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         FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

         Volume 5, Number 28, July 11, 2008
        
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This week, CFO Alex Sink announced a plan to consolidate the Department of Financial Services’ (DFS) eleven consumer call centers, resulting in an estimated taxpayer savings of $5 million over the next five years. Florida TaxWatch called this “exactly the kind of savings our leaders should be implementing to better serve the people of Florida.”

As a reader of CFO Sink’s eViews, you join over half a million Floridians currently receiving a weekly update on important work and announcements like this one that can save you time or money. Whether events, notifications, or money saving tips, this newsletter gets information directly to those who need it most. The eViews newsletter also offers a link to www.MyFloridaCFO.com, where you have access to the thirteen divisions and programs available to Floridians as well as information for consumers, agents and adjusters, employers, and state vendors.

After announcing her tax savings plan, CFO Sink said the “people in our state are looking for innovative and effective ways of increasing productivity, while not sacrificing customer service.”

Thank you for reading CFO Sink’s eViews and for your interest in the critical issues affecting Floridians.

CFO SINK TO APPEAR ON DATELINE NBC

CFO Alex Sink will be featured on NBC’s Dateline NBC Monday night at 10 p.m. Tune in as Tiki Barber leads a team of 'on-air detectives,' including NBC News' Peter Alexander and Tamron Hall, as they cross the country helping states crack some of their toughest, unsolved cases. 

Dateline NBC assisted CFO Sink’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property in tracking down the heirs of  an invaluable medal of service, which was turned over to the State of Florida.

Tune in to "You Might Be Rich!" Monday at 10pmET/PT on NBC and visit www.FLTreasureHunt.org to see if you have a missing treasure.


CFO SINK ANNOUNCES PLAN TO CUT $5 MILLION BY CONSOLIDATING STATE CALL CENTERS

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced a plan to consolidate the Department of Financial Services’ (DFS) eleven consumer call centers, resulting in an estimated taxpayer savings of $5 million over the next five years. CFO Sink’s plan calls for two high-quality service centers in Tallahassee and Largo to improve service and increase customer satisfaction.

The call center consolidation is consistent with CFO Sink’s direction to ensure responsible stewardship of state funds, and the Florida Legislature’s directive to state agencies to find operational reductions to help balance the state’s budget.

“The people in our state are looking for innovative and effective ways of increasing productivity, while not sacrificing customer service,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the department. “Over the next five years, this plan will save millions in tax dollars and set a new standard for government efficiency in tight economic times.”


CFO SINK SWEARS IN NEW LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSONNEL

On Monday, CFO Sink joined State Senator Bill Posey in opening an innovative Insurance Fraud Academy for investigators within the Divisions of Insurance Fraud and Workers' Compensation, in addition to the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Located at the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy in Quincy, investigators will participate in an eight-week course aimed at increasing effectiveness of anti-fraud efforts across the state. Graduates of the academy will be better trained and more prepared to protect Florida citizens. While congratulating the first class of participants, CFO Sink also swore in detectives from both divisions and promoted five Captains.


My Family CFO
Are you the chief financial officer of your family? Are you always looking out for the best deals, wise investments and smart moves for your family's financial security?

As your family's fiscal watch dog, keep an eye on this column for money-smart ideas from the Chief Financial Officer of Florida, Alex Sink.

Idea:  Be sure your home is protected from a flood

In the midst of hurricane season, Florida residents should take the time to prepare themselves and their homes for possible flooding.

As a homeowner, there are a variety of things you can do to protect your property against floods. Florida flood maps are issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and are available at http://msc.fema.gov.

Many Floridians are surprised to learn that homeowners' insurance may not cover flood damage. Homeowners' insurance usually covers damage from wind, but not from flooding.  If you desire flood insurance coverage, you must purchase a separate flood insurance policy.

You can purchase these policies from the federal government through private insurance agents and agencies. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) establishes one set of policy terms and rates for the various flood insurance policies. As a result, comparison-shopping for flood insurance is not necessary, but a buyer should carefully discuss and review the conditions and requirements of the applicable flood insurance policy with his or her agent. Information on flood insurance is available at www.floodsmart.gov or you can contact the NFIP directly at (888) 379-9531. However, unless you are purchasing insurance in connection with a new home or refinancing a mortgage, you should be advised there is a standard 30-day waiting period from the day of purchase before a new flood policy goes into effect.


IT'S STORM SEASON, FLORIDA

The first hurricane of the season has formed and is an important reminder about the importance of being prepared. From June 1 through November 30, Floridians should keep a watchful eye on the weather , especially if a storm is developing.

If you haven't already, now is the time to review and update your insurance policies, develop an emergency communication plan, make a hurricane preparedness kit, and create a home inventory.

CFO Sink has prepared a financial tool kit for Floridians to help them prepare.  The kit provides essential financial information and a complete set of documents to aid in recovery.
 Print it out to get the financial tools you need. You may have a tool kit mailed to you by calling our Consumer Helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO.

For additional about how to prepare for a storm, visit www.floridadisaster.org.


DON'T WAIT - SIGN UP NOW FOR YOUR MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME WIND INSPECTION

As of Friday, July 11, 2008, the popular first-come, first-serve My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program has less than 5,000 free wind inspections remaining for eligible Florida homeowners.  If you have not already done so, click on this link to fill out the application for your wind inspection now.

The Florida Legislature directed the MSFH program to provide wind inspections for at least 400,000 site-built, single-family homes and the program expects to exceed that goal in the next few days.

The program previously met its goals for awarding matching grants in May after providing grants to at least 35,000 applicants.

Participating homeowners receive a free wind inspection report, which suggests ways homeowners can harden their homes against storm damage and informs homeowners if they are currently eligible to save money on their wind insurance premiums. To date, 58 percent of homeowners who have received a free wind inspection were eligible for discounts on their wind insurance premiums, averaging $219.31 statewide.


SCAMMERS USE EMAIL, FAX TO POSE AS IRS
 
The Internal Revenue Service cautions taxpayers to be on the lookout for a new wave of scams using the IRS name in identity theft e-mails, or phishing, that have circulated during the last two months.

In May and June alone, taxpayers reported almost 700 separate phishing incidents to the IRS. In 2008 so far, taxpayers have reported about 1,600 phishing incidents to the IRS.

“Taxpayers should take steps to keep their personal information out of the hands of identity thieves,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “That includes not falling for any of the phony e-mails or faxes now in circulation pretending to come from the IRS.”

The most common scams involve tax refunds and, this year, economic stimulus payments.

Although most of these scams consist of e-mails requesting detailed personal information, the IRS generally does not send e-mails to taxpayers, does not discuss tax account matters with taxpayers in e-mails, and does not request security-related personal information, such as PIN numbers, from taxpayers.

Refund e-Mail Scam
There are several variations of the refund scam, in which an e-mail claiming to come from the IRS falsely informs the recipient that he or she is eligible for a tax refund for a specific amount. The bogus e-mail instructs the recipient to click on a link to access a refund claim form. The form requests personal information that the scammers can use to access the e-mail recipient’s bank or credit card account.
This notification is phony. The IRS does not send unsolicited e-mail about tax account matters to taxpayers.

Filing a tax return is the only way to apply for a tax refund; there is no separate application form. Taxpayers who wish to find out if they are due a refund from their last annual tax return filing may use the “Where’s My Refund?” interactive application on the IRS Web site at IRS.gov, the only official IRS Web site.

Economic Stimulus Payments Scam
In this scam, a taxpayer receives an e-mail pretending to come from the IRS which tells the recipient he or she is eligible for an economic stimulus payment. The message recommends direct deposit into the taxpayer’s checking or savings account. To receive the payment, recipients must click on a link to complete and submit an online form by a certain date; otherwise, the e-mail warns, payment may be delayed. The form requests personal and financial data, including checking or savings account numbers that the scammers can use to gain access to the accounts.

In reality, the way members of the public receive their economic stimulus payment is to file a tax return with the IRS, not a special form. Additionally, the IRS does not request personal or financial information via e-mail.

Information on how to obtain an economic stimulus payment may be found in the Economic Stimulus Payment Information Center on the IRS Web site (www.irs.gov). For more information on stimulus-related scams, see IR-2008-11.

Substitute Form 1040 Fax Scam
This scam consists of a cover letter and form that are faxed, rather than e-mailed. The cover letter is addressed “Dear Valued Tax Payer (sic)” and appears to be signed by an IRS employee. The letter says that the IRS is updating its files and that recipients who supply the requested information will receive a nominal tax refund. It also states that those who fail to immediately return the completed form risk additional tax and withholding. The attached form is labeled a substitute Form 1040 and is titled “Certificate of Current Status of Beneficial Owner For United States Tax Recertification & Withholding.” It requests a large amount of detailed personal and financial information, such as mother’s maiden name (often used in security screening), bank account numbers, estimated assets and more. It asks the recipient to sign and fax back the completed form, as well as a copy of the recipient’s driver’s license and passport.
The letter, signature and form are all fraudulent. Moreover, the IRS does not send unsolicited faxes to taxpayers and does not request such detailed personal and financial information.

This is a variant of earlier scams. For more information, see news releases IR-2004-104 and IR-2004-75.

Company Report Scam
This e-mail appears to come from an IRS.gov e-mail address, addresses recipients by name and references the company the recipient works for. These personalized details may convince the recipient that the e-mail is legitimate. The e-mail says that the IRS has a report on the company and asks the recipient to review a copy by clicking on a link to download the report. However, when the link is clicked, malware is downloaded to the recipient’s computer.
There are various types of malware, which can hijack a victim’s computer hard drive to give someone remote access to the computer, search for passwords and other information and send them to the scammer, or cause other types of identity theft or damage.
The IRS does not compile reports on companies or send e-mails to company staff asking them to review a report. Generally, the IRS does not send unsolicited e-mails to taxpayers.

Tax Court Scam
In this scam, an e-mail that appears to come from the U.S. Tax Court contains a petition involving a court case between the IRS and the recipient. The document instructs the recipient to download other files. The downloads transfer malware, or malicious code, to the recipient’s computer.

There are various types of malware, which, for example, can hijack a victim’s computer hard drive to give someone remote access to the computer, or can search for passwords and other information and send them to the scammer.

The truth is that the Tax Court is not e-mailing notices to anyone who currently has a case before the court. Visit the court’s Web site at http://www.ustaxcourt.gov/ for more information. Recipients are advised to avoid clicking on any links in the e-mail and to delete the e-mail.

How Scams Work
To lure their victims, phishing scams use the name of a known institution, such as the IRS, to either offer a reward for taking a simple action, such as providing information, or threaten or imply an unpleasant consequence, such as losing a refund, for failing to take the requested action.

The goal of the scams is to trick people into revealing personal and financial information, such as Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers, which the scammers can use to commit identity theft.
Typically, identity thieves use a victim’s personal and financial data to empty the victim’s financial accounts, run up charges on the victim’s existing credit cards, apply for new loans, credit cards, services or benefits in the victim’s name, file fraudulent tax returns or even commit crimes. Most of these fraudulent activities can be committed electronically from a remote location, including overseas. Committing these activities in cyberspace allows scammers to act quickly and cover their tracks before the victim becomes aware of the theft.

People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years — and their hard-earned money — cleaning up the mess thieves have made of their reputations and credit records. In the meantime, victims may lose job opportunities or may be refused loans, education, housing or cars.

What to Do
Anyone wishing to access the IRS Web site should type www.irs.gov into their Internet address window, rather than clicking on a link in an e-mail or opening an attachment, either of which may download malicious code or send the recipient to a phony Web site.
Those who have received a questionable e-mail claiming to come from the IRS may forward it to the following address: phishing@irs.gov. Use the instructions contained in an article on IRS.gov titled “How to Protect Yourself from Suspicious E-Mails or Phishing Schemes.” Following the instructions will help the IRS track the suspicious e-mail to its origins and shut down the scam. Find the article by visiting IRS.gov and entering the words “suspicious e-mails” into the search box in the upper right corner of the front page.

Those who have received a questionable telephone call that claims to come from the IRS may also use the phishing@irs.gov  mailbox to notify the IRS.

The IRS has issued previous warnings on scams that use the IRS name to lend the scam legitimacy. More information on identity theft, phishing and telephone scams using the IRS name, logo or spoofed (copied) Web site is available on the IRS Web site at IRS.gov. Enter the terms “phishing,” “identity theft” or “e-mail scams” into the search box in the upper right corner of the front page.


CFO SINK: PUTNAM COUNTY VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER SUSPECTED ON CHARGES OF ARSON

State Fire Marshal Alex Sink Friday announced the arrest of a Putnam County volunteer firefighter on charges of first-degree arson.

Detectives from the State Fire Marshal’s Office arrested Charles M. Jones III, 19, for first degree arson. White is a volunteer firefighter with the Georgetown Volunteer Fire Department within Putnam County.

White was arrested after confessing to setting fire to an older unoccupied mobile home. He is currently being held at the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.

The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is a law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local fire and law enforcement agencies in the investigation of fires of suspicious origin. Anyone with information about this case or any incident of fire is asked to call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON).


Consumer Services Helpline 1-877-MY-FL-CFO
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