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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Insurance Claim Hints

I recently had a fire in my workshop caused by a powerline surge. My AAA homeowners insurance paid for some of the loss and a lot of cleanup. In the process I learned a lot about what to tell the insurance company when submitting a claim and how they determine payment. I am sharing this information so that others might have a chance to be less screwed.

First I need to mention that it is my impression that insurance companies will do or say anything to delay and minimize payment. Do not trust anything said to you by an agent. Anything you do not have in writing (e-mail does seem to have the power of paper today) is essentially worthless. Agents will intentionally mislead you and or make promises they have no intention of keeping. You may make decisions based on this information and find later that you made a bad choice but that it is too late to change. So get everything in writing and write down the name of every person you speak to.

Property loss compensation is subject to some very confusing rules intended to minimize payment, however (with AAA at least) the need for documentation is minimal affording an opportunity to influence the eventual payment. I was unaware of these rules and lost quite a lot of money.

The two most important considerations are "replacement cost vs. actual value" and depreciation. If you have a replacement cost policy you may be paid the cost to replace your lost property with equivalent items but you will need to replace the items within a fairly short period of time. If you can not replace an item or have no place to house it because your house is gone or uninhabitable or if you would rather have cash and not a replacement item, you should consider taking "actual value" instead.

Actual value has little to do with the actual value of an item. Actual value is based on purchase price minus depreciation. There are some exceptions for things like art and possibly some collectibles or antiques so ask your insurer in advance as to how they treat these items and be prepared for a a bunch of double talk and confusion. Get everything in writing or fight your way through your policy declarations with the help of a lawyer or two to make sense out of it.

Depreciation can be considerable. For tools (including ones that suffer no wear in time and actually increase in value) the depreciation may be 5% per year with a maximum of 80%. That wonderful Starrett tool you bought 20 years ago for $400 will be compensated at $80 even though it costs $1500 to replace today.

Now for the most helpful hints:

The insurance company is not likely to require proof of purchase price especially for an item purchased 20 years ago. They took my word on everything I claimed. I made the mistake of being honest. If you got a great deal, do not tell the insurance company, it will only reduce your payment. Present the highest reasonable purchase price for every item and set the purchase date as close to the present as is believable.

Take pictures of everything you own and keep copies where they will not be destroyed in a fire or other disaster. This may be your only proof that you actually owned the items.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Rural Cell Phone Fix? change home SID

I live in a remote rural location where cell phone coverage is marginal at best. The mountains make it especially difficult to receive a signal in some places. My house is the worst cell reception location on my property. I have a signal booster, sold by Wilson Electronics that makes it possible to use the phone at the house. Previously I used a "yagi" antenna pointed at the closest tower but this required an external antenna connection on the phone and these are very rare on new phones today. The Wilson U-Booster "Sleek" is only about $100 and works with all phones.

The remaining problem is that I have Verizon as a carrier and all of their phones are programmed to switch to Verizon equipment whenever it is available, instead of roaming on another carrier's system. This would be fine if the connection worked. The phones only seem to check the receive signal strength and don't bother to test the connection before switching. I have used various techniques such as trying to shield the antenna from the Verizon signal but this has pretty much stopped working especially with my new phone.

It seems that one key to choosing a connection is the use of preferred SID. Every carrier has a SID number for each area they operate in. Boundaries are often county lines but not always. When a phone checks for available services, it compares the SID of the available signals to the preferred roaming list in the phone. I am not sure how to change this list if it is in fact a list. This is what "updating roaming" seems to do.

For me, changing the "home SID" seems to help the phone stay on the carrier of my choice. You can get lists of nationwide SIDs from the following three pages.

If you know the carrier that provides better service to your area, you can change your home SID to this number if you can access your phones settings. For my phone, this requires "manual programming" mode. I have listed the procedure below but it probably works only for some LG phones. I got the secret procedure from Verizon. They will not tell you anything other than their own local SID but you can probably get them to talk you through the procedure for manual programming on you phone. Pretend that you can not update roaming because there is no Verizon equipment in your area. They will be glad to help you change the SID to one that will not work. I changed my SID from 1076 (Verizon Mendocino) to 1075 (US Cellular Mendocino) To accomplish the same, you will need to find the SID of the best facility in your remote area.

This works on an LG Accolade. Other phones will probably require different manual programming access codes. If anyone knows the codes for other Verizon phones, I will make a list and publish them all.

Key the following as if you were keying a number. ##77647265600 and then press "send" Enter 000000 as the "service code" From the menu that displays, choose the first option "service pro" Click OK until you get to the "Home sid" display. Record the number shown in case you need to restore it. After editing the number, click "OK" until the phone re-boots.

I will maintain a list of manual programming access codes if I am able to get them for other phones. Please contact me if you have any codes to add to the list.