Month: December 2015

6 precautions that guard against identity theft

Identity theft is incredibly frightening and increasingly common. Identity thieves can access your bank accounts, credit cards, and more. We’ll give you 6 practical tips to protect against this awful crime.
1. Guard your Social Insurance Number

Many businesses act like it’s their right to demand your Social Insurance Number (SIN) whenever they feel like it. It’s not.
Be very selective about who you give this number to, because a Social Insurance Number is the holy grail for identity thieves.
Where possible, offer to supply another identifying number instead, such as your driver’s license number.
If contest forms ask for your SIN number, write in the space that you’ll provide the number if you win.
Work and tax-related dealings usually do require your SIN number, as do credit checks. That’s legitimate. But even then, you can ask to withhold your number until you’re offered the job.

2. Leave your cards at home

Never carry around your SIN card. Memorize the number and keep the actual card at home or in a safe-deposit box.
Don’t carry around any other identification card that includes your SIN. That way, if you lose your purse or wallet, you’re better protected against identity theft.

3. Get updated privacy software

Don’t use unlicensed or expired spyware guards, firewalls, or anti-virus programs, as they aren’t eligible for software updates.
There’s a reason frequent updates are important: identity thieves are constantly finding new ways around existing software to get into hard drives and steal your passwords or financial data.
For extra security, put password protection on files that contain sensitive personal information like your credit card or bank account numbers. Just click the help button on your computer and follow the instructions.

4. Check for credit trouble without paying

Canadian residents have free access to their own credit reports. What’s more, you’re entitled to a free report right away if you’ve been denied credit or if you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft.
To order a free credit report, contact the individual credit bureaus directly.
If you spot an irregularity on one of your credit reports, ask the credit-reporting company to place a fraud alert on your report right away.

5. Trash the junk mail

Most of your junk mail will disappear if you opt out of marketing offers originating from companies you’re already doing business with.
Look for small print in the bills between May and July, when the companies are required to inform you about how to stop receiving pitches.

6. Choose a strong online password

Just as you wouldn’t give your ATM code to a stranger, it’s just as important to protect your online passwords.

Birthdays, kids’ names, anniversaries… forget it. These are the first bits of data that thieves and hackers go to when trying to break into your accounts.
Don’t think that spelling your spouse’s name (or any other easy password) backwards will work either. Hackers have programs that will detect words spelled out both backwards and forwards.
Don’t use one password for all of your accounts. If online thieves happen upon just one, you’re in big trouble.
Choose passwords that have both letters and numbers. You can also use a password that’s not even a real word by jumbling up some letters and numbers.
Change your passwords frequently.

Identity theft is a very serious problem, and it’s only becoming more widespread. You don’t need to be paranoid, you just need to be smart. Use these tips judiciously to help prevent becoming a victim. Be safe out there!

Smart tips for extinguishing small fires and planning an escape

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Having a portable fire extinguisher and escape route is necessary in any household. Here’s how to successfully use a fire extinguisher and some tips that will help you and your family prepare for a fire.
When to use a portable fire extinguisher

If the fire is confined to a small area and is not spreading, you may decide to stay and fight it with a portable fire extinguisher. Such devices can save lives and property by putting out a small fire or containing it until the fire department arrives.

However, they are not designed to fight large, spreading fires.
Even when used against small fires, they are useful only under limited conditions.

How to use a fire extinguisher

Know the location of every fire extinguisher, and which type of fire each is good for: There won’t be time to read directions during an emergency, and using the wrong extinguisher can make the fire worse. Use the extinguisher only if it is within easy reach.
Have everyone else leave the building immediately: Have someone call the fire department, even if the fire seems to be easily controllable.
Have an unobstructed escape route: Keep your back to the exit, and if possible keep 1.8 to 2.4 metres (six to eight feet) from the flames.
Follow the four-step PASS procedure: P = Pull the pin; A = Aim the extinguisher at the base of the flame; S = Squeeze the handle; and S = Sweep the nozzle rapidly from left to right to cover the base of the fire.
If the fire does not begin to die immediately, leave the area at once: The working life of most extinguishers is only about eight seconds.
If you do put out the fire, have the fire department inspect the site: Even if there appears to be no danger. Fire can lurk within the walls or re-ignite from hot embers that may not be visible or not producing heat that you can feel.
Clean up carefully: Most household fire extinguishers leave you with a serious cleanup job after you have used them. Wipe away residues as soon as possible, because they may contain caustic substances that damage paint and electronic equipment.

Devise an escape plan beforehand

To increase your family’s chances of surviving a fire, develop an escape plan.

Draw a floor plan of your home and mark all possible escape routes. Every room should have at least two exits (a window large enough for an adult to fit through is fine, but make sure windows are easy to open and that your kids know how to open them).
If you live in an apartment building, don’t count elevators as part of your escape route, because they won’t operate in a fire; use stairs instead.
Decide where everyone will meet outside the house in the event of a fire. That way, you’ll know that everyone is safe.
Practice evacuating your home blindfolded. During a fire, smoke may make it impossible to see.
Practice staying low to the floor when escaping.
Learn to stop, drop to the ground and roll to put out clothing that catches fire.
Purchase approved escape ladders for rooms on upper floors. Practice using them.
Ladders may not be usable by elderly family members or those with handicaps. (A first-floor bedroom is a much better idea for them.)

Fire can be quick and unpredictable. Keep these tips in mind and stay safe by being prepared.

5 tips for creating a fire escape plan for your home

Creating a fire escape plan is not as simple as drawing up a rudimentary blueprint with arrows indicating a way out in case of fire. A fire escape plan requires you to account for upper floors, to devise at least two ways out and to review and practice worst-case scenarios.
1. Keep the plan in a central place

Refrigerators are often ideal places to post fire escape plans.
There is no need for confusing, detailed blueprints and tiny print.
Diagram the floors and rooms of the house, including hallways, exits and entrances.
Highlight escape routes.
Try to fit everything on one standard-sized sheet of paper.
You may also want to post a plan in each person’s bedroom.

2. Account for higher-up floors.

If your residence has two floors (or more), each person in the household needs to be capable of escaping from upper levels.
Escape ladders are usually the best way to accomplish this. The ladders must be stored wisely and accessibly.
Review ladder assembly instructions and have everyone practice setting up a ladder. This includes kids, although they should do so only with an adult’s supervision, and they should start with first floor windows instead of on the second floor.
If you live in a building with an elevator, emphasise that the elevator should never be used in the event of a fire.

3. Prepare two escape routes.

During a fire, you never know what hallways or stairways might be clogged with smoke and heat and therefore dangerous or inaccessible.
Highlight two escape routes using different colours on the fire plan.

4. Practice worst-case scenarios.

Ideally, you have at least one safe escape route during a fire, but why take that risk of relying on only one way out?
Have everyone practice escaping the building as if lethal smoke was everywhere.
Drills should involve all household members getting low and exiting under smoke.
Practice shutting any doors between yourself and the fire, and sealing cracks and air outlets with duct tape, towels and other available items.
Also practice opening windows to let in fresh air, rehearse calls to 911 to give your address and situation details, and practice waving a signal such as a flashlight or white piece of cloth at the window to let rescuers know where you are.

5. List tips on the fire escape plan.

While it is good to orally review fire escape tips, they become much more etched in a person’s mind the more he sees them. Too many tips are overwhelming, though, so keep the number of tips to three, four or five. Some recommended tips for behaviour during a fire:

Close doors when leaving rooms
Stay low
Stay by windows if trapped
Never take elevators

Run escape drills at least twice a year, and check smoke alarms at these times. If infants, elderly people or people with disabilities are in the household, be sure to make special provisions for their escape.

7 ways to deter thieves with solid home security

There’s nothing more important than keeping your home safe, and deterrence is often the best form of prevention. We’ll go over 7 expert tips that will help keep your home secure.
1. Secure your door

Spend a few bucks on a good deadbolt lock and the right screws. The secret is a strong strike plate, which is the metal square that the bolt fits into when you lock up.
Make sure that the dead-bolt kit you buy has a strike plate with four screw holes rather than just two. It’s twice as strong that way.
If the screws that come with the set are tiny, replace them with four 7.5 centimetre (3 inch) screws, which will go deep into the hardwood of the door frame and hold it fast. Do this with all your doors (back, side, garage) and you’ve eliminated a burglar’s favourite points of entry.

2. Secure your windows

According to security experts, just closing and latching your windows significantly reduces your risk of burglary.
To lock your windows, drive a long, fat screw into each of the two tracks that the window slides along (either up or sideways) to open. That way, even if the latch is broken, the window will be blocked before it can slide open completely. Position the screw so that it allows the window to open enough for ventilation, but not enough for a probing hand to remove the screw.
If the window simply opens inward instead of sliding up or sideways, hammer in strong 7.5 centimetre (3 inch) nails on both sides of the frame and bend them to block the window’s inward path.

3. Get yourself a dog

Good watchdog choices include Doberman pinschers, huskies, Great Danes, German shepherds, and retrievers.
If you’re not able to care for a dog or if they’re not allowed in your building, it still doesn’t hurt to get a recording of a dog barking to play every now and again.
Consider posting “Beware of Dog” signs even if you don’t have a dog.

4. Resist a pricey monitoring alarm system

Stick with the basic package of alarms and signs. Only upgrade if you live in a area where the risk of fire is high, since firefighters will certainly be welcome if your system is set up to trigger a call when fire is detected.
When you get a home alarm system, always opt for the “phone line cut” service, which can detect whether an intruder has cut your phone line. It automatically sends security or police to your home even if you’re not able to call them yourself.
Always seek out a reputable alarm installer.

5. Have your neighbour take care of your spare key

You’ll hear a thousand different ideas for the best hiding place for your spare house key, but you’ll never find a spot that a burglar hasn’t thought of.
Instead, give your spare key to a neighbour.
If you’re expecting service people while you’re away, a neighbour can let them in and see them out.
A key exchange also establishes a mutual trust with your neighbour, which is an important security strategy in and of itself.

6. Learn what burglars don’t want you to know

They prefer to break in during the day.
They hate barking dogs.
They’ll come right up to your front door and knock. As long as they look like they have some reason to be there, they don’t attract suspicion.
They don’t care if your income is modest. Don’t think that you’re safe just because you’re not swimming in diamonds or valuable art. Criminals break in because they want small, easy-to-grab and easy-to-sell items like laptops, watches, and small electronic devices.

It can feel a bit grim to think about burglary, but taking some simple precautions is a lot better than dealing with the aftermath of a break-in. Use these simple tips to safeguard your home and enjoy a little extra peace of mind.