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

Volume 6 Number 43 October 23, 2009

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Dear Floridian:

I am always advising people from across the state to check our unclaimed property website, www.FLTreasureHunt.org and see if they have money or property waiting for them, reminding them to check for any name they have ever gone by, the names of their deceased relatives, and their businesses. This week, with the start of our annual Unclaimed Property Auction in Ft. Lauderdale, we have seen thousands of Floridians claiming their treasures.

Just yesterday, I visited a cigar shop owner in Miami’s Little Havana to reunite him with his 1934 $1,000 bill that was set to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Today, I joined hundreds of people to preview the 40,000 items that are still for sale. With our Unclaimed Property Auction starting tomorrow morning, the excitement is set to continue. Be sure to check out the details of the auction and see if you have unclaimed property waiting for you at www.FLTreasureHunt.org today!

Sincerely,

Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


CFO Sink returns claimed 1934 $1,000 bill to Little Havana businessman

Florida CFO Alex Sink returned a 1934 $1,000 bill to owner Mauricio Hanono at his cigar shop in Little Havana on Thursday. The $1,000 bill was originally slated to be auctioned off this Saturday as part of the Unclaimed Property Auction, until Mr. Hanono claimed the property.

About a decade ago, Mr. Hanono gave the $1,000 bill to his son as a wedding gift, and had it stored in a bank safe deposit box. However, the Hanono family lost track of who was supposed to pay the monthly fee for the safe deposit box.

CFO Sink’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property has been helping thousands of Floridians from across the state like Mr. Hanono claim their property, and in the past year, the bureau has reunited citizens with over $173 million in unclaimed property, the most ever returned in one year.


CFO Sink to guest auctioneer at Unclaimed Property Auction in Fort Lauderdale

Florida CFO Alex Sink will be a guest auctioneer on Saturday during her Bureau of Unclaimed Property’s Auction, an annual sale of unclaimed safe deposit box contents turned over to the state.

Earlier today, CFO Sink hosted a public preview of the more than 40,000 individual items to be sold at the auction, including jewelry, watches, and rare coins, with a minimum reserve value in excess of $500,000. Featured items include a 13-carat brilliant-cut diamond ring, a Longines diamond and platinum pocket watch, and a Rolex Submariner Oyster Perpetual watch. A free catalog, along with details about the auction, is available at www.FLTreasurehunt.org.

Left: CFO Sink moments before the unclaimed property auction preview was opened to the public

The auction will be held at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Ft. Lauderdale, and is open to the public. A refundable $100 deposit is required.

In the three weeks leading up to the auction, CFO Sink has reunited 47,504 citizens with a total of nearly $20 million. Unclaimed property can be claimed for free at any time by the rightful owners or heirs by logging on to www.FLTreasureHunt.org  or by calling the Bureau at 1-88-VALUABLE.


CFO Sink talks about solutions for homeowners at Housing Help Roundtable

Florida CFO Alex Sink highlighted two initiatives she started to bring real, tangible help to Florida homeowners facing foreclosure, and heard from community groups and homeowners who are on the frontlines of tackling the state’s housing crisis.

At her Florida Housing Help roundtable on Monday in Orlando, CFO Sink brought together representatives from the City of Orlando, the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program, Orlando-area housing counselors and other concerned groups to discuss how they are working to help Florida citizens stay in their homes. CFO Sink also met local area homeowners who were able to avoid foreclosure through help from her initiatives.

“I want to do everything I can to ensure that struggling homeowners can get real help and keep a roof over their heads, as our state continues to have the fourth highest foreclosure rate in the nation,” said CFO Sink. “Florida’s homeowners are facing huge challenges and today we were able to highlight multiple ways they can get help -- either at one of my Housing Help workshops or with a volunteer attorney through the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program.”

The Orange County metro area currently has more than 7,600 homes in foreclosure, up 24 percent from this time one year ago. To help combat these statistics, CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services, in partnership with the City of Orlando and Mayor Buddy Dyer, is providing a Florida Housing Help Workshop on Saturday, November 7, 2009, at the Englewood Neighborhood Center in Orlando from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The workshop is one of more than 50 that have been held around the state so far this year as part of CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help initiative.

Joining CFO Sink at the table today were Orlando City Commissioner Tony Ortiz, Jill McReynolds and other HUD counselors from HANDS, Frank Rubino of Chase Bank, Dawn Steward from Healthy Kids, Lena Smith and other representatives from Legal Community Services of Mid-Florida, and Ann Wilson a volunteer attorney with the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program.

Also on hand were two homeowners to tell their success stories. Karen McGann, an Ocala homeowner attended a Florida Housing Help Workshop in Marion County on October 10, 2009. As a result of meeting with her lender at the Ocala workshop, her mortgage was reduced from $1,700 a month to $800. Mireille Souffrant is an Orlando homeowner who was able to work with a volunteer attorney to modify her mortgage to a lower fixed rate.

“I will tell anyone to go to one of CFO Sink’s workshops,” said McGann. “Don’t let your pride keep you from coming. These people are here to help you.”

Details on CFO Sink’s work to help Florida’s homeowners and a calendar of upcoming Florida Housing Help events can be found at: http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/FloridaHousingHelp/.

Upcoming Florida Housing Help events:

Wednesday, October 28 from 5:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. War on Poverty-Florida (inside Gateway Mall)
Gateway Mall, 5196-A Norwood Ave, Jacksonville

Saturday, November 7 from 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Florida Housing Help Englewood Neighborhood Center, 6123 La Costa Drive, Orlando

Saturday, November 14 from 10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Florida Housing Help Oak Grove Church, 613 Madison St., Port St. Joe

Wednesday, November 18 from 5:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. Florida Housing Help Joseph P. D'Alessandro Office Complex (State Building), 2295 Victoria Ave., Fort Myers

Wednesday, November 25 from 5:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. War on Poverty-Florida (inside Gateway Mall) Gateway Mall, 5196-A Norwood Ave, Jacksonville


CFO Sink supports small business lending initiative to help create jobs in Florida

Florida CFO Alex Sink today discussed the potential impact of the White House’s Small Business Lending Initiative on Florida’s economy during a conference call with business reporters. According to the US Small Business Administration, over 91% of all employers in the State of Florida are small businesses.

“I’m encouraged by the detailed plan President Obama released this week to strengthen small businesses—this is the kind of growth-oriented, business-minded policy we need more of in Florida,” said CFO Sink. “With Florida’s unemployment rate hitting 11% and with small businesses struggling to gain access to capital here, the focus on supporting small businesses at a national level could not come at a better time for our state. Implementing new and innovative economic policies that create more jobs is key to our economic recovery.”

During the call, CFO Sink outlined three measures she will take in her support of the recent small business lending initiative:

The White House plan released Wednesday includes steps to provide small businesses with access to credit by supporting community bank lending, including improving access to credit for small businesses by providing lower-cost capital to community banks that submit a plan to increase small business lending. According to the Office of Financial Regulation, of the 58 national commercial banks and 203 state-chartered commercial banks currently operating in Florida, only six national and 13 state-chartered banks have assets totaling over $1 billion.

The plan calls upon congress to raise lending limits on Small Business Administration 7(a) and 504 loans from $2 million to $5 million, up to $5.5 million for manufacturing, and raises lending limits on the Microloan program from $35,000 to $50,000. Additionally, the White House has requested convening a Treasury-SBA Small Business Lending Conference to work with regulators, lenders, and congress to ensure access to credit for small businesses. For more information visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/assets/documents/small_business_final.pdf.


Tips to fight ID theft during national 'Protect your Identity Week’

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Monday encouraged Floridians to protect their identity as part of National Protect Your Identity Week held October 17-24, 2009. Identity thieves steal Social Security numbers, credit card and bank account numbers and other personal information to open bank and credit card accounts, secure car loans and more. Even if a victim doesn’t lose money, they can suffer financial difficulty and frustration from ruined credit ratings.

“In 2008, over 10 million people had their identity compromised,” said CFO Sink. “We want Floridians to be proactive and know how to protect themselves against becoming a victim. The best protection against identity theft is the ability to recognize it.”

CFO Sink urged Floridians to follow these tips to guard their personal information, and fight fraud and identity theft:

For more information or to file a complaint, call the Florida Department of Law Enforcement at (850) 410-7000 or the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-438-4338. For information on fraud and protecting yourself from identity theft, or to request an outreach program on identify theft for your club or organization, visit CFO Sink’s Web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com or contact the Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).


CFO Sink announces arrest of Boynton Beach man for staged car accident

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Friday announced the arrest of Boynton Beach resident Fedely Esterlin, 34, for Insurance Fraud and Grand Theft after he presented a false insurance claim after a vehicle crash. He was booked into the Palm Beach County jail Tuesday afternoon and, if convicted, faces up to 10 years in prison.

“Arrests like this send a strong message that insurance fraud will not be tolerated in Florida,” said CFO Sink. “Fraud doesn’t just hurt insurance companies – it inflicts real financial pain on families, businesses and communities. I commend our insurance fraud investigators and the defendant’s employer for their diligent work on this case.”

On November 13, 2008, Esterlin struck the rear of a 1992 Acura that was stopped at an intersection in Palm Beach County. On the scene he claimed he accidently pushed the gas pedal instead of the brake when trying to stop. There was only minor damage, but Esterlin was taken to the hospital with complaints of stomach pain. Then he changed his story, claiming the other vehicle caused the accident by cutting him off as the light turned red. Esterlin went as far as denying even knowing the other driver, who was a neighbor he had 90 phone calls with during the last three months.

Esterlin presented both a written and oral statement in support of a false insurance claim in an attempt to receive over $20K in medical expenses from the accident.

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.


Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate sends letter to insurers on non-renewal of policies due to Chinese Drywall

Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate Sean Michael Shaw, Esq., on Thursday sent letters to the six largest property insurance companies in Florida with a list of questions regarding consumers who may be in jeopardy of not having their policies renewed due to Chinese Drywall.

“Many of these consumers have not only reported chronic property issues that have affected the value of their homes, but also health issues since the installation of the Chinese Drywall,” Insurance Consumer Advocate Shaw wrote. “What is even more troubling is that these consumers, who have paid their premiums in good faith, are not only having their claims denied, but may now be in jeopardy of not having their policies renewed.”

Insurance Consumer Advocate Shaw sent letters to State Farm Florida Insurance Company, Universal Property and Casualty Insurance Company, HomeWise Preferred Insurance Company, Tower Hill Insurance Group, St. Johns Insurance Company, and Citizens Property Insurance Corporation.

A copy of Insurance Consumer Advocate Shaw’s letter to State Farm Florida Insurance Company is attached.


CFO Sink announces third arrest of public adjuster for preying on seniors

Public Adjuster Pockets over $100,000, All Victims are Over the Age of 72

Florida CFO Alex Sink last Friday announced the third arrest this year of a South Florida public adjuster accused of bilking three senior citizens out of more than $100,000 in insurance compensation that was supposed to be spent to repair the victims’ homes. Two of the victims are from Broward County and one is from Miami-Dade. CFO Sink’s office is also seeking to revoke the scammer’s public adjuster license.

The most recent arrest of Bernard Benaim, 35, occurred on Tuesday, October 13, 2009. On the same day, Benaim posted bond and was released from the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in Miami-Dade County. Both of Benaim’s prior arrests this year occurred in May. Benaim is now facing three counts of grand theft and three counts of exploitation of the elderly. He faces over 100 years in prison if convicted on all of the charges. All three arrests have stemmed from investigations by CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud.

“We will not tolerate anyone preying on Floridians, especially our senior citizens who are struggling just to get by and protect their homes,” said CFO Sink. “I commend our investigators for continuing to follow up on all leads and sending a strong message to anyone who tried to defraud our seniors.”

CFO Sink’s Division of Agent and Agency Services has also conducted an investigation, and an administrative complaint has been filed seeking revocation of Benaim’s public adjuster license. The Broward County and Miami-Dade County State Attorneys’ Offices are handling the prosecution.

On three separate occasions in 2008 and 2009, Benaim approached the victims and offered them advice on repairs and improvements to their homes. Benaim assured the victims that he could get them money for home repairs. He then solicited the victims to sign a contract appointing him as their public adjuster for a fee of 10 percent of the total claim payment made by the insurance company.

On each of the three occasions, the insurance companies sent checks to the victims, and the victims endorsed the checks to an associate of Benaim. The associate, an appraiser, gave the checks to Benaim with the understanding that Benaim would deduct his 10 percent fee, and use the remaining funds for the victims’ home repairs. Instead, Benaim cashed the checks and pocketed all of the insurance money. He then changed all of his contact information, including an address that turned out to be a post office box.

CFO Sink urges anyone who suspects they have been a victim of a similar crime, or any type of insurance fraud to report it by visiting http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/fraud or by calling the Fraud Hotline at 1-800-378-0445. Consumers who have questions about public adjusters can call CFO Sink’s Consumer Helpline at 1-850-413-3089 or 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (877-693-5236) or get information by visiting www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


FEMA – Why you should register for assistance

Insurance Consumer Advocate Sean Shaw

During the “No Name” rain storms in May 2009, Floridians who live in Volusia, Flagler, Baker, Clay or Putman Counties saw first hand the quick action taken by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to disburse funds to help families in need of assistance.

During the 2009 hurricane season, Floridians can expect that same type of response should we get hit by a major hurricane and receive a Presidential Disaster Declaration. The first response will come from our State and Local governments, voluntary relief groups and other forms of assistance, such as insurance. However, FEMA will be working with state officials to assess the damages as quickly and safely as possible.

Should the level of damage warrant, the Governor may request the President to declare the area a “major disaster.” Once the declaration is issued, communities will see FEMA officials move quickly into the area and establish Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC) at existing or replacing State Essential Services Centers. These are one stop locations where all disaster relief organizations will gather.

While the FEMA recovery program provides financial assistance and service to individuals and families for basic expenses, your flood and homeowners insurance is the primary source for recovery.

We recommend that you register for FEMA assistance and contact your insurance company in the event of a major disaster event. If your insurance settlement is delayed more than 30 days, or if you need immediate additional living assistance, you may be eligible for an insurance advance from FEMA. However, FEMA assistance is not intended to repair your property to its pre-storm condition. It is only to provide assistance to ensure that you and your family have a safe and sanitary place to live until your permanent residence is habitable. You should beware that an insurance advance is a loan and it must be repaid upon receipt of your insurance settlement.

Immediately after a major disaster event, you may not think that you have a need for FEMA assistance or qualify for FEMA assistance. However, your circumstances may change during the recovery process. In the aftermath of the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, many Florida families were out of their homes for a year or longer and exceeded their homeowners’ insurance policy additional living expense limit. If these families had registered with FEMA immediately after the storm or within the registration period, they could have resubmitted their request to FEMA and may have been eligible for monetary assistance, even after an initial denial. For this reason, FEMA encourages everyone in a major disaster area to register for assistance immediately after the event or within the registration period (60 days from the date of the event). Every family in a major disaster area is eligible to receive up to $30,300 in federal assistance regardless of income level.

When applying for FEMA assistance it is important to remember that applicants must meet specific criteria for various types of disaster assistance. For example, an applicant may apply for the Small Business Administration (SBA) loan, but not meet the income level or other qualifications for an SBA loan. In this type of situation, their application will be automatically referred to FEMA’s Individual and Household grant program.

FEMA provides more than just housing assistance. They provide disaster-related moving, storage, clothing, household items, medical, dental, funeral and other expenses that are deemed necessary and authorized by law. FEMA also assists renters with additional rental expenses and the replacement of essential belongings.

We hope that you never find yourself in a declared major disaster area, but if you do - please know that FEMA will be ready to help you. To learn more about FEMA, please visit their website at http://www.fema.gov or call (800) 621-FEMA(3362) or 1-800- 462-7585 for the hearing and speech-impaired.

If you have any questions about your insurance coverage or the claims handling process, please call your insurance company or Department of Financial Services, Division of Consumer Services’ Helpline at (850) 413-3089, 1-877-MyFLCFO (693-5236) or 1-800-22-STORM.


Consumer Corner: Will your policy replace your wedding ring?

Most people feel comfortable that the insurance policy they have will cover their valuable property should it be lost or stolen.

But would your homeowners’ policy cover your jewelry if it were stolen? What if you lose it?

You should probably consider extra insurance because your homeowner’s or renter’s policy coverage most likely will not cover the entire cost of replacing your jewelry and other valuable items such as electronics, family heirlooms, or sentimental items.

Consider these tips:

For more information on insurance related questions, visit the Department’s Web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


My Family CFO: Think about your family cars

Having your own car seems to be a necessity in Florida, but it may not be the best idea from an expense standpoint. Public transportation may be an option in metro Miami-Dade, but few other areas have comparable systems to make getting around easy without a car.

With today's cost of gas moving back up toward $3.00 per gallon, a car costs a lot of money to run and maintain.

For budgeting, total up your car expenses for a month, including the cost of your payment to the bank or credit union, insurance, maintenance, gasoline, tolls and parking. Also compare the cost to have two or more cars for the family to see if you can share a car as part of a budgeting compromise.

If you can't get along without your own car, delay buying a new car as long as possible. Keep your car long after it is paid off and enjoy not having a car payment.

Buy a used car instead of a new one to keep the payment low. A fairly new model will have depreciated quite a bit from the new car price. Your down payment, installment payment, and insurance premium will also be lower.

And always, choose a model that is economical to run.


SAVING MONEY, SAVING ENERGY: Alternatives to bottled Water benefit the environment and your health

Bottled water costs 500 to 4000 times more than tap water. In addition, Americans discard over 30 billion plastic water bottles per year with an estimated 66 million piling up in landfills every day!

Unfortunately, a large portion of this plastic also finds its way into our oceans. Millions of tons of floating plastic debris now act almost as mini-continents, with the largest flotsam and jetsam collection now circling the Pacific Ocean at an estimated size larger than the state of Texas. This floating island of plastic also releases contaminants into sea water, and scientists have discovered that it breaks down rapidly in the salty environment, thereby entering into the food chains of fish, birds and other wildlife. In short, the plastic bottles that we litter may end up in our own bodies, as well as endanger wildlife in many far-away places.

One final hazard about plastic water bottles is that they emit toxins, especially when heated up, like when a plastic bottle sits in a hot parked car. Drinking water from plastic containers can prove risky for our own personal health, as well as to the global energy budget.

Here are several tips to reduce the expense, contamination, and possible extinction of wildlife posed by bottled water:

1. Encourage your work place to remove bottled water from the supply list. If your tap water is good, use it! Otherwise, switch to a water service and re-usable mugs for each employee.

2. Avoid buying plastic water bottles as a household grocery item. Most communities have excellent tap water, probably better than some bottled water supplies!

3. Buy your friends and children a metal water bottle for a holiday gift. These metal water bottles can be taken on trips, to school, or to the workplace and last for decades.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink's Consumer eViews 1-877-MY-FL-CFO