U.S. and Britain to Sign Pact After Brexit to Bring Stability to Insurance Industry

Members of the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office and the U.S. Treasury Department made a statement on December 11, 2018 that they have intentions to sign a post-Brexit bilateral insurance agreement with Britain that will bring regulatory stability and continuity to the industry.

According to officials the Agreement will be consistent with a similar one signed with the EU back in 2017.

Unless Brexit is somehow reversed, Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, 2019.

The timing of the announcement is not a coincidence. The U.S. Congress requires a 90-day notification period before it can be signed and officially put into effect.

U.S. officials say the pending agreement will affirm the U.S. state-based system of insurance regulation and should help in the competitiveness of U.S. insurance and reinsurance firms.

Antony Philliopson, Britain’s Trade Commissioner for North America, welcomed the announcement and said it’s an example of the work the British government is doing to ensure business continuity with the U.S. and said they will continue studying and looking into further bilateral trade ties.

Avoid costly mistakes with the car buyer’s checklist

Avoid costly mistakes with the car buyer’s checklist

By Philip Reed

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

In the excitement of buying a new (or used) car it’s easy to forget critical details that wind up costing you money. I learned this over more than a decade of buying dozens of test cars for the automotive site Edmunds. No matter how much experience I got, I always consulted my car-buying checklist and updated it based on what I learned.

Once you’ve decided on the type of car you want, the buying process can be divided into two sections: research and dealmaking. This breaks a seemingly overwhelming job into smaller, more doable tasks.

Here is your car-buying checklist the crucial steps to help you get the wheels you want at the right price.

RESEARCH

These steps help you locate the specific vehicle you want to buy and strengthen your position when it’s time to negotiate.

1. CONFIGURE YOUR CAR. Go to the carmaker’s website and decide which model (often called the “trim level”) you want and what options you need.

2. CHECK PRICING. Using car sites like Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book or TrueCar, find the car’s real market value price, which is what others are paying for it.

3. LOOK FOR INCENTIVES. Check the carmaker’s site for incentives, such as customer cash back or low-interest financing, on the model you want.

4. LOCATE YOUR CAR. Search the inventory of local dealerships to find the exact car you want to buy. Write down the stock number or vehicle identification number (VIN).

5. CHECK YOUR CREDIT. Your credit score will give you a sense of the interest rate you’re likely to get. This is especially important for borrowers with fair to poor credit (generally below 690), who may face higher rates.

6. RUN THE NUMBERS. Use an auto loan calculator to estimate your monthly car payment to ensure that it fits your budget. For the car price, you can use the true market value.

7. GET PREAPPROVED FINANCING. Apply for a car loan before going to the dealership so you’ll know your interest rate. You can still use dealership financing if they can beat the preapproval rate.

8. ROUND UP YOUR PAPERWORK. You’ll need to bring the following to the dealership:

– Preapproved loan information.

– Driver’s license.

– Proof of insurance.

– Funds for your down payment.

If you’re trading in your old car, you’ll also need the current title, registration and loan information.

DEALMAKING

If you hate haggling, consider emailing the dealership’s internet manager for price quotes. But assuming you’re going old school and negotiating in person, here’s what to do:

1. TEST-DRIVE THE CAR. Even if you’ve already decided on a car, test drive it again to verify your choice and confirm it has the options you selected.

2. START THE NEGOTIATION. Tell the salesperson you’ve shopped around and priced similar models. Then, ask for the dealership’s best price. If they won’t name a price, make an opening offer at least $1,000 below the true market value price.

3. SEND A MESSAGE. If the salesperson says  “I’ll take your offer to my boss,” don’t wait meekly in the sales office. Instead, be unpredictable. Wander around the dealership. Believe me, they’ll find you in a hurry.

4. MAKE A COUNTEROFFER. If your first offer isn’t accepted, consider raising your price by $250 until you reach an agreement or the true market value price.

5. GET AN OUT-THE-DOOR PRICE. Before you agree to any deal, ask for an out-the-door price with a breakdown of fees and any extras.

6. BE READY FOR UPSELLS. Once you reach an agreement with your salesperson, the finance and insurance manager will draw up the contract. But first, you’ll be pitched extras, such as an extended warranty, paint protection and anti-theft devices. Be ready to say “no” or buy these later.

7. REVIEW YOUR CONTRACT. Check the contract for any add-ons you didn’t ask for. Make sure the numbers match what you agreed to in the sales office and your own estimates.

8. GET IT IN WRITING. If anything is missing, like spare keys or an owner’s manual, or if any work is promised on the car, get it in writing. This is called a  “due bill.”

9. CHECK THE GAS GAUGE. New cars are sold with a full tank of gas. Check the fuel level before you leave the lot.

There are other ways to buy cars, but this checklist covers the most common dealership transaction. Keep it with you as protection and a money-saver the next time you go car shopping.

_______

This article was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet . Phil Reed is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: preed?nerdwallet.com .

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Massive, extended data breach at Marriott’s Starwood hotels

BETHESDA, Md. _ A security breach at one of North America’s largest hotel groups, which includes the Sheraton, Westin, Starwood and Marriott brands, has exposed the personal information of as many as 500 million guests.

Marriott International, Inc. said Friday that credit card numbers and expiration dates of some guests may have been taken but it hasn’t yet determined if the payment information has been decrypted. It said that it learned during an investigation that began in September that there had been “unauthorized access” to the Starwood reservation data since 2014.

For as many as two-thirds of those affected, exposed data could include mailing address, phone number, email address, passport number, Starwood Preferred Guest account information, date of birth, gender, arrival and departure information, reservation date and communication preferences. For some guests, the information was limited to name and sometimes other data such as mailing address, email address or other information.

“We fell short of what our guests deserve and what we expect of ourselves,” CE0 Arne Sorenson said in a prepared statement.  “We are doing everything we can to support our guests, and using lessons learned to be better moving forward.”

Marriott said email notifications to those who may have been affected will begin rolling out Friday.

Corey Larocque, a spokesperson with the Canadian Office of the Privacy Commissioner, said Marriott informed the office of the breach today and the office is “following up” with the company.

Due to confidentiality, Larocque said he could not provide further details, but said the commissioner has not opended a formal investigation or received complaints around the breach.

Marriott acquired Starwood Hotels in 2016. When their merger was announced in November 2015, Marriott had 54 million members of its loyalty program and Starwood had 21 million. Many travellers were members in both programs.

When the merger was first announced in 2015, Starwood had 21 million people in its loyalty program.

The company manages more than 6,700 properties across the globe. Most are in North America.

Asked for more details on the 500 million number, Marriott spokesman Jeff Flaherty said Friday that the company has not finished identifying duplicate information in the database.

While the breach affected “approximately 500 million guests” who made a reservation at one of the affected hotels, some of those records could include a single person who booked multiple stays.

While the first impulse for those potentially affected by the breach could be to check credit cards, security experts say other information in the database could be more damaging.

“The names, addresses, passport numbers and other sensitive personal information that was exposed is of greater concern than the payment info, which was encrypted,” said analyst Ted Rossman of CreditCards.com. “People should be concerned that criminals could use this info to open fraudulent accounts in their names.”

An internal security tool signalled a potential breach in early September, but the company was unable to decrypt the information that would define what data had potentially been exposed until last week.

Marriott, based in Bethesda, Maryland, said in a regulatory filing that it’s premature to estimate what financial impact the data breach will have on the company. It noted that it does have cyberinsurance, and is working with its insurance carriers to assess coverage.

The Starwood breach stands out among even the largest security hacks on record. Hilton had two separate data breaches that exposed more than 350,000 credit card numbers. One breach began in November 2014 and another in April 2015. Yahoo had a data breaches in 2013 and 2014 that impacted about 3 billion of its accounts. Target also had an incident in 2013 that affected more than 41 million customer payment card accounts and exposed contact information for more than 60 million customers.

The reaction to the breach was swift Friday.

The New York Attorney General opened an investigation. Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, co-founder of the Senate cybersecurity caucus and the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said that the U.S. needs laws that will limit the data companies can collect on its customers.

“It is past time we enact data security laws that ensure companies account for security costs rather than making their consumers shoulder the burden and harms resulting from these lapses,” Warner said in a prepared statement.

Marriott has had a rocky process of merging its computer system with Starwood computers. Members of both loyalty programs have complained about missing points, glitches with stays crediting to their accounts and problems with free nights earned from credit cards not appearing.

Sorenson said that Marriott is still trying to phase out Starwood systems.

Marriott has set up a website and call centre for anyone who thinks that they are at risk.

Shares of Marriott tumbled 5 per cent at the opening bell.

With files from The Canadian Press.

Earthquake weary Alaskans still grappling with damage

By Rachel D’Oro

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

ANCHORAGE, Alaska _ Life was beginning to return to normal Monday in Alaska following the powerful earthquake near Anchorage, but people nervous about aftershocks were still grappling with damage that closed public buildings and schools, clogged roads and knocked homes off foundations.

Some residents went back to work. But state transportation officials again urged people who live north and south of Anchorage to take the day off or work from home to reduce traffic.

Rockfalls were still occurring along cliff-lined Seward Highway, while major repairs were underway on hard-hit Glenn Highway, the main road leading north of the city, Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meadow Bailey said.

“We don’t want the commute to be frustrating because people will experience delays,” she said.

Residents still jittery from the 7.0 quake on Friday have been rattled even further by more than 1,700 aftershocks. A dozen have had magnitudes of 4.5 or greater.

“Anything that moves, you’re on your last nerve,” said Anchorage resident Lyn Matthews, whose home sustained substantial structural damage, including a sunken foundation.

Matthews, who was back at work at a chiropractor’s office, and her husband have no earthquake insurance.

“I’m scared to death,” she said.

The earthquake struck 7 miles (11 kilometres) north of Anchorage, swaying buildings, disrupting power and causing heavy damage to Glenn Highway.

There were no reports of deaths, serious injuries or widespread catastrophic damage in the state with strict building codes implemented after a 1964 earthquake with a magnitude of 9.2 _ the second most powerful of any quake ever recorded.

No outbreaks of disease or other major health problems have been reported.

Still, federal officials declared a public health emergency on Monday, saying the action will ensure that Medicaid funds continue to be issued despite the temporary closure of offices. Mental health aid is also available for people being stressed by the disaster.

“Remember, whatever you’re feeling right now is valid,” Anchorage Health and Human Services director Natasha Pineda said at a weekend briefing.

Earthquake forecasts cited a 4 per cent chance of another earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 or greater in the first week after the first quake.

“The chance is very small, but it’s not impossible,” U.S. Geological Survey Geophysicist Paul Caruso said.

The federal courthouse in Anchorage was among structures that remained closed. Officials said the U.S. District Court and the attached federal building in Anchorage will be closed at least through Thursday following a preliminary evaluation by the General Services Administration.

GSA spokesman Chad Hutson said boilers in the federal building were leaking, leaving it without heat.

The nearby Historic Federal Building, where the bankruptcy court is located, also remained closed. Officials said it will be ready to reopen once minor cleanup is complete.

Schools have been closed until Dec. 10, which should also reduce traffic. An elementary school in the Anchorage suburb of Eagle River has been deemed unsafe to occupy, while multiple other campuses in the region are undergoing repairs and cleanup, according to the Anchorage School District.

A middle school in the small town of Houston north of Anchorage likely will remain closed through the year.

The supply chain of food and other goods delivered to the Port of Anchorage from the Lower 48 has not been disrupted.

About 90 per cent of all the goods sold in Alaska are delivered to the Port of Anchorage, where officials have completed a preliminary damage assessment. There were some structural issues with some trestles, but nothing that should impede operations, according to Municipal Manager Bill Falsey.

___

Associated Press Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed to this report.

Fire weary California homeowners face long road to recovery

By Sarah Skidmore Sell

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Californians who lost a home to the state’s wildfires could face a nightmarish recovery as they try to rebuild.

It’s always a challenge to recuperate after any disaster, but California residents face a unique problem. Experts say the seemingly endless series of devastating wildfires in recent years has increased costs and limited the available pool of workers needed to rebuild.

Homeowners can also find themselves confused by the insurance system and even underinsured, leaving them to bear more of the costs of rebuilding than they might have expected.

Blazes have been so frequent that the state government recently passed a spate of laws intended to help victims of wildfires, but experts say it can still sometimes take years for a home to be rebuilt.

California is currently fighting three fires the Camp Fire in the northern part of the state and the Woolsey and Hill fires just outside of Los Angeles in the south. Statewide, thousands of people have been evacuated, more than 225,000 acres have burned and 44 people have died.

The Camp Fire is now deemed the most deadly in the state’s history killing at least 42 people and burning more than 125,000 acres. That follows this summer’s Mendocino Complex fire, which burned more than 459,000 acres and led to more than $56 million in insured losses, and a particularly brutal fire season in 2017.

Credit rating agency Moody’s on Monday estimated that insured losses for the three current fires will be between $3 billion and $6 billion. The staggering price tag is due in part to the size of the fires but also the costs of rebuilding  both materials and labour.

Dan Dunmoyer, president and CEO of the California Building Industry Association, said builders were having trouble finding enough workers prior to the fires because of high demand for housing in the state. The spate of fires has only worsened the problem and that adds to the delay for consumers.

“If your home burns down by itself, you have no problem rebuilding, but if it burns down with 2,000 others, you have to wait,” Dunmoyer said.

Homeowners also sometimes find themselves struggling to navigate the insurance system.

United Policyholders, a non-profit that aims to help consumers with insurance issues, said that it regularly hears from policyholders struggling with their insurer following a disaster. Policies may not have been updated in some time or estimates of rebuilding costs were too low, so homeowners find themselves on the hook for large expenses. The group estimates, based on polls of communities affected by disasters, that roughly two-thirds of insured households are underinsured. Or, they simply are struggling to jump through the hoops.

“The insurance piece really gets people because they felt like it was the rug getting pulled out from under them,” said Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders. “OK, I lost everything, but at least I have insurance. But then insurance is a fight.”

While it can be a smooth process for some, others feel like “mother nature just took my house, now insurance took my sanity,” she said.

The process became so problematic that a series of laws were passed to help protect homeowners.

Under the new rules, homeowners have three years to rebuild and a six-month extension if the delays are out of their control. Insurance companies must also now provide an updated cost for rebuilding every time a policyholder renews, to help prevent the sticker shock some victims suffered. Other changes allow more time to sue their insurer following a declared disaster, given that it now takes longer to rebuild.

All the same, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones has expressed disappointment the state couldn’t do more. Californians are still able to find property and casualty insurance, although Jones has previously warned that the increasing number and severity of wildfires will limit availability and increase costs in the future.

Colorado lawsuit could ripple through US cannabis industry

By Kathleen Foody

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

DENVER _ A federal trial in Colorado could have far-reaching effects on the United States’ budding marijuana industry if a jury sides with a couple who say having a cannabis business as a neighbour hurts their property’s value.

The trial set to begin Monday in Denver is the first time a jury will consider a lawsuit using federal anti-racketeering law to target cannabis companies. But the marijuana industry has closely watched the case since 2015, when attorneys with a Washington, D.C.-based firm first filed their sweeping complaint on behalf of Hope and Michael Reilly.

One of the couple’s lawyers, Brian Barnes, said they bought the southern Colorado land for its views of Pikes Peak and have since built a house on the rural property. They also hike and ride horses there.

But they claim “pungent, foul odours” from a neighbouring indoor marijuana grow have hurt the property’s value and their ability to use and enjoy it.

“That’s just not right,” Barnes said. “It’s not right to have people in violation of federal law injuring others.”

An attorney for the business targeted by the suit plans to argue the couple’s property has not been damaged, relying in part on the county’s tax valuations of the Reillys’ land ticking up over time.

Vulnerability to similar lawsuits is among the many risks facing marijuana businesses licensed by states but still violating federal law. Suits using the same strategy have been filed in California, Massachusetts and Oregon.

Mirroring the Reilly complaint, several claim the smell of marijuana damages neighbouring owners’ ability to enjoy their land or harms their property value.

The question now is whether jurors accept the argument.

“They can claim a $1 million drop in property value, but if a jury does not agree and says $5,000, that’s not that big of a deal,” said Rob Mikos, a Vanderbilt University law professor who specializes in drug law. “That’s why there are a lot of eyes on the case.”

Congress created the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act better known as RICO to target the Mafia in the 1970s, allowing prosecutors to argue leaders of a criminal enterprise should pay a price along with lower-level defendants.

But the anti-racketeering law also allows private parties to file lawsuits claiming their business or property has been damaged by a criminal enterprise. Those who prove it can be financially compensated for damages times three, plus attorneys’ expenses.

Starting in 2015, opponents of the marijuana industry decided to use the strategy against companies producing or selling marijuana products, along with investors, insurers, state regulators and other players. Cannabis companies immediately saw the danger of high legal fees or court-ordered payouts.

That concern only grew when a Denver-based federal appeals court ruled in 2017 that the Reillys could use anti-racketeering law to sue the licensed cannabis grower neighbouring their property.Insurance companies and other entities originally named in the Reillys’ suit have gradually been removed, some after reaching financial settlements out of court.

The case focuses on property in Pueblo County, where local officials saw marijuana as an opportunity to boost an area left behind by the steel industry. Most Colorado counties ban outdoor grows, forcing pot cultivators to find expensive warehouse space.

Pueblo officials positioned their sunny, flat plains as the alternative. They created financial incentives in hopes of drawing growers to outdoor fields or cavernous buildings left vacant by other industries.

Parker Walton was among the early comers, buying 40 acres in the rural town of Rye in 2014.

Barnes said the Reillys made three separate land purchases between 2011 and 2014, gradually reaching more than 100 acres. They learned about plans for the marijuana business bordering their final purchase four months after completing the sale, he said.

Walton put up a 5,000-square-foot (465-square-meter) building to grow and harvest marijuana plants indoors. The Reillys filed their lawsuit in early 2015. A year later, Walton announced the company’s first harvest via Instagram, snapping a photo of a strain dubbed ‘Purple Trainwreck” hanging to cure in a dim room.

Fewer than five people including Walton work for the company, which sells its products to retail stores, his attorney, Matthew Buck said.

Buck said he’s confident jurors will decide the Reillys’ property has not been harmed. Buck warned, though, that defending against a similar lawsuit comes at a high cost for marijuana businesses while plaintiffs with support from a large law firm have little to lose.

Cooper & Kirk, the firm handling the couple’s suit, has a conservative reputation, including a founding partner who worked for the U.S. Justice Department during the Reagan administration. Barnes said members of the firm were “troubled” as states began legalizing the adult use of marijuana because of the inherent conflict with federal law, and they brainstormed legal strategies.

Walton created a website this month to raise money for his defence. He wrote that a loss could jeopardize “all legal cannabis operations in all states.”

But some lawyers who have defended companies in similar lawsuits said those fears are overhyped.

Adam Wolf, a California attorney, said he believes the suits are primarily intended to scare third-party companies into cutting ties with marijuana firms or persuading cannabis companies to shut down. But long-term, Wolf said the U.S. Supreme Court has curtailed lawsuits making civil racketeering claims against other industries.

Courts could apply the same logic to cannabis, he argued.

“What the plaintiffs seemed to be saying is anybody who touched, in any matter, any marijuana business is potentially liable,” Wolf said.  “And that is a soundly rejected argument by the courts.”

Barnes, though, said the number of racketeering lawsuits awaiting action suggests attorneys with no ties to his firm believe in the strategy.

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