Volume 6 Number 37 September 11, 2009

Dear Floridian:

This morning, I joined with firefighters, police officers, and emergency personnel to honor the brave men and women who selflessly responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and to recognize the daily sacrifices of all those who bravely serve our communities, state and country.

Eight years ago today our nation changed, and I’m sure you remember just where you were and what you were doing when you heard the fateful news. In the hours after the towers fell, first responders from communities in Florida and across the country raced to New York to offer their talents and expertise -- to lend their hands and their hearts.

I hope today you take a moment to recognize these great American heroes who work daily to protect all of us.

Sincerely,

Alex




Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


CFO Sink speaks in remembrance at 9/11 memorial services at Capitol

CFO Sink speaks at 9/11 remembranceFlorida CFO Alex Sink joined law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency management personnel on Friday morning to observe the eight-year anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. The City of Tallahassee Annual 9-11 Memorial Service was held at the Capitol, and allowed Alex, community leaders such as Tallahassee Mayor John Marks, and Florida citizens to recognize and honor the brave service of all those who were lost on September 11th, and those who risk their lives everyday to serve our state and country.

Officers at 9-11 ceremony“September 11th, 2001, united our country, strengthened our resolve, and replenished our respect for the men and women who give their lives to keep us safe. Today we mark the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by recognizing the sacrifices of our law enforcement, military and emergency personnel.

After the ceremony, CFO Sink spoke with many attending police officers and firefighters and thanked them for their brave service for our state. She also met Major General Paul Eaton, who served for more than 30 years in the U.S. Army. Below is an excerpt from CFO Alex Sink’s remarks at today’s CFO Sink and Maj. Gen. Eatonceremony:

“Eight years ago today, the world witnessed an unspeakable act of terror and violence. And on that very same day, the world also bore witness to unparalleled acts of bravery and selflessness.

“For each of them, there is no higher calling than protecting our communities, our state and our nation. And for Floridians, there are simply no words to adequately express the depth of our gratitude. God bless those who serve and their families.”

CFO Sink and Major General Eaton


State Fire MarshalK-9 'Jordan' is the newest member of the State Fire Marshal team

State Fire Marshal receives first explosives detection-trained dog

Florida CFO and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink on Friday announced a new member joining her Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations (BFAI). Jordan, a canine specially trained to detect and locate the presence of compounds containing nitrates and other materials used in the construction of explosive devices, will be based in the BFAI’s Tampa field office.Curt and Jordan, State Fire Marshal's office

Jordan is a two-year-old German Shepherd and Labrador mix. She had to complete an extensive 13-week training program with assistance from the Tampa Police Department’s K-9 Unit. After the initial training, Jordan and her handler, Detective Curt Clendenney, completed the Explosives Detection Canine Team certification through the nationally recognized North American Police Work Dog Association (N.A.P.W.D.A.). This certification was possible because of the coordination with Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Units Corporal Matt Hall, who is a master trainer with the N.A.P.W.D.A.

“Jordan is the first K-9 with our Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations to receive certification in the Explosives Detection Canine Team and will be a great addition to our K-9 team located throughout the state,” said CFO Sink. “Man’s best friend, coupled with our experienced law enforcement personnel, enhances our mission to effectively investigate and prosecute arson and arson-related crimes and protect Florida citizens.”

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. To report suspected arson, call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON).


Division of Insurance FraudCFO Sink: Racketeering pastor faces new charges after continuing crimes behind bars

Florida CFO Alex Sink today announced that former Jensen Beach Pastor Rodney McGill, who was originally arrested for mortgage fraud in September 2008 after an investigation by CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) and the Office of Financial Regulation (OFR), now faces an additional Grand Theft charge for allegedly continuing his criminal activity while detained in the Martin County Jail.

Rodney McGill and his wife, Shalonda McGill, were also sentenced yesterday to decades behind bars following an elaborate “flipping” fraud scheme in which the couple saddled investors in Martin and St. Lucie counties with more than $1.15 million in fraudulent mortgage loans. Rodney McGill is sentenced to 20 years in prison and 10 years probation, and Shalonda McGill is sentenced to 10 years in prison and 10 years probation. The couple is also responsible for jointly paying nearly $90,000 for investigative costs and almost $1.2 million in restitution fees.

“The McGills used their position in the community to take advantage of people who trusted them — and now they are paying the price,” said CFO Sink. “It is also shocking that Pastor McGill would continue his illegal activity from inside jail, and I commend our investigators’ continued work to expose this mortgage fraud.”

In 2008, DIF and OFR investigators arrested Rodney McGill on charges of Racketeering, Mortgage Fraud and Grand Theft when it was discovered that he and his wife used their influence in the community to prey upon prospective investors; Rodney and Shalonda McGill were convicted on July 23, 2009. During a seven day jury trial in the St. Lucie County Circuit Court, it was proved that the McGills saddled investors with more than $1.15 million in mortgage loans by “flipping” properties in Martin and St. Lucie Counties and then selling the homes using fraudulent loan applications.

Additional investigations by DIF and OFR recently revealed that McGill continued to prey on innocent people despite being behind bars. In late December 2008, McGill allegedly made contact with a new victim to discuss financial assistance to refinance a church: the victim was led to believe that she would invest $40,000 with the promise of a $50,000 repayment within 10 days or less. The victim was unaware that McGill was talking to her from the Martin County Jail because he used a third party to make the phone calls. Because of his continued criminal activity, Rodney McGill was charged with Grand Theft yesterday in an action unrelated to the sentencing.

Anyone with new information about the McGill case is asked to contact DIF Detective Ted Padich at (561) 837-5635. The Division of Insurance Fraud 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, DIF will pay up to $25,000 for information directly leading to an arrest and conviction. Anyone with information about 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.


Safeguard Our SeniorsFeeling financially empowered aids in healthy aging

In recognition of Healthy Aging Month, Florida CFO Alex Sink urges seniors, caregivers, and all Floridians over 50 to create awareness about the positive aspects of aging to improve their financial, mental, physical, and social health.

CFO Sink said the purpose of Healthy Aging Month coincides with her Safeguard Our Seniors initiative, which educates seniors on how to protect themselves from financial fraud and cracks down on agents and unscrupulous individuals who prey on senior’s financial fears. CFO Sink said it is imperative that seniors be in control and make sound financial decisions to protect their financial and physical health.

Here are some ways to reduce stress and get financially fit:

For more information on CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors initiative or for more financial tips and resources, go to www.FLSeniors.net.


Florida Housing HelpFlorida Housing Help events assist homeowners facing foreclosure

As Floridians continue to rebound and rebuild from current economic conditions, CFO Alex Sink and the Division of Consumer Services is continuing to offer Florida Housing Help workshops throughout the state to assist homeowners currently in or facing the foreclosure process.

The current schedule of Florida Housing Help workshops is:

View the calendar for Florida Housing Help events for up-to-date information. For more information on CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help initiative, visit the DFS Web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


Consumer CornerReturning military personnel should review insurance options

As thousands of military personnel prepare to return from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan in the coming months, they should review their insurance coverage to make certain that they and their families stay protected no matter where they are, according to Florida CFO Officer Alex Sink and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).

Reflecting the special circumstances military personnel must take into account when shopping for insurance NAIC tailored a section of its site at http://www.insureuonline.org/course_military.htm.

, to detail comprehensive insurance information specifically for the military. The site provides insurance tips and special considerations on the four basic types of insurance: auto, home, health and life.

Special Insurance Considerations for Military Personnel

While broad insurance information can be found on the the Department of Financial Services’ DFS Web site located at www.MyFloridaCFO.com, CFO Sink and the NAIC offer the following tips for those in the armed services to help them with selecting their insurance coverage.

Auto Insurance

If you will be deployed for an extended period of time and no one will be driving your vehicle, you may be able to suspend some of your auto insurance coverage to save on premium payments. Not all states or insurance companies allow for coverage to be suspended. Talk to your insurance agent or company about your options and any specific laws or policy limitations, and ask if liability, collision, uninsured/underinsured motorist, medical payments and personal injury protection (PIP) can be suspended while you are deployed.

Homeowners Insurance

Many homeowners’ policies have a “vacancy clause” that may be activated if you are deployed for an extended period of time and your family has moved to a new location. Such policies might not pay claims if your house is vacant for 60 days or more. Consult your insurance company to learn how it defines “vacancy” and whether the claims for a vacant house will be paid and get a general review of your policy and you coverage.

Health Insurance

Many reservists and National Guard members have health coverage for themselves and their families through an employer-sponsored health plan. Some may wish to continue that coverage, particularly for their dependents, during their active duty period. Talk with your benefits administrator to learn what will happen with your health coverage when called to active duty.

If you are on active duty for more than 30 days, you and your dependents should be covered by military health care. Dependents have medical and dental services provided through uniformed services facilities subject to availability and are eligible for health benefits from civilian sources through the federally funded TRICARE program, the triple option benefit plan available for military families, formerly known as CHAMPUS (Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services).

Life Insurance

Anyone who sells life insurance at military installations is required to obtain permission from the Department of Defense to be an authorized solicitor. When dealing with an agent, ask to see permits and licenses to be sure you are dealing with a legitimate agent. Be sure to verify licensure before you buy by visiting the DFS Web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.

Currently, many private insurance carriers do not offer coverage for Acts of War. Military personnel are provided some death benefits, but may purchase a limited amount of additional coverage through the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI), a low-cost group life insurance program that includes benefits for death resulting from Acts of War. If you purchase an individual military-focused policy, check with your agent to make sure it does not duplicate coverage for your family that could be obtained elsewhere.

Consumers can also visit www.InsureUonline.org or take the military insurance quiz at www.insureuonline.org/quiz_military.htm


Hurricane Season: Are you prepared?Hurricane Checklist: Is your car ready?

When preparing for a disaster, most people think of emergency kits for their homes, but it is also important to stock your car with necessary items to help you cope in the aftermath of a disaster. Here is a list of items needed for your Emergency Car Survival Kit:

When packing the kit for your car, be sure to include enough supplies for the entire family. It is also important to remember sizes and efficient ways of packing the items. You want to be sure there is enough space for your kit and everything else your family needs in case of an emergency.

For more emergency survival tips, visit the Disaster Preparedness portion of the Department web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com or www.FloridaDisaster.org.


My Family CFODo you need credit counseling?

Credit counselors are finding plenty of customers these days as personal debt loads reach record levels.

Consumer Credit Counseling Services are non-profit agencies whose counselors help negotiate lower interest rates and payment plans for people who have fallen behind.

If you are able to pay your bills and are current on all your accounts, you don't need credit counseling. If your interest rates are too high, you usually can negotiate a lower rate directly with each credit-card company just by asking -- or threatening to move your account elsewhere.

Here's when you might think about full-scale credit counseling:

Counseling services negotiate lower payments with credit-card companies and other lenders, then make the payments direct to your lender from funds you send to the counseling service. Most of the counseling services' fees are paid by the lenders.

Once you've decided you need credit counseling, you should investigate the service carefully before signing up. Ask questions and discuss rates first.

Be wary of big or upfront fees. Consumer Credit Counseling Services typically charge a $10 set-up fee.

Look for proper accreditation. Legitimate credit counseling firms are affiliated with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies.

Look out for delayed or missing payments. Some companies pocket your first months' payments as a fee. Find out how much of each monthly payment is going to your creditors, and when it will be sent to them, especially in the first few months.

Watch out for unrealistic promises. Some companies falsely promise that you can settle your debts for little or no money, without hurting your credit rating. Legitimate credit counseling services help you pay back what you owe, albeit at lower interest rates, and acknowledge there may be some affect on your credit rating and ability to obtain new credit.

If you're too far in debt, credit counseling may not be able to help. There are limits to how little your creditors will accept, and a credit counseling service may not be able to cut your payments enough to help. If so, bankruptcy may be the best of your not-good options.


Saving Energy, Saving MoneyEnergy-Efficient Accommodations

When traveling for business or for pleasure, become energy conscious by staying in energy-efficient hotels. As a consumer, you have enormous power and influence over the success of green businesses. In the case of hotels or restaurants, look for the following signs of energy-saving conservation practices:

When you identify hotels, guest houses, and restaurants with these energy-saving practices, be sure to use them frequently and share them with friends and colleagues. By giving business to environmentally sensitive business operations, we can encourage these practices throughout Florida.