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

Volume 2, Number 4, January 24, 2005    

At the beginning of a new year, many of us resolve to lose weight, save more money and spend more time with our families.  I am asking you to resolve to also spend a little time with your insurance agent and undergo an insurance checkup. 

This week is “Get Smart About Insurance Week,” and I am urging Florida residents and business owners to make sure they have the coverage they need.  The next hurricane season is less than six months away, and Floridians need to start getting ready now. 

The Department of Financial Services has insurance consumer specialists throughout the state who can help you determine what you need to think about when considering how much coverage you need.  Your insurance agent also can be a great resource.  Just make sure you are dealing with a Florida-licensed agent who represents a Florida-authorized insurance company. 

Read all documents before you sign, and give yourself time to address any questions you may have. Knowledge is your best protection.

My best,

                      -- Tom Gallagher


STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF SCHOOL VOUCHER LAW DEFENSE REACHING STATE SUPREME COURT 

“Florida’s Opportunity Scholarship program is an integral part of our effort to improve the education of Florida’s children.  As Florida’s Education Commissioner, I helped implement the law when it was passed.  I have personally witnessed parents who were excited to have a choice, and a chance, to improve their children’s education.  I support Gov. Bush as he looks to our state’s Supreme Court to uphold this law to ensure Florida’s parents have educational alternatives for their children.”  -- Tom Gallagher
 


past Hurricane season a strong incentive to Get an insurance checkup
 

National ‘Get Smart About Insurance Week’ kicks off today

One in five Florida homes was damaged by one of last year’s back-to-back hurricanes, and the Department of Financial Services fielded more than 150,000 calls from storm victims looking for help in understanding their insurance coverage.

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher says Floridians must take steps now to make sure they are ready for the next hurricane season that begins June 1, and he said an insurance checkup is the best protection.  Gallagher and the Department of Financial Services are participating for the fourth consecutive year in “Get Smart About Insurance Week.”  The annual public education campaign, which continues through Friday, is organized by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and encourages an annual review of home, life, auto and property insurance coverage. 

“This is not about buying more insurance coverage if you don’t need it, this is about making sure you have all the coverage that you do need,” Gallagher said.  “Just as a physician’s checkup protects your physical health, an insurance checkup will protect your family’s financial health and give you peace of mind.”

More than 30,000 Florida families were caught off guard when their homeowners’ insurance companies charged more than one deductible as a result of the multiple storms.  Many did not realize that their policies required them to pay hefty out-of-pocket costs before their coverage kicked in.

Gallagher this year will ask the Legislature to give consumers more choice when it comes to how much they want to pay out of pocket, and to require insurance agents to document that they fully disclosed the cost of deductibles.   

“Consumers must have all the information they need to ensure they understand the coverage they have before they ever need it,” Gallagher said.   

To assist Floridians, the department offers an online system that allows Internet users to search an expansive consumer database or track a request for assistance as it is handled by consumer specialists. 

Consumers can also browse updated FAQs and Consumer Guides.  The system, “Service Point,” is available on the department’s website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com by clicking the “Service Point” icon. 

In addition to the website, the department provides a consumer helpline, at 1-800-342-2762, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (EST) Monday through Friday.  Helpline specialists can assist consumers with questions about their coverage, verify the license status of their insurance agent or insurance company, file a complaint or report possible fraud. 
 

Gallagher offered these tips for a good checkup: 

·        Make sure you are dealing with a licensed agent who works for companies licensed to sell insurance in the state.  A business card is not proof of licensure.

·        Shop among at least three companies for the best coverage at the best price. 

·        Ask about discounts.  Some insurers offer discounts for multiple policies or longtime policyholders, or for an alarm in your home or automobile. 

·        A higher deductible may mean a lower premium, but understand the pros and cons of higher deductibles.

·        Read your insurance policy carefully.  It is a legal document.

·        Keep your policy in a safe, waterproof location and take steps to protect your financial identity.  Identity thieves have used stolen information to file fraudulent claims and collect insurance payments.

Recent studies by the NAIC show few Americans understand the details of their insurance policies to the extent they should, and some are not aware they could even be the victim of a fake insurance scam.  The Department of Financial Services and the Office of Insurance Regulation have shut down 20 unauthorized entities selling fake insurance policies in Florida and have taken administrative or criminal action against more than 200 insurance agents, operators, agents, marketers and administrators for peddling those products in Florida.   

“The key is to know your policy and know whom you are dealing with,” Gallagher said. 


Visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com and click on "Service Point" in the “For the Consumer” column. This comprehensive section will lead you to a variety of financial topics and resources, all geared to help answer your questions. Here are some examples from the site:

 Ask a Question

 

Ask your general insurance question here. For the best response, use short sentences and common words. Example: I need flood insurance.

 

 

 

 

Go

 

 

Self Service

Browse our Library of Q&A's Find answers to frequently asked questions.

Publications Use Adobe Acrobat to download or order FREE guides.

Calendar of Events Browse our statewide list of free seminars and educational programs. 

Consumer News

Consumer Alerts
Get the latest updates from CFO Tom Gallagher on insurance, financial services and banking advisories.

Financial News
Alerts about scams, arrests and investigations to help you make sound financial decisions

Identity Theft
Identity thieves adopt your name, Social Security number, credit card number, or some other piece of your personal information. Learn how you can help guard against identity theft.

Insurance Alerts
News alerts and information from the Office of Insurance Regulation.

Medicare News
Get answers to your questions about updates to Medicare from the offical US governnment site. Or call 1-800-633-4227 or MEDICAR

Unlicensed Insurance Entities
Verify before you Buy! Click here to report unlicensed activity and to avoid buying products that are not guaranteed in the state of Florida

Top FAQs

What is the difference between fully-regulated Florida medical coverage and medical coverage provided through an out-of-state association group or trust plan?
Medical insurance plans issued through out-of-state group plans are primarily governed by the laws of another state, so there can be significant diffe...

Can an insurance company non-renew for a sinkhole claim?
Florida law prohibits an insurance company from non-renewing any property insurance policy for filing a claim on a partial loss caused by sinkhole dam...

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If you still need answers, our Consumer Services’ specialists are available through the Consumer Helpline at 1-800-342-2762 from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. EST.


FEDERAL INCOME TAX DEDUCTION TO CONSIDER FOR 2004 TAX RETURNS

Good news for Floridians is the restoration of the federal deduction for state and local sales tax that was eliminated in 1986. As you collect your papers and update your books in preparation for your 2004 tax filing, there is a new federal law to take into account.

Thanks to a multibillion-dollar corporate tax bill, Florida's individual taxpayers are getting a tax break that is in effect for 2004 and 2005 tax returns.

In the midst of the 633-page American Jobs Creation Bill of 2004, approved by Congress and signed into law by the president, is the okay for consumers to deduct sales taxes from their federal filings. Across the nation, taxpayers must decide whether to deduct the sales taxes paid or state income tax amounts. The choice is easy for residents in the seven states that do not collect state income taxes but do levy state sales taxes: Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.

The deduction is an addition to Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. IRS will provide optional tables for use in determining the deduction amount because most taxpayers don't keep records of the sales taxes they pay. The table estimates are based upon: 1) state of residence; 2) income; and, 3) number of exemptions. A worksheet is also provided to make adjustments to the base estimate for purchases of vehicles, homes, and home building materials.

If you do keep receipts for your purchases, you can use the actual amount paid in tax, with some limits, rather than the amount from the IRS table.

Remember - the key to financial security is knowledge. Visit the Your Money, Your Life web site http://www.yourmoneyyourlife.org/  for more financial tips.


FLORIDA MAN WANTED IN FAMILY SLIP-AND-FALL SCHEME IS AWAITING EXTRADITION IN CALIFORNIA

A 30-year-old man wanted in Florida since 1995 on numerous felony charges for his alleged role in his family’s nationwide “slip-and-fall” fraud scheme is in custody in California awaiting extradition.

Christopher Michael Evans, whose last-known Florida address was 5612 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood, was arrested January 13 in Mountainview, California, on an unrelated charge.  He is the fifth member of the family, including his mother, to be apprehended.  Two other suspects, identified as Russell Evans and Raquel Miller, remain at large.  The charges and arrests are the culmination of a lengthy investigation by Florida’s Division of Insurance Fraud.

“Everyone pays for insurance fraud through increased premiums and increased costs for goods and services,” said Florida’s Chief Financial Tom Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services and its Division of Insurance Fraud.   “This arrest shows that there is no safe haven for those who commit criminal acts against Floridians.”

Florida has consistently produced the nation’s highest number of insurance fraud arrests or convictions for each of the past several years.

Evans was believed to have been involved in a scheme to bilk insurance companies out of thousands of dollars by faking accidents in businesses in several states.  Evans is charged with racketeering, organized fraud, six counts of insurance fraud, and eight counts of grand theft. 

A 30-year-old man wanted in Florida since 1995 on numerous felony charges for his alleged role in his family’s nationwide “slip-and-fall” fraud scheme is in custody in California awaiting extradition.

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 Busters Hotline at 1-800-378-0445.  A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.



Consumer Services HelpLine
(800) 342-2762.