How the Grinches Steal Christmas

by Mark Goldwich

 The sad reality is that thousands of grinches steal thousands of Christmases, every single year. They always have, and they always will. It is very unfortunate when it happens to others, and devastating when it happens to you. I’m going to try to point out the ways I have personally seen this happen in my career as an insurance adjuster, and some ways you can either reduce the risk of this happening to you, or at least ways to minimize your losses should it happen despite your best efforts.

Image courtesy of
When can grinches strike? Anytime from when you are shopping for gifts, to after they are given. Thieves know the malls are full of people with extra cash and valuable gifts walking around, often distracted by sights, sounds, and smells (invariably,cinnamon). You can be targeted by pick-pockets if you are not careful, or people who are quick to snatch up a package being set down for a second, or those who will grab things right out of your arms. There are also those who scour parking lots looking for easy targets loaded with bags and boxes. A common ploy is to watch someone load up their car trunk full of gifts and return to the mall for more shopping. There’s more than one way to get into the trunk or car, and off they go with your goodies – receipts and all!

From the mall, you can be followed home (or to your next destination) for another chance to abscond with the gifts before you get them in the home, or they can simply make note of the address and return another time. And since most homes have new purchases under the trees this time of year, it is not difficult to look in windows and see which homes make the best targets. Or, thieves can even wait until after Christmas, and drive around looking at all the empty boxes being left at the curb, too large for trash cans.

I have handled all kinds of these holiday theft claims over the years, and it is always sad when someone loses all their presents (or their family’s presents). And as an adjuster, I also know they are probably not getting the claim paid before the New Year, and not until long after their Christmas has been ruined.

Image courtesy of
So what’s the best ways to stop these grinches from stealing your Christmas? Common sense, mostly. First, know that the threat is out there. That alone will make you more aware of your surroundings when you are walking around the mall, or in stores. Consider purchasing gifts with credit cards, especially those that offer theft insurance protection. You will not only document your purchase this way, but you may get reimbursed easier than going to your insurance company, and without as large a deductible.

If you need to drop off gifts at the car and go back for more, I recommend getting in the car after placing the gifts in the trunk, and then driving around to the other side of the mall, so it looks like you are just arriving to shop. When you are leaving the mall for home, beware of cars following you, and drive past your home and go around the block, then double back to see if anyone is following.

Once home, be aware of anyone watching you bring presents inside, and don’t leave the car unattended or out of sight for any length of time. Close your trunk and lock your doors every time you have to take a load of gifts into the house. In the home, be sure to lock all doors and windows, and use an alarm if you have one. Take pictures of the gifts before they are wrapped, and make copies of your receipts, just in case. After Christmas, don’t put empty gift boxes at the curb – take and dispose of them somewhere else, or cut them up so they can fit inside your garbage cans. All of these things can reduce the size of the target, and since not everyone will do this, people other than you will likely present an easier target for crooks looking for the surest victims.

Image courtesy of
And if despite all your care, a grinch makes off with your Jing Tinglers, Flu Floopers, your Tar Tinkers and Who Hoovers, just know if you can document what you purchased, and that it was stolen, your insurance claim will go that much easier. Call the police right away, and give them a complete list of everything stolen (if they don’t get everything listed right away, be sure to provide them with a supplemental list that includes absolutely everything).

Adjusters hear stories every year of people using Christmas bonuses (cash, of course) to buy expensive items that are well above their means, with no proof of purchase whatsoever. Because of this, they expect people will throw in a few extra items from their “wish list”, even if they did really suffer a holiday theft, and they may be extra suspicious when it comes to paying these types of claims. Oftentimes these cynical and callous adjusters seem as cold-hearted as the grinch that actually stole the gifts. The better you can document your claim (receipts, invoices, credit card statements, photos, police report, etc.), the faster your claim should be settled, with as little hassle as possible.
Image courtesy of

Like it or not, the grinches are out there, and we may not be able to stop them all by singing a heartwarming (and3-times heart-growing) rendition of The Who Song (Fahoo Fores, Dahoo Dores), but we can take a number of steps to reduce our chances of falling victim, and if it happens anyway, learn ways to make the recovery process go smoother. Welcome Christmas, one and all.

Mark Goldwich is president of Gold Star Adjusters, a group of public insurance adjusters dedicated to helping citizens get the maximum settlement for any insurance claim.  

Don't Let Your HVAC System Spell HAVOC

by Mark Goldwich

Image courtesy of
Tucked away in hallway closets or in corners of garages, air conditioner air handlers quietly go about their business of keeping the temperature of your living space at a comfortable level. Year after year they go about their duty, all while out of sight and out of mind. Wrapped in an unassuming metal box filled with wires, tubes, and fans they use gases that convert warm air to cool air. In the process they create a surplus of condensate (water), that must be carried away by a drain pipe (if all goes according to plan).

You might not expect this to be the case, but air conditioner leaks – especially from the inside air handlers on central air units – are a very common source of water leaks that result in millions of dollars in property damage every year. 

Now, I am not an expert on WHY central air conditioners leak, or even HOW they work, but in my experience, both as a homeowner and also as a property damage insurance claim adjuster for nearly 30 years, these A/C leaks are typically the result of two main problems: 1) algae forming in a condensation line; and 2) ice forming on air handler coils. To really understand the whys and hows better, you need to talk to an HVAC professional.

When algae forms inside a relatively narrow condensation line, leading from the air handler to the exterior of the property, it eventually blocks the line, causing the condensed water that is trying to escape, to back up (technically, this is a “fill up”, not a back up). This creates an overflow inside the limited space inside the pan. From there, the water having nowhere else to go, winds up on the floor, and depending on the location of the air handler, and how long you go without noticing, you can have anything from a small puddle, to gallons and gallons of water everywhere.

Have you ever gone outside and watched water stream from a condensation line for a few minutes? If you have, you know the stream can be fairly heavy, and surprisingly steady. Now imagine how much water would drain from that line over the course of an entire day (or several, if you are away from home). It could be a lot of water. Finally, imagine the damage all of that water can cause inside your home!

Think about the damage that could create on flooring, baseboards, drywall, paint or wallpaper, vanities and kitchen cabinets, furniture, and anything else placed on the floor (from books to clothing to electronics, and more). If you are lucky, the cleanup can begin before mildew and mold start to grow, but the costs can still be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Image courtesy of
The same can be true for ice forming on the coils, usually because the air filter is not changed as often as it should be, and the coil fins get clogged and fail. Once the frozen ice thaws (and it always will), the melting water usually ends up on the floor, causing the kinds of damage noted above, but usually in smaller amounts.

Fortunately, there are ways to greatly reduce the risk for having one of these air conditioner “meltdowns”. Proper maintenance is key. Replace the air filters regularly, and check the coil fins for dust and dirt. You can also have a shut-off switch installed so water won’t continue to back up if the condensate line is blocked, and regularly use a solution to keep algae from building up in the drain line to begin with.(Check out a blogpost by an HVAC professional at 

If the A/C unit is in a rental property, don’t assume the tenant is maintaining it properly. Either you, a property management company, or a professional HVAC firm should be inspecting the unit regularly to ensure it is being well maintained.

But let’s say you do have an A/C leak, which is almost always a covered loss (unless your insurance company has added an endorsement to exclude water loss claims, as more and more seem to be doing) – what can you expect as a result of submitting this type of insurance claim?

As is too often the case, the answer is…that depends. It depends on the type of policy you have, the extent of the damage, and the insurance adjuster assigned. It also depends on whether or not you are skilled and experienced in handling claims like this, or if you have professional claim representation to assist you in getting all the policy and claim benefits you are entitled to.

I have personally seen cases like this denied because, as you can imagine, A/Cs may leak some water from time to time, and sometimes it appears as if the A/C was leaking for a prolonged period of time (which is often excluded), rather than leaking small amounts at various times over the years, and then suddenly leaking a large amount of water all at once (which is usually covered).

To receive a Free Copy fill out the form below.

The claim adjuster for the insurance company make look under or behind the A/C, see what appears to be long-term damage to flooring or baseboards, maybe even some rot or mold from years ago, and quickly conclude the loss is denied based on it being a “continuous or repeated leakage or seepage of water which results in wet or dry rot or mold”. This happens all the time, and not just with A/C leaks, but all types of water leaks in various places in the home or property.

And while the insurance company will send out an official denial letter on company letterhead, with all kinds of technical language captured directly from your insurance policy, that does not mean you have to accept what they say. We get these types of claims paid in many cases – most of them, actually! Oddly enough, what can look like a slam-dunk denial to an insurance company, very often ends up being a paid claim when an experienced public adjuster is involved.

Mark Goldwich is president of Gold Star Adjusters, a group of public insurance adjusters dedicated to helping citizens get the maximum settlement for any insurance claim.  

Tis the Season for Home Fires

by Mark Goldwich

Although we’re thankfully past hurricane season, and once again, we (especially those of us in Florida and other hurricane prone regions of the U.S.) have again fared better than predicted. We had a close call or two, but no hits to the State. Still, we can not afford to let our guard down. 

Image courtesy of
As temperatures drop, a new disaster season begins – that of home fires.  Whether from space heaters, fireplaces, holiday candles, Christmas tree lights, cooking accidents, or a variety of other sources, the end of hurricane season on November 30 each year seems to mark the beginning of home fire season. 

I’ve talked about home fires before, but with incidents involving home fires on the rise, it’s worth pointing out a few important items to reinforce some key concepts.

Just as you did for hurricane season, make sure you have a plan for fire season.  Have a plan for detecting fires (replacing batteries), putting out fires (fire extinguishers), escape routes, alternative meeting locations, calling assignments, disaster kits (for people and animals), temporary living, disaster cash, and of course, plans for documenting your claim to your insurance company (this begins with having insurance to begin with, and keeping your insurance up-to-date based on your changing needs.

Image courtesy of
Did you know that it’s your responsibility to prove to the insurance company what you owned when your home burns to the ground?  You may pay for $100,000 (or much more) in personal property coverage, but you may only receive payment for what you can both remember and prove that you owned. 

I once had a client that lost well over $100,000 worth of belongings when her 2-story home of over 40 years burned to the ground. Tragically, her husband perished in the fire. Would you believe her “top-notch” insurance company would only pay her for about $40,000 in property because that is all she could remember in her traumatized state of mind?

This is why I highly recommend you consider photographing, filming and listing all your possessions, or at least your most valuable ones, and keep copies (with receipts, owners manuals, and appraisals) in more than one location and/or in a fire and waterproof safe.

A fire at this time of year can really ruin your holidays, and let’s face it, no matter how well you plan for the disaster, or how well you can handle the insurance claim, your holidays will be forever marred by the fire. Your home will not be rebuilt in time to host family, and you may not be able to purchase all the gifts you would like to for the family, but surviving the fire is step 1, and dealing with the aftermath is step 2. Rather than dwell on what was lost, make the best of what you have, and look forward to what can once again be possible.
Image courtesy of

I have a family I am working with right now, that suffered a fire very early in the season. It seems an
electrical fire began without warning in the garage, and quickly spread to the rest of the home. The home, and most of the contents, were badly damaged. This family will be without their home for the holidays, but they found a similar rental home just a few blocks away, and this is covered by most insurance policies (don’t let them stick you in a cheap hotel for an extended period of time).

And while they got out of the home safely, they escaped with little more than the clothes on their backs. Fortunately in this case, the insurance company gave them an advance on their claim for personal property, so they can buy needed clothing and other essentials without having to overextend themselves on credit cards. If you ever found yourself in a similar situation, and your insurance company refused to give you such an advance, I would take that as a bad sign of things to come. You should ask for an explanation in writing, and consider complaining to a higher level of management at the insurance company, if not the Department of Insurance in your State. You should also consider getting professional assistance on your claim.

What did happen in this case, once I was hired, was the insurance company immediately called the insured, questioned them for hiring me, and told them to check their agreement with me as they may still be able to cancel that agreement (in Florida, insureds have 3 days to cancel a Public Adjuster agreement). While highly unethical, it is not uncommon for insurance company representatives to try to prevent insureds from getting profession help (care to guess why?).

The other thing they did immediately upon notice of my representation, was agree the home was a total loss, so I would not be entitled to any fee based on that payment, which was fine with me. I was confident there would be other ways for me to assist the insured.

Fill out the form below for your Free copy.

Remember, not all disasters come with names and media coverage – or warning – like hurricanes do.  The best time to be prepared is always…now! Also keep in mind you have rights, as well as responsibilities, that come with your insurance policy. If you are ever unsure of what those rights might be, all you have to do is ask. You can start by asking the insurance company, but if questions remain, I highly recommend you ask a true advocate, not someone hired by the insurance company to protect their interests.

Fires and other disasters can really put a damper on your holiday plans, but they don’t have to ruin your life.

Mark Goldwich is president of Gold Star Adjusters, a group of public insurance adjusters dedicated to helping citizens get the maximum settlement for any insurance claim.