Back to school, back to protecting your child’s information

backtoschool-data-fbIt’s back to school time. That means forms, forms and more forms – the school directory, scholarships, sports teams, scouts, and the list goes on. As you get started, consider these tips for keeping your child’s personal information safe, from pre-school through college.

  • Safeguard your child’s SSN. Don’t carry your child’s Social Security card with you. And don’t give your child’s Social Security number (SSN) unless absolutely necessary. If someone wants it, ask why and find out how they’ll protect it.
  • Limit what kids share online. Teach kids not to post their name, address or full date of birth on social media.
  • Use strong passwords on smartphones, tablets or laptops. Teach the importance of changing passwords – and not sharing them. This is especially important for college students in a dorm or other shared living.
  • Use a crosscut shredder. Shred documents with your child’s personal information, when you no longer need them. Consider buying a shredder for your college student to shred pre-approved credit offers. In the wrong hands, those offers can be used for identity theft.
  • Know your rights under FERPA. The Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of student records. FERPA requires schools to notify parents and guardians about their school directory policy. It also gives you the right to opt out of the release of directory information to third parties.
  • Get familiar with GPS services on mobile phones. You can use GPS to track where your child is … but others can too. Tell your kids to limit the use of GPS so they are not broadcasting their location to the world.

Check out Net Cetera: Chatting with kids about being online for more back-to-school ideas on talking with kids about online safety. And if someone misuses your child’s information, go to find out what steps to take. The FTC’s website has more information about child identity theft.

Safety and Security for U.S. Students Traveling Abroad


Living and studying in another country will be an enriching and rewarding experience, especially if you are prepared and take certain precautions.

This brochure will introduce you to threats you may face and provide tips on avoiding unsafe situations. Following these precautions will reduce your risk of encountering problems.

Did You Know? Groups of children and teens may swarm you and forcibly steal your personal belongings.

“Act Smart. Be Safe.”

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Before You Go

Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs in the areas you plan to travel. You are expected to obey their laws, which may include dress standards, photography restrictions, telecommunication restrictions, curfews, etc.

Plan your wardrobe so that it does not offend the locals, nor draw unwanted attention to yourself. Americans are perceived as wealthy and are targeted for pick pocketing and other crimes. Do not wear expensive looking jewelry and avoid wearing American team sports shirts or baseball caps that might indicate you are an American.

Cash lying flat (stock image)Do not take unnecessary identification or credit cards in case they are stolen. Take only what is necessary. Obtain traveler’s checks if needed.

Establish points of contact for your family to contact and for your foreign hosts to contact in the event of an emergency. Register your trip with the State Department.

Make copies of your passport, airplane ticket, driver’s license, and credit cards that you take with you. Keep one copy at home; carry a second copy with you but separate from the originals. This will help speed the replacement process if they are lost or stolen.

Take any necessary medications with you in their original containers and keep them in your carry-on luggage (not checked baggage) during the flight. Verify you have adequate medical insurance.

Obtain specific pre-travel country risk assessments for the country/countries you plan to visit from your study abroad program manager, the State Department, and/or the FBI. There may be specific issues you should be aware of and prepare for that will ensure your safety and peace of mind.

Useful websites:
State Department Students Abroad:

State Department travel website:

Center for Disease Control for Travelers’ Health:

Protect your passport! Theft of American tourist passports is on the rise. It is recommended that you carry your passport in a front pants pocket or in a pouch hidden in your clothes, and that it remain with you at all times. Some hotels require you to leave it at the desk during your stay and they may use it to register you with the local police—a routine policy. Ask for a receipt and be sure to retrieve your passport before continuing your trip. If your passport is lost or stolen, report the situation immediately to the nearest US Embassy or Consulate.

Do not invite strangers into your room.

Be courteous and cooperative when processing through customs. Do not leave your bags unattended. Stay alert.

Use only authorized taxis. Passengers have been robbed or kidnapped when using “gypsy” taxis.

Do not carry large amounts of cash. Always deal with reputable currency exchange officials or you run the risk of receiving counterfeit currency. Keep a record of your financial transactions.

Beware that theft from sleeping compartments on trains is common.

Do not leave drinks unattendedsomeone could slip a drug into it that causes amnesia and sleep.

Avoid long waits in lobbies and terminals, if possible. These areas may harbor pickpockets, thieves, and violent offenders. Laptop theft is especially common in airports.

In an international airport, a thief positioned himself to walk in front of a traveler who was walking with his roll bag. The thief stopped abruptly in front of the traveler causing the traveler to also stop. A second thief was following and quickly removed the traveler’s laptop from his roll bag and disappeared.

Avoid civil disturbances and obey local laws. If you come upon a demonstration or rally, be careful; in the confusion you could be arrested or detained even though you are a bystander. Be mindful that in many countries, it is prohibited to speak derogatorily of the government and its leaders. It may be illegal to take photographs of train stations, governmentbuildings, religious symbols, and military installations. Avoid actions that are illegal, improper orindiscreet.

Avoid offers of sexual companionship; they may lead to a room raid, photography, and blackmail. Do not attempt to keep up with your hosts in social drinking. Do not engage in black market activities. Do not sell your possessions. Do not bring in or purchase illegal drugs or pornography. Do not seek out political or religious dissidents. Do not accept packages or letters for delivery to another location.

An American was given a letter by a man he had never met. He tried to return the letter but the man ran away. That evening, national security officers visited the American, admonished him for taking the letter, and required him to sign a statement concerning the event.

If you are arrested for any reason, ask to notify the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. A consular officer cannot arrange for free legal aid or provide bail money, but they can assist you. Do not admit to wrongdoing or sign anything. Do not agree to help your detainer.

Keep a low profile and shun publicity. Do not discuss personal or family information with local news media, and as a general rule, be careful what information you share with foreigners. They may have been directed to obtain information about you for duplicitous purposes and may use what they learn to target or use against you.

Evade criminals and terrorists by being aware of your surroundings and alert to the possibility of surveillance. Take mental notes of anyone following you and promptly report it to the appropriate security officials and/or the US Embassy or Consulate. In general, criminals will strike when their target seems most vulnerable and lax about his/her security. If anyone grabs you, make a scene— yell, fight and try to get away! If you are kidnapped, remain alert and establish a program of mental and physical activity for yourself; try to remain calm and non-threatening.

“Turkey drop” scam: a person drops money in front of a victim while an accomplice waits for the money to be picked up and suggests splitting it. The first person returns and accuses both of stealing the money. This usually results in the victim’s money being stolen.

Beware of new acquaintances who probe for information about you or who attempt to get you involved in what could become a compromising situation.

Do not gossip about character flaws, financial problems, emotional relationships, or other difficulties of your fellow Americans or yourself. This information is eagerly sought by those who want to exploit you or your fellow travelers.

Beware that your conversations may not be private or secure. Unlike the United States, most other countries do not have legal restrictions against technical surveillance. Most foreign security services have various means of screening incoming visitors to identify persons of potential intelligence interest. They also have well established contacts with hotels and common hosts that can assist in various forms of monitoring you.

Two American students on study abroad talked privately about the lighting in their apartment. The next day, a light that had been out for weeks was working.

Telephone, Laptop & PDA Security

If you can do without the device, Do Not Take It!

Do not leave electronic devices unattended. Do not transport them (or anything valuable) in your checked baggage. Shield passwords from view. Avoid Wi-Fi networks if you can. In some countries they are controlled by security services; in all cases they are insecure.

Sanitize your laptop, telephone, & PDA, prior to travel and ensure no sensitive contact, research, or personal data is on them. Backup all information you take and leave that at home. If feasible, use a different phone and a new email account while traveling.

Use up-to-date protections for antivirus, spyware, security patches, and firewalls. Don’t use thumb drives given to you – they may be compromised.

Woman on the phone (stock image)During the Beijing Olympics, hotels were required to install software so law enforcement could monitor the Internet activity of hotel guests.

In most countries, you have no expectation of privacy in Internet cafes, hotels, airplanes, offices, or public spaces. All information you send electronically (fax, computer, telephone) can be intercepted, especially wireless communications. If information might be valuable to another government, company or group, you should assume that it will be intercepted and retained. Security services and criminals can track your movements using your mobile phone and can turn on the microphone in your device even when you think it is turned off.

Beware of “phishing.” Foreign security services and criminals are adept at pretending to be someone you trust in order to obtain personal or sensitive information.

If your device is stolen, report it immediately to the local US Embassy or Consulate.

Change all your passwords including your voicemail and check devices for malware when you return.

The above is an excerpt taken from the article, “Safety and Security for U.S. Students Traveling Abroad” For more information please visit

What is ACV versus Replacement Value?

Property insurance can pay damages or loss based on one of two ways:

  • Actual Cash Value (or, ACV) – Actual cash value means that your loss or damage is valued at the value of the property loss. Sounds fair. But, if a $100,000 car lift in your garage has been depreciated over a five-year period it may be found to have an ACV of $20,000 at the time of loss. You can’t purchase a new lift for $20,000.
  • Replacement Value – Replacement value means that you are reimbursed the actual amount necessary to replace the equipment when it is lost. In the example above, if the new lift costs $120,000 to replace, then you get a new lift for $120,000.

Replacement value coverage typically carries higher premiums.

All of the above elements must be considered when reviewing and comparing property insurance for your business. A comparison made only on the premiums ignores critical aspects of the policy.

This is an excerpt from the article “Introduction to Property Insurance”. For more information, please visit the Business Insurance section of

Why Malware Is Most Likely In Your Future

malware-future-fb-shutterstock_164928812Most individuals routinely take steps to secure their desktop or laptop computer and would not even consider using it without first installing anti-virus software. But how many of us take the same precautions on our smartphones and other mobile devices? The latest reports indicate that we better start.

According to a 2014 report released by Motive Security Labs, malware infection on mobile devices increased 25 percent in 2014, up from 20 percent in 2013. They also found that mobile malware incidents are evolving into more sophisticated attacks

Because studies have shown that user negligence is the primary cause of malware infections, understanding the risk and staying diligent with prevention steps will reduce your risk.

Mobile device users can protect themselves from malware infection by following these suggestions from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center:

  • Take the time to learn the features of the device, and turn off any features you do not use.
  • Install malware protection on the device, and use the software to run scans on a regular basis.
  • Protect the device with a strong password, and enable the screen lock feature after a few minutes of inactivity.
  • Be cautious when installing applications. Check the reviews of the app and the developer who is publishing it.
  • Understand the permissions you give when downloading apps. Be cautious of apps that enable Geo-location, which allows them to track your location anywhere.
  • Do not allow your device to connect to unknown wireless networks. They may be nefarious access points that collect information passed between you and a legitimate server.
  • Be prudent when using unsecured wireless connections. Avoid using them when managing sensitive data.
  • Keep all of your applications up to date. New vulnerabilities are discovered daily, and updates provide patches for those weaknesses.
  • Avoid clicking on links or downloading software from unknown sources. If an offer sounds too good to be true, chances are it is, and may lead to malware infection.
The following article is provided courtesy of The McCalmon Group.

Family Emergency Plan: During and After An Emergency



  • Remain calm, but take immediate action.
  • Follow emergency orders issued by authorities.
  • Check on family and neighbors, especially infants, the elderly, and those with disabilities.


  • Contact interested parties to let them know that you are safe.
  • Obey all curfews and emergency orders.
  • DO NOT enter evacuated areas until local officials have issued an “All Clear.”
  • Stay away from disaster areas. Do not sightsee!
  • If driving, be aware of road and bridge washouts, and storm debris on roadways.
  • Avoid all downed power lines. Assume all have live electricity.
  • Report broken utility lines and damaged roadways and railways to appropriate authorities.
  • When helping injured or trapped persons, do not try to move the seriously injured unless they are in immediate danger of further injury.
The above is an excerpt adapted from the article, “Emergency Information Handbook.” For more information, please visit

Do you know how to be street smart?


Being street smart means knowing how to keep yourself safe from strangers when you’re alone or with other kids. Whether you’re walking to school or to the bus, hanging out on the playground, or riding your bike in your neighborhood, being street smart helps you stay safe. When you’re street smart, you know your way around, you know how handle yourself in tough situations, and you’re able to “read” people.

Imagine if a baby were able to walk around alone. The baby couldn’t understand a “Don’t Walk” sign, wouldn’t know where to go for help, and couldn’t find the way back home. What’s more, the baby might not know good people from bad people. The baby would be in danger.

Thank goodness you’re not a baby anymore! You know your way around and you know the rules of the road. The most complicated thing to learn is how to deal with strangers. But if you follow a few rules all the time and trust your instincts, you can be really street smart.

Who Are Strangers?

When you’re walking home from school, a person in a car pulls up and asks you for directions. At the park, someone says he needs you to help look for his lost puppy. These people may seem friendly, but no matter what they say to you, they have one thing in common: They’re strangers.

Most strangers aren’t dangerous and wouldn’t do anything to hurt kids. Unfortunately, though, some strangers can be dangerous, and it’s impossible to tell who’s OK and who’s not. A dangerous person doesn’t necessarily look scary or mean — the person might look nice.

That’s why it’s important to follow these safety rules all the time:

Make Your Whereabouts Known

The adult who’s taking care of you needs to know where you are at all times. That means telling your mom or dad, grandmother, babysitter, or whoever is keeping an eye on you where you are and when you’ll be coming home.

Stick With a Friend

It’s more fun and safer to do things with friends. Take along a buddy when you walk to school, bike around the park, or go to the store. Traveling with a friend whenever you can is a good idea, and traveling with a bunch of kids is even better.

Pick Out Safe Spots

What are safe spots? Safe spots are places where you can stop if you need help, like the houses of kids you know, your parents’ friends’ houses, stores, restaurants, police stations, libraries, and fire departments. When you’re walking or riding your bike, make a mental note of the safe spots along your route. That way, you’ll know where they are in case you ever need one.

Avoid Places That Aren’t Safe

Be sure to keep away from isolated areas. These are places where no one is around, like the woods or small, dark streets.

Let Grown-Ups (and Only Grown-Ups) Help Strangers

It’s nice to help people. But remember: Strangers should ask adults, not kids, for help.

If a stranger approaches you and asks you for help — such as with giving directions, finding lost money, or searching for a runaway dog — don’t help. Don’t even give an answer. Right away, you should walk the other way. If you’re not near a safe spot, try any store or restaurant. If you feel you’re in danger, yell for help.

Stay Away From Strangers’ Cars

street smartIf a stranger pulls up in a car and offers you a ride, don’t get in. You probably know that rule, right? But that’s not all of it. It’s also important to avoid a stranger’s car completely. If a stranger asks you to look in the car, don’t do it. Don’t agree to look in the trunk or in the back of a truck or van. Don’t put your arm in the window to take something or point to something. Don’t agree to come closer to see a pet or to get a toy that’s offered.

If a stranger offers you a toy, some candy, a stuffed animal, or anything else, don’t ever take it. Even if it’s something you reallywant, if the offer is coming from a stranger, you should ignore the person and walk the other way.

If a stranger walks up or pulls up in a car and you’re too far away to hear the person, don’t go closer, even if the person waves you over. Just get away. Run the opposite way that the car is heading. Get to an adult you know, a police officer, a security guard, or one of your safe spots as fast as you can if the stranger comes toward you.

What if a stranger comes to pick you up from school, sports, dancing lessons, or the park? This is no different from any other time — a stranger is a stranger, so don’t get in the car. Even if the stranger says that your parents sent him or her, or that there’s an emergency and you must get in the car and go to the hospital, turn right around and tell an adult what happened. Your parents would have told you if someone else was coming to pick you up, and if an emergency really did occur, they would send someone you already know, not a stranger.

Even if the stranger knows your name, don’t be fooled. There are lots of ways to find out kids’ names, even when someone doesn’t know them or their families. For example, do you have a jacket or a piece of jewelry that has your name on it? That’s an easy way for someone to learn your name.

The above is an excerpt adapted from the article, “Do you know how to be street smart?.” For more information, please visit


Teen Drugged Driving


Americans are well aware of the terrible consequences of driving drunk and are familiar with the many successful drinking and driving awareness campaigns. With the dramatic increase of handheld phones and personal devices, campaigns and laws targeting talking or texting while driving have also gained prominence. Yet an often overlooked issue, especially among teens and young adults, is drugged driving.

A nationally representative survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), found that in 2007, approximately one in eight weekend nighttime drivers tested positive for illicit drugs.1 Worse yet, a 2010 study by NHTSA revealed that 1 in 3 fatally injured drivers, who were tested for substance use and the results known, tested positive for an illicit drug or medication with the ability to impair at the time of the crash.  

The risks are even greater for teens, who, due to their inexperience, are already more likely to be involved in a crash compared with more experienced drivers. When this lack of experience is combined with the use of substances that may alter perception, cognition, reaction time, and other faculties, the results can be tragic.

The statistics are alarming regarding
drugged driving in the teenage demographic. Among high school seniors in 2011, approximately 1 in 8 reported that in the two weeks prior to the survey interview they had driven after smoking marijuana – more than reported driving after consuming alcohol.3 Across age groups, the rate of driving under the influence of illicit drugs in 2011 was highest among young adults aged 18 to 25 at 11.6 percent.

The cause of many teenage crashes is often an issue of attitude and maturity. Parents and caregivers can help shape a responsible attitude about driving and take immediate steps to limit the potential dangers of teen driving.

Remember you are a role model. New drivers learn a lot by example, so practice safe driving by obeying speed limits and demonstrating safe driving habits.

Provide as much supervised driving as possible. This will get a teen acclimated to the road before he or she takes a driving test to get a license. Let your teen drive in a wide variety of driving conditions for six months prior to taking their road test to build experience and confidence.

teenage-driver-parent-fb-shutterstock_24392347Start out slow. Start with slow moving traffic environments and gradually introduce your teen to more difficult driving situations, such as highway driving, merge ramps, and major urban areas. Parents need to assure their teens build up their experience before jumping into highway traffic.

Require that your teenager wear safety belts at ALL times – no exceptions. If you wear your safety belt every time you drive, your son or daughter may adopt this behavior more readily.

Make sure your teen is aware of potential safety issues as well as how to respond to safety or emergency situations. Keep a highway safety kit in the trunk of your teen’s vehicle and review with them how to use its contents.

Choose safe vehicles for your teenagers. Look for automobiles with high safety ratings (air bags, crumple zones, etc.) and review federal statistics and consumer report literature to help evaluate the safety rating of a vehicle.

Be clear that teens should never use their cell phones or text while they are driving. If it is necessary to use a cell phone, instruct your teenager to pull over safely to the side of the road to make an emergency call.

Limit nighttime driving. Since many teen car crashes take place between 9 p.m. and 12 a.m., it’s best for beginning drivers to be restricted to driving during the day initially and gradually be introduced to night driving as they gain experience.

Limit the number of passengers allowed in the car when your teen is driving. Having more passengers in a car increases the chance of greater risk-taking, primarily because of greater peer pressure and more distractions. Check the law in your state to determine how many passengers your teen is legally permitted to have in the car.

 Discuss realistic consequences of drug and alcohol use. Remind them that it is illegal for teens to drink alcohol – and illegal for anyone to use illicit drugs. Discuss how drugs and alcohol can impair their senses, affect perception, and cause delayed reaction time. It’s important to note that even one drink or joint can affect the senses, as can prescription drugs, even when taken with a physician’s order. Make it clear that alcohol, marijuana, or other drug use when driving is illegal and completely unacceptable.

The above is an excerpt from the article, “Teen Drugged Driving.” For more information, please visit

Sharing the Road Safely with Child Pedestrians


All drivers need to recognize the special safety needs of pedestrians, especially those that are children. Young, elderly, disabled and intoxicated pedestrians are the most frequent victims in auto-pedestrian collisions. Generally, pedestrians have the right-of-way at all intersections; however, regardless of the rules of the road or right-of-way, you as a driver are obligated to exercise great care and extreme caution to avoid striking pedestrians.

  • child-walking-school-shutterstock_152792399Drivers should not block the crosswalk when stopped at a red light or waiting to make a turn. Do not stop with a portion of your vehicle over the crosswalk. Blocking the crosswalk forces pedestrians to go around your vehicle and puts them in a dangerous situation.
  • In a school zone when a warning flasher or flashers are blinking, you must stop to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk.
  • Always stop when directed to do so by a school patrol sign, school patrol officer or designated crossing guard.
  • Children are the least predictable pedestrians and the most difficult to see. Take extra care to look out for children not only in school zones, but also in residential areas, playgrounds and parks.
  • Don’t honk your horn, rev your engine or do anything to rush or scare a pedestrian in front of your car, even if you have the legal right-of-way. All drivers need to recognize the special safety needs of pedestrians, especially those that are children. Young, elderly, disabled and intoxicated pedestrians are the most frequent victims in auto-pedestrian collisions.
The above is an excerpt from the article, “Back to School: Safety Tips for Motorists.” For more information, please visit

Hidden Mold


Water stain on basement wall

Water stain on a basement wall — locate and fix the source of the water promptly. Click on the image for a larger version.

You may suspect hidden mold if a building smells moldy, but you cannot see the source, or if you know there has been water damage and residents are reporting health problems. Mold may be hidden in places such as the back side of dry wall, wallpaper, or paneling, the top side of ceiling tiles, the underside of carpets and pads, etc. Other possible locations of hidden mold include areas inside walls around pipes (with leaking or condensing pipes), the surface of walls behind furniture (where condensation forms), inside ductwork, and in roof materials above ceiling tiles (due to roof leaks or insufficient insulation).

Investigating hidden mold problems

Investigating hidden mold problems may be difficult and will require caution when the investigation involves disturbing potential sites of mold growth. For example, removal of wallpaper can lead to a massive release of spores if there is mold growing on the underside of the paper. If you believe that you may have a hidden mold problem, consider hiring an experienced professional.

Cleanup and Biocides

mold growing on the back side of wallpaper

Mold growing on the back side of wallpaper.

Biocides are substances that can destroy living organisms. The use of a chemical or biocide that kills organisms such as mold (chlorine bleach, for example) is not recommended as a routine practice during mold cleanup. There may be instances, however, when professional judgment may indicate its use (for example, when immune-compromised individuals are present). In most cases, it is not possible or desirable to sterilize an area; a background level of mold spores will remain – these spores will not grow if the moisture problem has been resolved. If you choose to use disinfectants or biocides, always ventilate the area and exhaust the air to the outdoors. Never mix chlorine bleach solution with other cleaning solutions or detergents that contain ammonia because toxic fumes could be produced.

Please note: Dead mold may still cause allergic reactions in some people, so it is not enough to simply kill the mold, it must also be removed.

The following is adapted from the article, “Mold, Moisture, and Your Home.” For more information please visit

Watch: School Bus Safety

The above is a video sponsored by the National Safety Council.  For more information, please visit