Arkkeo Blog

Author: ann

Protecting your important records in case of fire or other disaster

Photo credit: Esko Kilpi 6/2013

Just the other evening a massive fire broke out in an old boathouse adjacent to the Helsinki shoreline only a few blocks from where I live. Coincidentally, it happened at the same time that I was on the phone with my parents in Colorado who were reporting on a wildfire that was raging out of control just 40 miles from where they live – a blaze that had quite quickly destroyed 500 homes. As I listened to them tell me about the Colorado devastation, I was watching with my own eyes the speed and ferocity at which a fire can destroy. It immediately got me thinking (and saddened) about all the tragedy we see each year where peoples’ homes and properties are completely decimated and lives lost due to fire or weather related disaster.

Are we really as prepared as we should be?

What kind of records would be needed to rebuild life should this kind of unexpected tragedy hit? What if a family member was injured and needed medical care, would we have the right documents to get the care we needed? What would happen if we lost our mobile phones – would we have quick and easy access to our important contacts?  Would we have the appropriate documents at our fingertips in order to file a claim? Would our loved ones be able to manage our affairs should we be faced with serious injury or die?

Anyhow, I’m not a doom and gloom kind of person but it was definitely a reminder of how fast and furiously fire or other disaster can strike and it also reminded me that I’m far from being as prepared as I should be. So, I decided to do a bit of research and found some good articles and advice about what everyone should have securely and remotely stored (eg. backed up) in the case that a major emergency were to happen. I thought I’d summarize their advice and post it here as it serves as a good reminder for all of us. And at least for me, getting these things more organized will be part of my summer to-do list.

The basics

  • A list of all your important personal and account numbers:  investment, retirement & bank accounts, credit card, insurance policy, driver’s license, social security, passport plus copies (front & back) of the actual cards/documents for you and your family that also show expiration dates etc.
  • A list of contacts: customer service numbers for insurance companies, utility companies, banks – financial advisers, account managers – doctors, dentists, veterinarians – family, friends – teachers and employer – contractor, attorney, accountant, executor of will
  • Current photographs of household members (including pets)
  • Originals + scanned copies of birth, marriage, death certificates, divorce decrees, adoption records, residency and citizenship papers
  • Copy of your wills, your executor, power of attorney and healthcare proxy
  • Originals + scanned copies of insurance policies including homeowners, auto, health, dental, life, long-term care, etc.
  • Originals + scanned copies of deeds for real estate, property and titles for cars and other motor vehicles
  • Originals + scanned copies of loan documents
  • Originals + scanned copies of contracts, leases and mortgages
  • Copies of tax returns, supporting documentation plus any documentation needed for upcoming tax returns.
  • Originals + scanned copies of education records such as diplomas and transcripts
  • Copies of health records especially for persons in the family with chronic conditions.
  • Documentation of important prescriptions including prescribing doctor, pharmacy and dosage.  If the original prescription is not available then taking a photograph of the medication bottle is a good option for recording the prescription details
  • Employment records:  resume, salary history, references
  • Originals + scanned copies of documents related to business ownership and business insurances
  • Military service records
  • Originals and scanned copies of the records for your pet including registration numbers, pet passport, animal shelter or breeder information, health records and prescriptions.

In addition to keeping originals in a safe location that can be carried with you, it’s equally important to have the digital copies accessible in the event of an emergency. However, not on your computer which could get destroyed in the event of a disaster, but in a secure online service such as Arkkeo where they can be safely accessed from wherever you happen to be located during a time of need. Additionally, it is also suggested that you share copies of this information with your attorney and accountant as they are the two professionals who will be most involved with your situation if you do face a major emergency, and/or a family member living far enough away to be out of the emergency zone.

What’s needed to file a claim

Another important piece of documentation to be prepared with is your household inventory. If your personal possessions are damaged or destroyed, the insurance company will most surely ask for an itemization of everything that you lost along with its estimated value.  Unfortunately most of us would never remember all of our possessions (let alone in a totally stressful, crisis situation) without an inventory done in advance so here are some tips for making the process a bit easier.

  • Walk around your house and take photos of each room and its contents. Or if you have a camcorder then a narrated video recording of each room is also a good method for remembering what you own.
  • Don’t forget to estimate the year of purchase and the value of the item and keep a log of it. If you’ve saved receipts then they should be photographed as well and placed with the digital inventory, as should any appraisals you have gotten.
  • If you are already an Arkkeo user and have the Photo+ app then it’s a great idea to use it for capturing photos of your household inventory since they will be automatically uploaded to your Arkkeo account and can be easily organized for future use.
  • It’s a good practice to do a once a year update to your inventory since most of us purchase new items each year that should be included.

What’s needed to make it easier for family members to manage your affairs

None of us want to think about death and the grief associated with it, but the scary reality is that it can happen quite suddenly. And when we go, it’s far better to leave our grieving loved ones with our affairs organized than with stress and confusion over where things are and how we would like certain things to be taken care of in our absence.

Some good advice from several articles was to start by creating a document locator — a list outlining exactly where all of your important records are kept – both the originals and your digital versions. In this locator you should also include the combination for the home lock box (if you have one) and other information that they will need to access your vital records, for example how to access your online files. If you are like me and have an Arkkeo account then it’s easy because once you’ve created all the digital backup of your vital records, then you can securely and privately share it with family members and other key individuals directly from your account.

One thing to consider is that if you’ve got your documents in a box at the bank, you may want to rethink that strategy — safe deposit boxes are often sealed at the time of death, so keep your funeral arrangements and wills someplace more accessible.

And don’t forget the memories

Most of us have years of photos stored already in the Cloud whether it’s with Flickr, iCloud or another service. But what about all the other precious memories and items of sentimental value – love letters, awards and achievements, kids report cards and drawings, baby hand and footprints – the list goes on. It could be equally, if not more, devastating to lose years of beloved memories as it would be to lose your other records. So, while you are capturing the inventory of your home with photos and scanning your records, it’s also a good idea to start scanning or photographing the memories as well.  This is where I’ve also found Arkkeo’s Photo+ app to come in handy. Since I started using Arkkeo, I also started using the app to capture the memories that I want to be certain are protected under any circumstance.

In summary

Dealing with a personal crisis is stressful enough, without the pain of lost paperwork and missing information. But by taking a proactive stance, and a few preventative measures, you can save yourself and your loved ones a great deal of headache and can make the recovery process a lot quicker and easier.

Step 1: Review your records and identify which ones are the most important to you and your family. Use the check list above to guide you.

Step 2:  Make sure you’ve got your home inventory completed.

Step 3: Put originals together in a safe container or home lock box that you can take with you.

Step 4: Make copies (electronic preferably) of these records for active use and to serve as a back-up if the originals are destroyed. Keep an electronic backup in a secure online location (like Arkkeo) and share with key people in your life.

Step 5: Make sure everyone who should know how to access these records knows how to do so. Likewise, make sure that you keep the records as secure as possible. This is personal and confidential information that you do not want just anyone to gain access to.

Thanks to Princeton University Records and Virginia Tech University, AARP.org for excellent articles and advice on the subject. Photo credit: Esko Kilpi 6/2013

Yes, I will take that receipt digitally. And into my Arkkeo account please.

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon a post in the New York Times’ Green blog related to the chemical compound BPA (bisphenol-A) and its use in the production of those little paper receipts that we are handed every day. Its headline ‘Check your receipt: It may be tainted‘ naturally caught my eye since I’m not a fan of paper receipts anyhow, but to know that they are filled with harmful toxins really pushed me over the edge.  

So I started doing a scan of all the companies that today are offering digital receipts and it was nice to see that more and more retailers are moving in this direction and the list had grown significantly in the last 6 months. As a matter of fact, digital receipts have been dubbed ‘the latest trend in retail’ by ABC Action News in the US, among other major news media.

But ‘hello retailers’, while I want my receipts in digital form, I don’t necessarily want them cluttering up my email box. It was great when the first digital receipt from Apple appeared in my inbox back in 2005 but yikes, I get so much email everyday that digital receipts are doomed to get lost in my email, just as those little pieces of paper get lost when they enter my home.

The solution? Well, I think that Arkkeo has the right vision.  Instead of sending receipts into my email box, or making me hunt for them from a company extranet, Arkkeo enables companies to deliver them right into my personal Arkkeo account. They come instantly, automatically and I don’t need to download anything or file anything. It’s like having a personal assistant on staff all the time.

So, thank you retailers for innovating and moving in the digital direction. And thank you for offering me an option to being handed the toxic little piece of paper – you will get my business every time over the company that does not offer digital receipts. But I will take my receipt in Arkkeo please.

Addressing the hot topics of security and privacy

My husband and I were at a dinner party last weekend where a lively discussion broke out about security and privacy issues related to the use of Facebook and Instagram. It was no surprise that we all had lots to say about the matter since we’re all active users and especially since the dinner party was being instantly recorded in the memory books thanks to both services.

Of course, as expected the conversation rapidly shifted to Arkkeo since the majority of friends sitting around the table were also new Arkkeo account holders. Their questions – How secure is Arkkeo really? How much does Arkkeo know about me and will they share my data? Can Arkkeo customer service see what I do in my account like a bank’s customer service representative can see what happens in my bank account? Would you put highly sensitive information into Arkkeo?  

All good questions indeed and since they are most likely the same questions that you have, I thought I’d post the answers here. While it may not lead to as lively a discussion as the one we had over dinner, I do hope it demonstrates the importance that Arkkeo puts on both security and privacy.

How secure is Arkkeo really?

Arkkeo’s building partnerships with healthcare providers and leading financial institutions that have extremely high standards and regulations for the security and privacy of their customers’ data. In order to operate with partners like this Arkkeo needed to build its security and privacy at the same level from the very start. This included processes for encryption, auditing, logging, backups, and safe-guarding data. All Arkkeo servers are protected by firewalls that use advanced techniques for detecting and filtering possible intruder attacks. And, Arkkeo has been audited by a third party security auditor and has achieved the highest possible rating.

Arkkeo has also implemented several additional security processes to protect its account holders.

  1. Security question and answer required. Many services out there only require that you provide an email address and password at registration. Arkkeo, however, also requires that you provide a security question and answer. Why is this important? It means that no one can get access to your Arkkeo password even if they have your email address and have managed to get access to your email account. It would require that they also know both your security question and answer.
  2. All account holders have the option to enable an extra security level called ‘two-step log in’. By enabling this feature, each time you try to log in to your account you will receive a text message to your mobile phone with an extra security code to be entered before you can log in. This provides extra protection should anyone ever get access to your email/password combination. If you are archiving sensitive information in Arkkeo then we recommend that you enable this feature. Simply log in to your account, go to your Profile and you can enable this in the Security section of your Profile.
  3. The third is a procedure that we call SafeConnect which was specifically developed to ensure that when documents are shared between two parties, for example a healthcare provider and a patient, that both parties are verified as being who they say they are and a secure and virtual handshake takes place before any document sharing can happen. SafeConnection procedures are implemented when a partner company shares personal data and also when documents are shared between two Arkkeo account holders.
  4. No downloadable desktop application or public links within the service. You probably use services that let you download their application directly to your desktop or mobile devices. The tech term for this is a ‘native app’. While there’s a certain level of convenience to having the app right there in front of you, these native apps can also put you at risk if there’s anything being stored there that you don’t want accessible to others. As an example, I’m using a service right now and have the native app on my desktop, iPad and my mobile. Although I thought that I signed out of the service, I can still access all my information from my mobile phone and my iPad which means that if someone gets access to my other devices then they have access to my account. This is something that Arkkeo wanted to avoid so instead of having ‘native apps’ it has one point of log in which is via its website arkkeo.com.

With regard to having public links and public folders inside the service, Arkkeo felt that this would put its account holders at risk so it chose not to have this kind of feature. At the moment, Arkkeo is not aware of any other personal cloud services that implement this same combination of security procedures.

How much does Arkkeo know about me and will they share my data?

When you register for Arkkeo you provide your name and email address, your location and your security question as part of the registration process and Arkkeo can see that information. Your password and security answer, however, are encrypted and completely confidential.

In terms of data collection and your privacy, it’s Arkkeo’s strict policy never to gather any information about its account holders and Arkkeo will never share any information about you with anyone. Period.

Can Arkkeo customer service see what I do in my Arkkeo account like the bank’s customer service representative can see what happens in my bank account?

Arkkeo has developed its service to ensure complete confidentiality and privacy over what you put into your account. Only you have the authority to permit someone to view documents in your account via Sharing & SafeConnect procedures. So, perhaps you can say Arkkeo’s more like the ‘Safe Deposit Box’ within your bank versus your standard bank account since only you know what actually goes into it.

Would you put highly sensitive information into Arkkeo?

I’ve been saved several times by the fact that I’ve chosen to put copies of certain personal identity documentation into my Arkkeo account. Just recently my daughter and I traveled to the US but we almost had to cancel our plans, lose quite a bit of money, and miss a long overdue trip to family due to a passport mix up. My daughter’s a dual citizen and has a passport for each country. As I’m a US citizen she needs to travel with me using her US passport but since we had not traveled to the US in a while, I did not realize that her US passport had just expired. Thankfully I had put the copies of all our essential documents into my Arkkeo account so at 5pm the day before our trip I was able to contact the US consulate from my office and complete all the detailed information on the passport application (which for a dual citizen is quite heavy), and then submit it in enough time so it could be processed by the next morning. Had I not had this information in Arkkeo this never would have been possible, we would have missed our trip, and many would have been heartbroken including a little girl desperately missing her grandparents.

So the point of my story is that I guess we all need to decide what we’re comfortable with. Having my really important documents close at hand has surely saved me a huge amount of hassle, time and heartache on more than one occasion.

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