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

Volume 4, Number 35, August 31, 2007

Fellow Floridian:

Last Tuesday, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink presented a resolution to the Governor and Cabinet recognizing Saturday, September 8, 2007, as International Literacy Day.

In celebration, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Florida State Parks are partnering with the Department of Education’s (DOE) Just Read, Florida! program, the Department of State, the Florida Lottery, Volunteer USA Foundation, Adult and Community Educators of Florida, local libraries and Florida Literacy Coalition.

CFO Sink, who is working to promote financial literacy, said the efforts go hand in hand.

“As the Chief Financial Officer, one of my highest priorities is educating consumers about managing their money,” said CFO Sink. “Since so much financial information requires reading and understanding what you read, I am pleased to support International Literacy Day.”

Throughout the month of September, visitors to any of the state’s 160 parks can enter for free by presenting a library card or library book, or by donating a new or good-condition used book. The books will be distributed to underprivileged children throughout the state.

For more information about DEP’s Florida State Parks, visit www.FloridaStateParks.org.  To learn more about DOE’s Just Read, Florida! program, visit www.justreadflorida.com.  For information on library services available online, go to www.dos.state.fl.us.  And to learn more about the Florida Literacy Council, go to
http://myfloridamoney.com/.
 

CFO SINK: MORE THAN 100,000 HOMEOWNERS HAVE SIGNED UP FOR THE MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME PROGRAM

After going statewide five months ago, program at 25 percent of its goal for free wind inspections

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced that more than 103,000 Florida homeowners have signed up for free wind inspections through the My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program, signifying the program has reached 25 percent of its long-term goal of 400,000 free wind inspections in the next two years.

“Thousands of Florida homeowners are learning how to harden and protect their homes from hurricane damage,” said CFO Sink, who runs the Department of Financial Services and oversees the MSFH program. “We are able to help thousands more Floridians in the next two years. I encourage every eligible Florida homeowner to sign up to receive a free wind inspection from the My Safe Florida Home program.”

Any Floridian who lives in a single-family, site-built home is eligible for a free wind inspection through the MSFH program, which helps Floridians identify how they can strengthen their homes and reduces the overall potential for hurricane damage in our state. Floridians can apply on-line at www.MySafeFloridaHome.com or by calling the program toll-free at 1-866-513-6734. Homeowners who receive free wind inspections through the MSFH program will receive a detailed inspection report, complete with additional information on estimated insurance premium discounts, if the homeowner is eligible.

Additionally, some Florida homeowners receiving a free wind inspection may be eligible for a matching grant reimbursement of up to $5,000 to make recommended improvements. To be eligible, the Legislature requires that homeowners: have received a completed wind inspection after May 1, 2007; live in a single-family, site-built home built before March 1, 2002; have a valid homestead exemption; have an insured value of $300,000 or less; and be located in the wind-borne debris region. Additionally, while the free wind inspections will still cover seven potential wind-resistance improvements, matching grants may only be applied to opening protections, including windows, exterior doors and garage doors, as well as the bracing of gable ends.

The MSFH program expanded statewide this spring after a pilot program the previous year and has performed more than 72,000 free wind inspections since April 23, 2007, for a total of 86,969 inspections since the program started. Since the program streamlined its services and re-launched in April 2007, CFO Sink has increased helpline staff, reduced the wait time for an inspection, and recruited hundreds of program inspectors and contractors.

Approximately 8,700 homeowners statewide have been approved to receive matching grants from the MSFH program upon the completion of their recommended improvements. Statewide, the program has issued nearly $2.8 million in grants to 890 homeowners who have completed the improvements recommended in their MSFH inspection reports.


TAMPA WOMAN CHARGED WITH SELLING FAKE INSURANCE CARDS

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is urging consumers to contact the Department of Financial Services if they purchased automobile insurance coverage from a Tampa woman who allegedly sold fraudulent insurance cards.

Margaret Stillings, 49, who was doing business at 4170 E. Hillsborough Ave., was arrested on August 16 following an investigation by the department’s Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) and the National Insurance Crime Bureau. She was arrested on charges of providing false/fraudulent proof of Personal Injury Protection (PIP) motor vehicle insurance and transacting insurance without a license, both third-degree felonies. She was booked into the Hillsborough County Jail, with bond set at $5,000, and if convicted on both charges faces up to five years in prison on each count.

“Consumers should call the department’s consumer helpline or log on to MyFloridaCFO.com to verify licensure before doing business with any insurance agent,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the department and DIF. “We’ve made it easy and quick to get information you need to protect yourself and your family.” 

Undercover agents entered Stillings’ place of business and allegedly purchased a fraudulent auto insurance card from her for $100. Stillings has never been licensed to sell insurance in Florida, and therefore any person in possession of an insurance card sold by this individual or obtained from that address should verify that they do in fact have proper insurance. For assistance in verifying coverage or verifying an agent’s license, consumers should call the department’s consumer helpline at 1-800-342-2762.

Detective Michael Hennessy was DIF’s lead investigator. The charges will be prosecuted in Hillsborough County by the State Attorney's Office, 13th Judicial Circuit of Florida.

The Division of Insurance Fraud is a statewide law enforcement agency that investigates fraud in all types of insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers’ compensation. To report information about this case or any other possible insurance fraud case, call the department’s fraud hotline at 1-800-378-0445. A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.


FINANCIAL PRIVACY. . . ANSWERS TO YOUR QUESTIONS

A Message to Readers from FDIC Consumer News


In FDIC Consumer News, we describe your rights to financial privacy under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999. This federal law requires your financial institutions to provide notices describing the type of information they intend to share with third parties and how customers may "opt out" or say "no" to information sharing under certain circumstances. Financial institutions were required to send notices to existing customers by July 1, 2001. Thereafter, new customers also will get privacy notices, and all customers will receive a notice annually. We previously invited readers to submit questions about their financial privacy rights. Here are some of the questions we received, and our answers.

Can I contact my bank and credit card companies to request that they not share my information or do I need to fill out a form?

Financial institutions that intend to share non-public personal information about consumers with other companies must give those individuals a chance to opt out, with certain exceptions (such as for information needed to process loans, mail account statements or conduct other normal business). But when it comes to how customers can opt out, the rules leave that up to each financial institution, provided the procedures are reasonable.

Institutions must describe their opt-out procedures in their privacy notices. For example, your institution may require you to complete and return a form, or it may require you to call a certain phone number. To ensure that your request is honored, it's important to follow the institution's opt-out instructions. If you don't have a copy of your institution's requirements, call the customer service department and ask how to opt out.

Some of the institutions don't say anything about contacting them to opt out, yet according to the notices, these institutions are sharing plenty of information. When can an institution share information without giving a customer a chance to opt out?

Under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, you cannot stop an institution from providing personal information to outside companies and organizations if, for example, the information is used to:

Market the institution's own products or services;
Market certain products or services jointly with another financial institution.
Enable a third party to help conduct normal business for your institution, such as handling data processing for accounts or mailing account statements.

In addition, the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) allows an institution to share with affiliates (other parts of the same corporate family) certain information based on your transactions with the institution. This kind of information sharing also can be done without giving you an opportunity to say no.

Example: Your bank can tell an affiliated brokerage firm that you have a certificate of deposit about to mature, so it can offer you an investment alternative. Your bank, however, cannot provide an affiliate with personal information from, say, your credit report or loan application unless you're given a chance to opt out first (because that information is not based solely on transactions you've conducted with the bank).

If I send the proper notice that I wish to opt out, do I have to redo this form each year or will my initial notice remain in effect?

You do not need to renew your opt-out instructions with a bank or other financial institution. One request will remain in effect indefinitely unless you contact the institution asking to cancel it. But let's say your institution later decides to expand how much customer information it intends to provide to other companies. If it's the kind of information the law says you have a right to prevent from being shared, "your institution must provide you with a revised privacy notice and give you an opportunity to opt out of the new information sharing," says David Lafleur, Policy Analyst for the FDIC's Division of Supervision and Consumer Protection. "This is another example why we say you should pay attention to every privacy notice you get from your financial institutions."

We've also been asked what happens to a consumer's opt-out request if your bank merges with another institution and the "new" bank has a privacy policy that is less protective of your personal information. Here, the merged institution must give you the right to opt out before it could apply that less-protective policy to your personal information.

If I opt out of information sharing because I don't want unsolicited offers, does this prevent my bank from reporting my creditworthiness to credit bureaus and, therefore, to other institutions I may be applying to for credit?

No, even if you opt out, your bank or other financial services firms still can, and will, report private information to credit bureaus. Why? Because the privacy law specifically permits institutions to provide nonpublic personal information to credit bureaus.

Credit bureaus are companies that collect facts about a person's financial responsibility, such as the timeliness of loan payments. Banks rely on reports from credit bureaus when deciding, for example, to grant a loan or a credit card to a particular consumer, and those reports can only be prepared if financial institutions maintain a regular, free flow of information to credit bureaus.

Friends and relatives have forwarded to me the same anonymous e-mail message warning that, as of July 1, credit bureaus can share my credit information, mailing address, telephone number and other information "to anyone who requests it" unless I opt out. Is this true?

No, that's a false rumor widely circulated on the Internet. It's apparently based on someone's misinterpretation of the July 1 date in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act for banks and other financial institutions to send out privacy mailings to customers. Here's what you should know: Credit bureaus can't release the information in your credit report to just anyone who asks for it. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a credit bureau can only provide this information to people and businesses with a legitimate right to obtain it, as specified in the law. For example, a company has a right to get your credit report if you apply for a credit card, a home equity loan or an insurance product.

However, there are opt-out provisions in the FCRA. One, for example, gives you the right to prohibit credit bureaus from providing information to companies that want to send you unsolicited offers of credit or insurance. The easiest way to remove your name from these special marketing lists sold by credit bureaus is to make one toll-free phone call to 888-5-OPTOUT (888-567-8688), a service operated on behalf of the nation's largest credit bureaus. A phone request to the credit bureaus is only good for two years. Thereafter, you would have to call again to renew for another two years. To opt out indefinitely, you must submit a written request using a special form that you can order from the toll-free number.

The central phone service for credit bureau opt-outs is an automated system that will ask you to leave personal information, including your Social Security number. While this automated service promises confidentiality, if you are reluctant to leave your Social Security number, then you should write a letter (not an e-mail) to any one of the credit bureaus listed below and ask it to share your opt-out request with the other companies. Be sure to include your full name, address, Social Security number and signature. Also specify if you want to opt out for two years or indefinitely, in which case you will receive the form to complete. Write to:

Equifax Inc., Options, P.O. Box 740123, Atlanta, GA 30374-0123;
Experian, Opt-Out, P. O. Box 919, Allen, TX 75013-0919;
Innovis, Consumer Opt Out, P.O. Box 1358, Columbus, OH 43216; or
TransUnion


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