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Join our business partner and security expert, Johnson Controls, to learn more about smart security strategies for your chapter house. Watch recording.

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From May 2024 News & Notes

In times like these, the stability of your insurance companies is critical. The pandemic challenged every aspect of the fraternal community. Both your insurance companies and MJ Sorority, as your insurance agent, made significant concessions to help alleviate some of the pressures your organizations have faced.

The insurance industry went from the chaos of the pandemic to the chaos of the effects of climate change, specifically the catastrophic weather events we’ve experienced over the last several years. Insurance coverage and policy terms and conditions are on a collision course with the changing climate in many states, most notably in Florida and Louisiana. The seriousness of changing climate patterns is further compounded by the fact that in Florida’s southwestern coastline, sea levels have risen eight inches since 1950, and the risk of storm surge is estimated to double by 2030. Louisiana’s coastline is facing a similar risk. Florida is by far the most worrisome for standard property insurance companies. Several insurance companies providing property insurance in the state have gone insolvent despite state and industry efforts to prevent insolvency. To stabilize the insurance market, the Florida state government began the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund in 1992. The Fund reimburses insurers for a percentage of catastrophic hurricane claims. Insurers of last resort were formed and in 2002, both carriers merged to become Citizens Property Insurance Corporation. Some additional insurance capital (or capacity) is returning to Florida in 2024, however, this has not provided much, if any, relief to consumers trying to find insured coverage for their property.

As we’ve discussed repeatedly in this newsletter, the property insurance market has been chaotic for several years. Recently, the MJ Sorority program has experienced rate increases and changes in wind and hail property deductibles in certain parts of the country.

It’s natural to feel that these changes suggest your insurance companies are abandoning the program. However, these actions are actually positioning the program for a stable future.

Without the stability of the MJ Sorority program and our partnering insurance companies, your insurance coverage would be far more vulnerable. The saying, “you get what you pay for,” is especially true for the insurance program provided by MJ Sorority. Otherwise, you risk compromising your crucial protection.

Should you wish to discuss the property insurance industry concerns further, please do not hesitate to contact us.

In the News 
The property insurance crisis has been making headlines outside of your typical insurance industry publications. To learn more, we recommend the following:

  • Motley Fool: How property insurance will be impacted specifically in all 50 states
  • New York Times: Insurers Around the U.S. Bleed Cash From Climate Shocks
  • The Daily Podcast: The Possible Collapse of the US Home Insurance System
  • Fox Business: Insurance costs could surge even higher as states brace for ‘hurricane season from hell’
  • Marketplace: The main reason for higher home insurance costs is climate change, which is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events.
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As weather patterns continue to evolve, it is crucial for housing corporations to update their chapter house roofs to withstand the increasing intensity of wind and hail events. Convective storms in particular are a major cause for concern. Convective storms are extremely severe storms with defining characteristics of high winds, sudden temperature changes, and severe thunder and lightning.  

In light of these more severe weather conditions across the country, carriers are isolating geographic areas at greater risk to weather perils and are requiring additional measures be taken to update roofs. It is imperative to consider retrofitting affected chapter house roofs to mitigate risk.

Also at issue are state building codes. Many states have not updated their building codes to prepare for more severe weather, leaving existing and new structures vulnerable to sever weather damage. Building codes set the minimum standards for construction, however these standards may not always align with insurance requirements, leaving sorority houses vulnerable to potential coverage gaps. Furthermore, in many states and municipalities, building codes are not adequately enforced.

It is crucial for chapter houses in areas with inferior building codes to exceed minimum building code specifications to meet insurance expectations. This reduces the risk of roof damage and associated expenses if a convective storm hits a property. Housing corporations should be particularly wary of properties in the west and mid-west, where predictive modeling has determined a sharp increase in the frequency and severity of wind and hailstorms. Fortunately, universities are rarely near coastal areas, so that minimizes some of the increased risk of severe hurricanes.

MJ Sorority has consulted extensively with industry experts to create a list of recommendations for your chapters as they consider updating or replacing their chapter house roofs. At a minimum, we recommend that all of your chapter houses do an intake on the age and condition of their roof, which many roofing companies will do free of charge!

When it comes to fortifying your existing roof or installing a new one, MJ Sorority recommends the following:

  • Stronger Edges: strengthening the edges of your roof can help prevent wind uplift during storms, which can lead to roof edge failure. By reinforcing the edges with hurricane straps (not just for hurricanes!) or other secure attachments, the edges of a roof can withstand far greater wind speeds.
  • Sealed Roof Deck: adding a layer of protection against water helps minimize the risk of leaks and water damage during heavy rainfall, snow, and hailstorms. Sealing your roof deck not only strengthens your roof but protects the attic and building more generally from potential water damage caused by storms.
  • Better Attachment: improving attachment is the best defense for preventing wind and wind-driven debris from breaking your roof loose from the rest of the structure.
  • Impact-Resistant Shingles: investing in stronger shingles provides an additional layer of defense against hail and wind-driven debris impact. Designed to withstand high velocity impacts, these shingles reduce the likelihood of damage and the frequency of repairs.
  • Wind and Rain Resistant Attic Vents: upgrading attic vents maintains stable ventilation to the home’s interior, while simultaneously protecting against water and debris that may damage your roof and attic during a storm.
  • Impact Protection for Windows and Doors: the use of impact resistant materials to reinforce windows and doors mitigates the risk of them breaking or coming lose, leaving your property vulnerable to water and debris. An additional benefit to impact protection is security, making it nearly impossible to break through a window, even when the top layers of glass have shattered.

Given the heightened risk of volatile weather, it is imperative that organizations do an intake and analysis of the health of chapter house roofs. Taking proactive measures to update and fortify roofs and bridging the gap between building codes and insurance requirements can mitigate the risk of roof damage and will maintain the safety and longevity of your properties. Prioritizing the fortification via the recommendations above will not only enhance the overall structural integrity of the properties in question but will also undoubtably contribute to the long-term sustainability of these important spaces for members.

Further Reading:

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So, we’re betting at least some of your apps and online accounts have asked, “Do you want to opt into two-factor identification?” And, if you’re like many people, all that texting and code retrieval might seem just a little too much trouble.

Is all that security really necessary? Short answer: YES. And it doesn’t have to be hard.

Why should you use two factor identification?
Cyber attacks, personal data leaks, and phishing scams are becoming more common as hackers get more sophisticated and as we conduct more of our personal and financial transactions on apps and online. Scary factoid: the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported that people lose $57 million in phishing and smishing schemes each year.1

Two-factor identification (2FA) provides an extra layer of protection to help safeguard your personal data and your dollars when you are accessing websites and apps.

What exactly is two-factor identification?
Also referred to as “two-step authentication,” “two-step verification” or “multi-factor authentication,” 2FA is an electronic security protocol that prevents you from accessing a website or an app until you validate your identity with two or more pieces of proof. This helps ensure that unauthorized users can’t pretend to be you.

Multi-factor identification “secures your logins from attackers exploiting weak, stolen, or leaked credentials,” says Laura Bennett, Senior Vice President, e-Consumer North America for BlinkSM by Chubb®.

How do you enable 2FA protection?
Many widely-used internet service providers (e.g. Google, Apple, Amazon) and social media platforms (e.g. TikTok, Snapchat, Facebook/Instagram), as well as financial sites, productivity, and personal apps (e.g. Paypal, Slack, Fitbit) have 2FA capability.

  • A helpful website that lists sites currently offering multi-factor identification can be found here: 2FA Directory.
  • Enabling 2FA is typically done through your user account and/or security tab. Instructions vary, so check with the individual sites or apps for specifics.
  • There are a number of authentication apps that consolidate and streamline your 2FA efforts. In other words, the app automatically authenticates you and eliminates the code sending step. The advantages of using these are that they typically work even when you don’t have access to cell service, and they are considered more secure than text messages. Some of the most popular apps are Authy, Google Authenticator, Duo, and Microsoft Authenticator.

We do not endorse any particular vendor or brand of 2FA, but consumers should take time to research options along with the benefits of utilizing 2FA for their circumstances.

Is two-factor identification foolproof?
Currently, 2FA apps are the most secure user authentication methods. However, it is important to always practice good cyber hygiene habits:

  • “Leverage alerts on all accounts (especially financial) to warn you of suspicious activity,” Bennett advises.
  • Use a strong and unique username and password and never save passwords in your web browser.
  • Keep your computer’s operating system up to date. This is to ensure you have the latest security features in place.
  • Be wary of emails, texts, or attachments from unfamiliar or suspicious-looking senders especially those that ask for personal data.
  • Avoid using open wi-fi networks, which are easily hacked.

We do not endorse any particular vendor or brand of 2FA, but consumers should take time to research options along with the benefits of utilizing 2FA for their circumstances.

Source: Chubb, the cyber insurance provider for MJ Sorority

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Note: We have recently had several check fraud claims. We asked our partners at The National Bank of Indianapolis to write the following article to help you protect yourself from check fraud. See also our previous article on the subject.

Financial losses due to fraud are increasing every year. According to the FCC, losses due to fraud were up by more than 30% in 2022 compared to 2021. Nonprofit organizations tend to be particularly at risk due to 990s and other information useful to fraudsters being publicly available.

Particularly alarming is the rise in check fraud. FinCEN released a recent report indicating that check fraud occurrences reported by banks increased to 680,000 in 2022 from 350,000 in 2021.  
It is often recommended that we minimize the use of paper checks as much as possible.  Electronic credit card and ACH payments (with verified and secure payment portals), while not perfect, are much more secure. Credit cards also tend to have the most generous reimbursement terms if fraud does occur.

While this is sound advice, it is sometimes simply unavoidable to use paper checks as a form of payment.  Here is some general information and steps you can take to help protect your organization:

Check Processing and Check Fraud Trends:
Today, the processing of checks by banks is nearly all automated.  Gone are the days of banks examining individual checks and matching to signature cards.  Anyone with your account and routing number can easily create fake checks. On the bright side, bank processing software has become more sophisticated in detecting anomalies in check style and out of sequence check numbers.  

In response, the criminals are now trending back to intercepting real checks and changing the payee information.  This way, an altered check can be paid, and possibly go unnoticed for a much longer period of time.  Unless cancelled checks are examined closely, they can reconcile correctly, and not be noticed until the intended payee calls.  Depending on the payee’s accounts receivable systems, this is sometimes months later.

How to Protect Your Organization:

1. Positive Pay:  Most banks offer this service for a fee, and there is no better defense against check fraud.  It works by matching all checks that are drawn on your account to a file you send to the bank at the time you issue them.  If any information does not match, you are notified and have the opportunity to deny payment.

Some banks have different versions of Positive Pay, so make sure that your service is verifying the payee name as well as the other information on the check.

There is a similar “ACH Debit Filter” product which protects against unauthorized ACH debits which is also highly recommended.

Should you reject this optional risk management too, it will be incumbent upon you to manage your financial transactions in a more timely and more thorough manner.

2. Outsourced Payables Processing: Many organizations hire third parties to manage the processing of payables. The processors generally prefer to send payments via ACH, and only use paper checks when necessary. Usually, they will debit your account once and pull the funds into their bank account, and then make payments to your vendors from there. They should all have Positive Pay, but sometimes fraud still occurs. It is important to review their contracts and disclosures carefully to understand how fraud is handled and who is liable. Some of them have time limits after which they will not reimburse for fraud losses.

3. Reconcile and review account activity frequently: Identifying fraud as soon as possible is critical as the chances of recovering the funds diminish quickly with time. If a fraudulent check is reported within 24 hours, it can usually be returned before funds ever leave your account. Organizations that choose to not incur the expense of Positive Pay must be particularly vigilant.

4. Report fraud to your bank no later than 30 days from the incident. Regulation CC (the Federal regulation governing check processing and liability) requires the bank of first deposit to conduct specific actions if it is notified within 30 days. After that, the opportunity for recourse is greatly reduced.

5. Secure Check Stock: Protecting both unused check stock, and outgoing checks is another critical aspect of protection. Many of the intercepted checks are stolen from the mail. Unsecured mailboxes should be avoided.

What To Do if Fraud Occurs:

1. Notify Your Bank Immediately: The sooner the bank is notified the better the chances of recovering the funds. Your bank should also guide you through the process and advise on next steps.

2. File a Police Report: In addition to getting the police involved, this is a very important step to document the occurrence for potential insurance claims, and disputes down the road with intended payees.

3. Contact the Postal Inspector’s Office – If a check was stolen in the mail, be sure to file a report with this office. They also tend to be more proactive about pursuing fraudsters than the police.

4. Contact MJ Sorority to alert them to the incident and determine any additional action that needs to be taken.

In Summary:

As the threat of check fraud continues to evolve, we all must remain vigilant and proactive in educating ourselves and our employees . Staying informed about emerging trends, leveraging advanced banking technologies, and adopting best practices will help fortify our defenses. It is important to have a good relationship with a knowledgeable and responsive banking partner who can help develop and continuously improve your defenses against losses due to fraud.

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The past year saw a surge in severe convective storms, particularly hailstorms, causing billions in insured losses across the US. This trend is likely to continue in 2024 and beyond, impacting insurance premiums and available coverages, especially for properties like sorority chapter houses.

The graphic above shows the increase in the number of hail storms and the severity of the damage associated with them over the last twenty years. To zoom in and read the entire report, which we found very informative, click here.

These storms, packing powerful winds, hail, and heavy rain, pose a significant threat. In 2024 and beyond, the risk of severe convective storms looms large, driven by a combination of factors such as warmer atmospheric temperatures, higher moisture content, and shifting wind patterns. These storms can unleash destructive winds, large hailstones, torrential rainfall, and even tornadoes, causing extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure in their path.

Sorority chapter houses, often located in areas prone to severe weather, often face heightened exposure to convective storms. Their typically large, historic structures may be more susceptible to damage from high winds and hail, leading to costly repairs or even total reconstruction. Furthermore, the social nature of sorority houses means that they are frequently occupied, putting members at risk during severe weather events. 

Insurance companies take these risks into account when setting premiums for property coverage. As the frequency and severity of convective storms increase, insurers may adjust their pricing models to reflect the heightened risk. Other options for insurers in this new environment include: stricter requirements for risk mitigation measures, such as installing impact-resistant roofing materials or reinforcing windows and doors against high winds. 

In response to these challenges, sorority chapters must prioritize proactive risk management strategies. These strategies include the following recommendations and resources:

By staying informed and taking proactive steps, sorority houses can weather the storm – both literally and figuratively.

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In this issue of our monthly newsletter, we cover the increasing likelihood of convective storms, share updates to the Important Terms for Housing Agreements, the recent increase in risky activities, an FAQ about money transfer apps like Venmo and Zelle, managing the risk of phishing scams, and more.

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An annual risk management bulletin from MJ Sorority about how best to prepare for tornado season.

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In this issue of our monthly newsletter, we cover risky activity reminders for spring events, concerns about vacant properties, some risk management concerns about ChatGPT to be aware of, and we shared a bunch of new resources to prevent water damage at the chapter house.

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