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

Volume 1, Number 45, November 8, 2004     
 

As part of our statewide public education campaign to promote financial literacy among Floridians of all ages and income levels, Your Money, Your Life, we’re rolling out a new essay contest aimed at encouraging money management skills in high school students. The contest, “Cash in on Your Money Smarts,” offers Florida students a chance at more than $7,500 in prizes statewide, with a top individual award of $750 for one student in each of five geographic regions.

We are joining parents and teachers across Florida in encouraging the development of sound money smarts among our state’s young people. This is a chance for our teens to be rewarded for their knowledge of smart financial decisions.

The essay contest is open to teens 14-18 years old. Students must submit a 750-word essay on the topic of good financial decision-making skills to the Florida Department of Financial Services by February 11, 2005. Essays may be submitted electronically or by mail, in English or Spanish. Three essays will be selected for each of five geographic regions in Florida, and cash prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place for a total of $7,500 in prizes.

For complete contest details, students, teachers and parents should log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com and click “Cash in on Your Money Smarts.”
 

                        -- Tom Gallagher


GALLAGHER LAUNCHES PROBE INTO QUESTIONABLE BROKER ACTIVITIES IN FLORIDA

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced that he has established a legal task force to investigate whether any of the activities outlined in New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s civil suit are taking place among insurance brokerages and companies in Florida, including bid-rigging, kickbacks and improper fees. Spitzer’s suit alleges civil and criminal misconduct involving insurance brokers steering business to insurance companies for a commission.

“If brokers and insurance companies are manipulating the law for personal gain and driving up insurance costs for consumers, then we need to seek restitution where appropriate and take swift action to prevent further abuses,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Florida Department of Financial Services.

Don Dowdell, the department’s Deputy General Counsel, will chair the task force, and work with a team of lawyers and investigative staff to scrutinize insurance broker and company sales practices. Gallagher has also asked Steve Burgess, Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate, to serve on the task force.

Gallagher is also directing the task force to determine if legislative action is needed to require transparency in insurance company transactions and agreements to prevent abusive practices and protect the insurance-buying public.
 


FLORIDA HEALTHY KIDS GOES DOOR TO DOOR TO RE-ENROLL ELIGIBLE CHILDREN

Florida Healthy Kids is expanding its successful Project Pathfinder re-enrollment campaign to make sure eligible children continue their KidCare health benefits. Healthy Kids volunteers are canvassing targeted neighborhoods across Florida to make face-to-face contact with the parents of participating children who have not yet re-enrolled in the program.

"Now we're focused on reaching out to parents who have not had the chance to re-enroll," explained Florida's Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, chairman of the board of the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation. "Ensuring Florida's children have access to health insurance is one of the best investments we can make. In fourteen years of the Florida Healthy Kids program, the accomplishments have been remarkable." 

Project Pathfinder is an aggressive statewide communications campaign to re-enroll eligible children receiving health benefits through KidCare. Since June, Florida Healthy Kids has sent 382,183 letters and made 182,632 phone calls to re-enroll participating families under the new guidelines.

"Thousands of eligible children all over the state have already completed the new enrollment process, however, a few have not," said Rose Naff, executive director of Healthy Kids. "With a generous donation from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, it made sense to use these new resources to expand 'Project Pathfinder' and go to the homes of the families who have not responded to our numerous letters and phone calls."

Volunteers will visit the homes of these parents to deliver specially made door hangers that include a form, instructions and a message about the importance of re-enrollment.

The information is also available in Spanish and bilingual volunteers will be canvassing some neighborhoods. A portion of the donation from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida will cover the cost of the door hangers.


AGENT ARRESTED FOR STEALING INSURANCE PREMIUMS

Some Central Florida customers were left with no coverage for recent hurricanes.

A property insurance agent who served customers in Hardee, Polk and DeSoto counties is facing several felony charges stemming from allegations that he stole insurance premiums from homeowners and never secured property insurance coverage. Victims realized something was wrong when their hurricane claims were denied.

“It is appalling to think about the risk this individual knew his customers were facing, customers who trusted him to take care of them,” said Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “We are doing all we can to secure help for these victims, from urging insurance companies to honor these policies to directing victims to apply for compensation from a state victim assistance fund.”

Investigators with the Florida Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud, working with the Polk County State Attorney’s Office, determined that Jason Mathew Ford, 33, of Sebring, misappropriated almost $30,000 in insurance premiums from at least 15 Floridians. Ford is charged with grand theft, scheme to defraud, premium misappropriation and uttering a forged instrument. He was arrested just before midnight Wednesday in Indiana, and is being held on a $500,000 bond while awaiting extradition to Florida.

Ford owned and operated the Wauchula franchise of Great Florida Insurance, located at 110 W. Orange St., in Wauchula. Investigators determined some of the victims were elderly and at least one was disabled.

The Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, investigates various forms of fraud in insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers’ compensation insurance. Anyone with information about this case or another possible fraud scheme should call the department's Fraud Hotline at 1-800-378-0445. A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to a conviction.


UNLICENSED, UNINSURED CONTRACTOR ARRESTED FOLLOWING SURPRISE INSPECTION IN ST. LUCIE COUNTY

An unlicensed, uninsured contractor was arrested after state insurance fraud investigators made a surprise inspection at a St. Lucie County subdivision.

Vicente Parra Martinez, 34, owner and sole officer of P.M.V. Enterprises, Inc. located at 3611 N.E. 16th Avenue in Pompano Beach, is charged with workers’ compensation fraud and contracting without a license. He was arrested by investigators with the Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, and booked into the St. Lucie County Jail.

“Contractors who work without workers’ compensation insurance put property owners at risk of being held liable if a worker is injured on the job,” said Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “And, contractors who are not licensed may not be qualified to do the work. These are serious charges, and they reflect the serious risk this contractor created for Floridians who already are struggling to recover from the hurricanes.”

Because Florida remains under a state of emergency following the hurricanes, the penalty for contracting without a license is more severe. Martinez is facing two third-degree felony counts and, if convicted, up to five years in prison on each charge.

Six employees of Martinez were observed performing roof tile installation at the Portofino subdivision in unincorporated St. Lucie County. Following his arrest, the department’s Division of Workers’ Compensation, Bureau of Compliance, issued a stop-work order for P.M.V. Enterprises.

The Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, investigates various forms of fraud in insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers’ compensation insurance. Anyone with information about this case or another possible fraud scheme should call the department's Fraud Hotline at 1-800-378-0445. A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to a conviction.
 


GALLAGHER ANNOUNCES STATEWIDE ESSAY CONTEST PROMOTING FINANCIAL LITERACY AMONG TEENS

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher rolled out an essay contest aimed at encouraging financial literacy among middle and high school students. The contest, “Cash in on Your Money Smarts,” offers students a chance at more than $7,500 in prizes statewide, with a top individual award of $750 for one student in each of five geographic regions.

The essay contest is part of Gallagher’s statewide public education initiative, Your Money, Your Life, which is designed to help Floridians in need of information on how to stretch limited budgets, avoid debt and build assets, including savings and home ownership.  Gallagher started the program earlier this year in response to a recent survey reporting that many Floridians put themselves at financial risk by waiting too late to save and by running up debt.  The program includes a comprehensive educational website available at www.yourmoneyyourlife.org.  

The survey also found that interests run high statewide in providing Florida’s young with a solid education in personal finances.  Nearly 90 percent of Floridians believe schools should make teaching financial management skills a required part of the curriculum.

The essay contest, “Cash in on Your Money Smarts,” is open to teens 14-18 years old.  Students must submit a 750-word essay on the topic of good financial decision-making skills to the Florida Department of Financial Services, which Gallagher oversees, by February 11, 2005.  Essays may be submitted electronically or by mail, in English or Spanish.  Three essays will be selected for each of five geographic regions in Florida, and cash prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place for a total of $7,500 in prizes.  For complete contest details or to download an essay application or submit an essay electronically, students, teachers and parents should log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com and click “Cash in on Your Money Smarts.”

Essay contest participants will be asked to explain why they believe they have “Money Smarts.”  Responses may address earning and saving money for a special purchase, using a budget, or they may describe who and what influences youth spending. 

Judging the contest will be representatives from the Florida Council on Economic Education, a non-profit organization that supports financial education initiatives in schools and businesses statewide.  In addition, department employees Fred Varn and Greg Thomas, who also serve as Leon County School Board members, will also participate in the judging process.

“We hope this essay contest is a fun and educational way for teens to learn about good money management,” Gallagher said.  “Learning these valuable skills now will pave the way for a lifetime of financial success.”

Financial support for the “Cash in on Your Money Smarts” essay contest comes from the Investor Protection Trust, a fund created in 2003 from a multi-million dollar settlement reached with federal regulators.  A portion of the funds was earmarked for investor/financial education.

“The ‘Cash in on Your Money Smarts’ contest dovetails with school-room efforts and, just as importantly, gives families of students a way to get involved,” said Gallagher.   Gallagher also said that staff with the department will conduct presentations in many public schools to help teach basic financial management skills to Florida students. 


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