Consumer eViews
FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 4, Number 4, January 26, 2007

Dear Floridian:

This week, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed a bill that will bring meaningful rate relief to many Floridians suffering from skyrocketing insurance premiums. Through a combination of efforts including expanding the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, repealing onerous and unfounded rate increases, and giving consumers more choices in coverage, Florida’s homeowners should begin to feel a sigh of relief in the coming months.

One of the reasons we were able to help Floridians was by harnessing the power of bipartisanship. Democrats and Republicans worked together to put the people of Florida first, and that’s the way it should be here in our Capitol. I was honored to work with fine leaders in both the House and Senate, and the Governor, to develop thoughtful reform that would not risk the fiscal health of our state.

I look forward to working with the Legislature in the regular session amid this new spirit of cooperation. Floridians deserve nothing less.


--
Alex Sink


FLORIDA CABINET MEETS TUESDAY, JANUARY 30

Resolution: a formal statement of policy, opinion, will, belief, intent or appreciation voted by an official body or assembled group.

The Florida Cabinet confers honor and appreciation at each meeting to deserving Floridians and worthwhile ideas. At Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink will present two resolutions -- one in appreciation of retiring state employee Hamilton “Buck” Oven, and one to help spread the word about the Earned Income Tax Credit available to low-income workers through the IRS.


CFO SINK ANNOUNCES THREE-DAY OPERATION TO ARREST DOZENS OF INDIVIDUALS ON INSURANCE FRAUD CHARGES

Culminating several months-long investigations, dozens of individuals from Pensacola to Miami will be arrested for insurance fraud schemes that totaled at least $1 million. Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced the three-day operation as it kicked off today, stating she wants to send a strong message that Florida will not tolerate this costly crime.

The charges stem from investigations by the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud, a sworn law enforcement agency responsible for the investigation of insurance fraud. The division made nearly 800 insurance fraud-related arrests in the last fiscal year.

“Those who commit insurance fraud may think they are only hurting insurance companies, but insurance fraud causes real financial pain and hurts families, businesses and communities,” said Sink, who as CFO oversees the department (DFS). “Anyone found guilty of insurance fraud in Florida will pay for their crime.”

The operation is targeting nearly 80 individuals wanted on criminal charges ranging from staging automobile accidents to grand theft, and the arrests will continue through Thursday. The division’s operation is being organized through the division’s regional offices. The charges are being prosecuted by state attorney offices in the various jurisdictions. Potential sentences could range from five years to 30 years in prison per count.

The majority of the charges fall largely under workers’ compensation fraud, including both claim fraud and employer fraud. The second-largest category of charges involves auto insurance fraud, from staged accidents to fraudulent Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance claims. Some of the cases involve insurance agents accused of defrauding customers and several homeowner claim fraud cases.

Insurance fraud in Florida has been estimated to cost Floridians as much as $1,400 a year. Depending on the estimated loss amount, the department will pay up to $25,000 for information directly leading to an arrest and conviction. To report insurance fraud, call the department’s Fraud Fighters hotline at 1-800-378-0445 or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com/fraud. Complaints can be tracked online.

SOUTH FLORIDA FISHING BOAT CAPTAIN REELS IN A BIG ONE WITH UNCLAIMED PROPERTY PROGRAM

For most of his life, Jay Cohen has made a living catching big fish or helping other people catch them. Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink helped the South Florida fishing boat captain reel in a big one when she delivered a check from stock accounts held by Cohen and his sister. The stocks were reported last August to the Department of Financial Services as abandoned.

The department’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property identified Cohen, of Fort Lauderdale, and his sister Leigh, of North Carolina, as the rightful owners and helped them get the money back for free. Jay Cohen said they do not want to disclose the amount of money, but he was more than happy to meet CFO Sink today on his day off to pick up the check. They met at the Pier 66 Marina in Fort Lauderdale.

“This may be one of the more fun aspects of my job,” said Sink, who as CFO oversees the department. “We are holding more than one-billion dollars’ worth of cash and property for Floridians who have lost track of it, and we are eager to return it to the rightful owners.”


Jay Cohen operates Captain Jay’s Reel Adventure Charters, Inc., out of Miami. The money the Cohens are claiming comes from Manulife Financial Inc. stock the two owned. The Cohens filed their claim in November after the Bureau contacted them.

The Bureau is currently holding 7.8 million accounts statewide, including nearly 1.14 million accounts in South Florida. In Palm Beach County, 231,419 accounts are valued at $82.6 million; in Broward County, 402,273 accounts are valued at more than $125 million; and in Miami-Dade County, 545,601 accounts are valued at more than $188 million. These accounts can be claimed for free by logging on to www.fltreasurehunt.org or by calling the Bureau at 1-88-VALUABLE.

Unclaimed cash and proceeds from the auction of abandoned property go the Florida Public School Trust Fund. The Bureau has transferred more than $1.5 billion to the school trust fund since the program’s inception in 1961. Claims, however, can be made at any time.


CFO SINK ANNOUNCES NEW ONLINE SEARCH FOR CONTRACTORS PARTICIPATING IN THE MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME PROGRAM

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink Wednesday announced the launch of a new online search tool that will help Florida homeowners participating in the My Safe Florida Home program find approved contractors. By visiting www.mysafefloridahome.com, homeowners will be able to search by county or type of work performed from a universe of nearly 150 contractors approved to participate with the program.

“Today we are giving Florida homeowners the tools to make informed choices about the professionals they hire to help them improve their homes,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “Floridians looking to harden their homes can turn to the My Safe Florida Home website and know that the contractors who participate with us are properly trained to perform essential hurricane mitigation improvements.”

Nearly 14,000 Florida homeowners have received a free home inspection and are currently in the process of receiving their completed inspection reports with recommended home improvements. To be eligible for matching grants of up to $5,000, homeowners choosing to make one or more of the recommended mitigation techniques must use a participating contractor.

To become a participating contractor with the My Safe Florida Home program, all contractors must be licensed by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation or by a local authority for the work that they are performing through the program. All participating contractors must also complete or already have completed a four-hour course on residential wind-resistance retrofit improvements. As additional contractors qualify, the website will be updated regularly to reflect the current approved list of approved contractors.

Upon submitting their applications to partner with the My Safe Florida Home program, all contractors are screened to ensure that they have workers’ compensation insurance coverage. CFO Sink further urges all homeowners who choose a contractor from the website to verify that they have current workers’ compensation insurance coverage and licensure before entering into a contract.

Free four-hour courses for contractors on the standards and techniques of wind-resistance retrofit improvements are now available. For more information on these courses, contractors should log on to http://www.mysafefloridahome.com/forretrofitpros.asp.

The program, funded with $250 million by the Florida Legislature, was created to better protect Floridians by strengthening their homes against hurricanes and to reduce the state’s exposure to hurricane damage.


MAILING OF MITIGATION GRANT APPLICATIONS TO HOMEOWNERS ANNOUNCED BY CFO SINK

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced that inspection reports and applications for matching grants are being mailed to homeowners who received free home inspections during the pilot phase of the My Safe Florida Home program. Nearly 14,000 Florida homeowners received free home inspections during the program’s pilot phase last year.

“I am excited that thousands of homeowners will soon be receiving valuable information about how they can harden their homes,” said Sink, who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “The 2007 hurricane season is rapidly approaching, and we want to arm these homeowners as quickly as possible with the information they need to protect their homes against the devastating effects of hurricanes.”

The inspection reports and matching grant applications will be mailed over the next several weeks. Inspection reports provide the following information to homeowners: their home’s current strength against a hurricane on a 0-100 scale, ways that homeowners can improve their home’s strength, a cost estimate for the recommended improvements, and the amount of savings homeowners can anticipate on their wind insurance premiums if the improvements are made.

Homeowners choosing to make the recommended improvements are eligible to receive matching grants from the state up to $5,000. The grant funds must be used to implement improvements specified in the inspection reports, and homeowners will be required to use participating contractors. The list of participating contractors, organized by county and type of work performed, will be available on-line at www.mysafefloridahome.com, beginning later this week.

The My Safe Florida program is currently being evaluated and in the process of statewide expansion, after which the application process for free home inspections will resume. However, Floridians looking to harden their homes now can learn more about recommended home improvements at www.mysafefloridahome.com.

The program, funded with $250 million by the Florida Legislature, was created to better protect Floridians by strengthening their homes against hurricanes and to reduce the state’s exposure to hurricane damage. To be eligible for a free home inspection, Floridians must live in a single-family, site-built home with an insured value of $500,000 or less and have a valid homestead exemption. Documents verifying this information must be submitted with a completed application.


CFO SINK SUSPENDS BROWARD INSURANCE AGENT; REQUIRES RESTITUTION OF MORE THAN $100,000

TALLAHASSEE — Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has suspended the license of a South Florida insurance agent for twisting and misrepresenting the terms and conditions of life insurance and annuity products, scheming customers out of thousands of investment dollars. He is now required to pay over $100,000 in restitution to those consumers.

“The perpetrators of these crimes defraud Floridians out of millions of dollars,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the Florida Department of Financial Services. “We will not tolerate crimes against our consumers and I want to let these crooks know that we are coming after them.”


Following an investigation, the Department of Financial Services filed administrative charges against Shawn Roberts, 47, of Plantation, alleging that he placed his clients into life insurance and annuity products that were unsuitable for them, given their risk tolerance and investment objectives. Misrepresentation of insurance and annuity products may include not only misrepresenting the terms and conditions of a product or transaction, but also failing to disclose material information about those products or transactions. Investigators say that Roberts did both, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses to consumers, including surrender charges or other penalties. Roberts, in turn, generated nearly $73,000 in commissions from the sale of the products.

In lieu of an administrative hearing, Roberts agreed to a settlement involving suspension and restitution to consumers. Roberts’ insurance license and appointments have been suspended for nine months, and he has agreed to pay eight consumers restitution totaling in excess of $107,000. Additionally, Roberts must pay an administrative fine in the amount of $2,500 to help defray the department’s costs associated with its investigation.

The Florida Department of Financial Services’ Division of Agent and Agency Services, Bureau of Investigation, investigates various types of insurance violations by agents including health, life, auto, property, workers’ compensation, bail bond and title insurance. To file a complaint against an agent call 1-800-342-2762 or go to www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


SPANISH-SPEAKING FLORIDIANS ARE ENCOURAGED TO TUNE IN TO TELEMUNDO TAX INFORMATION PROGRAM

TALLAHASSEE —Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is encouraging Florida’s Spanish-speaking residents to tune in to the national television network Telemundo this Sunday, January 28, for a special one-hour tax program with the Internal Revenue Service. The program, “Los Impuestos y Usted” (“Taxes and You”), will air at 3:30 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time and 2:30 p.m. Central and Mountain Time.

“Los Impuestos y Usted” will focus on a variety of tax issues, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for low-income taxpayers, electronic filing (IRS e-file), Free File and tips on how to choose a tax preparer. IRS experts also will discuss taxpayers’ rights and how to obtain help with tax questions.

“I appreciate Telemundo sharing this timely information with viewers,” CFO Sink said. “I encourage residents to tune in and take notes so they can be sure that they are paying no more than their fair share.”

For more information in Spanish about the IRS, log on to http://www.irs.gov/espanol or toll-free by telephone at 1-800-829-1040, extension 8.
 


Consumer Services HelpLine (800) 342-2762

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