My Florida C F O

Dear Fellow Floridians:

Floridians know that it pays to plan ahead. This week is Hurricane Preparedness Week, and with the upcoming arrival of the 2015 storm season, I hope all of you are taking appropriate steps to Residential Claims Bill of Rightsprotect your loved ones and your property.

When thinking about hurricane preparedness, the first thing that may come to mind is purchasing non-perishable food items, bottled water for drinking and batteries for storm radios to stay informed. All of these are important when developing an emergency plan, but there’s much more that also should be done that can make getting back on your feet after a storm easier.

Post-storm management can be difficult, but it is much more manageable when preparations have been made in advance. That's why I encourage all of you to use this week to put together an insurance and financial packet that you keep in a safe place and can easily take with you should you need to evacuate.

This packet should include documentation associated with your health and property insurance policies as well as financial account information and contact information for banks and insurance companies. Having these documents put together ahead of time allows you to have ready access to all of the information necessary to file an insurance claim, whatever your situation may be.

If you have questions, or simply don’t know where to begin, the Department of Financial Services has created a homeowners insurance tool kit that can be used as a guide. It explains various types of insurance coverage, explains how to create and maintain a property inventory and provides a helpful financial document checklist.

Additionally, you should be familiar with the homeowner claims bill of rights. The homeowner claims bill of rights summarizes, in simple, nontechnical terms, your rights as a policyholder during the property insurance claims process.

For example, did you know that you as a policyholder have a right to receive acknowledgment of your claim within 14 days after the claim was filed, and that within 30 days, insurance companies are required to tell you whether your claim is covered partially or in full, is being disputed, denied or requires more information? And lastly, that within 90 days, insurance companies are required to pay non-disputed claims?

To learn more, please visit our website at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/division/Consumers/Storm/.

Sincerely,

Jeff
Jeff Atwater
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida

News of Interest

WSVN 7 News: Dozens of homeowners arrested on false insurance claims

Ft. Myers News-Press: Florida's crime rate lowest in 44 years

Associated Press: U.S. home construction surges to fastest pace since 2007

Orlando Sentinel: Industry forecast: Summer travel will be all-time high

Florida TaxWatch: Florida poised to be the nation's next high-tech hub

Arrests Made During Operation Flames and Floods 2

CFO and State Fire Marshal Jeff Atwater, alongside Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, recently announced 30 more arrests made during the second wave of a collaborative state and local operation known as "Operation Flames and Floods." The investigation exposed an extensive scheme in which a Miami public adjuster named Jorge Espinosa recruited homeowners to stage fire and water damage claims in residential homes in order to defraud multiple insurance companies. Previously arrested in February 2014 for crimes related to this fraud ring, investigators have since uncovered 25 more fraudulent claims tied to Espinosa, representing total losses of more than $14 million.

CFO at Operation Flames and Floods press conference"It is clear that this scheme was driven by greed, and unfortunately, it is the honest policyholders in our state who are left on the hook to cover the millions of dollars that were stolen," said CFO Jeff Atwater. "I am proud of the work of our investigators, and I am grateful for the support of the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Arson Unit and Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle for helping us to hold these individuals accountable."

"These insurance thieves were making their money by reaching into the wallets of every honest citizen of Florida," said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. "Their profits come from our pain and hard work. That is why these arrests are so important."

Operation Flames and Floods began in November 2012 as a joint investigation between the Florida State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Arson Unit. In February 2014, 14 people were arrested after 13 homes were intentionally set on fire and five more reported staged water damage. As a result of the fraud, multiple insurance carriers incurred more than $7.6 million in reported losses.

Further investigative efforts uncovered 25 more claims tied to this fraud scheme, representing an additional $6.7 million in fraudulent claims paid by the following insurance companies: Tower Hill Insurance Group, Citizens Property Insurance, Federated National Insurance Company, GEICO, Bankers Insurance Group, Southern Fidelity, Mercury Insurance, State Farm, Florida Peninsula, Ascendant Commercial Insurance, United Property and Casualty, Ark Royal Insurance and Southern Oak Insurance.

"Insurance fraud is not a victimless crime," said Tower Hill Insurance Group President Don Matz. "In fact, it impacts insurance policyholders around the state through increased rates that are required to recoup the funds stolen through these fraudulent acts."

"We applaud the efforts of CFO Atwater’s office and the Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, and we are glad to have played a part in this investigation,” said Joseph Theobold, Citizens Director of Special Investigations. “Insurance fraud translates into millions of dollars in costs paid by our policyholders. We must remain diligent in rooting out fraud.”

The Sarasota, Lee, Collier and Highlands County Sheriffs’ offices assisted with this week’s arrests, along with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Anyone with information about suspected insurance fraud is asked to call 1-800-378-0445. Anyone with information about suspected arson is asked to call 1-877-NO-ARSON, and those who provide tips can choose to remain anonymous. The Department of Financial Services has awarded $365,000 to 63 people as part of its Anti-Fraud Reward Program. The program rewards individuals up to $25,000 for information that directly leads to an arrest and conviction in an insurance fraud scheme.

FBL website, showing the retail index graphFlorida's Bottom Line

The FBL website provides up-to-date financial news, archives of past FBL editions, special reports and a video message from the CFO. Statistics in graph form of Florida's leading financial indicators are updated as new data is released. For instance, Florida's Index of Retail Activity uses taxable sales returns to gauge consumer purchasing across Florida. The index is composed from several major economic categories of retail activity such as autos and accessories, durable and nondurable consumer goods, tourism and recreation, building investment and business investment. The source for Retail Activity data is the Florida Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

Florida’s Bottom Line is CFO Atwater’s quarterly economic magazine, providing insightful analysis on Florida's financial health and economic innovation. Inside FBL, learn from Florida's top business and community leaders in exclusive guest articles, gain access to essential small business and consumer resources and visualize key data through unique infographics.

Visit the FBL website and read the magazine.

Florida Economic Briefs

Florida’s unemployment rate declined in April
Florida’s unemployment rate declined to 5.6 percent in April, down 0.1 of a percentage point from March (5.7 percent) and down 0.8 of a percentage point from April of 2014 (6.4 percent). The U.S. unemployment rate declined to 5.4 percent in April, down 0.1 of a percentage point from March (5.5 percent) and down 0.8 of a percentage point from April of 2014 (6.2 percent).
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Florida’s housing market increases in April
There were 25,206 closed home sales in April, which was 2 percent more than last month (24,811) and 18 percent more than April 2014 (21,385). Additionally, the median sale price increased to $195,000 from $190,000 in March and $175,000 in April of 2014.
Source: Florida Realtors