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

Volume 3, Number 38, September 18, 2006

In recent weeks, the Department of Financial Services has announced actions against several insurance agents who stole hard-earned money from their customers, including a dozen agents who “slid” hundreds of dollars in unwanted and unnecessary coverage to auto insurance buyers.

Consumers can protect themselves from insurance scams by:

  • Making sure that the insurance company selling the product is authorized to do business in Florida.
  • Making sure that the insurance agent is authorized to sell insurance products in Florida.
  • Reading and understanding all documents before signing to make sure that the coverage you want – and only the coverage you want – is being sold to you. 
  • Writing the premium check to the insurance company, not the insurance agent.
  • Verifying that the insurance coverage has been placed by following up with the insurance company after signing a contract with your agent. This step is important no matter how long you have been doing business with an agent.
     

Taking these simple precautions will help protect you and give you and your family peace of mind.

 -- Tom Gallagher


GALLAGHER URGES CONTRACTORS TO SIGN UP TO PARTICIPATE IN THE MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME PROGRAM

Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, has announced that licensed contractors who do retrofit improvements can now apply on-line to participate in the My Safe Florida Home program. The application to participate is available under "For Contractors" at www.mysafefloridahome.com.

“Our mission is to strengthen homes in Florida against the devastating effects of storm damage,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “Contractors who participate in this program will play a key role in better protecting families and properties from catastrophic losses.”

Prior to participating, a contractor must have a valid contractor’s license and complete a four-hour course on techniques and standards for effective wind-resistant retrofit improvements. The Department of Financial Services has been working with the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) to offer these courses around the state over the next few months. The first class, which is approved by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation for four continuing education credits, was conducted on August 29th in St. Petersburg.

“The Blueprint for Safety Retrofit training courses will expand the team of qualified, ready builders who can provide essential hurricane-hardening services to Floridians through the My Safe Florida Home program,” said FLASH President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson.

Upcoming trainings have been scheduled for interested contractors in the following areas:

• September 20 in Ft. Lauderdale -Fort Lauderdale Marriott North
• September 21 in Miami - Robert Morgan Educational Center
• September 22 in Lake Worth - Palm Beach Community College
• September 25 in Pensacola - Pensacola Junior College
• September 26 in Jacksonville - Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center

All contractor trainings will begin at 8 a.m. and conclude at 1 p.m. Although facilities have not yet been secured, additional trainings are tentatively scheduled for Orlando on October 10, Tampa on October 17, Ft. Myers on October 18, Naples on October 19, and Miami on October 20. For additional details, log on to www.flash.org.

Homeowners who have undergone free home inspections through the My Safe Florida Home program, and who live in high-risk areas, will be able to apply for matching grant dollars up to $5,000 under the program. The grant funds must be used to strengthen the areas of the homes specified in the inspection reports.

To do the recommended improvements, homeowners will be required to choose from a list of participating contractors, organized by county and type of work performed. The list of participating contractors will be available on-line at www.mysafefloridahome.com by October 1. The list will also be sent to eligible Floridians in the grant application packet.

Gallagher is urging all homeowners interested in making home-hardening improvements to verify that the contractors they are doing business with are licensed. For more tips to consider before hiring a contractor, log on to www.mysafefloridahome.com and click on “5 Tips for Choosing a Contractor.”

Since August 15, more than 45,000 Floridians have submitted completed applications to receive a free home inspection through the My Safe Florida Home program. Gallagher’s goal is to do 12,000 inspections before this hurricane season ends on November 30.


GALLAGHER REVOKES LICENSE OF AGENT WHO STOLE PREMIUMS FROM A NURSING HOME AND OTHER BUSINESSES

Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, has revoked the license of an Altamonte Springs insurance agent who stole more than $300,000 in premiums from a nursing home and various other businesses throughout central and southwest Florida.

Brian Alan King, 58, served as an officer and director of Florida Corporate Insurers, Inc., located at 225 South Westmonte Dr. in Altamonte Springs. An investigation by the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Agent and Agency Services, Bureau of Investigation, determined that King misappropriated the money from July 2005 through April 2006. The agency closed in June 2006.

“Any agent who puts his clients at risk for his own personal gain should be banned from working in this industry,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “I commend the investigators who worked quickly to protect these businesses from further harm. We will continue to aggressively pursue anyone who tries to take advantage of our citizens.”

King failed to forward premium funds to the appropriate insurance companies, which created a lapse in insurance coverage. The department worked with the various insurance carriers involved to get the policies reinstated.

“We are relieved that we were able to get coverage for those victimized by this agent,” Gallagher said.

Anyone who believes they may also be a victim of this scam is urged to call the Department of Financial Services’ Consumer Assistance Hotline at 1-800-342-2762.

The department’s Division of Agent & Agency Services, Bureau of Investigation, investigates various forms of insurance agent violations concerning health, life, auto property, workers compensation, bail bonds and title insurance.


SEPTEMBER PROCLAIMED FLORIDA PREPAREDNESS MONTH

Governor Bush has proclaimed September 2006 as "Florida Preparedness Month". During the month of September, events will be held across Florida to raise awareness on the importance of preparing for all hazards - from natural disasters to domestic security threats. Every Floridian should have a family disaster plan and disaster supply kit. Prepared residents enable government to focus on the needs of Florida's most vulnerable populations.

For more information on preparedness and how you can GET A PLAN!, please visit: www.floridadisaster.org.


THINK TANKS RELEASE EDUCATION FINDINGS

The Hoover Institution's Koret Task Force declared education reform in Florida is producing noticeable learning gains for students.

Coming on the heels of their findings, the Manhattan Institute's second-year data released also confirms the outstanding results retention policies and education reforms are having in Florida. Their findings are an affirmation of what Florida has known for some time: when schools are made accountable for student achievement, students learn and schools improve.

The Manhattan Institute study on social promotion can be found at www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_49.htm.


FRAUDULENT E-MAILS CLAIM TO BE FROM THE FDIC

E-mails that fraudulently claim to be from the FDIC are requesting that recipients provide highly sensitive personal information, including bank account information.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has become aware of e-mails appearing to be from the FDIC asking recipients to register for a "SON – Secure Online Network" code. The e-mail requests that recipients click on a hyperlink to initiate "SON" registration in an attempt to acquire the recipients' personal financial information. These e-mails are fraudulent and were not sent by the FDIC. Financial institutions and consumers should NOT access the link provided within the body of these e-mails and should NOT, under any circumstances, provide any personal financial information through this media.

The fraudulent e-mails describe a fictitious relationship between the FDIC and GoldLeaf Financial Solutions and suggest that the FDIC collaborated in the development of SON. The e-mails state that "SON":

  • is "dedicated to protect payment cards against online fraud";
  • "assigns a unique code to a payment card, therefore replacing random parts of the personal information"; and
  • is "required for FDIC claims as it is part of the FDIC's new set of standards."

Variations of the e-mails have been reported. For example, at least three different subject lines are currently being used, including "Urgent Notification - Security Reminder," "Online Access Agreement Update," and "SON Registration." Some versions of the fraudulent e-mails include a salutation of "Dear FDIC beneficiary," while other versions include the recipient's name and e-mail address after the word "Dear." Some versions of the e-mails include the recipient's name and mailing address and a statement that "your personal information did not match any SON code." Other subject lines and modifications to the e-mails may occur over time.

Financial institutions and consumers should be aware that other similar e-mails may be sent that falsely claim to be from the FDIC. The FDIC does not directly contact consumers in this manner nor does the FDIC request personal financial information from consumers.

The FDIC is attempting to identify the source of the fraudulent e-mails and disrupt the transmission. Until this is achieved, consumers and financial institutions should notify the FDIC at alert@fdic.gov of any similar attempts to obtain personal financial information.

Information about counterfeit items, cyber-fraud incidents and other fraudulent activity may be forwarded to the FDIC's Cyber-Fraud and Financial Crimes Section, 550 17th Street, N.W., Room F-4004, Washington, D.C. 20429, or transmitted electronically to alert@fdic.gov. Information related to federal deposit insurance or consumer issues should be submitted to the FDIC using an online form that can be accessed at http://www2.fdic.gov/starsmail/index.asp.


Consumer Services HelpLine (800) 342-2762

Consumer eViews  http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/PressOffice/Newsletter/