4 weeks ago ·
by John Koetz ·
Tax return identity theft has reached such epidemic proportions that it tops the list of the IRS’s Dirty Dozen Tax Scams. Here are tips the IRS wants you to know about identity theft so you can avoid becoming the victim.
- Phishing: Taxpayers should be alert to potential fake emails or websites looking to steal personal information. The IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers via email about a bill or tax refund. Don’t click on one claiming to be from the IRS. Be wary of emails and websites that may be nothing more than scams to steal personal information. (IR-2018-39)
- Phone Scams: Phone calls from criminals impersonating IRS agents remain an ongoing threat to taxpayers. The IRS has seen a surge of these phone scams in recent years as con artists threaten taxpayers with police arrest, deportation and license revocation, among other things. (IR-2018-40)
- Identity Theft: Taxpayers should be alert to tactics aimed at stealing their identities, not just during the tax filing season, but all year long. The IRS, working in the Security Summit partnership with the states and the tax industry, has made major improvements in detecting tax return related identity theft during the last two years. But the agency reminds taxpayers that they can help in preventing this crime. The IRS continues to aggressively pursue criminals that file fraudulent tax returns using someone else’s Social Security number. (IR-2018-42)
- Return Preparer Fraud: Be on the lookout for unscrupulous return preparers. The vast majority of tax professionals provide honest, high-quality service. There are some dishonest preparers who operate each filing season to scam clients, perpetuating refund fraud, identity theft and other scams that hurt taxpayers. (IR-2018-45)
- Fake Charities: Groups masquerading as charitable organizations solicit donations from unsuspecting contributors. Be wary of charities with names similar to familiar or nationally-known organizations. Contributors should take a few extra minutes to ensure their hard-earned money goes to legitimate charities. IRS.gov has the tools taxpayers need to check out the status of charitable organizations. (IR-2018-47)
Identity theft is scary and expensive for both individuals and businesses, but there are ways to protect yourself. Refer to the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft or the IRS Identity Theft Protection page on the IRS website, and then ask your independent insurance agent for more information about data compromise and identity theft coverage.
This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article. Neither The Cincinnati Insurance Company nor its affiliates or representatives offer tax or legal advice. Consult with your tax adviser or attorney about your specific situation. Contact your local, independent insurance agent for coverage advice and policy service.
2 months ago ·
by John Koetz ·
The high cost of living in California’s Bay Area is legendary. And with the construction industry facing a number of challenges — including the need to rebuild after horrific wildfires — that’s set to only rise.
Developers are having trouble getting their projects finished — or even started, reports CBS affiliate KPIX. One construction foreman told the station he’s four to five weeks behind schedule on his site.
A nationwide survey released this week by Autodesk and the Associated General Contractors of America shows the scope of the problem. Some 80 percent of construction companies say they’re having a hard time filling hourly craft positions. Those include bricklayers, installers, pipelayers and carpenters. And more than half of companies are having trouble filling salaried positions, like project managers, engineers and architects.
“This is about money — they want to make a living,” said construction worker Jimmy Ramerez.
Contractors aren’t expecting relief anytime soon. Nearly half of employers in California say it will become even harder to hire over the next 12 months.
On top of the already-tight labor market, the Bay Area is also contending with natural disasters. Last year, wildfires in neighboring counties destroyed more than 5,000 structures. This year’s fires are on record as the largest in California’s history.
In the North Bay, construction workers are being paid top dollar to help repair fire-ravaged communities, which pulls more people away from the Bay Area.
“They’re poaching our guys and offering more money per hour to go and work for them,” the foreman said. “They’re leaving us high and dry.”
Materials costs, driven up partly by tariffs, are also part of the squeeze. Developer Eric Tau said he has seen an increase of 10 percent to 15 percent in costs — about triple the jump he had expected. “It’s something we have never seen in all of our 15 to 20 years in construction development,” he said.
© 2018 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.
2 months ago ·
by John Koetz ·
By Laura Pennington
October 12, 2018
In the wake of California wildfires allegations that State Farm purposefully underinsured homes at the time that the original insurance policy was issued and then again following a disaster loss claim have begun to surface.
The specific disaster that prompted this State Farm class action lawsuit was the wildfires that began in Northern California in the fall of 2017, ultimately leading to a two-week evacuation from the burn areas. Nearly 9,000 structures were destroyed through those fires.
The State Farm insurance class action says that many of these homeowners returned back to their houses to discover that they’d lost everything, but that these same people suffered additional losses in filing an insurance claim when it was discovered that their properties were undervalued.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against State Farm argue that most of those consumers were not able to rebuild their homes or restore their property and that some people have received a payout amount so limited that they couldn’t pay off their mortgage.
The State Farm class action seeks to hold the insurance carrier responsible for engaging in unfair business practices that harmed consumers.
The plaintiffs allege that the carrier uses policies with replacement caps that could not address the underinsured nature of those policies.
According to the plaintiffs in the State Farm insurance class action lawsuit, the combination of these practices has made it impossible for people who suffered losses due to natural disasters to recover anything close to what they expected or needed.
The State Farm insurance class action also argues on behalf of the plaintiffs that the insurance carrier conspired with a company called Insurance Services Office Inc. and related organizations for the process of conducting underwriting real estate valuations and construction estimates.
The plaintiffs claim that this has led to an illegal monopoly due to the use of a software program that calculates what claimants are owed post-disaster.
The class action lawsuit against State Farm says that none of those estimating companies are licensed as general contractors or real estate professionals and that this collusion has damaged the lives of policyholders.
The State Farm insurance class action lawsuit says that the use of a calculator based on zip codes was used to determine property values and that this calculator produced highly variable results.
The State Farm class action lawsuit says that State Farm also protects themselves from liability following a disaster or a claim due to the use of the software that uses manufactured housing data.
Many of the plaintiffs say that they were never interviewed specifically regarding their dwellings when the insurance carrier put together the policy amounts for their homes using the software program, but that what they were offered under the policy post-disaster came in well below an actual construction estimate.
The plaintiffs are seeking injunctive relief, an order compelling State Farm to provide better training to adjusters and agents, punitive damages, and actual damages.
The plaintiffs are represented by Julia Donoho of Policyholder Pros.
The State Farm Insurance Class Action Lawsuit is Brian and Alison Sheahan, et al. v. State Farm General Insurance Company Inc., et al., Case No. 3:18-cv-06186, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
2 months ago ·
by John Koetz ·
SANTA ROSA, Calif. – Construction crews have already put up the frame on Cheri Sharp’s new house, but she still questions whether rebuilding was the right choice after California’s most destructive wildfire took her old home in wine country nearly a year ago.
She has had to dip into retirement savings to cover a $300,000 shortfall in her homeowner’s insurance coverage.
“We just kind of thought we were taken care of,” Sharp, 54, said about her insurance policy. “If I had to do it over again, I’d probably change my mind and move.”
The wind-whipped wildfire that tore through Northern California in October 2017, killing 22 people and destroying more than 5,500 structures, left many people in Sharp’s position: underinsured and having to scramble for money to build a new home on their property.
Santa Rosa was the hardest-hit city, with entire neighborhoods burned to ashes. But as of late August, only nine of nearly 2,700 single-family homes lost here had been rebuilt, according to figures from the city’s permitting office. Another 520 or so were under construction.
Many homeowners say they’re locked in negotiations with insurance companies for additional money to cover the cost of building a home at the edge of the San Francisco Bay Area, where a technology boom has sent home prices skyrocketing. That, coupled with competition among neighbors for construction crews and materials, has left many homeowners hundreds of thousands of dollars in the red.
For Santa Rosa native Alex Apons, 34, the insurance shortfall on his home in the tidy Coffey Park neighborhood was $200,000. He and his wife wanted to stay because they had a baby on the way and both have deep family roots in the area. They used every insurance dollar they received to pay off the mortgage of their 4-year-old home that burned. There was nothing left for a down payment on construction.
“We had to drain our bank account,” said Apons, now father to a 5-month-old boy, Etienne. “After everything is built, we’re looking at a monthly payment on that loan that’s $1,000 more than what our mortgage was before.”
Other fire victims are still torn by indecision that has kept them from committing to a rebuild — do they stay and bear the costs or start over elsewhere?
“The idea of leaving California is very hard, but on the other hand, I don’t know if I can recover from all the trauma of it without removing myself from all the stimuli,” said Katherine Gaynor, 67, also a former Coffey Park resident.
Besides the Santa Rosa blaze, several other major wildfires the same month took out thousands of homes elsewhere in Sonoma County and in neighboring Napa County. As of April, nearly two-thirds of those fire victims wanted to rebuild, but most had yet to settle insurance claims for their property and belongings, according to a survey by United Policyholders, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that helps people understand their insurance policies. Two-thirds of respondents reported being underinsured by an average of $317,000.
Insurance industry experts warn that many Californians whose homes have been destroyed in this year’s wildfires also will discover their policies won’t cover the cost of a new home, leading to similar rebuilding delays. So far in 2018, wildfires have scorched about 1,000 square miles in parts of Shasta, Trinity, Mendocino, Lake, Colusa and Glenn. More than 1,200 homes have been destroyed, and nine people have died.
Insurance companies value homes using factors including their size, purchase price and the price of homes around them. Few homeowners update their policies annually to keep up with inflation, labor and material costs and home upgrades that increase the home’s value. Insurance companies want to keep premiums low to compete with rivals and attract customers.
When Apons’ wife, Heather, called their insurance company this month to request a new homeowners’ insurance quote, the agent provided a figure that would pay them $340,000 less than the current price tag to reconstruct their house. The agent said better coverage would raise their premium considerably, she recalled.
“I’m like, ‘I don’t care. I don’t ever want to be underinsured again,'” she said.
After massive fires across Southern California over the past decade, the state Department of Insurance found that insurance companies often understated replacement costs to potential customers and omitted or misrepresented fees for permitting, architects, labor and zoning, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said.
A false sense of security is common among the insured because most rely on insurance companies for details, said Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, an advocacy group for insurance consumers.
“If anything, people suspect they’re over-insured,” she said.
Bach said out-of-town insurance adjusters often fail to properly value homes in the San Francisco area. In Sonoma County, property values increase about 10 percent every year, according to Pacific Union Real Estate, a leading real estate group in the region.
Jim Whittle, chief counsel for trade group the American Insurance Association, said it’s up to consumers to make sure they have enough insurance. After mass catastrophes, “there’s almost always going to be situations where people don’t have quite what they wanted or expected,” Whittle said.
Sharp and her husband, Paul, held hands on a recent morning as they surveyed construction of their new home on the Santa Rosa property where they raised their kids, held backyard parties and enjoyed the sunset. They know their use of retirement savings to fund the project will make it harder to live comfortably and travel as they age.
Said Cheri Sharp: “Our life from here on out is very different going into our retirement years.”
© 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
5 months ago ·
by John Koetz ·
It’s almost that time of year when children look forward to trick-or-treating, dressing up in costumes, decorating and obtaining more candy than they can possibly eat. As fun as it is, Halloween is also a deceptively dangerous night, and preparations for a safe and enjoyable celebration should begin long before Halloween night.
SELECTING A COSTUME
Select a costume that doesn’t risk slips, trips or falls. Costumes should not drag on the ground.
Wear comfortable shoes for walking. As tempting as it may be to wear shoes themed with the costume – high heels for Cinderella come to mind – they can be unsafe for youngsters to navigate.
Choose a bright costume that motorists can see.
6 months ago ·
by John Koetz ·
By John W. Koetz, CIC, CPCU
The new craze is rental scooters. Have you seen them yet? There are two companies, Bird and Lime, with scooters sitting on the sidewalks of larger cities and wait till you also see the crazy way some people drive them. So what happens if you rent a scooter and run into a pedestrian while driving it? Or even worse, you cause an accident by riding in the street forcing a car to swerve to avoid you and they hit a pedestrian.
Where will you find liability coverage when you get sued for $1,000,000
for causing someone’s injuries while driving a rental scooter?
Your car insurance will not cover you! – Most personal auto policies exclude “Any motorized vehicle having fewer than four wheels, except for a motorcycle …”
Your homeowner insurance will not cover you! – Most homeowner policies exclude “motor vehicles” which are defined as self-propelled land vehicles, arising out of the use of the motor vehicle rented to an insured. However, they cover “’Motor vehicles’ designed for recreational use off public roads …” The rental folks state you must drive the scooters on the street so most companies would exclude this.
Your personal umbrella insurance may not cover you! – Every personal umbrella policy can be a little different so be sure to check with your carrier. But in general, umbrellas follow the home and auto policies they are meant to provide excess coverage for. Many do “drop down” and provide primary coverage for certain situations. However, the ones we have reviewed exclude coverage for “Recreational motor vehicles” (this includes scooters) unless they are specifically listed on the umbrella policy.
LIME and BIRD will not cover you! – So you say, “I’m sure these big companies will protect me if something goes wrong.” WRONG! Both Lime and Bird Rental Agreements (yes they have a detailed rental contract you agree to when you sign up online) have waivers that say they are NOT responsible for ANYTHING that happens while you are driving their scooters.
To make matters worse, they also make you responsible for any claims made against them including paying for their attorney fees! (see end of article for language)
So what should you do when you’re tired of walking or just curious and want to rent a scooter?
Call UBER or Lyft! At least these companies provide some liability protection. OR think twice about what could happen and DON’T RENT THE SCOOTER! Yes they are fun, but so is enjoying the money in your bank accounts that will stay there because you didn’t take a 10 minute joy ride that cost you your life savings. Sorry to be a party pooper… More to come on scooters.
(John Koetz is an independent insurance agent with the W.E. Davis Insurance Agency located in Columbus, Ohio and lives in the Short North, a popular tourist destination in downtown Columbus.)