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Tips to save on car insurance

Car insurance is one of the costliest purchases that consumers hope to never use. Here are some helpful tips on how to keep your premiums in line without taking on unnecessary risks:

-- Do an annual rate check. If you've been with the same insurer a long time, it might be tough to beat its rates, especially if you haven't had any claims lately. In fact, a 2014 survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that only 10 percent of 19,000 ConsumerReports.org subscribers who compared premiums found that they would save money by switching insurers. It's easy to compare multiple insurers online, at sites such as Answer Financial, Insure.com, Insweb.com and NetQuote.

-- Pick a top-rated insurer. Saving money isn't simply a matter of finding the lowest premium. Some insurers have lower premiums, but end up costing you more in the end by low-balling loss estimates, hassling the repair shop to cut corners and forcing you to pay extra for original-equipment replacement parts. They might even unfairly jack up your premiums after an accident.

-- Set the right deductible. A higher deductible reduces your premium because you pay more out of pocket if you have a claim. Hiking your deductible from $200 to $500 can cut your premium on collision by 15 to 30 percent. If you have a good driving record and haven't had an at-fault accident in years, if ever, opting for a higher deductible on collision might be a good bet.

-- Take advantage of discounts. Car insurers offer a whole range of modest but worthwhile discounts that are essentially based on a low-risk lifestyle. Consumer Reports suggests asking your insurer about students with good grades, older drivers who have taken a refresher course and members of affinity groups, such as college alumni and certain occupations and professions.

-- Multiple-policy holders. Insurers also offer fairly hefty auto discounts if you also buy your homeowners, renter's or life insurance policy from them. But be sure you check out total costs both ways: premiums from different insurers compared with single-insurer packages.

-- Manage teenage-driver risk. Adding a teenager to your policy can hike your costs by 50 to 100 percent. Make sure your child takes a safe-driving course before getting a license. Make it a rule that unsafe driving will mean loss of driving privileges.

-- Maintain a good credit score. According to Consumer Reports, most states allow insurance companies to use your credit score as a factor in setting your premiums. Ask your insurance company if it does that. But regularly check and correct credit-reporting errors anyhow. If your finances have been adversely affected by the recession, military deployment, divorce, job loss, death of a family member or medical problems, ask your insurer for an exception.

-- Choose your car shrewdly. Vehicle damage is the biggest cost component for auto insurers, so premiums will vary by auto model. When comparing models, ask your insurer for premium quotes on the different models under consideration.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

How to protect your privacy

Our digitally connected world provides consumers with opportunities to be engaged with global communities, be educated and entertained, and shop with ease. But those opportunities carry some risks, too -- of intrusions, and threats from criminals.

To help consumers stay safe online, Consumer Reports worked with dozens of security experts to put together an extensive guide covering everything from passwords for laptops and smartphones to ways to keep web-connected devices from leaking private data.

Consumer Reports recognizes privacy and data security as among the most important consumer issues of the 21st century. Individuals' health and financial information is increasingly stored online, as are photos and communications with friends and family. At the same time, software is now becoming a core part of products that may not appear to be digitally connected: cars, door locks, thermostats, wristwatches and more.

The past two years have been marked by news reports on data breaches, photo-hacking scandals, compromised home security cameras, ransomware attacks and more.

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A nationally representative survey of 1,012 adults conducted by Consumer Reports illustrates that consumers are already taking some simple steps to protect themselves against hackers -- but more needs to be done. More than 900 million records have been compromised from more than 5,000 data breaches made public since 2005, according to the nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

According to Consumer Reports' survey, 28 percent of respondents said they cover their webcams to help foil hackers. Forty-five percent said they back up their computers, 62 percent said they use two-factor authentication, 75 percent said they set a smartphone screen lock and 86 percent protect their home WiFi with a password.

Here are five of the expert tips compiled by Consumer Reports:

1. Be password loyal. People tell you to change passwords regularly. Don't, unless there's a good reason, such as responding to a data breach. Switch often, and you'll probably end up using weak options.

2. Stop ID theft after a death. Identity theft affects 2.5 million estates every year, according to the IRS. If a loved one has died, send a copy of the death certificate to the IRS (the funeral home may help with that). Also, cancel any driver's license, and notify credit agencies, banks, insurance firms and financial institutions.

3. Shut down webcam creeps. Malicious actors have repeatedly proven that they can turn on a laptop's camera without the user's knowledge. The simplest solution? Do what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and FBI Director James Comey do -- put a piece of tape or a Post-it note over it.

4. Just fake it. Toymakers are rolling out connected kids' products -- including tablets and talking dolls -- and asking families to divulge personal information to register them. But that essentially provides marketers and potential hackers with details about your children. So consider providing fake information.

5. Encrypt your computer files. You can encrypt your whole machine or just sensitive files. To encrypt specific files on a Mac, use the Disk Utility. Windows 10 Home users can download a free app such as GPG4win (aka Gnu Privacy Guard).

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

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