Consumer eViews
FLORIDA'S CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S
WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 1, Number 12, March 22, 2004


HEALTH DECISIONS ARE IN YOUR HANDS

As we age, questions and concerns about our health are bound to arise.  But for many Floridians, the prospect of getting checked for prostate or breast cancer, two of the leading cancers in men and women, can be frightening.  The possibility of receiving bad news often leads individuals to delay being tested for this potentially deadly disease.  However, studies continue to show that early detection can mean the difference between treatment and surgery, and sometimes between life and death.  An estimated 30,000 American men lose their lives to prostate cancer each year, one death every twenty minutes.  An additional 10,000 women, for a total of nearly 40,000, fall victim to breast cancer annually. 

But personal stories often make a greater impact on us than statistics.  Recently I was told of a friend who was required to undergo a physical exam to qualify for the purchase of life insurance.  This individual had a history of prostate cancer in his family and had PSA tests done on a regular basis.  PSA, a protein produced in the prostate, has proven to be an extremely useful marker for early detection of prostate cancer and in checking for disease progression and the effects of treatment.   Following the exam, the man and his wife sought a second opinion.  This time cancer was found, fortunately at an early stage with an excellent chance of recovery after treatment.

Early detection of breast cancer can also result in far more successful treatments. A mammogram can detect breast cancer at its earliest stage, when it is most treatable, up to two years before it is large enough to be felt by a medical professional. More widespread use of mammography has been a major contributor to recent improvements in the breast cancer survival rate.

There are many myths and half-truths about cancer, but what is grounded in fact is that cancer deaths continue to rise.  So take a proactive role in preserving good health.  With a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and regular exercise, along with sun protection, quitting smoking, and most importantly getting regular medical checkups, you can help to eliminate the risks of cancer.

                                                                     --Tom Gallagher
 


FIRE SAFETY IN FLORIDA’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS

The State Fire Marshal’s Office last week released the Florida Public Schools Annual Report FY 2002-2003.  This is the first-ever annual report on the status of fire safety programs in Florida’s public schools.

Responsibility for gathering this information was transferred in 2002 from the Department of Education to the State Fire Marshal.  Under the new law, set out in Chapter 1013 of Florida Statutes, each school district and the local fire marshal in each jurisdiction are required inspect each school during each school year, with the local fire marshal having authority to set and enforce deadlines for correction of violations.  The school district is responsible for reporting the results of the dual inspections to the State Fire Marshal’s Office by June 30 of each year. 

Ben Barron, Fire Protection Specialist for the Division's Bureau of Fire Prevention, discovers a gasoline-powered tractor inside a classroom.  

In jurisdictions that lack fire safety inspection capability, the State Fire Marshal assumes the role of the local fire official.  The law is intended to ensure that every public school, charter school and community college is inspected by an independent fire authority.

“I must say this first report is disappointing,” said Chief Financial Tom Gallagher, who also serves as State Fire Marshal.  “One school system reported inspecting less than half of its schools.  Five other school systems reported that they inspected less than 70 percent of their schools, and many others reported inspecting less than 80 percent.  Students deserve better odds.”

School districts must submit their current school year inspection reports by June 30.  Gallagher has said that any school that does not submit an inspection report will face possible closure, and that schools in which life-threatening violations are allowed to persist will face the same prospect.  

A summary of the findings and a database of violations cited at each inspected school are available at http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/SFM/PublicSchoolsReports_FY_2002-03.htm.  The summary lists the top three violations found in all schools in each county the schools that did not submit an inspection report.

“The State Fire Marshal’s Office stands ready to help school districts and local fire officials comply with these inspection requirements,” Gallagher said.  “Our first priority must be to ensure a safe environment for students and teachers.”   

                                       


GALLAGHER PROMOTES LEGISLATION TO PREVENT ID THEFT

CFO asks lawmakers to require proper disposal of consumer records

Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher unveiled a proposal to require financial institutions, brokerages, insurance companies and agencies to use greater care when they dispose of consumer records containing personal, financial and medical information.

In the past year, the Department of Financial Services has received several reports of sensitive information being disposed of along with everyday office trash in public dumpsters.  Access to these kinds of documents creates the potential for identity theft, an increasingly widespread form of financial fraud.  A survey by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that more than 27 million Americans became ID theft victims in the last five years, resulting in more than $5 billion in out-of-pocket expenses. The same survey determined that ID theft cost the financial services industry nearly $50 billion.

“If scam artists gain access to personal and financial information, they can wreak havoc with a consumer’s finances,” Gallagher said.  “That’s why I’m urging state lawmakers to take steps to protect Florida consumers from the nation’s fastest growing crime.”

Senate bill 1624, sponsored by Sen. Jim Sebesta, along with the version sponsored by the House Commerce Committee, provides the Department of Financial Services, Office of Financial Regulation and Office of Insurance Regulation with the authority to set rules for the financial services industry in Florida for the proper destruction of records containing personal, financial and medical information. 

In addition to promoting this legislation, Gallagher’s office has issued several consumer alerts warning consumers about the dangers of ID theft.  The department has created an online resource on ID theft.  Consumers can log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com and click the “ID Theft” banner to visit the site. Tips on avoiding this type of crime include shredding junk mail credit card offers, reviewing all bank and credit card records and checking credit reports at least once a year.

Monitoring financial account activity is also extremely important.  According to the FTC, 52 percent of identity theft victims discovered they were victims by monitoring their accounts.  More than 67 percent of victims reported that their credit card accounts were commandeered, representing the largest portion of respondents.

“Consumers must be more than cautious to avoid identity theft scams – they must be downright aggressive,” Gallagher said.  “However, state lawmakers should ensure consumers are protected against careless handling of their personal, financial and medical information.

 


5 ARRESTED IN SCHEME THAT DEFRAUDED HUNDREDS OF SENIORS
 

Florida's Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher and Attorney General Charlie Crist today announced the arrests of five south Florida residents on charges that they systematically defrauded hundreds of senior citizens in an organized scheme that netted more than $2 million in fraudulent insurance sales commissions. 

Brian Lee Shechtman, 37, of Hollywood; Dean Allen Shechtman, 36, of Aventura; Brad Howard Shechtman, 33, of Miramar; Camille Martinez Shechtman, 30, of Miramar; and Rosemary O’Rourke Welstead, 61, of Ft. Lauderdale, are charged with racketeering and multiple counts of insurance fraud, money laundering and grand theft.  Brad and Camille Shechtman were booked into the Marion County Jail.  The three others were booked into the Broward County Jail.

Insurance fraud investigators with the Department of Financial Services, which Gallagher oversees, said licensed insurance agents were recruited to gain the trust of victims between the ages 70 and 94.  Promising to save them money on their health insurance, the agents instead “slid” them life insurance applications. The sale of whole life insurance policies can net larger commissions.

“These people preyed on senior citizens who needed help in making ends meet,” Gallagher said.  “It is unconscionable that these individuals devised such an intricate scheme to take advantage of more than a thousand of our most vulnerable citizens.”

When the elderly victims learned they had purchased a whole life policy, investigators said, they were instructed to call Welstead.  Instead of receiving assistance, they were sent to another agent who maintained the scheme. 

“For many of the victims,” Gallagher said, “the cycle would repeat itself over and over.”

“There are few crimes more despicable than scamming seniors who are trying to make important choices,” said Crist.  “Our prosecutors are pleased to be working with the Chief Financial Officer's team to seek justice for these victims.”

Pioneer Life Insurance Company, one of the insurance companies with whom some agents were appointed, has refunded over $1 million to its customers.

Welstead and the Shechtmans, except for Brian Shechtman, have had their insurance agent licenses revoked.  Brian Shechtman is prohibited from selling any new policies while his administrative complaint is pending.

Brad Shechtman had his insurance license revoked in 1992 after he pleaded no contest to charges of felony grand theft and financial exploitation of the elderly. He was sentenced to five years’ probation.

Camille Martinez Shechtman’s license was revoked in 1999 and Dean Allen Shechtman’s license was revoked in 2003 for fraudulent sales of life insurance to the elderly. At the time, the two were selling policies for Elder Care Insurance Services, owned by Brian Shechtman.  Investigators said they traced more than $1 million dollars in illicit life insurance proceeds to Brian Shechtman’s brokerage accounts.

Welstead’s license was revoked in September 2003 for fraudulent sales of life insurance to the elderly.

Investigators said that after losing their agent licenses, the group recruited licensed agents, friends and acquaintances, and even paid for tutors and insurance school tuition for recruits who were not already licensed.  Some were paid a weekly salary in return for signing the fraudulent life insurance applications.

Three agents recruited into the scheme have already lost their licenses. 

The licenses of Mark Mittleman and Jay Steven Goldman were revoked in 2002 for allowing Dean Shechtman to transact insurance using their licenses and for sharing their commissions with him.

Gregory O'Connor’s license was revoked in December 2001 for fraudulent sale of life insurance to the elderly.

The department’s Division of Insurance Fraud and Division of Agent and Agency Services, Bureau of Investigations, conducted the investigation jointly.  The Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution is prosecuting the charges.

The department offers a reward of up to $25,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in complex insurance fraud schemes.  Information can be provided anonymously.   To report insurance fraud, call 1-800-378-0445.
                                       
 


Florida Department of Financial Services'
Consumer Services HelpLine
(800)342-2762.