GALLAGHER BANS AGENT WHO MISLED SENIORS
More than 100 agents have met similar fate in last three years
Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, has permanently revoked the license of a south Florida insurance agent for misleading five senior citizens into purchasing annuities and life insurance policies that caused them to lose more than $150,000 in surrender fees and benefits. While his clients lost money, Eric James Brown, 36, of Delray Beach, collected nearly $200,000 in commissions for selling the policies. Gallagher has ordered Brown to pay restitution to the victims.
“We have zero tolerance for insurance agents who deceive our seniors and cheat them out of their hard-earned retirement funds,” said Gallagher, whose Division of Agent and Agency Services conducted the investigation on Brown. “Most insurance agents are good corporate citizens – small- business men and women who serve our communities. Insurance agents who engage in theft and fraud give good agents a bad name and drive up insurance costs on all Floridians. Our mission is to bring the full force of the law against unscrupulous agents and to aggressively educate our seniors against these scams.”
In the last three years, Gallagher has taken action against 110 agents for theft and fraud involving the elderly. Florida is home to more than 2.9 million Floridians over the age of 65 and, Gallagher said, the state’s senior population is projected to grow by as much as 30 percent over the next several years.
Gallagher has launched numerous public education campaigns, including an on-line Senior Resource Center, at http://www.flseniors.net/, that provides important information and resources on a variety of topics from long-term-care options to financial scams.
This month, Gallagher is providing, at no cost, a 30-minute video program that offers personal stories from actual victims of senior scams, inside tips from a former scam artist, and advice from investigators and senior advocates.
Senior scams can vary widely, from misrepresentation of the risks involved in a purchase to outright fraud and theft. The following are recent cases resulting from department investigations:
• Gallagher has suspended the license of a Pensacola agent who forged a customer’s signature on a new annuity application and a withdrawal form on the customer’s existing annuity policy. Wallace Lee Campbell, Jr., 58, pocketed a $2,800 commission and caused his customer to lose $7,500 in early-withdrawal penalties.
• A former insurance agent was sentenced to two-and-one-half years in prison and ordered to pay restitution for systematically defrauding South Florida seniors between the ages of 75 and 94. Brian Shechtman, 38, organized a scheme to get senior citizens to switch their health insurance to lower-cost policies, overbilled them and then applied the money to additional life insurance policies without the victims' knowledge. The scheme resulted in $2 million in commissions.
• Ronald S. Rogart, 60, was arrested in Gilchrist County on charges of elder exploitation and insurance fraud. The former insurance agent is accused of defrauding several seniors between the ages of 72 and 86 by running newspaper advertisements offering “Long Term and Home Health Care Programs.” Detectives said the price he quoted was less than the actual cost of the policy, so Rogart would submit an application reflecting a lower level of coverage to match the quote he gave. When he received the policy, he would forge the documents so the clients wouldn’t know they had been sold less coverage than what they had asked to buy.
Gallagher said seniors must be extra vigilant because their life savings make them attractive targets for scam artists. He urged these precautions to avoid becoming a victim:
o Do an assessment of your financial means and investment objectives.
o Understand that all investments involve risk: generally, the higher the return, the higher the risk.
o Ask the sales agent (broker) about commissions, fees, penalties, sales charges and any other costs.
o Ask as many questions as you want and take notes. Walk away if they avoid your questions.
o Take your time. High-pressure sales tactics will rush you into an unwise decision. A sound investment will be just as good tomorrow or next week.
o Document all transactions.
o Carefully read and understand documents before you sign them.
o Ignore “inside information,” “hot tips” and “rumors.”
o Hang up on “cold calls” from strangers.
o Beware of "bonus" interest rates as they are usually limited in duration and have strings attached.
o Be cautious of sales pitches that claim you will "recoup" all penalties with the higher returns of a new policy.
o Remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Responding to calls and letters from hundreds of seniors robbed of access to their savings because they were convinced to liquidate CDs, stocks and savings accounts to fund annuities, Gallagher pushed for legislation that passed in 2004 requiring agents to document the basis for selling annuities to seniors and also gave the department authority to take corrective action if a company or agent violates the law.
To report fraud, call the department’s Fraud Fighter’s Hotline at 1-800-378-0445 or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com/fraud. A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to a conviction.