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

Volume 3, Number 40, October 2, 2006

We are well on our way to meeting our goal of providing free hurricane safety inspections to 12,000 homes by the end of November. 

A dozen committed and caring non-profit organizations have now joined us in that effort with the goal of ensuring that thousands of low-income homeowners will receive the assistance they need to harden their homes against storms.

It is rewarding to work with so many organizations committed to protecting Florida families and homes.  By working together, we will make a difference not only in the lives of these homeowners but for all of us by lessening the potential effect of a hurricane. 

 We cannot stop hurricanes but we can prepare for them, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

 -- Tom Gallagher


GALLAGHER ANNOUNCES PARTNERSHIP WITH NON-PROFITS TO STRENGTHEN HOMES AGAINST HURRICANES
At a home today in South Miami, Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced that 610 low-income homeowners like Ms. Regina Hamilton will soon be safer from hurricanes thanks to a new partnership between the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund, Habitat for Humanity in Miami and the My Safe Florida Home program. Through the partnership, Ms. Hamilton will receive a free home inspection and assistance to install shutters on her home to help strengthen it against catastrophic losses from a storm.

“Partnering with faith- and community-based groups to help fortify low-income homes in Florida is mission critical to protecting families and reducing property losses,” said Gallagher, who oversees the My Safe Florida Home program. “Through these partnerships, we will be able to leverage resources and help thousands of Floridians before the end of this hurricane season.”

Through the Volunteer Florida Foundation, which administers the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund, four non-profit organizations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties are teaming up with the My Safe Florida Home program to fortify low-income homes. The non-profits in Miami-Dade County include the Habitat for Humanity and the Miami Beach Community Development Corporation. In Broward County, the Volunteer Action Center and the Liberia Economic and Social Development Corporation will be serving eligible  homeowners. A homeowner can earn no more than 80 percent of the Annual Median Income (AMI) to qualify for this assistance. AMI varies by county.

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami, Inc., is a Christian ministry that builds homes in partnership with low-income families in need of a simple, decent place to live. Miami Habitat for Humanity has built and sold 560 homes throughout Miami-Dade County since incorporating in 1989. The construction of Habitat homes is made possible through donations from concerned individuals, businesses, organizations, and foundations.

“This partnership will help low-income homeowners in Miami strengthen their homes against storm damage and hopefully will result in a reduction in their homeowners insurance premiums,” said Anne Manning, Executive Director of the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami. “I thank CFO Gallagher and the My Safe Florida Home program for the opportunity to protect the families in our community by increasing the strength of Habitat homes.”

"Volunteer Broward is excited about continuing our disaster preparation, relief and recovery efforts to now include the My Safe Florida Home Mitigation program," said Dale Hirsch, Executive Director of Volunteer Broward, one of two recipient organizations in Broward County. "So many homeowners who previously were unable to afford safeguards for their home will now be able to rest assured should another devastating storm come to Broward County."

A combined $1,498,865 will be matched with services and funding through the four non-profit organizations. Together, these organizations will serve up to 610 homes in the two-county area. Participating homeowners will receive free home inspections to determine what improvements can be made to strengthen their homes against hurricane damage. Following the inspections, homeowners will receive assistance to make recommended improvements, including shutters and roof strengthening.

This afternoon at a home in Fort Pierce, CFO Gallagher announced that 1,878 low-income homeowners like Ms. Eunice Burch will soon be safer from hurricanes thanks to a new partnership between St. Lucie INTACT and the My Safe Florida Home program. Through the partnership, Ms. Burch will receive a free home inspection and assistance to make improvements that will strengthen her home against catastrophic losses.

Four non-profit organizations in Palm Beach, St. Lucie, Glades and Hendry counties are teaming up with the My Safe Florida Home program to fortify low-income homes through the Volunteer Florida Foundation. The non-profits serving eligible homeowners include We Help Community Development Corporation and the Indiantown Non-Profit Housing in Palm Beach County, St. Lucie INTACT and C.R.E.W., United Way of Lee County assisting in Glades and Hendry Counties.

“I applaud and thank the non-profit community of Florida for coming together to join us in our mission to strengthen homes in Florida against the devastating effects of storm damage,” said incoming Senate President Ken Pruitt, who represents Indian River, Okeechobee, Martin, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties. “Hundreds of homeowners in our community will be better protected in the face of a hurricane through this program.”

An estimated $4 million will be matched with services and funding through the three non-profit organizations. Together, these organizations will serve up to 1,878 homes in the four-county area. Participating homeowners will receive free home inspections to determine what improvements can be made to strengthen their homes against hurricane damage. Following the inspections, homeowners will receive assistance to make recommended improvements.

“St. Lucie INTACT is excited to be partnering with the My Safe Florida Home program,” said Al Rivett, executive director of St. Lucie INTACT. “This partnership will help low-income residents of St. Lucie County to have safe haven for their families if a storm were to hit our community.”

On a statewide basis, 12 non-profit organizations have partnered with My Safe Florida Home and Volunteer Florida Foundation to serve more than 4,000 low-income Floridians living in Broward, Escambia, Glades, Hendry, Miami-Dade, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Polk and St. Lucie counties. My Safe Florida Home is matching $8.1 million with the resources of these 12 organizations.

"We applaud the volunteers and community organizations, which will join us in our important work to help low-income residents strengthen their homes," said Liza McFadden, president of the Volunteer Florida Foundation. “We are honored to expand our role to include mitigation work with the Department of Financial Services.”

Funding for the partnership with non-profit organizations is possible because of a $250 million appropriation by the Florida Legislature during the 2006 Session to create the Florida Comprehensive Hurricane Damage Mitigation Program, now referred to as My Safe Florida Home and administered by the Florida Department of Financial Services.

To date, the department has received more than 53,000 completed applications from Floridians eager to have free home inspections. Nearly 5,000 inspections are currently being done in Dade, Broward and Lee counties. Gallagher said his goal is to have 12,000 inspections completed before the end of this hurricane season, November 30.

To learn more about the My Safe Florida Home program, visit www.mysafefloridahome.com. For information on the low-income portion of the program, go to www.FLAHurricaneFund.org.


*CONSUMER ALERT*
BOGUS LETTER TOUTS NON-EXISTENT PRIZE
AND A WORTHLESS CHECK


Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, warned Floridians to be on the lookout for a bogus letter telling them they’ve won a contest and urging them to send a check to collect the prize. Florida is among several states whose residents have been targeted by this scheme in recent weeks.

The letter is on forged MAG Mutual Insurance Company stationery and implies the recipient has won $250,000 in a contest. The letter includes a worthless check for about $2,900 to cover “administrative payment and clearance fees” and asks the recipient to deposit the check and then write one of their own for the costs of receiving the non-existent prize.

“We are working with company representatives and other state’s law enforcement agencies to track down the perpetrators of this scam,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud, which was initially alerted to the scam in recent days. “We will not tolerate anyone trying to steal our citizens’ hard-earned money.”

The scam perpetrators seek to receive and cash the recipient’s check before they or their bank realizes the check sent with the letter is worthless. So far, only one Floridian has reported receiving the letter. Anyone who gets one of the letters is urged to call the department’s Fraud Fighters’ hotline at 1-800-378-0445.

Gallagher said this is an advance fee scheme that occurs when the victim pays money to someone promising something of greater value – such as a loan, contract, investment, or gift – and then receives nothing in return.

Gallagher, who also oversees the Bureau of Unclaimed Property, said these schemes may also tout found money or property and ask the consumer to forward a finder’s fee; however, too often the “finder” never has the intention or the ability to help the victim. Florida’s unclaimed property laws prohibit the solicitation or acceptance of a fee in advance for notifying or assisting someone with a claim for unclaimed property. Only registered locators can lawfully solicit and receive a fee, and then, can only do so after a claim is approved and paid.

Gallagher offered the following tips on how to avoid such a scam:

• If the offer of an "opportunity" appears too good to be true, it probably is.
• Know with whom you are dealing. If you have not heard of a person or company with whom you intend to do business, learn more about them. Depending on the amount of money that you intend to spend, you may want to visit the business location, check with the Better Business Bureau or consult with your bank, an attorney, or the police.
• Make sure you fully understand any business agreement that you enter into. If the terms are complex, have them reviewed by a competent attorney.
• Be wary of businesses that operate out of post office boxes or mail drops and do not have a street address; be wary of dealing with persons who do not have direct telephone lines and who are never "in" when you call but return your call later.
• Be wary of business deals that require you to sign nondisclosure or noncircumvention agreements that are designed to prevent you from independently verifying the identification of the people with whom you would do business. Con artists often use noncircumvention agreements to threaten their victims with civil suits if they report their losses to law enforcement.

“We urge anyone who may have information about this scheme to call our hotline and report it,” Gallagher said. “These schemes often prey on those who can least afford it.”

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. The Fraud Fighters Hotline is 1-800-378-0445. Complaints may also be made via the department’s web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


Man arrested on multiple felonies after allegedly pouring gasoline on a woman and a dog

The State Fire Marshal’s Office, Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, recently assisted the Orange County Sheriff’s Office with the investigation of a reported domestic violence incident that led to the arrest of a man suspected of dousing a woman and a dog with gasoline. He then allegedly attempted to start a fire using a lighter.

William Sheridan, 43, allegedly forced his way into the home of a former girlfriend at 69 Seminole Trail, picked up a gas can and doused the inside of the residence, splashing the liquid on the furniture, walls and the floor and a vehicle outside.  Sheridan also threw the liquid on the woman’s roommate and a Cocker Spaniel named Rusty.

A lighter Sheridan allegedly tried to use to light a fire reportedly failed to work. As the struggle escalated, one of the victims picked up the phone to call 911, but Sheridan reportedly snatched the phone.  No injuries were reported, but the dog’s collar and his coat were soaked with the liquid.

Authorities said they arrested Sheridan not far from the home and booked him into the Orange County Jail without bond.  He is charged with attempted murder, arson to an occupied residence, domestic violence, aggravated assault and battery, felony animal cruelty, and hindering a 911 call for help.


FLORIDA OFFICE OF FINANCIAL REGULATION COMMISSIONER DON SAXON HONORED BY NORTH AMERICAN SECURITIES ADMINISTRATORS ASSOCIATION

Don B. Saxon, Commissioner of Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation, has been honored by the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) with its prestigious Blue Sky Award during the association’s 89th Annual Conference in San Diego on September 18.

NASAA’s Blue Sky Award is the association’s highest honor and recognizes career achievement as well as distinguished contributions to securities regulation. This marks the second time Commissioner Saxon has been honored by the association of state securities regulators. He first received the Blue Sky Award in 1996.

The award is named after state securities laws, which are commonly referred to as “blue sky” laws. The first modern state blue sky law was adopted in 1911 in Kansas. The Kansas law served as the nationwide model for state securities regulation.

In presenting the award to Commissioner Saxon, NASAA said:

“You have served investors in Florida and throughout North America with great distinction during a NASAA career that few can match. Your well-reasoned, respected, and dignified voice continues to send a clear message to fellow regulators, state and federal policymakers, and the financial services industry, that the best interests of investors must always be served without fail.”

Commissioner Saxon, who serves currently as NASAA’s ombudsman, has enjoyed a distinguished career at NASAA, including service as a member of the Board of Directors and vice-chairman of the Broker-Dealer Section. He is a leading authority in strengthening the training of state securities regulators and enhancing the continuing education of financial services industry representatives.

NASAA is the oldest international organization devoted to investor protection. Its membership consists of the securities administrators in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada, and Mexico.


FORTIFY FLORIDA SHOWED HOMEOWNERS HOW TO HURRICANE-HARDEN THEIR HOMES

Pensacola Prepares! featured free hurricane home improvement workshops

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher released an agenda for “Fortify Florida: Pensacola Prepares!” that offered homeowners several opportunities to learn ways to hurricane-harden their homes and find out if they are eligible for reduced insurance rates.

The event was free to the public and featured more than 50 exhibitors and eight workshops to help homeowners learn about construction measures that make homes safer against hurricanes, and for which they may be eligible for insurance premium discounts.   

“We wanted Panhandle residents to arrive with questions and leave with answers about how their homes can be safer against hurricanes, and they did,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Florida Department of Financial Services. “These expos bring together the experts and resources Floridians need to take charge of their hurricane home safety.”

“Fortify Florida” expos are being coordinated as a partnership of the Florida Department of Financial Services, the Office of Insurance Regulation and the Executive Office of the Governor. The Pensacola Prepares! event was co-hosted by Gulf Power Corporation, the Escambia County Commission and WEAR-TV.

Attendees also applied for the new My Safe Florida Home program administered by the Florida Department of Financial Services (DFS) to protect Floridians and assist them in making their homes safer against hurricanes. DFS staff were available to assist expo participants who applied for My Safe Florida Home free inspections. In addition, many vendors donated items related to hurricane safety and home improvement, including NOAA weather radios, emergency kits, hurricane preparation items and gift certificates.

In addition to presentations about the My Safe Florida Home program, workshops were conducted on ways to improve your home’s hurricane safety by the Be Ready Alliance Coordinating for Emergencies (BRACE), Gulf Power Corporation, Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, the American Red Cross, the University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), the Wayne-Dalton Corporation and Home Depot.

Representatives for several insurance companies were on hand to talk to their policyholders and determine whether they are eligible for premium discounts available for specific construction measures shown to reduce hurricane damage.

The third “Fortify Florida” expo is scheduled for Palm Beach County on Saturday, October 14, at the Boca Raton campus of Florida Atlantic University. For more information on these events and to learn the steps you can take to make your home more hurricane-resistant, visit the My Safe Florida Home website at www.mysafefloridahome.com.


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