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FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 3, Number 28, July 10, 2006

An autographed photo of Babe Ruth and a signed letter from Theodore Roosevelt dated November 1, 1918, are among thousands of dollars’ worth of abandoned items to be sold this Saturday at a public auction in Jacksonville. 

This may sound like a case of finders-keepers, but it’s actually a win-win situation.   That’s because the proceeds benefit Florida’s public school students.  

Since 1961, the unclaimed property program, part of the Department of Financial Services, has transferred
more than $1.5 billion to the school trust fund.

The auction begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday and will be held at the Embassy Suites Hotel, located at 9300 Baymeadows Rd, Jacksonville.  A preview will be held Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

To find out more about the auction or to find out if the department’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property is holding property for you, log on to www.FLtreasurehunt.org, or call 1-88-VALUABLE. 

Treasure hunters have a chance to find a rare item, even collect a piece of history, and provide school children more opportunities to learn about history.  Happy hunting!

-- Tom Gallagher


Gallagher Visits Hernando County Hurricane Expo at Weeki Wachee Springs

On Saturday, June 10, Weeki Wachee Springs, a small historic water park in the City of Weeki Wachee, hosted the Third Annual Hernando County Hurricane Expo: Don’t Be Scared, Be Prepared. 

CFO Tom Gallagher joined over 8,000 guests from neighboring counties who visited the park for information, services and products available to them for disaster preparation.  Over 40 vendors for home retrofit products and personal disaster preparedness were available to attendees.  The Expo also offered special activities for children as well as door prizes and other free items from vendors.

This was the largest attendance of any Hurricane Expo in the area.  The Expo performances and presentations were scheduled around the park’s regular show times, including the world famous Underwater Mermaid Theater.

The Expo was organized by Hernando County Emergency Management and their planning committee, which included representatives from DFS.  Sponsors of the Expo included Weeki Wachee Springs, WFLA Channel 8 and Hernando Today/Tampa Tribune, American Hurricane Specialists and Coastal Hurricane Shutters.

The Keynote Speaker was Storm Team 8 Chief Meteorologist Steve Jerve.  Guest musical performance was by American Idol Melissa McGhee.

The Expo also featured classes and information on hurricanes, insurance issues, power restoration, generator safety, new flood maps, CERT teams and caring for your pets before, during and after a storm.

There were displays from Bayflite Trauma Helicopter and the Sheriff’s Marine and Aviation Units.  In addition, there were demonstrations by the Hernando County HazMat Team, Spring Hill Fire Rescue Urban Search & Rescue as well as the Brooksville Fire Rescue Department.  Attendees had the opportunity to experience a hurricane simulator with wind speeds up to 75 mph which is equivalent to a Category 1 hurricane.

DFS was provided a booth which was staffed by Community Outreach Program Coordinators Linda Smart and Karen Bolin.  Richard Hibbs, Tampa Service Office Manager conducted the presentation on Insurance Issues.


FLORIDA SELECT ORDERED INTO REHABILITATION
Gallagher Says Policies are Still in Force

Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced that a judge has ordered Florida Select Insurance Company into rehabilitation. Under the order, the company’s 70,000 homeowners policies are not cancelled at this time and the company may continue to write new and renewal business while the department reviews its financial situation.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Bateman ordered Florida Select Insurance Company into rehabilitation as a result of the expiration of its reinsurance on June 30, 2006. Reinsurance is insurance for insurance companies.

The judge also appointed the Department of Financial Services as receiver for the company. As receiver for a company in rehabilitation, the department steps in to administer the insurer’s operations and assets, and to help the insurer gain financial strength to continue to doing business.

“Our first priority is to the policy holders, and making sure they have coverage during the hurricane season,” said Gallagher, who oversees the department. “This action will protect homeowners while conserving the company’s assets, with the goal of helping it regain enough financial strength to actively compete for business.”

Gallagher said that Florida Select policyholders should continue to pay premiums in order to maintain their insurance coverage.

Policyholders who need to report a new claim can contact 1-888-700-0101. Policyholders who would like to check on the status of an existing claim should contact 1-888-617-1145. For all other inquiries, consumers may visit the company’s website at www.floridaselect.com or call Florida Select’s helpline at 1-888-700-0101. Additional information is available through the Department of Financial Services at www.floridainsurancereceiver.org or 1-800-882-3054.

 


RECORD NUMBER OF FLORIDIANS USING SAFETY BELTS

New study shows four out of five Floridians are buckling up-

Governor Jeb Bush announced that a record number of Floridians are using safety belts. The Preusser Research Group recently reported that 80.7 percent of drivers and their front seat passengers are using safety belts on Florida highways. Overall, safety belt usage rates in Florida have climbed more than 20 percent since 2000.

“A vast majority of Floridians are using safety belts,” said Governor Bush. “Wearing a safety belt saves lives. It is the single most effective way to prevent injuries and reduce fatalities in motor vehicle crashes."

The official rate of 80.7 percent was determined by observing safety belt usage at various intersections throughout Florida from June 2 to 9, 2006. The sample of intersections was selected based on the established criteria of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This official survey took place after the Memorial Day statewide “Click It or Ticket” campaign as required by NHTSA.

“We attribute this success to the partnerships we have made with law enforcement agencies, the media and local traffic safety advocates to encourage citizens and visitors to wear safety belts,” said Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Denver Stutler. “This initiative is about more than traffic citations and commercials. It is about saving lives on Florida’s highways.”

Throughout the three-week “Click It or Ticket” enforcement campaign, local and state law enforcement agencies issued more than 46,000 safety belt and child restraint citations. Although safety belt usage was the primary focus of this effort, law enforcement officers reported more than 160,000 incidents, ranging from impaired and reckless driving citations to felony arrests and stolen vehicle recovery.

“The fact that more Floridians are buckling up will no doubt save lives and prevent injuries – something our troopers and law enforcement partners strive to achieve every day,” said FHP Director Colonel Christopher Knight.

For more information on Florida’s “Click It or Ticket” safety belt campaign, please visit www.clickitfla.com.


IRS RENEWS E-MAIL ALERT FOLLOWING NEW SCAMS

Following a recent increase in scam e-mails, the Internal Revenue Service reminded taxpayers to be on the lookout for bogus e-mails claiming to be from the tax agency.

The IRS saw an increase in complaints in recent weeks about these e-mails, which are designed to trick the recipients into disclosing personal and financial information that could be used to steal the recipients’ identity and financial assets.

“The IRS does not send out unsolicited e-mails asking for personal information,” said IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson. “Don’t be taken in by these criminals.”

The IRS has seen a recent increase in these scams. Since November, 99 different scams have been identified, with 20 of those coming in June – the most since 40 were identified in March during the height of the filing season.

Many of these schemes originate outside the United States. To date, investigations by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration have identified sites hosting more than two dozen IRS-related phishing scams. These scam Web sites have been located in many different countries, including Argentina, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Canada, Chile, China, England, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Poland, Singapore and Slovakia, as well as the United States.

The current scams claim to come from the IRS, tell recipients that they are due a federal tax refund, and direct them to a Web site that appears to be a genuine IRS site. The bogus sites contain forms or interactive Web pages similar to IRS forms or Web pages but which have been modified to request detailed personal and financial information from the e-mail recipients. In addition, e-mail addresses ending with “.edu” — involving users in the education community — currently seem to be heavily targeted.

The IRS does not send out unsolicited e-mails or ask for detailed personal information via e-mail. Additionally, the IRS never asks people for the PIN numbers, passwords or similar secret access information for their credit card, bank or other financial accounts.

Tricking consumers into disclosing their personal and financial information, such as secret access data or credit card or bank account numbers, is fraudulent activity which can result in identity theft. Such schemes perpetrated through the Internet are called “phishing” for information.

The information fraudulently obtained is then used to steal the taxpayer’s identity and financial assets. Typically, identity thieves use someone’s personal data to empty the victim’s financial accounts, run up charges on the victim’s existing credit cards, apply for new loans, credit cards, services or benefits in the victim’s name and even file fraudulent tax returns.

When the IRS learns of new schemes involving use of the IRS name or logo, it issues consumer alerts warning taxpayers about the schemes.

The IRS also has established an electronic mailbox for taxpayers to send information about suspicious e-mails they receive which claim to come from the IRS. Taxpayers should send the information to: phishing@irs.gov

More than 7,000 bogus emails have been forwarded to the IRS, with nearly 1,300 forwarded in June alone.

The IRS’s mail box allows taxpayers to send copies of possibly fraudulent e-mails involving misuse of the IRS name and logo to the IRS for investigation. Instructions on how to properly submit one of these communications to the IRS may be found on this Web site. Enter the term "phishing" in the search box in the upper right hand corner. Then open the article titled “How to Protect Yourself from Suspicious E-Mails” and scroll through it until you find the instructions. Following these instructions helps ensure that the bogus e-mails relayed by taxpayers retain critical elements found in the original e-mail. The IRS can use the information, URLs and links in the bogus e-mails to trace the hosting Web sites and alert authorities to help shut down these fraudulent sites.

However, due to the volume the mailbox receives, the IRS cannot acknowledge receipt or reply to taxpayers who submit their bogus e-mails. The phishing@irs.gov mailbox is only for suspicious e-mails and not for general taxpayer contact or inquiries.

For information on preventing or handling the aftermath of identity theft, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft microsite (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft2012/) and OnGuardOnLine (http://onguardonline.gov/index.html) Web sites. Click on "Topics" to find the identity theft and phishing areas on OnGuardOnLine. 

For information on identity theft prevention and victim assistance in relation to tax administration, visit the IRS Identity Theft Web page on the IRS.gov Web site.  Enter the term "identity theft" in the search box in the upper right hand corner.

For schemes other than phishing, please report the fraudulent misuse of the IRS name, logo, forms or other IRS property by calling the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s toll-free hotline at 1-800-366-4484.


Consumer Services HelpLine (800) 342-2762