Volume 5, No. 8 - August 2016

News You Can Use

- Updating you on what's going on

CFO Jeff Atwater: Complete Storm Preparations Today

As Tropical Depression Nine strengthens and continues on its path toward Florida’s coast, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater encourages Floridians to prepare for its arrival. Residents should stock up on storm supplies such as bottled water and batteries and gather all important insurance and financial documents. With current concerns about the spread of the Zika virus, Floridians are also encouraged to have mosquito repellent on hand due to the increased likelihood of standing water as a result of the storm.

“This storm is expected to strengthen throughout the day and Floridians should take notice and take steps to prepare,” said CFO Atwater. “Whether you’re new to Florida or a lifetime resident, we have tools available to help make sure all Florida families are ready.”

Experts anticipate that the storm will strengthen into a named tropical storm (Tropical Storm Hermine) before landfall on Thursday. In advance of the storm’s arrival, Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in 42 of Florida’s 67 counties. The National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane watch from the Anclote River near Tampa to Indian Pass in the Panhandle. A wider-ranging area from Walton County to the Anclote River is currently under a tropical storm warning.

CFO Atwater encourages residents to review their homeowners’, renters’, or property insurance policy to ensure an understanding of the available coverage. Consumers can consult the Department’s Emergency Financial Preparedness Guide for more information and consumers with questions regarding their insurance policies can call the Department’s Insurance Consumer Helpline at 1-877-693-5236.

Additionally, CFO Atwater recommends the following preparatory steps:

  • As the storm moves closer, protect your property. Buy the materials you need to secure your property and minimize your losses. Cover your windows with shutters, siding, or plywood. Move vehicles into a garage or carport when possible. Grills and/or patio furniture should be moved inside as well.
  • Inventory your household items, including receipts, purchase dates, and serial numbers. Photograph or videotape your possessions. Keep copies of this information and your insurance policies in a safe place and keep the originals in a safe deposit box.
  • Write down the name, address, and claims-reporting telephone number of your insurance company, which may differ from your agent's contact information. Keep this information in a safe place and make sure you have access to it if you are forced to evacuate your home.

In the event of storm-related damage, photograph damaged areas and notify your insurance company immediately. Document all repair-related conversations and keep track of all paperwork.

Hurricane season ends November 30. For additional hurricane preparation tips, visit the Department of Financial Services' website at MyFloridaCFO.com/Consumers/Storm.

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Former Miami Insurance Agent Sentenced to Prison for Generating Fake Insurance Policies

The Florida Department of Financial Services’ Division of Investigative and Forensic Services (DIFS) announced the recent conviction of Mandy Rodriguez, 36, on multiple felony charges including insurance fraud, grand theft, and forgery following his attempt to create fake proof of insurance documents for his clients. He was sentenced to two years in state prison and ordered to pay more than $200,000 in restitution.

Rodriguez’s arrest resulted from a case worked by the Department’s Division of Insurance Agent and Agency Services' Bureau of Investigation and the Division of Investigative and Forensic Services, which revealed that Rodriguez, an insurance agent, defrauded at least four clients by stealing their insurance premium payments and issuing them fake insurance policy documents.

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Miami Businessman Arrested for Orchestrating $400,000 Workers’ Comp Scam

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Investigative and Forensic Services (DIFS) announced the recent arrest of Elso J. Macias, owner of Puertos Enterprises Inc. in Miami. Macias allegedly orchestrated a fraud scheme by providing false and misleading information during his application for workers’ compensation insurance and by grossly underreporting the company’s total payroll amount. As a result, Macias illegally avoided more than $400,000 in workers’ compensation insurance premiums, leaving his employees at risk of covering health and lost wage costs associated with on-the-job injuries.

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Fort Lauderdale Woman Caught On Camera Faking Injury

The Department of Financial Services’ Division of Investigative and Forensic Services (DIFS) announced the recent arrest of Sheyla Veronica White following her attempt to fraudulently collect workers’ compensation payments following an alleged on-the-job injury. White claimed that a sprinkler head fell from the ceiling, bounced off her desk, and struck her in the head. Her employer, Cinque Terre Energy Partners, LLC promptly filed a compensation claim related to the alleged injury. Video surveillance footage later proved a different series of events surrounding the alleged injury.

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Jacksonville PIP Scheme Responsible for $45,000 in Financial Loss

The Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) announced the recent arrests of Christian Ponce, Nelson Vargas Mercado, Luz Rosario-Escudero and a Jacksonville Blue Cross Blue Shield employee, Janelle Denise Lundy, for their alleged involvement in a personal injury protection (PIP) scheme that defrauded numerous insurance companies for a combined total of at least $45,000. Two participants, Damaris Garcia Sanchez and Jacqueline Santiago, still remain at large.

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Florida CFO Jeff Atwater Announces Nomination of FACTS for NASCIO Award

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announced that the Department of Financial Services’ (DFS) Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System (FACTS) has been nominated by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) as a finalist in the Open Government and Data, Information and Knowledge Management category for the 2016 NASCIO State IT Recognition Awards. Award winners will be announced Monday, September 19 during the NASCIO Annual Conference in Orlando.

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Florida Signs Four More Life Claim Settlement Agreements

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (Office), Florida Department of Financial Services (DFS), and the Florida Office of the Attorney General (AG) announced national life claim settlement agreements have been signed with four life insurance companies totaling more than $3.4 million: Hartford Fire & Casualty Group for $2.1 million, Securian for $625,000 Great American for $400,000, and Standard for $277,000.

The settlement agreements focus on the one-sided use of the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (DMF) to stop paying a deceased person’s annuity, but not using the same information to find and begin paying the deceased’s family or other beneficiaries for life insurance policies. These multi-state examinations were conducted by the lead states of Florida (managing lead state for Hartford & Great American), California (managing lead state for Standard), New Hampshire, North Dakota (managing lead state for Securian), and Pennsylvania (collectively known as the “Lead States”).

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Consumer Alert: Unauthorized Use of Agency Branding

The Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) was made aware of a scam involving the unauthorized use of the agency’s website banner and logo. Consumers report receiving phone calls from this scammer who followed up with an email, asking them to contact the fraudster for information about an insurance certificate issued in their name. The OFR urges Floridians to look out for this scam.

The attached email states that an insurance certificate has been issued in the email recipient’s name. The scammer urges the recipient to print the certificate, sign it and return it to receive the amount of money stated on the certificate. The scammer urges the email recipient to respond immediately. The notice contains OFR website snapshots and branding, which were used without the agency’s knowledge or authorization.

Imposter scams – scammers impersonating someone else to commit fraud – were the third-most common complaint in 2015, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Scammers often create fraudulent documents that look legitimate and may use the names of established, well-known organizations, including government agencies, to trick unsuspecting victims. This is the second scam involving OFR branding that has been reported to the agency in 2016. For more information, check out the consumer alert on another recent scam involving stolen OFR branding.

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Sarasota Man Sentenced for Role in Fake Investment Scam

The Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) applauds the sentencing of Russell Haraburda to eight years in prison, followed by 22 years of probation. Haraburda pled guilty to organized fraud for his role with the sale of fraudulent pre-initial public offering shares of his company, EnviraTrends.

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Make Sure You Don't Miss Important Information From Us

We highly recommend that licensees routinely check their MyProfile account(s) for messages from the Department. We send an email notification at the same time to remind you to check your MyProfile account but on rare occasions you may not receive that email. For that reason, we suggest you add our domains dfs.state.fl.us and MyFloridaCFO.com to your email software's Trusted or Safe Senders List to ensure you are able to receive email notifications from us. Licensees who have a valid email address on file with the Department, as required by law, are sent important email notifications when something that affects their application, license, continuing education, or appointment(s) occurs. Additionally, we will keep you informed with warnings regarding new schemes and scams being marketed to licensees. You can update your contact information through your MyProfile account. We want to keep you informed in a timely manner of pertinent information. You are still required to abide by the Florida Insurance Code regardless of whether you read the information we provide or attempt to provide.