Volume 7 Number 48 November 26, 2010

Dear Floridian:

The Thanksgiving holiday gives us the opportunity to reflect on the many blessings in our lives and spend time with family and friends. As we celebrate this very special American holiday designated to share our gratitude for the freedom to build lives of purpose and give back to our communities, please join me in remembering those who serve our nation and our state, and who because of their dedication to the greater good, cannot be with their loved ones this Thanksgiving holiday.

I’m especially thankful for my wonderful family, my husband Bill and our children Bert and Lexi. I’m also thankful for the opportunity you’ve given me to serve as Florida’s CFO and for the employees at the Department of Financial Services who work hard every day to serve the people of Florida.

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Sincerely,

Alex




Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


A Thanksgiving Meal with Miss Martha, CFO Sink and CFO-elect Atwater

Miss Martha and CFO Sink and the pieFor the past 28 years, Martha Baker has been a dedicated employee to the Department of Management Services and the citizens of Florida. Shown with CFO Alex Sink, Martha is known throughout the Capitol Complex as “Miss Martha” and is well known for her delicious and sought after Sweet Potato Pie, oftentimes delivering pies to Capitol offices “just because.” Miss Martha joined CFO Sink, CFO-elect Jeff Atwater and Capitol employees for a wonderful Thanksgiving luncheon, catered by the talented DFS Capitol cooks.

In 1982, Martha Baker began her career in the Historic Capitol as a custodial worker, where an intensive project of historical, architectural and archaeological investigation had just been completed, making Florida’s Capitol one of the most thoroughly documented capitol restoration projects in the Nation.

Transferred to the Fletcher Building and then permanently reassigned to the Capitol, Martha Baker’s longevity has outlasted countless employees and eight Governors: Bob Graham, Wayne Mixon, Bob Martinez, Lawton Chiles, Buddy McKay, Jeb Bush, and the current Governor Charlie Crist.

Spending time at home in her rose bed, caring and feeding her beloved roses, has been rewarded by many pedestrians and motorists alike stopping and commenting on her beautiful garden. Many factors have contributed to Miss Martha’s success, including her enthusiasm, kindness to others and her love of family. Having served the citizens with pride and distinction, Martha Baker has earned the respect and admiration of her peers and her community. And that sweet potato pie was delicious!


State Fire Marshal

State Fire Marshal Investigators Applauded for Winning ‘Investigators of the Year’ Award

CFO and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink is pleased to announce that the State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations (BFAI) Kitchen Fire Task Force has won the Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention (FACAP) Investigators of the Year award.

Comprised of sworn members within the BFAI, Division of Insurance Fraud, Miami Dade Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Fireams, the seven-member Task Force was recognized at FACAP’s annual conference in Ocala for their innovative ideas and kitchen fire investigation successes.

After identifying a significant growth in the number of fires originating in kitchens and residential properties, Citizens Property Insurance Corporation approached the State Fire Marshal’s office (SFM) with concerns about a possible trend. Using various investigative and analytical tools, the SFM’s BFAI reviewed some of the insurance company’s claims and discovered that certain circumstances surrounding the questionable fires were in fact similar. These similarities included the involvement of public adjusters, the geographic area the fires' occurrence, demographics, and the time of day the fires occurred.

It became apparent to BFAI that there was a need to create a working group of experts who had the knowledge and experience to put a plan together to deter these kinds of fires and educate citizens and businesses on the various aspects of kitchen fires. The Kitchen Fire Task Force was formed and began looking into the growing number of fires related to kitchens, power strips, irons and other types of household items that were being listed as the cause of many “accidental” fires.

The Task Force has dedicated an enormous amount of time and effort to investigating the growing trend of fraudulent kitchen fires. The hard work has paid off with numerous arrests resulting from interviews and undercover operations involving public adjusters and homeowners who played a part in these criminal acts.

The Task Force which began in South Florida has now expanded to the Ft. Myers area due to an increase in the same type of fraudulent activity. The focus continues on educating and working with law enforcement detectives and fire service personnel throughout the state to increase the awareness of fraudulent fires and insurance claims.

The Members of the Task Force who received the award are:

Detective Charles Toledo, State Fire Marshal’s Office, Miami Dade
Detective Eduardo Blanco, State Fire Marshal’s Office, Ft. Myers
Detective Adam Rivero, State Fire Marshal’s Office, Ft Myers
Detective Carlos Losada, Division of Insurance Fraud, Miami Dade
Detective Alfonso Najera Miami Dade Police Department
Detective Tim Smith, Miami Dade Police Department
Special Agent Kevin Bonikowski, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, Miami Field Division


Insurance Consumer AdvocateICA Terry Butler Encourages Consumers to Exercise Caution when Purchasing Extended Warranties this Holiday Season

Terry Butler, Interim Insurance Consumer AdvocateTerry Butler, Interim Insurance Consumer Advocate

As the holiday shopping season kicks off, and many big-ticket items are purchased, consumers should have an understanding of extended warranties. The Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate would like to share information with consumers regarding extended warranties.

It is important for consumers to understand that purchasing an extended warranty is solely the decision of the purchaser. The following is a brief guide as to how extended warranties work:

Consumer protections are in place when consumers purchase an extended warranty. As a result, consumers are permitted to file a complaint if the entity selling the extended warranty fails to live up to its agreement.

Consumers are advised to understand what the manufacturer’s warranty covers and for how long. Check to see if your credit card company or the retailer offers some additional extension to the manufacturer’s warranty for no additional cost.

Consumers considering the purchase of an extended warranty should:

Consumers that have any further questions regarding extended warranties may 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 Corner

Plan Ahead for Holiday Spending

The holidays are upon us, so it’s important to take some time to think about how much you’re going to spend and to set up a budget. Take a look at your budget to find places that can be trimmed to provide extra holiday money. For instance:

Don’t let the temptations of Black Friday cause you to start the season off on the wrong track. Giving yourself a set amount of spending money will help you avoid impulse buying and racking up debt that you could still be paying off months after the holiday decorations have been packed back in the attic. Make a list of people for whom you will be buying gifts, set an amount that you are willing to spend and then stick to that amount.

Plan ahead to be frugal on food for holiday parties doing the cooking yourself or going in on an event with friends can save you money. If your holiday plans include a long trip, plan carefully and look for ways to save on traveling expenses.

Taking these steps now will keep holiday debt from taking the sparkle off of the spirit of the season.


irs.govBeware of e-Mail Scams about the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System

Consumers should be aware of a scam in which recipients receive an e-mail that claims to come from the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. The e-mail states that tax payments made by the e-mail recipient through EFTPS have been rejected. The e-mail then directs recipients to a bogus website containing malicious software (malware) that infects the intended victim’s computer. To avoid the bogus website and malware, do not click on any links, open any attachments or reply to the sender for any e-mail you may receive that claims to come from EFTPS.

The IRS and the Financial Management Service (the Treasury bureau that owns EFTPS) does not communicate payment information through e-mail.

EFTPS is committed to taxpayer privacy and uses industry-leading security practices and technology to protect taxpayer data.


Hurricane Season: Are you prepared?Hurricane Checklist: Hurricane Season Is at an End

As hurricane season 2010 comes to an end, CFO Alex Sink reminds Floridians that hurricanes are not the only disasters that we need to be prepared for each year. Wildfires, floods, and tornadoes are other real disasters that can drive you from your home. It pays to make sure your financial interests are up-to-date and your family survival items are not exhausted.

Since it's the end of hurricane season, it's time to check the items in your Family Survival Kit to make sure they are still viable in the event of a natural disaster. Items to check are:

The life expectancy of these items should be checked and rotated to keep them fresh and usable.

Also, don’t forget the pet items like vaccination records, registration papers, and medications for flea and heartworm prevention that need to be updated. Be sure the name and contact information for your veterinarian are correct along with any current treatment information.

For more information on disaster planning, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/Guides/disaster/index.htm.


Safeguard Our Seniors

Upcoming Calendar of Events

Every day, hundreds of Floridians fall victim to financial fraud. Many of these victims are trusting seniors who were misled by unscrupulous agents and scam artists into making risky or inappropriate financial investments, including annuities and reverse mortgages. In response, CFO Sink created the Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force to develop solutions to better protect Florida seniors from falling victim to financial fraud. The Department of Financial Services regularly offers Safeguard Our Seniors workshops to help seniors guard against financial fraud and scams.

November 29th @ 11:00 a.m. to 12: 00 p.m. - Insurance and Financial Fraud North Brevard Senior Center, 909 Lane Ave., Titusville, Fl 32780
Rachael Redlien (321) 536-8851

November 29th @ 8:56 a.m. - Insurance and Financial Fraud The Morning Magazine Show with host Bob Soos, News Radio WTTB 1490 AM, Indian River

December 12th @ 3:00 p.m. - Insurance and Financial Fraud
Horizon Bay Senior Living Facility, 7650 North University Drive, Tamarac, FL 33321
Elaine Siegel (954) 722-6314

December 12th @ 9:00 to 3:00 p.m. – Insurance and Financial Fraud
2nd Annual Senior Fun Fest and Jamboree
2202 W. Reynolds Street, Plant City, Florida 33563

December 21 @ 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. – Insurance Financial Fraud
Maitland Senior Center, 345 S Maitland Avenue, Maitland, FL 32751
Mari Smith, (407) 539-6251


Florida Housing Help

Communication May Be the Key to Your Home

If you are struggling to make your mortgage payments, CFO Sink encourages you to talk with your mortgage company as soon as possible and before you fall behind. Often, communicating with them will help you take constructive steps and relieve some of the stress you may be feeling.

More importantly, don’t ignore calls or letters from your mortgage company. Explain your situation to them. And they may have different options and programs that can assist you.

If you’re having difficulty or facing foreclosure, attend one of CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help Workshops. Look at the calendar of events to see when the next one in your area will be held.

CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services has held over 150 Florida Housing Help workshops across Florida, helping more than 14,000 Florida homeowners connect with their lenders or housing counselors. Details on CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help initiative and a calendar of upcoming Florida Housing Help events can be found at http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/FloridaHousingHelp.


My Family CFOUnderstanding the Two Types of 529 Plans

A 529 plan is an education savings plan operated by a state or educational institution designed to help families set aside funds for future college costs. It is named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code which created these types of savings plans in 1996. There are two basic types of 529 plans.

Savings Plans work much like a 401K or IRA by investing your contributions in mutual funds or similar investments. The plan will offer you several investment options from which to choose. Your account will go up or down in value based on the performance of the particular option you select.

Prepaid Plans let you pre-pay all or part of the costs of an in-state public college education. They may also be converted for use at private and out-of-state colleges. The Independent 529 Plan is a separate prepaid plan for private colleges.

Florida Prepaid College Plans Florida Prepaid College Plansoffer four affordable Prepaid Plan choices that offer families the ability to prepay the cost of college tuition and required fees,  guaranteed.

To further save for college costs, you may also consider adding the University Dormitory Plan for on-campus housing expenses or consider opening a Florida College Investment Plan that can be used for any qualified college expense. Each plan offers families across a wide-range of financial situations, a pathway that leads to a college education.  Find out more at http://www.myfloridaprepaid.com/.