Volume 7 Number 41 October 8, 2010

Dear Floridian:

This week I was pleased to hear Ken Feinberg’s decision not to include geographic proximity in the criteria of legitimate claims made by Floridians who’ve been affected by the oil spill. Unfortunately, the perception of oil on our beaches has been economically devastating to small businesses from the Panhandle to the Keys, and all impacted Floridians deserve compensation for their losses.

While Mr. Feinberg’s decision is a step in the right direction, there is still much work to be done to make impacted Floridians whole again. This week, my consumer services division reached out to Panhandle communities and heard from Floridians who are still having issues getting their claims paid. I will continue to aggressively advocate on their behalf.

Sincerely,

Alex




Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


CFO Alex Sink Proposes Contracting Changes to Citizens Property Insurance for More Accountability

Citizens Property Insurance CorporationFlorida CFO Alex Sink on Thursday sent a letter to Scott Wallace, President and Executive Director of Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, outlining proposed changes to Citizens’ procurement policy and contracting procedures. On August 13, CFO Sink called upon Citizens to review its contracting procedures and competitively bid its contracts after news reports revealed that the company did not competitively bid 33 contracts worth close to $50 million.

“Citizens has an obligation to be accountable and transparent to Floridians in its contracting processes, and I am pleased that my department was able to work with Citizens to identify changes that can help the company to do just that,” said CFO Alex Sink. “I am confident that these proposed changes – to encourage more competitive bidding, including revising Citizens’ broad emergency exemption, and committing to enhancing training for contract managers – are in the best interest of Citizens and our state.”

Read CFO Sink's letter to Scott Wallace.


CFO Alex Sink Welcomes Changes to BP Claims Process Based on Her Request

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill ResourcesFlorida CFO Alex Sink on Monday welcomed Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) Administrator Kenneth Feinberg’s announcement that he will be changing the GCCF claims protocol regarding geographic proximity. At last week’s Cabinet meeting and in correspondence with Mr. Feinberg, CFO Sink has asked that Mr. Feinberg reconsider the GCCF protocol to include all legitimate claims filed by affected Floridians.

“I am encouraged that Mr. Feinberg has heard our call for fairness in processing legitimate claims for all Floridians, not just those who are physically close to the shoreline. Unfortunately, the perception of oil on our beaches has devastated many of our state’s small businesses from the Panhandle all the way down to the Florida Keys, and every legitimate claim of economic damages deserves compensation,” said CFO Sink. “In Florida’s tourism-based economy, it is essential that taxpayers do not bear the burden of this spill and that our small businesses have the help they need to get back on their feet.”

On September 15, CFO Sink joined Governor Charlie Crist in asking Mr. Feinberg to revise the GCCF protocol to include faster payment of claims and also less restrictive criteria that may exclude legitimate claimants under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

Read CFO Sink and Governor Crist's letter.


State Fire Marshal & CFO Alex Sink Recognizes Fire Prevention Week 2010

State Fire MarshalFlorida CFO and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink on Monday recognized Fire Prevention Week 2010 by inviting Floridians to take part in this year’s National Fire Protection Association campaign, titled: “Smoke Alarms: A Sound You Can Live With!”

During Fire Prevention Week, October 3 -9, State Fire Marshal officials are participating in events across the state focusing on the campaign which is designed to educate people about the importance of smoke alarms and encourages everyone to take the steps necessary to updateNational Fire Protection Association and maintain their home smoke alarm protection.

“By taking a few proactive steps, Floridians can reduce the threats that fires pose to our property, forests, and even our lives,” said CFO Sink. “Many fire hazards go undetected and that is why it is important to follow a few simple rules beginning with educating not only yourself, but also your family members. By doing this, Floridians can help better protect their families and the firefighters sworn to help them.”

National Fire Protection Association 2010 Fire Prevention WeekThe Florida Cabinet passed a resolution sponsored by CFO Sink in support of Fire Prevention Week 2010 during last week’s Cabinet meeting. Last year, 159 deaths in Florida occurred as a result of fires, and more than 1,000 citizens, including 263 firefighters, were injured in fire-related incidents. Home and property damage from fires in Florida cost approximately $430 million in 2009.

Quick fire safety tips for Floridians to keep in mind during Fire Prevention Week include:

As State Fire Marshal, CFO Sink aims to educate citizens and her State Fire Marshal Division holds numerous educational seminars and training throughout the year. The Bureau of Fire Prevention annually inspects more than 17,690 public and private buildings including public schools, university facilities and adult living facilities. Also, the Bureau regulates the handling of explosives materials, promotes boiler safety, and works with fire system installation contractors to ensure public safety.

For more information and fire safety tips, visit CFO Sink’s State Fire Marshal website at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/sfm/ or the National Fire Protection Agencies web site at http://www.nfpa.org/.


Safeguard Our Seniors80-year-old gets back $300,000 in unsuitable annuity transaction

CFO Sink’s Consumer Helpline recently helped an 80-year-old widow from Hernando County get back $300,000 after she complained that she had been misled into purchasing an annuity with a 10-year surrender period. She further complained that she felt the agent took advantage of her because the annuity was purchased within a few days of her husband’s passing.Safeguard Our Seniors

Just days after her husband passed away, the agent recommended she move her current investments and monies received from her husband’s insurance to new annuities. All of the annuities chosen by the agent had a 10-year surrender period.

Six months later, after reviewing the documentation provided by the agent, she said she began to worry she had made a bad investment and sought advice from two financial specialists who explained the investments, the taxes and penalties and advised that this type of investment was not suitable for someone her age.

She contacted the Helpline and spoke to Specialist Mike Donohoe. Mike contacted the company on her behalf, and the company agreed to return her investments totaling nearly $300,000.

The woman said the agent entered false information on the application, certifying that he had not entered into any contract with her in the past, but she pointed out that this agent had sold her an annuity in 2007. After reviewing the Personal Suitability form, she found the agent also knowingly added false information about her financial position -- specifically her income, monthly expenses and liquid assets were changed on the application.

Lesson: Read and understand your annuity contract immediately and make sure all of your questions are answered before you sign anything. You have 14 days to cancel an annuity without penalty, and that will increase to 21 days on January 1, 2011, due to the passage this year of CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors legislation.

If you have questions about an annuity, or want to learn more about annuities, visit http://www.FLSenior.net  or call the Consumer Helpline at 850-413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).


State Fire Marshal

Information Solicited in Arson Investigation of Charlotte County Storage Facility

State Fire Marshal and CFO Alex Sink’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, in partnership with the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, has announced the investigation of a suspected arson fire at the Storage America Self Storage Complex located at 1145 Capricorn Boulevard in Port Charlotte, Florida, which destroyed over 80 individual self-storage units containing customers’ belongings.

On Monday, September 27, 2010, at approximately 8:30 p.m., the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office and the Charlotte County Fire Department responded to a fire call at the Storage America Self Storage Complex. When the firefighters arrived on scene the structure was heavily engulfed in flames and was eventually deemed a total loss.

While firefighters fought to tame the fire, eight firefighters ended up suffering from heat exhaustion and required medical treatment. As the State Fire Marshal’s office and the Charlotte County Sheriff’s office continue investigating this criminal offense, both agencies are seeking any information from the community that may be helpful in providing details relevant to the crime.

The Florida Advisory Council on Arson Prevention (FACAP) is offering a reward of up to $2,500 cash for any information that leads to the identification, arrest and conviction of the individual or individuals responsible for this fire. Information related to this investigation can be provided anonymously by calling the FACAP Arson Hotline at 1-(877) NO ARSON (1-877-662-7766) or Charlotte County Crimestoppers at 1-(800) 780-TIPS (8477).

The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is the law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local law enforcement and fire service agencies in the investigations of fires of a suspicious origin.


Division of Insurance Fraud

CFO &State Fire Marshal Alex Sink Announces Arrest of Escambia County Arsonist

Florida CFO & State Fire Marshal Alex Sink on Thursday announced the arrest of Lawrence William Patterson III, 23, on arson and insurance fraud charges stemming from the investigation of fires to his vehicle and residence. The arrest is the result of a joint investigation by CFO Sink’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations and her Division of Insurance Fraud.

In February, Patterson allegedly set fire to his pickup truck State Fire Marshalwhile it was parked in the garage of his home in Cantonment, Florida, and then lit a second fire inside the home within six hours of the first fire. While working the fire scene, a firefighter from the Beulah Fire District fell through the ceiling of the structure and was transported to the hospital with injuries.

Patterson later submitted two insurance claims for the damage to his vehicle and home. He received $13,000 for reimbursement to his vehicle, and has submitted a claim for more than $300,000 for damage to his home.

Patterson was arrested last night in Escambia County and transported to Escambia County jail where he was booked on five separate counts of arson and insurance fraud. If convicted, he could face a sentence of up to 120 years.

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). Information may also be mailed to: The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, 610 E Burgess Road, Pensacola, Florida 32504.


Insurance Consumer Advocate Butler Offers Advice for Navigating the Open Enrollment Process Insurance Consumer Advocate

Terry Butler, Interim Insurance Consumer Advocate

Terry Butler, Interim Insurance Consumer Advocate

Fall has arrived, with that comes open enrollment for many health insurance plans and other benefits. Each year, many consumers have the opportunity to make insurance and benefit changes for the coming year. The Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate would like to provide consumers with advice that should be considered while reviewing their benefits package.

Overall, consumers should note that benefit packages have a substantial impact on their financial health, as well as their family’s well being. It is important to take the time to review your benefits for the coming year.

Many changes and new regulations have been implemented as a result of the PPACA. While reviewing their benefits packages, consumers may also want to visit www.healthcare.gov, for any additional information that may be needed. Insurance plans that existed prior to the enactment of the PPACA may be “grandfathered” and therefore not have to include, at this time, all of the coverage changes required under the PPACA.

Consumers that have additional questions regarding benefit packages or any other open enrollment related issues should contact the Division of Consumer Services within the Department of Financial Services on-line at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/ or by phone at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236), toll-free in Florida, and (850) 413-3089 from out of state.

The Insurance Consumer Advocate is appointed by Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and is committed to finding solutions to insurance issues facing Floridians, calling attention to questionable insurance practices, promoting a viable insurance market responsive to the needs of Florida’s diverse population and assuring that rates are fair and justified.


Consumer CornerMitigation - Protecting Your Home Could Also Save You Money

As Florida homeowners, we all know the damage a strong storm or hurricane can inflict on our property and lives. We all want to better protect our homes and families from storms, but sometimes we don’t know where to start. One way is to fortify your home and potentially save money through wind or hurricane mitigation credits.

Mitigation can help reduce the level and cost of property damage caused by natural disasters. Adding items such as storm shutters, roof bracing, or storm doors, could help you receive considerable discounts on your homeowner’s policies while gaining some peace of mind.

CFO Sink encourages you to take steps to protect yourself and your property against hurricane damage. The first step is to get a wind inspection to identify how you can strengthen your home, and then determine if you are eligible for discounts on your wind insurance.

Follow these steps when starting the home mitigation process:

  1. Contact your agent or your company directly to find out about available discounts.
  2. Verify the amount of the discount for each item as it applies to YOUR policy.
    • For example: If hurricane shutters will result in a 30-percent discount on the windstorm premium, and your windstorm premium is $300 then the discount will equal a $90 annual savings on the premium.
  3. Request the specific criteria that will be needed to apply for and receive the discounts that are listed for your company.
    • For example: Does the roof need to be inspected by a certified wind inspector? Do the shutters need to meet a specific wind resistance rating?
  4. Verify the documentation that needs to be submitted in order to apply for and receive the discounts.
    • Example: Provide photos of the items installed, proof of purchase and installation or proof of inspection by a building official.
  5. Verify to whom the documentation should be submitted. Be sure to keep copies of all documentation, the date submitted and the mailing verification information.
  6. Get confirmation of when the discount will take effect (i.e. immediately or at renewal).
  7. Verify if the discount will be in the form of a premium discount, a credit to your premium balance or a refund on premium paid.

If you disagree with the results of your inspection report, you may ask to have another inspection completed by a different inspector. The second inspection would be at your own expense but could be well worth it in the long run. If you believe you are not getting the discounts you are due after reporting your concerns to your company, contact the Division of Consumer Services at (850) 413-3089 or 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236) or visit our website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


Hurricane Season: Are you prepared?Hurricane Checklist: Disaster Preparedness in a Few Clicks

The Department has many informative guides and resources available online to help you make sure your family is prepared for the final two months of hurricane season, which ends November 30.

Make sure your important financial documents are gathered and your home inventory ready with our Financial Toolkit. Several other disaster preparedness brochures and checklists also are available.

If you have about 10 minutes, view our Insure, Secure, Recover video and make sure your insurance coverage is adequate and you know what to expect should you have to file a claim.

And, you can find free Disaster Preparedness outreach programs in your area or request a program for your group, club or organization.

Go surf online, and make sure your family is safe.


Florida Housing HelpFlorida Housing Help is in Full Force

CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help (FHH) initiative has been in full force with over 150 events. This past week, the Department, in partnership with several south Florida counties, held a FHH workshop that served over 225 people.

Major lenders such as Bank of America, SunTrust, CHASE and Wells Fargo were in attendance to assist homeowners.

On Monday, October 4, an FHH was help in Tampa at the Children’s Board and it served over 100 people. Lenders and community partners, such as Bay Area Legal Services and Catholic Charities, were in attendance to help homeowners with mortgage and other financial issues.

The FHH website can help connect struggling Floridians who may be at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure or may be facing mortgage fraud issues with assistance. For a schedule of workshops that include community partners and resources and offer great information for citizens, Florida Housing Help Calendar.

Saturday, October 9 - Florida Housing Help at Viera Regional Center, 2300 Judge Fran Jamieson Way, Viera from 10 a.m.- 3 p.m.


My Family CFOCheck Your Smoke Alarms and Update If Needed

State Fire MarshalIf your home is not protected by smoke alarms, read this article, count how many alarms you need, then head for the nearest home improvement store right away. If you have smoke alarms in place, test each one in the house by pressing the "test" button on the alarm and change the battery twice a year or when needed.

When the battery runs down, the smoke detector becomes inactive and will signal a low-battery condition with a chirp sounding at intervals. It is quite common to find smoke alarms with dead or missing batteries.

Newer homes will have detectors wired into the electrical system with a battery backup. Check those batteries and the alarms for proper operation, too. Preventive maintenance is never wasted on life-saving equipment.

National Fire Protection AssociationThe National Fire Protection Association recommends replacing your detectors with new ones every 10 years. When you need to purchase new smoke alarms, there are three types to consider.

Smoke alarms work either by optical detection (photoelectric) or by physical process (ionization), while a dual unit uses both detection methods to increase sensitivity to smoke.

Optical or photoelectric detectors are quick to detect smoke generated by smoldering fires and are less sensitive to steam or cooking fumes thus are often referred to as “toast proof.” The ionization detector costs less than the optical detector and is generally quicker in detecting smoke generated by flaming hot fires but is more prone to false alarms. Both types are similarly effective in giving lead time for families to get out of the house in a fire emergency.

A dual sensor ionization and photoelectric smoke alarm offers maximum protection from both primary types of fires: flaming and smoldering and is affordable, ranging from about $25 to $60.

Regular cleaning can help prevent false alarms caused by the buildup of dust on the unit.