Volume 1 Number 38
September 20, 2004










TEXT VERSION

(Photo/U.S. Coast Guard)

GALLAGHER ANNOUNCES INSURANCE ‘SUPER-CENTER’
DFS Pensacola mobile unit a ‘one-stop shop’ for most policyholders filing claims

 Following weekend tours of storm-damaged areas in Pensacola, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher today announced an insurance “super-center” at the Department of Financial Services’ mobile headquarters in Pensacola.  Consumers visiting the location will have access to state consumer specialists and customer service representatives from most major insurance companies. 

“Pensacola residents with property damage now have a ‘one-stop shop’ to file insurance claims and get answers to insurance questions and concerns,” Gallagher said. 

The insurance “super-center" is located at the University Mall, 7171 North Davis Hwy., in Pensacola.  Available on the mobile unit are satellite and cellular phones, computers and other information resources to allow staff to assist victims immediately, in their communities.  The unit will also help insurance agents and adjusters locate policyholders.  Insurance companies co-locating as of today include: Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, Travelers, Allstate, State Farm, Met Life, USAA and
Mercury Insurance.  More insurance companies are expected to join DFS within the next few days.

The department also has staff and resources at more than twenty FEMA disaster recovery sites statewide.  For a full list of sites, consumers should log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com. 


Gallagher reminded Floridians that the state’s hurricane hotline remains available at 1-800-22-STORM, where consumer specialists have helped more than 30,000 individuals and families since Hurricane Charley made landfall last month.  Informational flyers are also being distributed to storms victims, copies of which are also available on the above website. 

              (Photo/U.S. Coast Guard)


 

 

 

 


 

 

 

GALLAGHER DEPLOYS MOBILE RESPONSE UNIT TO PANHANDLE 

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who toured panhandle counties affected by Hurricane Ivan, has mobilized the Department of Financial Services’ Mobile Response Unit to assist storm victims in filing insurance claims and quickly resolving insurance problems.

“Though storm victims are still focusing on the immediate needs of food, water and shelter, we stand ready to help with the rebuilding process,” said Gallagher.  “It’s my job to make sure insurance claims are paid quickly, that adjusters meet with homeowners in a timely manner and that no one takes advantage of Floridians coping with Ivan’s aftermath.” 

The department’s Mobile Response Unit will be arriving in Pensacola , and consumer specialists will begin canvassing damaged areas.  It will center operations at the University Mall, 7171 North Davis Hwy., in Pensacola.  Available on the mobile unit are satellite and cellular phones, computers and other information resources to allow staff to assist victims immediately, in their communities.  The unit will also help insurance agents and adjusters locate policyholders.  CONTINUED

“As I have seen with Floridians who went through both Hurricane Charley and Frances, the people of this state are incredibly resilient,” Gallagher said.  “We will recover and rebuild.”

Gallagher reminded Floridians that the state’s hurricane hotline remains available at 1-800-22-STORM, where consumer specialists have helped more than 30,000 individuals and families since Hurricane Charley made landfall last month. 

Gallagher reminded Floridians who are returning to their homes that the recent heavy rains may continue to pose flood hazards.  In such conditions, road surfaces can become obscured, causing drivers to unknowingly steer into a deep body of water, such as a canal or pond.  Electricity from downed street lights or power lines can be conducted through standing water, causing a potentially deadly shock. Gallagher further advised affected Floridians to take the following actions immediately following the storm:

·       Make emergency repairs to protect from further damage, document the damage and repairs in writing, and with receipts and photos.

  • Maintain copies of your household inventory and other documentation, including photos.  This will assist the adjuster in assessing the value of the destroyed property.
  • Beware of fly-by-night repair businesses. Hire licensed and reputable service people. 
  • If considering the assistance of a public insurance adjuster, verify that they are licensed by calling the department’s toll-free storm hotline at 1-800-22-STORM.
  • Be sure you understand how much a public insurance adjuster is charging and what services are included before signing any contract.

Consumers who are approached by an unlicensed agent or adjuster or have been the victim of an insurance fraud scam can also file a complaint online on the department's web page or by calling the storm hotline. 

Consumers can also continue to call the disaster hotline at 1-800-22-STORM (1-800-227-8676) and find additional resources on the department’s website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.  Informational flyers are also being distributed to storms victims, copies of which are also available on the above website. 


 

 

GALLAGHER TO LENDING INDUSTRY: REACH OUT WITH DISASTER RECOVERY ASSISTANCE

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher is asking lenders to offer a compassionate response to Floridians dealing with the devastating aftermath of Hurricanes Charley and Frances, including eliminating fees for lending transactions and granting loan payment extensions to affected customers.
“I’m asking financial service companies to reach out to help the thousands of storm victims,” Gallagher said.  “When disaster strikes, we must all stand together to help those in need, and I’m proud to partner with Florida’s lending industry in getting our citizens on the road to recovery.”

Gallagher offered the following suggestions for lenders assisting borrowers who are in the process of rebuilding after the storms.  Within prudent lending guidelines, lenders should recognize individual circumstances and consider the following:  CONTINUED

  • Waiving or reducing fees for services.

  • Waiving or reducing late fee penalties on past due loan payments.|

  • Not reporting forbearance or delinquencies to national credit reporting agencies for a specified time period.

  • Promptly releasing insurance proceeds in excess of mortgage balances to pay for repairs.

  • Promptly releasing funds intended for living expenses.

  • Waiving restrictive appraisal requirements, if applicable.

  • For refinancing and home equity lines of credit, accept customer’s waiver of the 3-day right of rescission.

  • Discussing payment plan options such as:

o    Reducing or suspending payments.

o    Allowing for skipped payments.

o    Extending repayment terms on loans.

o    Refinancing loans.

o    Increasing credit line and credit card limits.

  • Considering uninsured losses, extended unemployment, and extraordinary storm-related expenses of the borrowers when discussing payment plans and options.

  • Rapidly responding to requests for inspections for construction draws.

  • Reducing inspection fees and unnecessary paperwork.

  • Allowing consumers to restructure debt by easing credit extension terms for new loans.

  • Advising borrowers of federal agencies who may assist with disaster relief.

  • Empathizing and working with your customers.

Consumers needing storm related assistance should call the Department of Financial Services’ hurricane hotline at 1-800-22-STORM.


 

 

GALLAGHER PROVIDES UPDATE ON DFS’ EMERGENCY RESPONSE EFFORTS

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who also serves as the State Fire Marshal, today offered an update on search and rescue efforts and thanked emergency responders for their crucial, life-saving actions.

“Our initial response to major disaster is critical when lives are at stake,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services.  “The jobs of first responders are a reminder of why we’re here - to help Floridians in their time of need.”

The State Fire Marshal’s Office, which is responsible for mobilizing search and rescue efforts from the state Emergency Operations Center during an emergency, has since Thursday been activated to assist Floridians coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan.  Currently, the office is coordinating four FEMA urban search and rescue teams, six state search and rescue teams and 40 teams of firefighters with equipment available to assist local emergency responders.   CONTINUED

These efforts are in addition to State Fire Marshal personnel who yesterday assisted local and state rescue workers in clearing roadways and boat ramps of debris to allow rescue crews to get to stranded or wounded Floridians.  Today, State Fire Marshal teams are aiding rescue forces in Perdido Island and East Milton and searching for individuals who may have been trapped due to building collapses. 

The department’s Division of Insurance Fraud will be mobilized to support law enforcement efforts in storm-affected areas in preventing looting and other crimes associated with natural disasters, including insurance scams and price gouging.

“I’m incredibly proud of the response of our employees, who have been working around the clock, and of all the state and local emergency responders,” Gallagher said.  “Many of our emergency coordinators have been on the job since Tropical Storm Bonnie, more than a month ago.”

Gallagher, who yesterday laid the groundwork for insurance consumer specialists to enter storm-damaged areas in the panhandle to assist consumers in contacting their insurance companies and filing claims, said he would continue to provide support and resources to first responders as long as search and rescue efforts lasted.

Recovery efforts continue in south and central Florida as victims of Hurricanes Charley and Frances begin rebuilding their homes and businesses.  Gallagher, who served as insurance commissioner during Hurricane Andrew, has redeployed insurance specialists and volunteers into affected areas, and the state’s hurricane hotline remains open at 1-800-22-STORM.  More than 30,000 Floridians have been assisted with insurance questions and complaints.


 

 

FLOOD LOSSES AREN'T COVERED BY YOUR HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE POLICY

Here's how "flood" is defined by the National Flood Insurance Program:

"A general and temporary condition of partial or complete inundation of two or more acres of normally dry land area or of two or more properties (at least one of which is the policyholder's property) from:

  • Overflow of inland or tidal waters; or
  • Unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source; or
  • Mudflow; or
  • Collapse or subsidence of land along the shore of a lake or similar body of water as a result of erosion or undermining caused by waves or currents of water exceeding anticipated cyclical levels that result in a flood as defined above."

So, in plain English, a flood is an excess of water (or mud) on land that's normally dry.

Floods often happen when bodies of water overflow or tides rise due to heavy rainfall or thawing snow. But you don't have to live near water to be at risk of flooding. A flash flood, which can strike anywhere without warning, occurs when a large volume of rain falls within a short time. CONTINUED

More and more buildings, roads and parking lots are being built where forests and meadows used to be, which decreases the land's natural ability to absorb water. Coupled with changing weather patterns, this construction has made recent floods more severe and increased everyone's chance of being flooded.

Dangerous or damaging floods don't always mean dramatic, rushing waters through the streets of your hometown. Just a single inch of water can cause costly damage to your home! Keep this in mind when you're considering flood insurance.

There's something you should know: Flood losses aren't covered by your homeowners insurance policy.

Floodwaters have the power to damage not only your home and sense of security, but also your financial future. How can you protect your most important investment in case of flooding?

Option 1: Hope that you'll receive Federal disaster relief if a flood hits.

Many people wrongly believe that the U.S. government will take care of all their financial needs if they suffer damage due to flooding. The truth is that Federal disaster assistance is only available if the President formally declares a disaster. Even if you do get disaster assistance, it's often a loan you have to repay, with interest, in addition to your mortgage loan that you still owe on the damaged property.

Most importantly, you must consider the fact that if your home is flooded and disaster assistance isn't offered, you'll have to shoulder the massive damage costs alone.

The bottom line? If you're looking for secure protection from financial loss due to flood damage, Federal disaster assistance is not the answer.

Option 2: Buy flood insurance and stay protected no matter what.

When disaster strikes, flood insurance policyholder claims are paid even if a disaster is not Federally declared.

Flood insurance means you'll be reimbursed for all your covered losses. And unlike Federal aid, it never has to be repaid.

As long as your community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), you're eligible to purchase flood insurance. To find out if your community participates, check the Community Status Book on FEMA.gov.

As a homeowner, you can insure your home up to $250,000 and its contents up to $100,000. If you're a renter, you can cover your belongings up to $100,000. As a non-residential property owner, you can insure your building and its contents up to $500,000.

In general, a policy does not take effect until 30 days after you purchase flood insurance. So, if the weather forecast announces a flood alert for your area and you go to purchase coverage, it's already too late. You will not be insured if you buy a policy a few days before a flood.

A flood insurance policy is easy to get, affordable and offers invaluable peace of mind. With flood insurance, you know you're covered … no matter what.

Unlike a standard homeowners policy, flood insurance covers losses to your property caused by flooding.

Some of the things a standard flood policy will cover include:

  • structural damage
  • furnace, water heater and air conditioner
  • flood debris clean up
  • floor surfaces such as carpeting and tile

You can also buy a flood insurance policy to cover the contents of your home, such as furniture, collectibles, clothing, jewelry and artwork.

Policies are available in three forms: Dwelling (most homes), General Property (apartments and businesses), and Residential Condominium Building Association (condominiums).

It's important to know that if you have a federally backed mortgage on a home located in a high-risk zone, federal law requires you to purchase flood insurance. Also, if you've received a federal grant for previous flood losses, you must have a flood policy to qualify for future aid.

Buying flood insurance is the best thing you can do to protect your home, your business, family, and financial security.


 

 

 

 

 

FINANCING HOME REPAIRS: CONSUMER
CHECK LIST

If you need to finance your home repairs, and a mortgage or lien will be placed against your property, use this checklist prior to signing any contract!

Determine if your contractor is:
1. A Florida licensed contractor (Contact Dept. of Business and Professional Regulation 1-850-487-1395)
2. Licensed as a Home Improvement Finance Seller (Contact Office of Financial Regulation 1-800-342-2762)
(Note: Financial Institutions - banks and credit unions are exempt from licensure.)

Remember:  When financing your home improvements,
1. YOU are entitled to a copy of the contract at the time that you sign it.  CONTINUED
2. YOU must keep a copy of your contract to protect your legal rights.
3. YOU must never sign any contract in blank - write N/A on any blank line!
4. YOU are responsible for payments on any financial contract or home improvement contract containing a mortgage. Failure to make your payment may result in foreclosure of your property.

The completed contract SHOULD NOT have any blank spaces and MUST include:
1. Name of home improvement finance seller;
2. Signatures of both the owner and contractor;
3. Notice of the right to rescind the contract within 3 business days;
4. Approximate dates the work would begin and end;
5. Amount financed, down payment amount and any difference between those two; insurance specifying coverage and benefits, official fees, survey and permit charges;
6. Premiums paid for group credit life or other insurance should state which party is to procure the insurance.
7. Depending on the length and terms of the loan, finance charges can be as high as 22% APR. You may want to contact FEMA's disaster assistance program at 1-800­621-3362 for lower interest rates.
8. NO provision for a power of attorney should be in this contract.

Once the project is complete:

1. Owner and contractor must sign a certificate stating all work has been completed. CAUTION: Do not sign this certificate unless all work has been performed!
2. Ask your contractor to furnish a release of liens against the property.
3. Keep a copy of the completion certificate and lien release to protect your rights.

Consumers needing assistance with hurricane related issues should call the Department of Financial Services' hurricane hotline at 1-800-22-STORM.