Consumer advice: Alexa, mind your own blasted business

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After news reports of an Amazon team made up of thousands of people was listening in on customers through the Alexa device, consumers and regulators have started to push back.

Now the tech giant and its peers are under closer scrutiny about what they do with the information they collect. In response to these concerns, Amazon will make it easier for consumers to opt out of listening in, though it says doing so affects the company’s ability to improve Alexa’s existing features and come up with new ones.

Users can change app settings to protect their privacy. Doing so will prevent Amazon from using voice recordings to develop new features. To access the opt out, go to the privacy settings under the menu in the Alexa app. Select “Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa” and click to shut off access.

Apple and Google also have suspended their listen-in programs while developing a way for consumers to opt out of their programs as well.

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CREDIT LOCK vs. CREDIT FREEZE: A Coeur d’Alene reader asked about the difference between a credit lock and a credit freeze. She’d been talked into putting a credit lock on her accounts (for a fee) and was wondering if that was different than the credit freeze I’ve mentioned.

There are some key differences. A credit lock is typically operated by an anti-fraud or other financial-services company like LifeLock or Credit Karma. A credit freeze is initiated by the consumer directly with the three credit reporting agencies.

A lock and a freeze both prevent others from accessing our credit information, but a credit freeze prevents others from actually opening new accounts. A credit lock can have fees; a credit freeze is free, though it can take time to set up. A credit lock is governed by the credit bureau’s policies; a credit freeze is governed by federal law. In the event of a loss with a credit lock, it isn’t clear who is liable. With a credit freeze, losses are legally protected.

The credit freeze has an added layer of security: It lets you seal your credit reports and use a PIN to keep them that way. If you need to thaw your credit temporarily, you just enter your PIN to allow it.

My advice: Put a freeze on your accounts.

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RENTERS INSURANCE FYI: If you’re renting a home or apartment, don’t assume that your landlord’s homeowner policy covers your stuff — it doesn’t. Landlords aren’t responsible for tenants’ belongings unless their negligence damages them.

A renters policy protects you if your property is stolen, damaged or destroyed in a fire. A traditional renters insurance policy has several main categories of coverage, including personal property, temporary living expenses, personal liability and medical expenses.

The personal property covered includes furniture, clothing, and electronics but not valuables like fine art, jewelry and electronics valued at more than $1,500. For those items, you’ll need to talk to your insurance agent about the best way to protect against loss. Be sure your policy includes replacement cost coverage. Absent replacement cost coverage, your property will be replaced at its actual cash value, which is typically a fraction of replacement cost.

If your home becomes uninhabitable because of fire or water damage, your temporary living expenses coverage kicks in. The personal liability coverage protects you if someone is injured on your property and decides to sue you.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners estimates you should expect to pay between $15 and $30 per month based on where you live, how large of a place you rent and how valuable your possessions are. Some property managers will require a renter to provide documentation of a renter’s policy, usually with a certain liability limit.

If you’re a college student living in a dorm or on-campus housing, you’re likely covered up to 10% of a parent’s home insurance policy. If your parents have $100,000 worth of personal property coverage (which is generally set as a percentage of the property’s fair market value), your belongings are covered for about $10,000. If you live off-campus, you need your own renter’s policy. Be warned: Roommates aren’t covered unless they’re specifically named in the policy.

Bottom line: If you don’t have the money to replace all your belongings if they’re stolen, damaged or destroyed, getting renters insurance is probably a good decision. Shop around to get the best deal, and buy from an agent you trust to belp you if you ever need to file a claim.

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If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please email terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call 208-274-4458.

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