Black Friday Tradition

By Amanda Zitek

Growing up, Black Friday was always that one day of the year which seemed like a holiday, but wasn’t really a holiday. It took years for me to convince my mom and her best friend to include me on their shopping spree! One year, it finally happened.

Its one of those memories that is forever burned inside my mind. I can remember the night before and all the prepping that needed to be done. My mother, Toni, told me to lay out some warm clothes and set my alarm clock to 4am… 4:00AM! This was the earliest, most absurd hour to go shopping I thought to myself. However, my mom is always right, so I laid out what I thought was considered “warm clothing” which included my favorite Uggs, mittens, and a sweatshirt. Let me tell you, this was mistake #1.

Before I knew it, it was time to go! Running on about 3 hours of sleep I was filled with excitement and adrenaline to go get those deals! We met up with my mom’s friend Merri at Caribou (this was before I knew coffee was like crack to adults). We all went over the game plan. Which stores at what times, what sections people were in charge of, and most importantly who was grabbing what for who. Once we had a solid plan, we were on our way.

Target was stop number one. We pulled into the parking lot and it was PACKED! There was a line of people all clustered together waiting in anticipation to get in. The store wasn’t open yet, we still had about 45 minutes to go! It was cold. Very cold. As time went on, the number of limbs that were going numb started to increase at a rapid rate. Eventually, the doors opened! The light from inside was shining on all of us, like the gates of heaven were opening.

All of a sudden both my mom and Merri crouch over like we were in a split second huddle, “Toni to electronics!”, “Merri to toys!”, “Amanda run, grab the cart and meet us back there!” — Then they were GONE. Never in my life have I seen my mother blitz like that. I started to be pushed into the store by the other deal hungry people. After I found a cart it was like looking into a sea of chaos. Finally, I stroll to the back of the store where I see them both holding more things then humanly possible. They unload the toys into the cart and we were off again. With a quick stop at the check out, we were on our way to Walmart, Mills Fleet Farm, and Macy’s.

After about 8 hours of solid running, shopping, freezing, and standing the spree was over. We followed our game plan to a T and did a solid job at purchasing everything on their lists. I was exhausted! After making it home to glorify in all the triumph we achieved that day, I realized Black Friday was definitely not a holiday. Black Friday was a sport. Next year, I was going to be ready.

Here is a classic example of how taking initiative can pay off:

How a Mexican Janitor Invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos
The Frito-Lay janitor is now an executive vice president at PepsiCo, all because of a spicy snack.  By Cynthia Than Founding member, Cross Circles

 

Richard Montañez was born in Mexico and grew up in Guasti, a small town close to Ontario, California, picking grapes with this family. They would have dinner at the communal table in the kitchen they shared with six other families.

As a child, Richard had no idea that he was poor. “No one ever taught me what was on the other side of the tracks,” he says. And on his side of the tracks, the aspirationsweren’t very high: Most of the kids he knew hoped to get a job at the town’s factory.

Richard had trouble learning English and he dropped out of high school because he couldn’t understand the teachers. Without a high school diploma, he got a job as a janitor at the Frito-Lay Rancho Cucamonga plant in California.

Richard came from humble beginnings and had modest ambitions (“No disrespect to anyone, but my dream was to drive the trash truck”) but that all changed when someone told him he could have bigger dreams. The president of the company sent a video message to his employees and “he told us to act like an owner,” says Richard. “I looked around and didn’t see a lot of reaction from my co-workers, but for me it was the opportunity to do something different. ”

One day, a machine broke in the assembly line, causing some Cheetos to not get dusted with the bright orange cheese powder, so Richard took some home and put chili powder on them. He created his own recipe for a spicier version of Cheetos that was inspired by a Mexican street snack called elote (corncob).

“I see the corn man adding butter, cheese, and chili to the corn and thought, what if I add chili to a Cheeto?” Richard remembers. His family, friends, and co-workers all loved the new creation and they encouraged him to tell the plant supervisors about it. Richard called the president and talked the secretary into putting his call through. Richard told him that he had an idea for a new product and he got a chance to give a demonstration.

“I had two weeks to prepare a presentation to company executives,” says Richard. He had never given a presentation before and knew nothing about marketing, so he and his wife went to the public library and copied a strategy from one of the business books. He bought a $3 tie, his first ever. (A neighbor helped him tie it.) He put the Cheetos in sample bags that he designed himself and he went to the meeting.

The company executives loved his idea and the Flamin’ hot line of products was born, including Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, which is Frito-Lay’s top selling snack. Today, Richard is the executive vice president of multicultural sales and community activation for PepsiCo’s North American divisions. He also helped influence Hispanic products and marketing promotions for KFC and Taco Bell.

“Latinos who have made it like myself have a responsibility to open doors to younger generations and teach them that they can do it,” says Richard, who provides college scholarships to young Latinos. He also gives back to the community through food, clothing, school supplies, and other services. “I do it because I can and I know what it is to be hungry.”

Property Values For Businesses and Homeowners

Today we are going to discuss property values for businesses and homeowners.  I’m sure at some point in your life you’ve heard of this term, insured to value or proper valuation.  I would like to break down this term so you can understand why it is so important.

Regardless if you are a business owner or personal home owner, property values affect you the same way.  Some of you may be rolling your eyes and think this is just a fancy way for those nasty insurance agents and companies to make more money.  I assure you this, it is not a tactic to squeeze every dime out of you.  It really is about looking out for your best interests.

Be it business / commercial accounts or personal homeowners, it is very important to keep these values as close to the actual value of the building.  The example I like to use is Hurricane Katrina.  We all know about Katrina and its destructive aftermath.  After Katrina, claims adjustors raced down from all over the United States hitting the streets to handle all of those claims.  Stories surfaced about building owners being paid the full “policy” limit and not what it would take to replace the building.  Why did this happen?  The mindset of many building owners at that time happen to believe these areas have not had a strong Hurricane in 50 years.  Besides, we can save money on our insurance costs if we lower the value of the building.  Temporarily yes, you’ve succeeded in lowering your premiums but it comes at a price.  Here is an example of what I mean.  Let’s use a value of $250,000 for a building.  Let’s say the replacement value of this building is $350,000 so you underinsured its value by $100,000.  You might be thinking why not, you haven’t had a loss and you don’t foresee a loss so let’s save the money.  The real cost of that $100,000 valuation difference equates to roughly $250 per year.  So if you take the example above, 50 years will get you a total savings of $12,500.  I think we can all agree on a couple of things.  One, no one usually has their building or home that long and two the value of materials and labor will increase over time.  So for argument sake, everything stays the same.  You save $12,500 over 50 years and live with the building valuation short by $100,000.  This means is you are now personally responsible or think of it like this, you became your own insurance company for the difference.  In my Katrina example the insurance companies paid building owners the $250,000 and were happy to do so.  I’m sure you know why, they saved $100,000 per building!  This is real, even today some of those homeowners are still living in a government provided RV/Trailer with no home rebuilt because they cannot rebuild with the money they received.  Someone lost, and someone won.

What should you do?  Have your agent run what we call in the insurance business a Marshall & Swift/Boech report.  This property valuation report takes into consideration your location, square footage and many other particulars of your building and comes up with a valuation.  This process is not 100% accurate all of the time, but it is the only thing in the insurance world we have to value properties.  So ask for it, look it over, make sure it takes into consideration everything your building has to offer.

Back to my Katrina example.  In my example of using 50 years of ownership, most of us don’t own the building that long.  Maybe 10 years making your total savings only $2,500 and gambling the other $97,500.

Thanks for reading, if you have any questions please drop me a note.

What to Do When You Are In an Auto Accident

As a trusted insurance consultant or what others will call me, an insurance agent.  There are times we get phone calls when a client of ours is involved in an auto accident.  No one likes auto accidents, not the person involved, the employer and/or the parents for those of you who are our personal lines customers.  Our first thoughts are, “Is everyone alright?”  We are all human and we do naturally care for other humans in a traumatic event.  Once we know everyone in the accident is OK, our second thought is, “What do I do now?”

Today I am going to speak to our clients regarding a non-fatal, non-injury auto accidents.  I tell my clients to take pictures of everything.  Most of us, if not all of us have a cell phone with a camera.  Assuming you can get out of your vehicle, start taking pictures.

  • Take pictures of your vehicle inside and out, and go all around the vehicle.
  • Then take pictures of any people who were in your vehicle as you might forget who was there.  It has been proven when we see or suffer a traumatic event, we will forget many important facts.  With pictures, it helps us to remember and it helps the claim adjustors/police figure out what happened.
  • Once we are all taken care of, then take pictures of the other vehicle(s) just like what we did on our vehicle.  If you can’t get inside of the other vehicle, no issues.  It is nice to get it especially if the other vehicle is engaged with any illegal activity.  Don’t push it, if it does not feel right move along.
  • After those pictures take pictures of the intersection or the road where the accident occurred.  Take at least one North, South, East and West.  Focus on any signs on all four roads.  This can help determine who is at fault.  More importantly, it can help you in the event of a citation or lawsuit.

Let’s face it, if your insurance company can get out of paying a claim they will, if it’s the right thing to do because it was someone else’s fault.  If you can prove it was someone else’s fault, you should not be assigned those driving points on your driving record/MVR or company loss runs.  Pictures will assist the insurance claims process and could lead to a subrogation against the other vehicle either fully or partial.  Just remember, the claim and any payout of that claim will be with you on your next renewal.  If you decided to market your account, reducing the loss costs will help us “trusted consultants” get you the best coverage and price.

Take care and drive safe.

Be All End All Insurance Agent

Let me ask you a question.  Do you like a one-stop shop for everything?  Sure, everybody wants to be that one resource for all of your business, be it personal or business.  Heck, I like going to the mall for back to school shopping.  But with teenagers, there is not one store in the mall that we can get everything.  The good thing the mall has is that it has many different retailers selling different products.

How about those large electronics stores?  The ones that have all the latest gadgets and TV’s.  What am I getting at?  Let’s say you walk into that large electronics store and you get only one customer service person for all of your needs.  They assure you they are an expert on camera’s, cell phones, TV’s, appliances, and computers.  Do you believe the information you get on any of those products is the best information for you to make a decision?  Can one person be all, end all, with all that information?  Ok, here’s another one.  Let’s say you walk into an auto dealership that happens to sell every model from every manufacturer in the world.  Do you think you get best knowledge on the car you want or just enough to be dangerous?

Well I believe you get what you pay for.  If you want the best knowledge, best service, you specialize your shopping needs in what you are after.  This can apply to insurance as well.  How can one individual sell the best life insurance?  Do they represent all companies, do they know the little differences on every kind of life policy?  Wait, they also sell auto insurance, and yup, business insurance.  I think you get my point.  When the product is important to you, you want the best knowledge and service for that product.  If you are a business, you cannot afford to have gaps in your coverage.  If you do, you get to explain to the owner and their employees saying you thought coverage was afforded.  You bought your business insurance from the company with all of those funny ads on TV and the radio.  They told me we had coverage.  Sorry, but now that business just went out of business, and the employees are searching for a new employer.

For me, I know a lot about business insurance due to my underwriting background.  I might say I know more than most agents (yes a little arrogant).  But when it comes to personal insurance (home, auto, motorcycle) I know enough to be dangerous.  You bet there are a lot of similarities, but it’s hard, very hard to say you are an expert in everything.

Besides, all of us want our Family Practitioner to do our brain surgery, right?

Radon Mitigation Contractors

Today I would like to talk to a very specific insurance niche out there, Radon Mitigation Contractors.  Here in Minnesota back in 2013 our lawmakers debated and introduced legislation for the Radon industry regarding parameters around the testing and mitigation on Radon for individual’s home sales.  As you know, any home for sale in Minnesota since 1/01/2014 needs to be tested for Radon, making the buyer aware before they buy.  This caused many headaches for both the sellers and real estate agents.

However, this new legislation cause an opportunity for new small businesses to pop up all over our State.  From an insurance point of view, it caused the insurance agents who represented those contractors, the headaches now.  The normal insurance companies you see on TV and hear on the Radio will not touch this class of business.  At this time, they do not know about Radon and will not allocate resources to the study of Radon.  This has caused many insurance agents to get creative in the description of who their client is.  These Radon mitigators became “plumbers, handymen, and carpenters” as these classes of business is understood by the carriers.  But do you believe the insurance policy you buy will protect you in the event of a loss?  I would say there are gaps from the word, go.  Oh I get it, you can get an insurance policy for $500 instead of $2500.  Besides you haven’t had a claim yet and you are thinking you will never get a claim.  As the former NY Detective Bo Dietl from the Arby’s TV commercials would say, really… really… really…

We’ve all heard, “You get what you pay for”.  In this case, you are paying $500 for no coverage.  Yes that is right, nada.  Just throwing your money out the window.  Why, because in the application you filled out and signed off on, it states everything on your application is true and correct (ie: you’re not a plumber).  If you misrepresent on the application the insurance company can (and mostly will) deny the claim because you are not a plumber.  So here you sit with this insurance policy you have been paying on for 10 years and now “POW” you get a claim.  Let’s say you installed a mitigation system in a home and tried to get it done quickly as you needed to get two jobs done in one day.  You installed the system but it was not installed properly.  The system caused a backdraft filling the home with Carbon Monoxide injuring several people and their dog.  That $5,000 you paid over the last 10 years did nothing for you, you are left holding the bag.  Being cost conscious is a good thing, if you are buying the right coverage to begin with.

For those of you who have a small business or thinking of starting a small business…

5 Keys to Running a Successful Business

By Published April 15, 2015| AllBusiness.com

There are a handful of principles that work in virtually every situation when you’re trying to establish and grow a business. They work if you’re trying to build an email list or close a sale. If you ignore them, you are almost certain to fail. If you do them halfway, you will soon be standing there watching your business as it is eclipsed by someone who is following all the principles, all the time.

So let’s not waste any more of our time. Here they are:

1. Use Few Words

From an elevator pitch to a killer headline, the overriding principle is to use as few words as possible. If you can’t tell someone what you’re doing in a few sentences, your only hope is to eventually work for the government. If you can’t explain the benefit of your product or service in an extremely short sentence or phrase, give up. Look at these examples:

  • 1,000 songs in your pocket.
  • Lose 5 pounds in 1 week.
  • How to avoid lawyers.
  • Increase conversions 132%.

You can probably think of several short phrases that got you to go to a web page, or push “add to cart” or fill out a contact form. Putting a well-crafted, short, descriptive phrase in front of your ideal customer is very powerful.

2. Make Things Easy and Obvious

Humans are by their very nature:

  1. Lazy
  2. Busy
  3. Both A and B

I don’t care how you answer that, because the implications for what you do are the same: You have to make things as easy—and obvious—as possible. This is true whether you have a brick-and-mortar store or a website, but it’s doubly true if you’re trying to accomplish something on the Internet, where patience is as scarce as hens’ teeth.

I am still constantly amazed how small Internet conventions that cause me no navigational problems are major stumbling blocks for others. Because you’re reading this on a sophisticated website frequented almost exclusively by people who live on the bleeding edge of new technologies, you are light years ahead of most Internet users.

Dumb down everything. Make your webpage logic simple and obvious.

3. Sell the Benefit

Look at those sales phrases under the first point I made about keeping things short and sweet. Each one expresses a tangible benefit in six words or less. For many in business, it becomes difficult to separate the features from the benefits. Further, we tend to become so deeply in love with the features we have developed, we think that everyone should love them just as much.

Janet Jackson had a hit with the song What have you done for me lately? That’s what you should always be asking yourself in regards to your customers, and the important word is “done.” How will the action you want your prospects to perform benefit them?

4. Repeat Everything

If you’ve watched a Little League game, you’ve heard the guys on the field yell, “Hey, batter batter! Hey, batter batter! Hey, batter batter!” They repeat everything! Things that work and are important should be repeated.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to share or credit something in the social media, but the page I was on didn’t have sharing icons or links to the social media accounts. They were on the front page, but not on inside pages. And because I might just be a little bit lazy sometimes (see #2 above) it’s possible I’ll just drop the idea of sharing or crediting the source.

Landing pages also fall in this category. You should have a great landing page for all the different attributes or “hooks” that will pull someone into your website. They are almost free and it’s impossible to have too many.

5. Always Distill

You need to have good analytics that show you what is working and what isn’t. With that information you are able to do more of the good stuff and stop doing the bad stuff. Pretty soon you have a business or website whose performance has significantly improved.

A business is never “finished.” If you aren’t always involved in an improvement project, the competition will eventually pass you.

URL http://smallbusiness.foxbusiness.com/entrepreneurs/2015/04/15/5-keys-to-running-successful-business/

Zitek Insurance Group is a Minnesota based insurance agency serving the entire State of Minnesota as well as the following communities: Bloomington, Burnsville, Lakeville, Apple Valley, Prior Lake, Rosemount and Farmington.  For more information, please contact us by visiting our contact page.

Nobody likes to spend money, but…

Treasury Troubled by Smaller Firms Not Buying Cyber Insurance

While the overall cyber risk insurance market is growing tremendously, larger corporate clients have driven much of the expansion. Smaller companies, on the other hand, have not followed suit, Deputy U.S. Treasury Secretary Sarah Bloom Raskin said recently.

“Cyber insurance take-up rates at smaller companies [with revenue less than $1 billion] have not grown,” Raskin told the Feb. 10 gathering of the Federal Advisory Committee on Insurance (FACI) in Washington, D.C.

“It creates a gap between coverage of large institutions and small,” Raskin said, adding that the imbalance was “particularly troubling” in the insurance industry’s struggle to concoct coverages to address the fast-evolving problem of cyber attacks.

FACI is a group of industry, regulatory and academic experts that advises the Federal Insurance Office on policy matters. Raskin gave the committee an update on the cyber threat issue, as well as related cyber security issues addressed at previous Department of Treasury-related roundtablediscussion involving insurance and other parts of the financial sector.

Among the industry issues worth noting: She told FACI members that the cyber insurance market doubled to $2 billion from 2013 to 2014, though “it remains a small fraction of the overall U.S. insurance market.”

Cyber Insurance Market

Raskin also said that the Treasury Department and the Federal Insurance Office want counsel from FACI on how to spark a more robust cyber insurance market:

As well, Raskin asked FACI to address the following issues:

  • Why do small (and medium-sized) businesses lag behind their large counterparts in obtaining cyber insurance?
  • How can cyber insurance become more accessible and beneficial to all institutions?
  • Are there more systemic ways to bolster cyber security of third-party vendors?
  • How can companies be aided in identifying their specific cyber risk and the right type of cyber insurance that might mitigate that risk?
  • How can government encourage the collection of cyber insurance claims data to facilitate better modeling of cyber risk?
  • How might aggregate risk exposures play out in the event of a widespread attack?

FACI committee member Daniel Glaser, president and CEO of Marsh & McClennan Companies Inc., responded that he has “seen the insurance industry in many different ways promote risk mitigation, risk avoidance and shared best practices as it protects capital” as far as cyber security.

Another FACI committee member, John Franchini, superintendent of insurance in New Mexico, noted that regulators in New York and New Mexico have pushed for greater cyber security among insurers themselves.

“We’re actually reviewing all the cyber security [insurers] have in place,” Franchini said, noting that penalties have been in play for insurers found lacking.

He added: “We have been very happy with our progress,” but urged other states to pursue similar action.

Hollmer is Editor for CarrierManagement.com, where this article originally appeared

Zitek Insurance Group is a Minnesota based insurance agency serving the entire State of Minnesota as well as the following communities: Bloomington, Burnsville, Lakeville, Apple Valley, Prior Lake, Rosemount and Farmington.  For more information, please contact us by visiting our contact page.

 

Data Breaches: 3 Hidden Signs You’ve Been Hacked

In my life, I have had all three of these happen to me.  It cost me hours of headache, and money out of my pocket.  I continue to struggle to keep up with this every changing cyber society.  The article below from FOX Business is a good one for me.

Another day, another corporate data breach. Today, Reuters reported that AT&T reached out to about 1,600 customers, informing them that a now-fired employee may have gained unauthorized access to their Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers and other personal information. The AT&T incident is the latest in a string of breaches over the last several months at other major companies like Apple, Target and Home Depot.

If they didn’t know it before, business owners are now aware that cybercriminals are becoming increasingly smart and sophisticated in their hacking methods, and they can target just about anyone. But smaller companies that think, “It can’t happen to me,” or “I’m too small for hackers to notice me,” may be setting themselves up for a devastating data breach.

“Large corporations typically have a lot more money and resources to invest in IT security, whereas small to medium businesses do not have the IT staffing, resources, money or know-how to put effective security measures into place to combat security vulnerabilities,” said Scottie Cole, network and security administrator for security services provider AppRiver.

“If a small business owner is responsible [for security practices], it’s going to fall to the lower end of the priority list,” added Eric Cernak, vice president of strategic products at specialty insurer Hartford Steam Boiler (HSB). “[The business] will have less protections in place, and [hackers] recognize that. Criminals are looking for unlocked doors.”

Recent research by HSB found that more than half of all small and midsize businesses have been hacked at some point, and nearly three-quarters weren’t able to restore all the lost data. The two most common methods of attack are phishing — gathering sensitive information by masquerading as a trusted website — and watering holes — installing malware on commonly used websites of a target group. These tactics, which HSB explained further in its video, “Inside a Data Breach,” grant cybercriminals access to the information that leads to identity theft and stolen credit card information.

A credit card breach is fairly easy to recognize once customers of a certain company all begin reporting fraudulent charges. But by that point, a breach has already done a significant amount of damage, not just to the consumers but to the company they trusted to protect their data. Cole and Cernak shared some of the less-obvious signs your business data has been compromised, so you can act right away.

Unusually slow Internet or computers. This could be a sign of a compromised machine that is sending out lots of traffic, or that malware or a virus is on the machine, Cole said. You should also look for pop-up ads (especially if you have an activated blocker) or websites that don’t load properly.

A computer that appears to have been tampered with. If you turned off your computer when you left work and it’s on or has windows and programs running when you return, someone may have been trying to steal important information. This is an especially likely scenario with internal data theft, such as the AT&T breach. Cernak noted that keeping your machines password-protected and encrypting any sensitive data can prevent unauthorized individuals from accessing the information.

Locked-out accounts. If you’ve ever been locked out of your email or social media accounts, you know it’s usually because you typed the wrong login credentials one too many times. If you receive a lock-out message the first time you try to access an account (and you know you’ve typed your password correctly), you might have been hacked.

“This can mean that someone is attempting to brute force an account, or that an account has already been compromised and the password changed,” Cole told Business News Daily.

In all of these instances, minor inconveniences that most people might ignore if the problem seems to resolve itself could be signs of a much more serious problem. Both experts advised keeping your antivirus software, firewalls and device operating systems up-to-date, and always remaining alert for any suspicious activity.

Originally published on Business News Daily

Zitek Insurance Group is a Minnesota based insurance agency serving the entire State of Minnesota as well as the following communities: Bloomington, Burnsville, Lakeville, Apple Valley, Prior Lake, Rosemount and Farmington.  For more information, please contact us by visiting our contact page.

 

Identity theft word of the day, “Monitor”, and Monitor, and Monitor…

Self-Employed? Why Your Identity Might Be at Risk

By Published October 08, 2014 BusinessNewsDaily

When you’re self-employed, getting work depends heavily on how well you advertise yourself. This often means posting your personal information — full name, email address, phone number, geographic location, work history, etc. — on multiple websites and social media accounts.

Building an online personal brand as a freelancer, consultant or other self-employed professional is a great way to grow your business, but by putting yourself out there, you’re inviting more than just prospective clients to find you. Between the personal details you can post on public websites and the sensitive banking and tax information you can transmit back and forth to your clients, you may become a target for hackers and cybercriminals.

“We don’t control all of our data anymore,” said Becky Frost,senior manager of consumer education for ProtectMyID, a service offered by credit reporting firm Experian. “As more and more of our data is online, we need to [know] how to protect what we can, and if your identity gets stolen, how to recover as quickly as you can.”

Of course, it’s not just self-employed workers who are at risk for identity theft. Many people in the digital age struggle to balance the necessity of online information-sharing with the protection of their sensitive data, said Will Pelgrin, president and CEO of the Center for Internet Security. But having your identity stolen as a self-employed worker can destroy not only your personal credit, but your entire livelihood, too.

“It really comes down to assessing your risk-tolerance level, and providing only the information you are comfortable having publicly available,” Pelgrin told Business News Daily. “While we can never completely eliminate the risk when putting our information online, there are many things we can control, and our digital footprint is one of them.”

Frost and Pelgrin offered the following tips to help the self-employed protect their identities and reduce their risk of becoming cybervictims.

Map and manage your digital footprint. Before you can reduce your digital footprint, you should know what it currently looks like, Pelgrin said. Using your name and other personal details, do a few searches on multiple search engines to find out where you’re listed. Once you have an idea of the size of your digital footprint, you can start to clean it up by deleting inactive profiles and getting rid of any questionable photos and posts.

“Think before you post [and] be careful how you interact with others online,” Pelgrin said. “Be selective about which venues you participate in. If you regularly contribute to blogs or message boards, consider how others might interpret your statements. Be cautious about referencing where you work, as this might be used for social engineering and other scams.”

Take extra precautions with sensitive data. Freelancers are typically required to provide their banking information and fill out tax forms with their Social Security number in order to get paid. Frost recommended limiting the number of documents that contain this sensitive information, and ensuring that any documents that do contain it are secure.

“If you keep [business] information on your smartphone or tablet, password-protect those devices, especially if you have invoices stored in cloud-based [systems],” Frost said.

Pelgrin noted that any emailed invoices or forms containing sensitive details should be encrypted, and that any computer or devices you use for financial transactions have up-to-date operating systems, software patches and security features.

Check privacy settings and policies. By creating social media accounts and other online profiles, you’re relying on third-party systems to protect your personal data. It’s important to make sure you’re clear on both the website’s privacy policies and your individual privacy settings on those accounts.

“Configure privacy settings to allow only those people you trust to have access to the information you post, and your profile,” Pelgrin said. “[Also,] review a site’s privacy policy. Some sites may share information, such as email addresses or user preferences, with other parties. If a site’s privacy policy is vague or does not properly protect your information, do not use the site.”

Monitor your accounts and report any suspicious activity. The first sign of identity theft is unusual charges on your bank or credit cards. Keeping a close eye on all of your financial accounts and your credit reports are the first line of defense when it comes to spotting fraud. Frost noted that a less obvious sign of identity theft is if a debt collection agency contacts you about an account you don’t recognize, which could mean that a person created a false account using your personal details.

“Don’t ignore [suspicious activity],” Frost said. “Contact the card issuer [and] credit-reporting agency and ask to speak to the fraud department. Monitor your statements and remain vigilant.”

Originally published on Business News Daily.

Zitek Insurance Group is a Minnesota based insurance agency serving the entire State of Minnesota as well as the following communities: Bloomington, Burnsville, Lakeville, Apple Valley, Prior Lake, Rosemount and Farmington.  For more information, please contact us by visiting our contact page.