Friday, December 26, 2014

7 Tips for Seasonal Healthcare Enrollment

The holidays can be a hectic time: making lists, checking them twice, and planning for parties, relatives, and seasonal events. It’s also the time of year when we can choose new healthcare coverage, but it doesn’t have to be a stressful experience.
November 15 to February 15 is the annual period of open enrollment for medical insurance coverage. Check out these seven tips to help make choosing a healthcare plan a little bit smoother this season, from healthcare.govKaiser Health News, and Bankrate.
1.     Act by Monday, December 15. Whether you’re switching healthcare plans or enrolling for the first time, try to choose by December 15, so you can begin 2015 coverage on January 1.
2.    Shop around. The plan you had this year may not be the best one for the coming year. You and your loved ones may have different medical needs, and a higher-tier plan may help lower the cost of co-pays and routine visits. You can compare your options at, or ask your insurance provider for more information.
3.    Research your network. Out-of-pocket healthcare costs can quickly add up into the thousands, so make sure you know which doctors in your area accept the plan you’re considering. Even if you’re keeping the same coverage, make sure nearby medical offices are still taking it. You can visit your healthcare provider’s website to find doctors in your network. 
4.    Read the fine print. Cheaper isn’t always better when it comes to medical insurance. It’s important to consider all the costs, such as medicine, co-pays, emergency room visits, surgeries, dependent costs, maximum out-of-pocket expenses, and deductibles. The plan you choose will affect the cost of all your medical visits, so make sure you read everything carefully. 
5.    Find out about discounts. If you’re enrolling through a healthcare exchange, see if you qualify for financial assistance by entering your income in a calculator. It’s important to enter exact numbers, so you don’t end up owing extra money next tax season. If you have an employer-provided plan, ask about wellness discounts or other incentives. 
6.    Get free help. If you’d prefer to talk to someone about your healthcare enrollment options, you can find a trained helper in your community. Search for free local assistance here.
7.    Check with BBB. To learn more about your healthcare provider, local medical offices, and other businesses, you can read BBB Business Reviews on
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Monday, December 15, 2014

Guest Blog: Shop Safe This Holiday Season

By Judy Leary, President of IdentityForce 

The holidays should be a joyous time of celebration and not a time of worry. But identity theft is a problem that affects us all. It was just one year ago that sophisticated cyber thieves accessed Target’s computer system and stole 40 million credit and debit card numbers and personal information on 70 million customers. It was a huge wake-up call for retailers and consumers alike. Consumers vowed to be more careful with their personal data, and retailers redoubled their efforts to make every customer transaction failsafe Unfortunately, despite companies spending more than $4 billion so far this year to combat the problem, cyber attacks have not only continued but have escalated. According to information compiled by the Identity Theft Resource Center, major data breaches are up about 25 percent over this time last year. Home Depot, J. P. Morgan, Kmart, ebay, Neiman Marcus, Walgreens, and the U.S. Postal Service all experienced security breaches in 2014, exposing data on tens of millions of customers. No wonder 60 Minutes recently dubbed 2014 “the year of the data breach.”

While safer days are ahead of us as banks and retailers gear up to roll out the more secure pin and chip credit cards in 2015, shoppers can do their part this holiday season to keep their identity as safe as possible.

10 Tips for Safer Shopping—Online and in Stores

1. Strengthen and Protect Passwords
“123456” is not a legitimate password, yet 60 Minutes reports it’s one of the most common ones used. A strong password consists of a combination of at least 8 letters, numbers, and symbols. Store passwords in an online password safe, never in a desk drawer or wallet.

2. Vary Emails
Do not use the same password for multiple email accounts, and always keep your banking emails separate from other email accounts.

3. Use a Credit Card Rather than a Debit Card
Credit cards are generally more secure than a debit card, which links directly to your
bank account. If you absolutely must use your debit card, be sure to have the cashier run it as a credit card so you won’t have to input your pin number.

4. Review Bank and Credit Card Statements
Review your statements each month and question any suspicious expenses, no matter how small. Cyber thieves sometimes “test” a card with low-cost purchases first.

5.Check the Safety of Each Retailer’s Website
To ensure the website is safe for transactions, make sure “https” is part of the address in the URL, and look for the padlock icon, typically found in the bottom right-hand corner of your browser. Use a credit card rather than a debit card, and under no circumstances give out your social security number.

6. Be Aware of Your Surroundings
With so much emphasis on cyber security, we forget sometimes about the still very real threat of pickpockets. Pocketbooks and backpacks should be kept closed and when possible carried in front of your body. Men should keep wallets in a front pants or jacket pocket. Limit the amount of cash and number of credit cards in your wallet, and never carry your social security card.

7. Treat Your Social Security Number Like Gold
You’d be amazed at the damage an identity thief can do with just your name and social security number. Memorize the number so you don’t have to carry the card with you, and share it only with employers and banks.

8. Guard Your “Snail Mail”
If paying bank and credit card bills by mail, put the envelopes directly into a secured U.S. post box, rather than in your door slot where anyone can grab it and access your account numbers.

9. Sign Up for Alerts
Ask your bank to alert you via email or text for any transaction over a certain threshold amount, such as $250.00.

10. Use Two-Factor Authentication
More and more banks and websites are offering this service, which requires an additional security step above and beyond your username and password. Typically a passcode is generated anew and sent to your phone each time you want to log on.

Follow these tips to ensure your identity is protected throughout the holidays, and all year long. From all of us on the IdentityForce team, we wish you and yours a joyous, magical, and secure holiday season.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Giving Back on a Small Business Budget

Businesses, large and small, frequently receive requests to support local causes and events. While large businesses may have a portion of their budgets allocated to support local causes, small businesses oftentimes have the desire but not the funds, making charitable giving a challenge. However, giving back is more than donating funds; it is supporting the communities we serve with resources that create a positive impact.

Customers are loyal to businesses that are involved in programs that support their local community. Even if small businesses are not able to write a big check, they can still be good corporate citizens by supporting local causes and creating mutually beneficial collaborations.

One of the first steps to giving back is learning about the opportunities available. Conducting research will help assure that the charity you support has a commitment to standards and accountability and will use your time and talents effectively and ethically. Because not all charities are created equal, ask for details on its programs, finances and governance. Use BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance evaluations on nationally-soliciting charities for free at

Better Business Bureau (BBB) offers three tips on how small businesses can support the communities they serve on a small budget:

Donate Time: Know what your company and its employees can offer. Consider staff members’ skills and what services they would be particularly well-equipped to provide. From volunteering at a local food bank to helping construct a home, a small business can not only offer volunteers, but also expertise that many charitable causes will value.

Donate Resources: Think outside the box. The most common ways to support local causes are donating funds or providing volunteers; however, be creative with your resources and consider offering services, equipment or space. Share your expertise on a project, offer to print flyers for an upcoming event, or make your conference room available for meetings.

Donate Support: Encourage staff to participate in company-backed volunteering efforts. Much of the great work charities provide to their communities is made possible by volunteers. Support staff volunteering in groups or teams—not only does it provide a great service, it also enhances team building, staff cohesiveness and community awareness.

Comment below and share how your company gives back to the community it serves.

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