What to do when a hurricane blows away your vacation plans

By Beth J. Harpaz

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

What do you do when a hurricane blows away your vacation plans? The Associated Press asked Pauline Frommer of Frommers.com and the Frommer travel guidebook series for advice.

WHERE TO START

Frommer says it all depends on “how you booked that vacation.” If you booked an air-hotel package through Expedia, contact Expedia. If you booked it “a la carte” booking hotel, cruise and airfare separately on your own contact each vendor or company separately.

HOW ABOUT REFUNDS?

If you’re going to a Caribbean island that suffered some damage but the hotel reopens, Frommer says you’re likely not going to catch a break.

On the other hand,  “If you’re going to a place that seems like it’s been blown off the map, like sadly St. Martin, you may have a better chance of getting a refund,” she said.

Often travel providers try to “get you to shift your plans.” Many of the cruise lines are announcing they’ll still go to the Caribbean but just to a different island than originally planned.

“If you’ve already been to those Caribbean islands and you were hoping to see ones that are not currently accepting visitors, you may be out of luck,” she said. There are also cases where seven-night cruises are reduced to four-night cruises and cruise lines seem to be giving money back in those cases.

For cancelled cruises,  “they’re giving not only full refunds but depending on the cruise lines, they’re giving a little extra: 25 per cent off another cruise or 50 per cent.”

Airline policy is. “fluid,” Frommer said, with some waiving change fees for future travel if you rebook before a certain deadline, allowing you to apply the cost of the flight you no longer want to a new destination. But details vary, so contact the airline.

Be prepared to spend time online or on the phone. “Patience will be a real virtue right now,” Frommer said. If you booked through a travel agency, they may be able to make those changes for you. As a last resort, “contact your credit card company. They may be able to duke it out for you.”

HOTELS, HOME RENTALS AND THIRD-PARTY SITES

If you booked a home rental and made a deposit through a site like Homeaway.com or VRBO.com, they “act as the middleman” and “set up lines to help you get through to the individual owners,” Frommer said. “They’re not going to get you your money back but they are trying to facilitate communications. … However they will not step in if you can’t get your security deposit back.”

WHAT? NO REFUND IF WE PAID FOR LODGING IN ADVANCE?

“That’s a lesson we’re all learning,” Frommer said. “It’s in their contracts that usually they’re off the hook for all but the most egregious of circumstances, for example, if it’s a scam and there’s no home there. But with natural disasters, there’s often an act of God clause that means they do not owe you anything when things go horrifically wrong on a huge scale.”

Again, Frommer said, “it all depends on how you booked.” If you made a reservation with no money down, “you should be able to cancel without penalty.” But if you paid in advance for a discount on a hotel booking website,  “you could be on the hook.”

TRAVEL INSURANCE

“The majority of travel insurance policies will cover you in those cases if you’re travelling and the place is unsafe,” Frommer said. But “you cannot buy the insurance after the storm has been announced. Once it’s on the radar, you’re out of luck.”

Insurance may also fail to kick in if the hotel reopens even if the “beach is gone and the trees are down and all of its neighbours are in rubble. … If you can get there and stay there safely, it’s considered your vacation, even if it’s not the vacation of your dreams.”

CAA says 10,000 consumers could be Equifax hack victims

By Armina Ligaya and David Hodges

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO _ The Canadian Automobile Association says it is informing about 10,000 of its members that they may have had sensitive data compromised by the massive Equifax cybersecurity breach.

The CAA said Thursday Equifax was its partner on the auto organization’s identity protection program, which began in March 2015 and was terminated on July 1, weeks before Equifax discovered the hack on July. 29.

The program required members to register their personal information such as credit cards, banking information and email address, with the option of providing a social insurance number.

The organization says it has been trying since the first reports of the Equifax breach surfaced to determine if it affects any of the approximately 10,000 CAA members who signed up for the program.

It says Equifax has not provided any answers so far. Equifax Canada did not respond to requests from The Canadian Press.

“We value our members’ privacy. Our contract with Equifax explicitly said customer data would be governed by Canada’s privacy law, PIPEDA, and we chose them as a partner because of their then high reputation. CAA did not handle or retain any of the information provided to Equifax,” said Ian Jack, CAA managing director of communications and government relations.

“We are informing the affected members that the data they shared with Equifax may have been compromised, and are writing Canada’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner to express our concern about this breach and to ask that they push Equifax to provide more information to Canadians.”

Meanwhile, Canadians who are worried they might be victims of the Equifax Inc. hack say they are being treated as an afterthought in the wake of one of the largest online data breaches in history.

The company has provided consumers in the U.S. with a website that shows whether they are at risk of identity theft and is allowing them to monitor their files for free for one year.

But the online database does not provide Canadians with accurate information because it is based on U.S. social security numbers. The Equifax Canada website says it costs $19.95 per month for the same monitoring service.

Toronto lawyer Frances Macklin said she is frustrated that Canadians are being treated worse than their U.S. counterparts and questioned why there isn’t a dedicated portal for consumers north of the border.

“We’re equally affected. Just because I don’t have a social security number, I don’t get access to information,” said the partner at Gowlings law firm. “I’m completely bewildered by that.”

Equifax Inc. said last Thursday that a security breach occurred over the summer that compromised the private information of up to 143 million Americans, along with an undisclosed number of Canadians.

But the company has not provided further details, including how many Canadians may have been exposed. Equifax Canada did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

However, Equifax Canada’s customer service agents have told callers that only Canadians who have had dealings in the United States are likely to have had their information compromised in the data breach.

The credit monitoring company’s call centre staff said that Canadians who have Equifax accounts in the U.S. could be at risk of having their data compromised, such as those who have lived, worked or applied for credit south of the border.

Equifax Canada’s website says that “only a limited number of Canadians may have been affected” and it is working to find out how many.

It adds that personal information that may have been breached includes names, address and Social Insurance Number and “the breach is contained.”

Robert Johnson, lead plaintiff in a proposed class action lawsuit against Equifax Canada filed in Saskatchewan, said he is upset that Canadians have only been told that a limited number have been compromised.

The Regina business analyst said he trusted them with his personal information and does not understand why it is taking so long to provide more information about the hack.

Communications expert Warren Weeks believes Equifax could not have handled this issue in a worse way.

“We’re talking about the gateway to all of your financial information in your life,” said Weeks, who is the principal of communication firm Weeks Media Group.

“And Canadians, in specific, don’t know if they’ve been targeted or not or they’ve been impacted or not? I think in 2017, that’s unacceptable.”

Canadian snowbirds will face higher insurance costs even if unscathed by Irma

By Ross Marowits

THE CANADIAN PRESS

MONTREAL _ Canadian snowbirds who were lucky enough to escape property damage from hurricane Irma will still face higher costs as insurance providers jack up premiums and condo associations levy special assessments, say Florida insurance experts.

“We’re probably looking at across-the-board 15 to 20 per cent increase in property insurance costs over the next year,” says Brad Hubbard, the Tampa owner of an insurance agency and an engineering consulting firm specializing in flood risk.

He said the higher premiums could come from greater insurance losses and reinsurance companies determining there is a statistical increase in the risk that future storms will be more frequent and severe.

Hurricane Irma is expected to be one of the mostly costly storms in history with losses estimated at US$20 billion to US$65 billion, including up to US$50 billion in the U.S., according to risk modelling software company AIR Worldwide.

Additional insurance costs will be borne by all insured Florida homeowners, including the estimated 500,000 Canadians who own Florida properties.

Condo owners could also face special assessments if their building sustains heavy damage that isn’t fully covered by insurance or its policy has a high deductible.

“Your condo can be fine but at the end of the year you could receive a bill that says $3,500,” added Martin Rivard, an insurance broker in Boynton Beach originally from Shawinigan, Que.

The situation could be especially acute in areas like the Florida Keys, where 25 per cent of homes were destroyed by heavy winds and storm surge.

Rivard said he’s always amazed by homeowners _ especially Canadians who purchased second residences when they were extremely cheap during the housing collapse _ who decline to take out a policy because of the increased cost.

“I’m hoping that Irma was a wake-up call,” he said in an interview.

The average price of homeowner’s insurance in high-risk wind areas of Florida is US$2,055 or US$1,500 if you buy through Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, a state-run provider. Flood coverage premiums average US$450, providing coverage of $250,000 on the structure and $100,000 for the contents, says the Insurance Information Institute.

Canadians are eligible to buy homeowner’s insurance from Citizens Property Insurance and flooding insurance from the federal National Flood Insurance Programs. Only 16 per cent of Americans purchase flood insurance and less than 10 per cent have no insurance at all.

Canadians were eager to buy insurance after hurricane Andrew devastated southern Florida in 1992, but Rivard said the concern has waned because the state hasn’t experienced a big storm in about a decade.

Renee and Dino Picchioni are relieved their mobile home north of Tampa was spared because they didn’t carry any insurance.

“It’s too expensive to pay for insurance down there for four months out of the year,” Renee said from Windsor, Ont.

Since they don’t own the land where their mobile home is parked, the couple was prepared to walk away if the unit was destroyed.

Rivard expects many others will do the same if their insurance doesn’t cover repair costs.

Realtor Jass Tremblay of Marathon said most of the Canadian customers she knows in the Keys don’t have insurance. While people with a mortgage are required to have insurance that covers wind, they can roll the dice if they pay cash.

Tremblay, a Quebec City native, said she hopes those without coverage would have put money aside so they can face such a disaster.

“Some of them lost everything. They’re probably panicking,” Tremblay said from Deerfield Beach where she holed up during the storm.

Brent Leathwood, a realtor in Sarasota who is originally from Burlington, Ont., said about 80 per cent of his Canadian customers are fully insured even though tougher building codes after hurricane Andrew have helped to minimize damage.

“Canadians tend to be, I would say, sober and pragmatic in their assessments of things and they’re a little less inclined to take big, crazy risks like some of the people in the states are.”

Florida’s insurance system has been strengthened since hurricane Andrew as the number of people living in coastal areas surged 27 per cent between 2000 and 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We feel that we’re in the best position we can be in at this time,” said Michael Peltier, spokesman for Florida’s public insurance provider.

 

IBC launches ‘Know Your Policy’ consumer awareness campaign

Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) is pleased to launch ‘Know Your Policy’, an online campaign designed to promote insurance literacy among Canadian consumers.

“A car collision, a home damaged by wind or hail and a business interrupted by vandalism or floods are risks that people face each day,” said Sally Turney, Vice-President, Communications, IBC. “After a loss happens, everyday life can change in many different ways. Now is the time to know your policy and better protect yourself.”

In a series of online tips and videos across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram, IBC will educate consumers on the importance of insurance, how to start a claim, how to buy insurance, and where they can go with insurance-related questions. This campaign will also help make sense of coverage limits, deductibles, and other complex policy items that all consumers should be familiar with.

“As consumers, we often invest a significant amount of time researching purchases for household or personal items than we do researching our insurance products,” added Turney. “For those who have insurance this campaign is designed to help consumers better understand why they should know what their policy covers. If you don’t have insurance for your car, home or business, now is the time to ask questions and protect your most-valuable assets.”

Consumers should contact their insurance representatives to review existing policies, or to start new ones.  Consumers should also talk to their insurers about any questions they might have and to make sure they are properly covered. In addition, they can also contact IBC’s consumer information centres across Canada by calling 1-844-2ASK-IBC.

Additional resources

About Insurance Bureau of Canada
Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) is the national industry association representing Canada’s private home, auto and business insurers. Its member companies make up 90% of the property and casualty (P&C) insurance market in Canada. For more than 50 years, IBC has worked with governments across the country to help make affordable home, auto and business insurance available for all Canadians. IBC supports the vision of consumers and governments trusting, valuing and supporting the private P&C insurance industry. It champions key issues and helps educate consumers on how best to protect their homes, cars, businesses and properties.

P&C insurance touches the lives of nearly every Canadian and plays a critical role in keeping businesses safe and the Canadian economy strong. It employs more than 120,000 Canadians, pays $9 billion in taxes and has a total premium base of $49 billion.

For media releases and more information, visit IBC’s Media Centre at www.ibc.ca. Follow IBC on Twitter @InsuranceBureauor like us on Facebook. If you have a question about home, auto or business insurance, contact IBC’s Consumer Information Centre at 1-844-2ask-IBC.

If you require more information, IBC spokespeople are available to discuss the details in this media release.

SOURCE Insurance Bureau of Canada 

Chief privacy czar ‘pleased’ with how B.C. auto insurer protects driver privacy

By Geordon Omand

THE CANADIAN PRESS

VANCOUVER _ British Columbia’s public auto insurer is “for the most part” fulfilling its duty to protect drivers’ personal information, but there is still room for improvement, the province’s privacy commissioner says.

B.C.’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner announced in February its intention to look into the information-sharing agreements used by the Insurance Corporation of B.C. to make sure it was complying with privacy legislation.

In a report released Wednesday, acting commissioner Drew McArthur said he was pleased with the findings, which concluded that disclosures by ICBC to approved third parties were generally “reasonable and proportionate.”

“The ability for individuals to control their own personal information is fundamental to protecting privacy … and is a right that citizens value,” he added.

“Public bodies need to have appropriate controls in place to protect the personal information they hold.”

The report makes 12 recommendations on how the Crown corporation can improve its information-sharing regime.

They include better tracking and review of third-party access to information, removing duplicate and outdated access of accounts of people who no longer work with authorized third parties, and conducting internal audits of the corporation’s information-sharing systems, policies and governance.

Deputy commissioner Jay Fedorak described ICBC’s database as one of the most important in the province, after the Medical Services Plan database.

“It’s extremely valuable. It contains personal information of almost every adult British Columbian,” Fedorak said in an interview.

“We believe that it’s really important, when there is this kind of sensitive information, that the public can have trust and confidence in how this information is being handled.”

ICBC issued a statement thanking the privacy commissioner for the report and it committed to implement all 12 recommendations.

“We take the protection of personal information records very seriously and accept the recommendations made in the report,” said spokeswoman Joanna Linsangen.

“We believe they will make our procedures even stronger, and have already undertaken efforts to address the commissioner’s recommendations.”

ICBC has come under fire in recent months as successive reports forecast the need for drastic rate hikes to save the floundering corporation from economic collapse.

B.C.’s first NDP government created ICBC in the 1970s to offer affordable, universal and basic auto coverage to the province’s drivers, but critics say political government interference in the intervening years has pushed the Crown corporation into financial distress.

Since taking office earlier this year, Attorney General David Eby announced a rate increase for basic insurance by 6.4 per cent, or $57 a year for the average driver.

Eby, who is also the minister in charge of ICBC, pledged to audit the Crown corporation’s operations and look for ways to reduce collisions, including broadening the use of red light cameras and cracking down on distracted driving.

You would not go years without maintaining your car; why would you neglect your furnace?

Imagine you have spent an entire week cooking, cleaning and decorating your home for the annual family reunion. You wake up the morning of your event and notice that it had snowed overnight which left the trees glistening in the sunlight and the temperatures dropping dramatically.  Shaking off a chill, you walk to the thermostat to turn on the furnace only to be greeted with nothing but silence. You have 20 people arriving in five hours and you have no heat!  On top of getting the final preparations ready for your guests you now have to scramble to find a HVAC technician who can care for your indoor climate.

When hiring a contractor, it is recommended that you do your homework and follow these important steps

  1. Visit BaeumlerApproved.ca for a list of vetted HVAC contractors in your area
  2. Visit online review forums for contractor customer reviews
  3. Once you have decided on a specific contractor, ask them for a copy of their certificate of insurance
  4. Make sure they are registered with WSIB and that they are in a good standing – www.wsib.ca
  5. Get a contract outlining the work to be done and the costs. Ensure you receive and approve change-orders for any work that goes outside of the scope of the original quote prior to the extra work being done.

Don’t get left out in the cold – inspect your furnace annually
It is common knowledge that if you drive a car without regular maintenance or oil changes, the engine will eventually cease and only be good for its parts. The same is true for your HVAC appliances. HVAC systems are complicated pieces of mechanical equipment subject to breakdowns and repairs without proper maintenance. It is generally recommended that furnaces be maintained annually in the fall prior to starting it up to reduce the chances of it breaking down in the dead of winter when it is needed the most.

Properly maintained HVAC systems can reduce your monthly energy bills
Annual maintenance programs will inspect and test all aspects of your system to ensure it runs efficiently and safely.

Technicians will check thermostat calibrations, tighten electrical connections, inspect condensate drains, clean and adjust the blower, check fuel line connections, lubricate moving parts, check system controls (start cycle, operation and shut-off sequence) as well as inspect gas pressure, burner combustion and heat exchangers. They will also check for any leaks which could cause carbon monoxide to leak into your home.

When your HVAC system runs inefficiently it needs to work harder to produce heat which increases the risk for failure, repairs and higher energy bills.  The cost of an annual maintenance program can improve your indoor comfort, extend the life of your HVAC system and ultimately save you money on your utility bills.  Find a ClimateCare HVAC retailer near you at www.BaeumlerApproved.ca or www.climatecare.com to learn about their maintenance programs so that you are not left in the cold this winter.

ABOUT ClimateCare Cooperative Corporation
ClimateCare is Canada’s largest network of independent heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems contractors.  They are 100% member owned and have operated that way since the cooperative was formed in 1992.  As a network of local businesses spread across Ontario, customers deal with companies that deliver the high standards associated with the ClimateCare name while supporting the local economy. Click here for a list of all ClimateCare locations.

The We Care Promise
ClimateCare’s members are committed to ongoing training and technical education so they can reliably provide great service and modern solutions.  All HVAC contractors agree to conduct business following the WE CARE promise of comfort, accountability, reliability and excellence.

ABOUT BaeumlerApproved.ca
BaeumlerApproved.ca was created to help homeowners connect with contractors, trades and home service providers across Canada by helping them know what to look for.  BaeumlerApproved.ca members must demonstrate a verifiable quality of work and customer satisfaction.  They submit to a screening process that includes BaeumlerApproved.ca gaining feedback from customers and companies that the applicant has collaborated with on projects.  Other screening criteria include online reviews, insurance coverage, worker’s compensation and maintaining appropriate professional certifications.

SOURCE ClimateCare Cooperative Corporation 

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