logo misuse, and noncompliance with BBB standards. The BBB requested immediate cease and desist from unauthorized users of its logo, requested substantiation of certain advertising claims and, in some cases, asked companies to modify their advertising to eliminate false or misleading information.

 

In 2014, the BBB Serving Wisconsin increased its Twitter followers by 22.4 percent, bringing the total to more than 5,500 and increased its Facebook “likes” 10 percent, bringing the total of Facebook fans to more than 22,450.

 

The BBB offers free “Request a Quote” opportunities for consumers through its website. Choosing to “request a quote” allows a person to obtain free quotes, estimates, information, or proposals from BBB Accredited Businesses. In 2014, the BBB forwarded 3,984 requests for quotes to accredited businesses.

 

In May, the BBB awarded eight scholarships – the most ever – to high school seniors who demonstrated high character, leadership, and ethical values. Each of the eight students received a $2,500 scholarship to attend an accredited college of their choice. The 2014 “Student of Integrity” scholarship was sponsored by the BBB of Wisconsin Foundation, Jericho Resources, Baird, Dave Jones, Briggs & Stratton, and an anonymous donor.

 

Top 10 Most Inquired About Types of Businesses

 

Construction & Remodeling Services 73,267
Roofing Contractors 71,334
Insurance Companies 59,401
Auto Repair & Service 49,150
Heating & Air Conditioning 46,865
Auto Dealers – Used Cars 44,610
Plumbers 37,347
Home Builders 33,971
Auto Dealers – New Cars 33,372
Home Improvements 32,612

 

Top 10 Most Complained About Types of Businesses

 

Department Stores 771
Auto Dealers – New Cars 393
Mail Order & Catalog Shopping 345
Furniture – Retail 326
Building Materials 249
Furniture Manufacturers 214
Auto Dealers – Used Cars 205
Insurance Companies 190
Cable TV, Internet & Telephone Installation Service 177
Collection Agencies 166

 

BBB warns businesses not to click on questionnaire email

 Better Business Bureau is warning businesses not to click on an email that claims to be a “BBB SBQ” (standard business questionnaire). The email was sent out this morning to what is believed to be tens of thousands of businesses across the country. The email has a ZIP file attachment that links to a site that can download malware on the user’s computer. Spoofing well-known and trusted brands is a common scam tactic. Other organizations such as the IRS, the FBI and Fortune 500 companies have been spoofed in similar phishing campaigns that victimized consumers and businesses.

 

“As soon as we heard about the scam, we immediately notified our security vendors and we are in the process of taking down the website,” said Ben Steinberg, Chief Information Officer for the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the umbrella organization for 112 local, independent BBBs across North America. “We have a structure in place to quickly address and mitigate the impact of scammers who use our name. Our highest priority is protecting the public.”

 

The emails are coming from the domain “BBBL.org,” which is not a BBB domain name, although it is clearly designed to look as if it is. The domain name was created last October and is registered to an individual in Antwerp, Belgium. It’s not immediately clear if the domain owner is directly involved in the phishing scam, but BBB will be turning over its information to the FBI and Interpol for further investigation.

 

BBB offers this advice to anyone who receives this or other unsolicited emails with links or attachments:

 

  • Do not click on links or open attachments in unsolicited email.
  • If your email program allows it, tag the email as spam.
  • Report the email to your Internet Service Provider.
  • If you are unsure if an email is legitimate, call the sender using a phone number that you know to be correct (not from the email).
  • Check out BBB Scam Stopper (bbb.org/scam) for additional information on scams.
For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.bbb.org/wisconsin or 414-847-6000 (metro Milwaukee), 920-734-4352 (Appleton), 608-268-2221 (Madison) or 1-800-273-1002 (elsewhere in Wisconsin). Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on TwitterFacebook and You Tube.

Scammers Already Sending Fake Anthem Emails

Milwaukee, Wis. – It never takes long for scammers to exploit the latest news. Just a day after the announcement that as many as 80 million customers of Anthem could be victims of a data breach, scammers are sending out emails that very convincingly spoof Anthem’s logo and corporate look. These emails are unrelated to the data breach itself, but are taking advantage of people’s fears and uncertainties.

 

The emails claim to be from Anthem and claim to provide information about free credit monitoring. This is a scam. Better Business Bureau is offering the following advice:

 

Whether you are an Anthem customer or not, DO NOT CLICK ON LINKS OR OPEN ATTACHMENTS IN EMAILS CLAIMING TO BE FROM ANTHEM.

 

If you are a current or past customer of Anthem:

 

  1. Get your information only from Anthem. Go to anthem.com directly, not from a link in an email or other website, and click on the “Learn More” button. Although Anthem has set up a separate website to deal with the data breach, BBB recommends when looking for information such as this, always going to the main corporate site and click through from there to be certain you are not at a spoof website.

 

  1. Consider placing a free fraud alert on your credit reports now. Contact one of the three major credit bureaus; once you add a fraud alert to one, that company will notify the other two. A fraud alert flags your credit reports, alerting potential lenders to verify the identity of anyone attempting to open an account in your name. Fraud alerts provide some protection, but rely on the diligence of the person performing the credit check.

 

Equifax:             800-525-6285         equifax.com

Experian:           888-397-3742         experian.com

TransUnionCorp: 800-680-7289         transunion.com

 

  1. For stronger protection at some inconvenience, consider a credit freeze with each of the credit bureaus. Although there may be an initial charge, it is possible that you will be able to seek reimbursement if you can show you were a victim of the data breach. Fees vary by state but generally run about $10.00. Be sure to hold onto your login credentials so that you can “thaw” your reports when you need new credit.

 

For more information about what to do after a data breach, go to bbb.org/breach.

 

For information on how to freeze your credit, check out this blog post.

 

For more information about scams, go to BBB Scam Stopper at bbb.org/scam. Sign up for Scam Alerts to find out about new scams when we do.

 

State agency encourages investors to discuss cybersecurity with financial professionals

State agency encourages investors to discuss cybersecurity with financial professionals

MADISON – With an ever-growing list of financial institutions targeted by organized cyber-attacks, the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) today issued an advisory reminding investors of the importance of protecting the personal information they share with their financial professionals.

 

“The increasing reliance on technology in our daily lives could leave our sensitive financial information more vulnerable to theft without proper safeguards in place,” said Patricia Struck, Administrator of DFI’s Division of Securities. “Investors should be vigilant about asking questions about a financial firm’s level of cybersecurity preparedness. They should ask about what specific steps the firm has taken to protect personal client information.”

 

To help investors with that discussion, DFI suggests asking the following questions:

  • Has the firm addressed which cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities may impact its business?
  • Does the firm have written policies, procedures, or training programs in place regarding safeguarding client information?
  • Does the firm maintain insurance coverage for cybersecurity breaches?
  • Has the firm engaged an outside consultant to provide cybersecurity services?
  • Does the firm have confidentiality agreements with any third-party service providers with access to the firm’s information technology systems?
  • Has the firm ever experienced a cybersecurity incident? If so, has the firm taken steps to close any gaps in its cybersecurity infrastructure?
  • Does the firm use safeguards such as encryption, antivirus and anti-malware programs?

 

In September 2014, the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), of which DFI is a member, reported that 62 percent of state-registered investment adviser firms participating in a NASAA pilot survey had undergone a cybersecurity risk assessment, and 77 percent had established policies and procedures related to technology or cybersecurity.

 

For more information, contact DFI’s Division of Securities at 608-266-1064.

Tax Scam Avoidance Starts with Awareness

MADISON – Imagine going to your tax office with all of your paperwork and finding out that a return had already been submitted and paid out in your name. Or receiving a letter in the mail that a tax return using your information was filed in multiple states without your knowledge.

These are only a couple of examples of tax identity theft that have been reported to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). Tax ID theft causes delays in victims’ tax returns and costs victims significant time and money in repairing the damage to their identities.

The national Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week campaign runs through Friday. DATCP asks consumers not only to use this opportunity to review the security around their personal information, but also to be on the lookout for tax-related scams throughout the tax season.

“Criminals love tax season because it presents so many opportunities for theft and fraud,” said Sandy Chalmers, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection. “Tax ID theft is the most commonly reported form of ID theft nationally.”

Tax identity theft usually involves a criminal using your stolen Social Security number SSN) to file fraudulent tax returns to obtain a refund. It also can happen when someone uses your SSN to get a job or claims your child as a dependent on a tax return.

Tax identity thieves get your personal information in a number of ways. For example:

? someone goes through your trash or steals mail from your home or car

? imposters send phony emails that look like they’re from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and ask for personal information

? employees at hospitals, nursing homes, banks and other businesses steal your information

? phony or dishonest tax preparers misuse their clients’ information or pass it along to identity thieves

So what can you do about it? To reduce your risk:

? file your tax return early in the tax season before identity thieves do

? use a secure internet connection if you file electronically. Don’t use unsecure, publicly available Wi-Fi hotspots at places like coffee shops or hotel lobbies

? mail your tax return directly from the post office

? shred copies of tax returns, drafts or calculation sheets you no longer need

? respond to all mail from the IRS as soon as possible

? know that the IRS won’t contact you by email, text or social media. If the IRS needs information, it will first contact you by mail

? don’t give out your SSN or Medicare number unless necessary. Ask why it’s needed, how it’s going to be used and how it will be stored

? get recommendations and research a tax preparer thoroughly before you hand over personal information

? if your SSN has been compromised, contact the IRS ID Theft Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490

? check your credit report at least once a year for free at annualcreditreport.com to make sure no other accounts have been opened in your name

If a consumer is a victim of tax identity theft, they should contact the FTC to file a complaint immediately (either online at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or by phone at 1-877-FTC-HELP) and should also contact the IRS at 1-800-908-4490.

For additional information, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wisconsin.gov, call the Consumer Information Hotline at 1-800-422-7128 or send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov.

 

Three Signs you need a new plan for credit card debt

 January is the month when people set goals and resolutions to improve their lives. And goals about credit card debt are among the top, since those big card balances from holiday spending first appear on January bills.

“The beginning of a new year is a great time to tackle any part of your finances that can help you move toward financial success,” said Darryl Dahlheimer, program director for LSS Financial Counseling- Conquer Your Debt™  “Credit card debt is a prime target for a new plan.” He added that “Last year, we helped one Minnesota couple celebrate the success of paying off over $93,000 in credit card debt through one of our debt management plans (DMP) – now that’s inspirational.”

Here are three signs you need a new plan for credit card debt:

1. You are paying the minimum due each month, but making no headway.

Almost half of all credit card users (46%) carry a balance from month-to-month. The revenue model for creditors counts on users who will pay interest for years, based on only paying the minimum due each month – and much of that monthly amount you pay is just the interest charge for that month. Even if you’re on time, just paying minimum is time for a new plan.

2. Your debt load changes shapes, but remains stressful all the time.

Paying debt with other debt is a disastrous game. Lots of people make headway with one card, only to charge up another card, or add to their student loan or home equity debt. Certified financial counselors can help you budget in a new way, to create an emergency savings cushion and stick with debt repayment all the way till the finish line.

3. You’re stuck with high APRs or penalty interest rates or late fees.

“It’s not new math or rocket science,” Dahlheimer continued. “Think how much faster you pay off credit card debt when the interest rates average 5-10% on a DMP compared to the average rate of 14.9% or the average penalty rate of 23.9% (LSS has even seen 32%). With lower rates, more of the money you send will go to pay off the balance.

 

Being equipped with the right tools is key to success with getting debt paid off.

 

Here are three specific action steps you can take:

 

 

1. Get a free financial assessment from a trusted expert.

It’s easy to lose track of the big picture. “Honestly, our financial counselors every day meet with people who feel discouraged and lost about where to start with their debts,” added Dahlheimer.” “Go get a free financial assessment and an action plan with trustworthy options for all your debts. We are one place, but any member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) like LSS will let you meet with a certified counselor to help you take the next step.”

 

 

2. Sign up for a debt management plan (DMP) to jumpstart your success.

 

A DMP consolidates your debt into one monthly payment, with financial coaching and tools to keep on target. With the debt management plans offered at nonprofit financial counseling at places like LSS, almost all creditors will reduce interest rates, stop fees, but keep good credit score ratings.

3. Don’t fall for fake-o debt “settlement” offers.

DMPs are payment in full, but faster and with less interest paid – and with good credit score outcomes. Debt “settlement” companies, in contrast, promise to negotiate only partial payment, and often turn into court judgments when creditors aren’t paid, which lowers your credit score.

LSS Financial Counseling – Conquer Your Debt™, is a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling since 1987, helping over 10,000 people every year with monthly debt management plans and free budget and debt counseling. LSS provides financial counseling in-person at nine offices statewide, by phone, or online. For appointments, call 1-888-577-2227 or visit ConquerYourDebt.org

Home inventories ensure fair compensation for losses … and there’s an app for that

MADISON, Wisconsin (January 23, 2015) – While no one wants to dwell on the negative, disasters such as fires, floods, tornadoes and other severe storms do occur in Wisconsin. Your best defense is to be well prepared.  A key step you can take toward being prepared is creating a home inventory, which will help you get reimbursement from your insurance company for any lost possessions.

“When you don’t have a home inventory and try to reconstruct what you owned, it can be quite a challenge,” says Ron Von Haden, CIC, Executive Vice President of the Professional Insurance Agents of Wisconsin (PIAW). “It’s very possible to overlook or forget things, so you may get less of a settlement than you would if you had an up-to-date inventory.”

Creating an inventory used to be a challenge, but now, there’s an app for that. These apps are easy to use and often backup to the cloud, so you can access them when needed. While most of the programs listed are free, some do have a cost and that is noted.

Here are a few options for your review:

  • ·         Know Your Stuff Home Inventory – This home inventory app from the Insurance Information Institute backs up your data to the cloud, for ensured access if disaster strikes. The program is available for desktop, but also has an app for iPhone® and Android phones. Using the app, you can modify or add to your online inventory—and easily add photos directly from your phone. The program and app are free: www.knowyourstuff.org.
  • ·         MyStuff2 Lite – Keep track of everything from your electronics and appliances to your jewelry and movie collections. Barcode scanning and Amazon integration is included. This is only available for iPhone® and the free version limits you to 15 items. For $8.99, you can upgrade to the Pro version, which has no item limit. It is available on iTunes®.
  • ·         NM Home Inventory – This software captures key information including photos, description and receipts. It can be used in conjunction with a desktop version, as well. This is for Android phones and it is free. Find it in the app store.
  • ·         Encircle – A home inventory tool that allows homeowners, landlords and property managers to efficiently inventory all of their properties. It is easy to update and manage inventory using a smartphone, tablet or the web. This application is free and can be found online: encircleapp.com and in the app stores.

“Another good tip is to check with your local, independent, professional insurance agent before you start your inventory. Your agent can tell you whether your insurance company has any specific reimbursement requirements and whether they offer an app that you can use,” noted Von Haden.

“Your agent can also advise you about expensive or rare items such as your grandmother’s diamond engagement ring, pricey electronics, a piece of artwork or collectible that may exceed the limits of standard homeowners or renters insurance. To ensure this property is protected, you may need extra insurance coverage, called a rider, that covers the true replacement value of these items,” he explained.

To locate a PIA member near you, look for the PIA logo or go to www.PIAW.org.