CFO Alex Sink's Consumer eViews NewsletterFLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
ALEX SINK'S NEWSLETTER

Volume 6 Number 35 August 28, 2009

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Dear Floridian:

This week I stood with Florida seniors to talk about the need for better financial protections for our state’s elder population, something I have fought for since taking office.

At a meeting with the Florida Council on Aging, I joined the AARP, members of my Safeguard our Seniors Task Force, and senior victims to call for important legislative action – like creating stricter penalties for unscrupulous agents – that would put the alligator teeth into our state’s senior scam laws. During this spring’s legislative session, the Florida Senate passed my Safeguard our Seniors legislation unanimously, but unfortunately these important protections for our seniors were not brought up in the House.

Even though next year’s session is seven months away, it’s never too soon to fight for what’s right for Florida’s seniors and families! 

Sincerely,

Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


CFO Sink pushes for 'alligator teeth' in senior scam laws

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Monday announced her continued pursuit of stronger penalties against unscrupulous insurance agents who defraud senior investors. CFO Sink made the announcement at a press conference before meeting with the Florida Council on Aging, and was joined in her call for action by Florida seniors who have been victims of such scams and Lori Parham, AARP Florida State Director and part of CFO Sink’s Safeguard our Seniors Task Force.

“After hundreds of investigations and thousands of complaints, it’s time that the State of Florida finally cracks down on these scammers,” said CFO Alex Sink. “Last year we had a bill that would have put some ‘alligator teeth’ into the law, but one House Committee refused to act— that’s simply not acceptable to the victims and it’s not acceptable to me.”

CFO Sink first called for better financial protections for seniors after her department heard from hundreds of seniors who were convinced to liquidate annuities, CDs, stocks and savings accounts to fund new annuities, only to discover these actions robbed them of their savings.  In the past six years, her department has fielded more than 2,400 calls and complaints from consumers regarding this type of fraud.

“I commend CFO Sink for her continued commitment to safeguarding Florida seniors from these devastating financial crimes,” said Lori Parham, AARP State Director. “As part of her Safeguard our Seniors Task Force, I know firsthand that Florida seniors aren’t properly protected from financial fraud under current law.”

CFO Sink created a Safeguard our Seniors Task Force last year to examine and recommend solutions to better protect Florida seniors against financial fraud. This year, CFO Sink teamed up with key lawmakers to push legislation that increases the penalty for agents who defraud senior investors to a third degree felony and establishes better disclosures and protections upfront for seniors who invest in these products. The legislation was approved unanimously by the Florida Senate but did not make it out of committee in the Florida House.

In the last fiscal year, CFO Sink’s department opened 267 annuity investigations involving seniors statewide and 52 in the Tampa Bay Area, recovering more than $1.5 million for Tampa Bay area seniors since February 2008. Four seniors joined CFO Sink at today’s press conference and described their personal stories:

Florida is currently home to more than 2.9 million Floridians over the age of 65. The state’s senior population is projected to grow by as much as 30 percent, and many of these seniors will look into investing in annuities. To learn more about CFO Sink’s Safeguard our Seniors Task Force or what to consider when purchasing annuities, visit www.flseniors.net. Floridians who believe they may have been a victim of annuity fraud should call (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-My-FL-CFO (1-877- 693-5236) or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com to file a complaint.


Smokey Bear celebrates 65 years

2009 marks Smokey Bear’s 65th Anniversary and is an important opportunity to maximize public awareness of the significance of preventing people-caused wildfires and the resulting effects on life, property and natural resources. The principal cause of wildfire in Florida is people’s carelessness and arson for malicious reasons.

Left to right: CFO Sink, Smokey and Julius Halas, State Fire Marshal Division Director.

Smokey Bear continues to lead Florida and the Nation in a fire prevention campaign to protect forests and wild lands from fire. For sixty-five years, Smokey has cautioned Americans to be careful with fire, reminding us that “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.”

The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is a law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local fire and law enforcement agencies in the investigation of fires of suspicious origin. Anyone with information about arson or any suspicious incident of fire is asked to call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NO-ARSON). Rewards are offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

Read about the 2009 Bronze Smokey Bear Award winners honored by the Governor and Cabinet. The three Florida winners are employees of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.


CFO Sink shuts down companies for selling unauthorized health insurance

Action underscores need for consumers to Verify Before They Buy

Florida CFO Alex Sink announced today that she has filed an Immediate Final Order (IFO) against Depawix Health Resources, Inc., Peck & Peck, Inc. (also known as Green Cross Managed Health System), and Smart Service, Inc. for soliciting and selling unauthorized health insurance in Florida. It is suspected that nearly 300 Floridians may have bought coverage from these Georgia-based entities. An investigation by CFO Sink’s Division of Agent and Agency Services revealed that the insurance was sold by both licensed and unlicensed individuals.

“Unauthorized health insurance can lead to serious financial hardship for Floridians, which is why Florida’s licensed agents should be vigilant about protecting consumers from this type of scam,” said CFO Sink. “We will take the most aggressive action possible against anyone who sold these unauthorized products and put Floridians at risk.”

Licensed insurers have met Florida’s stringent statutory financial requirements for licensure, and policyholders are protected by the Florida Life and Health Guaranty Association Act should a licensed insurer become insolvent. Unauthorized insurance does not offer these protections. Unauthorized insurance, particularly unauthorized health insurance, can lead to significant unpaid claims and out-of-pocket costs for victims. Agents or individuals who sell unauthorized insurance not only could lose their license but also could be required to pay all unpaid claims and could face felony charges.

CFO Sink has an ongoing campaign to warn consumers to “Verify Before You Buy,” offering easy-to-use links on her web site for consumers to check if a company or agent is licensed in Florida. Consumers and agents can verify licensure by going to www.MyFloridaCFO.com. Complaints about suspected unauthorized insurance can be reported on the web site or by calling 1-850-413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-My-FL-CFO.


Florida KidCare helps uninsured children

CFO in West Palm Saturday to encourage enrollment in low-cost health insurance for uninsured children

CFO Sink wants to make sure that families know Florida has an established program to cover uninsured kids. Called Florida KidCare, it provides services that kids need on a regular basis, and emergencies that may arise. That’s why she will be in West Palm Beach tomorrow at noon to meet with families and encourage them to get their kids covered during the La Palma Heath Fair.

For kids, Florida KidCare is great health insurance. For parents, it's one less worry. The state’s insurance program for children provides healthcare benefits to families regardless of their income. Coverage includes doctor visits, hospital care, medicines, vision and hearing screenings, dental care, emergency services, surgical care and more. Cost is based on household size and income.

For more information or to apply for Florida KidCare, visit www.floridakidcare.org or call (888) 540-5437 to receive an application by mail.

CFO Sink will be at the La Palma Health Fair this Saturday, August 29. The fair, which will have participation from over 30 Palm Beach organizations is being held 11:00 am to 5:00 pm at the South Olive Community Center located at 345 Summa Street in West Palm Beach.


First Commercial Insurance Company and subsidiary ordered into liquidation

Policyholders with property coverage encouraged to review policies, secure new coverage

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Charles A. Francis has ordered Miami-based First Commercial Insurance Company (“FCIC”) and its wholly owned subsidiary, First Commercial Transportation and Property Insurance Company (“FCTPIC”), into liquidation.  The Florida Department of Financial Services has acted as the appointed receiver of both FCIC and FCTPIC since July 10, 2009, when the companies consented to be placed in receivership for the purpose of rehabilitation.

Floridians who have property insurance with FCIC should immediately contact their insurance agent to secure coverage with a new company. All questions relating to current FCIC and FCTPIC policy and coverage issues should be directed to FCIC/FCTPIC’s customer service department at (866) 570-2184 until September 23, 2009.

FCIC wrote workers’ compensation, commercial auto, general liability and commercial multi-peril insurance policies in Florida and Georgia. FCTPIC wrote commercial auto insurance coverage in Florida. Together, the companies have approximately 18,000 in-force policies. The liquidation orders and other related information can be found at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Receiver/.

“Given that this liquidation order comes in the middle of hurricane season, it is imperative that consumers who have property insurance with First Commercial immediately contact their agents to secure new coverage,” said Florida CFO Alex Sink. “Our department will continue working diligently to help make the transition as smooth as possible for Floridians.”

After appointment as receiver, the Department of Financial Services discovered that FCIC sold over 2,000 automobile service warranty policies that were not reflected in the company’s books, records and financial statements. The department is investigating this matter further. By Court Order, all automobile service warranty policies written by FCIC were cancelled as of August 24, 2009, the date of liquidation.

With the exception of the automobile service warranty policies, all policies are cancelled effective 12:01 a.m. on September 23, 2009, unless otherwise terminated prior to that date. This includes approximately 550 commercial auto insurance coverage or “for hire” insurance policies written by FCTPIC and approximately 100 in-force policies written by FCIC for Georgia policyholders.

The department recommends that policyholders take the following steps based on the different types of policies issued by FCTPIC and FCIC:

For any other questions, Floridians can call the Florida Department of Financial Services at (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-My-FL-CFO or visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


CFO Sink announces arrest of lawyer for stealing nearly $500,000 in insurance settlements

Florida CFO Alex Sink today announced the arrest of a West Palm Beach lawyer who allegedly pocketed nearly $500,000 of his clients’ insurance claims settlements. The arrest is the result of an investigation by the CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud with assistance from the Florida Bar Association.

Alexander Clark Cone, 54, has been charged with first-degree grand theft and continuing criminal enterprise. According to the Florida Bar, Cone has also been disbarred for misappropriation of funds and unethical practices, and will not be allowed to practice law in the State of Florida. Cone was arrested and booked into the Palm Beach County Jail on August 25, 2009; if convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison, investigative costs and restitution payments to the victims.

“The fact that a lawyer would steal from the very people he was hired to represent is reprehensible,” said CFO Sink. “I commend our investigators at the Division of Insurance Fraud and the Florida Bar for their work to bring this criminal to justice.”

Investigators with the Division of Insurance Fraud found that Cone was depositing settlement money he received on behalf of his clients into his trust account and then transferring the money into his personal account. Investigators were tipped off to the illegal activity after the Florida Bar subpoenaed Cone’s bank records and conducted an audit on Cone’s accounts.

Each of Cone’s victims was interviewed and sworn affidavits were obtained. Their allegations include:

The Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) made over 800 insurance fraud-related arrests in the last fiscal year, and investigates various forms of insurance fraud, including health, life, auto, property and workers’ compensation insurance.  Depending on the estimated loss amount, the Department will pay up to $25,000 for information directly leading to an arrest and conviction.  Anyone with information about this or any other suspected insurance fraud is asked to call CFO Sink’s Fraud Fighters Hotline at 1-800-378-0445 or visit to www.MyFloridaCFO.com/fraud.


The new toll-free Florida Flu Information Line is 1-877-352-3581

On Monday the Florida Department of Health launched a toll-free number to provide public health information and updates on H1N1 Swine flu. The information line, 1-877-352-3581, is available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EDT, seven days a week. Information is available in English, Spanish and Creole.

The State Surgeon General provided these recommendations:

People with respiratory illness should stay home from work or school to avoid spreading infections, including influenza, to others in the community.

If you think you have influenza, please call your health care provider and discuss whether you need to be seen in their office, emergency room or stay home. People experiencing cough, fever and fatigue, possibly along with diarrhea and vomiting, should contact their physician.

The anticipated date for the H1N1 Swine flu vaccine availability is mid-October. The high-risk groups who should plan to get the needed two shots are pregnant women, people in their 20s to 40s, very young children, caregivers and medical workers. Those above 50 will not need the H1N1 vaccine unless they are in a high risk category or have underlying health problems.


September is National Coupon Month

Join Tammy Teston, Deputy CFO and champion coupon-cutter, for "Slice your Grocery Bill in Half," a lively video presentation on money-saving ideas for your family.

Did you know:

The Promotion Marketing Association Coupon Council has released some recent compelling statistics:


Small business insurance IQ survey reveals health care knowledge gaps

Many Small Business Owners Unaware of Financial Effects of Employee Health Care Coverage

Small business owners are struggling to provide health insurance for their staff and do not feel confident in determining the health insurance that best fits their employees’ needs, according to a new survey by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). The finding highlights the need for more insurance education, even as the debate over national health care reform continues around the country.

In the NAIC survey, conducted July 22-31, 2009, among a participant sample of 500 small business decision makers, 64 percent of small business owners responded that they are not confident picking a health insurance policy that fits their budgets and their employees’ needs. One-third admitted that they cannot afford to provide health insurance to their employees.

Additionally, the study found a clear gap in understanding the fiscal responsibilities associated with offering health insurance. Of the small business owners surveyed, 60 percent said they are not confident they understand the tax implications of paying for a portion of their employees’ health insurance premiums. Only 27 percent say they understand all the factors that can affect their small group health premiums.

How to Improve Your Small Business Health Insurance IQ

These tips will help small business owners better understand their health insurance needs and requirements.

Visit the NAIC’s Consumer Information Source (CIS) at https://eapps.naic.org/cis to access key information about insurance companies, including closed insurance complaints, licensing information and key financial data.


Hurricane Checklist: Do You Have a Family Plan?

With the four-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on Saturday, August 29, we continue to be reminded about how we need to prepare for disaster. When preparing for hurricanes, people often forget a few very important things: have an emergency plan and know what resources are available in your community.

Things everyone should know:

Make sure you and your family take advantage of training and resources available to you. Everyone needs to have a plan in case of an emergency. It is good to discuss and go over your plan so no one will panic in the event of an actual disaster. For more information, on disaster preparation and creating a plan, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.

Information taken from an article originally produced by the Alabama Department of Insurance.


Ft. Myers to Hold Monthly Florida Housing Help Workshops

In an effort to meet the needs of consumers, CFO Sink and the Department of Financial Services’ Ft. Myers Office of Consumer Outreach will be hosting Florida Housing Help workshops on the third Wednesday of each month from 5- 8 p.m. These FHH workshops will include a family budgeting and personal finance class, as well as the ability to meet with HUD-certified counselors and legal assistance.

The free family budgeting and personal finance class will begin at 6 p.m. This class will help families look at their finances and lean about cash flow budgets. Consumers will find out where their cash is going and how to establish a realistic family budget. Lenders require a budget plan as part of a mortgage solution.

FHH workshop dates are:

Wednesday, September 16
Wednesday, October 21
Wednesday, November 18
Wednesday, December 16
Joseph P. D'Alessandro Office Complex, 2295 Victoria Ave., Fort Myers 33901 5-8 p.m.

For more information, visit the Florida Housing Help Web site or contact the DFS Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089 or 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).


Labor Day Fun: Is Your Boat Covered?

Labor Day is almost here, which means that summer is almost over. Although summer may be officially coming to an end, here in the Sunshine State, boating is a year round activity. So when is the last time you have taken a good look at your boat insurance policy? Are there ways you can save money?

Consider the following, when determining the possible savings for your boat or recreational vehicle:

Be sure to ask your insurance company or agent about all of the discounts available to you. For more information on boat insurance, please visit the Insurance Library at www.myfloridacfo.com or call the Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877- MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).


My Family CFO

Are you the chief financial officer of your family? Are you always looking out for the best deals, wise investments and smart moves for your family's financial security?

As your family's fiscal watch dog, keep an eye on this column for money-smart ideas from the Chief Financial Officer of Florida, Alex Sink.

If you have a creative way to be fiscally smart, share it with us for this column!

MyFamilyCFO@MyFloridaCFO.com

Idea: Need to get back in the workforce?

Job hunting is never an easy process. It can be especially daunting if you have not been in the job market for a while. It may be easier to conduct a successful search if you break your preparation into these three steps, according to the AARP Foundation:

Assess and explore: yourself, your skills and potential, and what you want from a job;

Improve your skills: to ensure you have the right skills for the jobs in demand in your community today;

Plan your job search: develop a job-hunting plan and find employers who are hiring.

Network as the way: to find opportunities and get information. Talk to anyone and everyone you can about plans, goals, ideas and any potential job leads.

The AARP Foundation has a broad array of services to help older workers find more meaningful employment. In addition to providing access to skills assessment and training, the AARP Foundation can even connect qualified individuals with on-the-job training at companies that value your experience and dedication. AARP Foundation has is working with national and local agencies through the WorkSearch Assessment System to help link you to services for your job search. Visit WorkSearch for help.

Disclaimer: Consumer eViews financial information is provided for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional financial advice.  Always seek the advice of a qualified professional before taking any course of action that may affect your financial or legal rights.


SAVING ENERGY, SAVING MONEY
Energy tips for Florida families - these actions represent ways to behave kindly toward Mother
Earth, AND save money as well
as energy. These tips are presented by CFO Alex Sink's science advisor Meg Lowman, Ph.D., on the faculty at New College of Florida. Dr. Lowman has written numerous award-winning books and is an expert
on the rainforests of the world.

Families Can Work Together to reduce household waste


Approximately 84% of all American household waste can be recycled, but most of it is thrown out in haste. Families should work together to tackle their household waste: to recycle all papers, glass, and cans; and also to re-use certain items around the house.

If your neighborhood permits, a compost pile is a great way to recycle food scraps, and to inspire young gardeners in the family. Create a family recycling squad, empowering your children with the responsibility of finding out exactly what your community recycles, and then creating a system at home to separate these goods appropriately.

Talk about ways to purchase goods with less packaging, and try to re-use items such as boxes, string, paper clips, plastic bags, and packing materials. Create art works from trash!

Children also love numbers, and here a few eye-opening factoids about household waste: