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

Volume 4, Number 6, February 9, 2007

Dear Floridian:

The Department of Financial Services strives to help consumers make informed financial decisions by providing public education programs throughout the state.   

Last year, the Division of Consumer Services, Bureau of Consumer Outreach, conducted nearly 2,000 consumer education programs encompassing a variety of topics including hurricane preparedness, predatory lending, financial literacy and insurance fraud.

We offer free programs and presentations to civic organizations, schools, community groups, homeowners associations and others who want to learn how to protect their interests and avoid becoming a victim of financial or insurance fraud. Call us toll free at 1-800-342-2762 if you are interested in learning more about our consumer education programs.

Remember, being informed is the best defense.

--
Alex Sink


STORM LINE REMAINS ACTIVATED

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink wants Central Florida tornado victims to know that insurance consumer specialists remain available to take phone calls on the Department of Financial Services’ storm hotline, 1-800-22-STORM (1-800-227-8676).  

The department’s consumer specialists can assist with questions regarding steps to take to contact an insurance company, file an insurance claim or check to make sure a public adjuster is licensed.

 “We are committed to doing all we can to make sure these tornado victims get the help they need to rebuild their homes and their lives,” said CFO Sink.  She further urged storm victims to be sure to read and understand any contract they are contemplating signing with a public adjuster and to call the department if they have any concerns or questions.  

Public adjusters are not affiliated with any insurance company and are hired by the consumer for a fee, which is usually a percentage of the claim payment as stated in the contract.  That means, for example, that if your insurance company determines your home is a total loss, the contracted public adjuster would be entitled to part of the claim payment you would need to rebuild.   

To find out more about public adjusters or get help with filing an insurance claim call 1-800-22-STORM (1-800-227-8676) or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com.  The department has investigators in the area ready to respond to complaints.

CFO Sink also reminds residents that because of the declaration of emergency that has been issued, the maximum fee that public adjusters can charge for storm victims in counties named in the order is capped at 10 percent of the claim payment.   Furthermore, public adjusters are prohibited from demanding or accepting any type of advance fees, retainers, or other compensation prior to any payment being made on the claim. 

A new rule, which went into effect on September 3, 2006, triggers these consumer protections when the governor declares a state of emergency.  Under the new rule, the fee cap will not expire for tornado victims regardless of when they may enter into a public adjuster contract for a claim related to damages sustained from the storm.


FIRST MEETING OF THE WINDSTORM MITIGATION STUDY COMMITTEE HELD

In effort to expand and improve hurricane mitigation efforts in Florida, the legislatively-created Windstorm Mitigation Study Committee held its first meeting on February 8 in Tallahassee.   

The committee was created as a result of House Bill 1A, passed recently by the Florida Legislature during Special Session.  The committee is comprised of eight members, with two appointments each from the Governor, Chief Financial Officer, Senate President and Speaker of the House.  The committee is charged with analyzing short- and long-term solutions and programs that address the need to immediately and effectively mitigate homes in Florida.   

A final committee report, including legislative recommendations, is due to the Governor, Chief Financial Officer, Insurance Commissioner, Senate President and Speaker of the House by March 6, 2007. Visit http://www.windstormmitigationstudycommittee.org/ where Floridians can learn more about the committee, its duties and upcoming meetings. Floridians interested in hurricane mitigation are encouraged to attend the meetings. 


CABINET AFFAIRS WELCOMES NEW AIDES

The Office of Cabinet Affairs is pleased to announce two new Cabinet Aides who have recently joined our team.   

Regina Keenan has accepted the position of Senior Cabinet Aide.  With several years experience in state government, Regina worked for the Department of Environmental Protection after graduating from the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law.   

As Senior Cabinet Aide, Regina will spearhead environmental Cabinet initiatives relating to public lands, land acquisition and land management.  

Amber Hughes has recently relocated to Tallahassee were she is Cabinet Aide for the Chief Financial Officer.  Following graduation from Florida State University, Amber was a Financial Advisor in Seattle before joining the Finance Team on Alex Sink's campaign.   

She is the Cabinet Aide responsible for issues regarding the Division of Bond Finance, Department of Revenue and the Office of Financial Regulation as well as supports the CFO in her role as chair of the board of the Healthy Kids Corporation. 

At the February 13, 2007, Cabinet meeting, CFO Sink will be sponsoring a Cabinet resolution recognizing the Florida Association of Black Owned Media, Inc. to thank them for continuing to uplift and educate the community and recognize the thirteen Black owned newspapers, radio and cable television entities serving the citizens of Florida.                                       

The resolution presentation will also be recognizing February as Black History Month in Florida and remind all citizens to participate and observe ceremonies recognizing Black History Month in their communities.


DFS  DETECTIVES AMONG SLECA OFFICER OF THE YEAR NOMINEES

State Fire Marshal Detective John Esslinger received the second-highest number of votes at an annual awards ceremony held last week by the State Law Enforcement Chief Association (SLECA).  Florida’s Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink also attended and spoke at the ceremony. 

Esslinger, a detective in the State Fire Marshal Office’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, was among 14 state law enforcement officers submitted for the award by the various state law enforcement agencies.  Esslinger also was a nominee for the Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Officer of the Year, which Attorney General Bill McCollum announced in January.

Esslinger currently serves in Broward County.  Last year, he earned an arson fire arrest rate 21 percent higher than the national average.  In one year alone he investigated 76 fires, 33 of which were determined to be the result of arson.  Detective Esslinger was a key investigator in a Broward County arson case in which he determined that a fire at a commercial dry cleaning business was set by the owner and his son to collect on insurance claims. The property loss associated with the arson of the dry cleaning business and extended damage to other businesses in the structure exceeded $700,000.

Detective Neil McDonald, who serves in the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud, was also a nominee for SLECA Officer of the Year.  Detective McDonald is a lead detective in the Orlando field office and investigates complex cases involving various insurance fraud schemes.  Detective McDonald recently arrested an insurance agent who swindled more than $2.6 million from Florida citizens by selling them bogus annuities.  Detective McDonald executed a search warrant that uncovered valuable evidence during the investigation and, in August of 2006, the agent was sentenced to 14 years in state prison and ordered to pay restitution to the victims.  


BROWARD COUNTY WOMAN ARRESTED 2ND TIME FOR FRAUD

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced the arrest of a Broward County woman on charges that she stole $200,000 in insurance payments from her former boss, a chiropractor.  She was previously arrested in September on charges that she collected nearly $24,000 on fraudulent chiropractic treatment claims she filed on herself and her husband. 

Jamie Bruce, 30, of Fort Lauderdale, is now facing one count of first-degree grand theft and two counts of fraudulent use of personal identification.  If convicted on the charges, she could be sentenced to up to 60 years in prison in addition to fines and restitution.  The arrests stem from an investigation by the Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud.  The case agent was Detective Gary Schiaffo. 

“Our investigators have determined that this woman was systematically defrauding insurance companies, and insurance fraud forces premiums higher for the rest of us,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the department.   “Fraud will not be tolerated in our state.  We are committed to protecting Florida’s citizens from these crimes.” 

Bruce was the office manager for Joseph and Joseph, PA when the alleged thefts occurred, and in 2004 she allegedly submitted claims to Aetna Insurance Company for chiropractic services that were never rendered to her and her husband.  Aetna paid nearly $24,000 to Joseph and Joseph on the claims, but Detective Schiaffo said the insurance checks ended up in Bruce’s personal account.   The scheme began to unravel when Aetna called for follow-up information on the account and was told by another employee that there were no patient charts for them.  

The investigation of Bruce’s account revealed other insurance company checks had been posted to her account.  The investigation found that Bruce’s position as office manager provided her with direct access to insurance checks as they arrived in the mail.  

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.  Anyone with information about this case is asked to call the department's Fraud Fighters Hotline at 1-800-378-0445.  A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.


Consumer Services HelpLine (800) 342-2762

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