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

Volume 7 Number 6 February 5, 2010

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Dear Floridian:

This week, we launched a new look for the homepage of our web site, and I am excited about this updated, user-friendly resource for Floridians. Our web site is visited by nearly 3,000 people daily, and this more modern design was specifically created to make our services easier to access and provide greater transparency for Florida’s citizens.

One of the new features on www.MyFloridaCFO.com is a Services catalogue, which provides links to helpful information and resources we provide to Floridians online. Whether it’s helping insurance consumers get answers to questions or assisting state agencies in their reporting requirements, these service areas offer a wealth of resources with just one simple click of your mouse.

I hope you will take the time to browse our web site and try out some of these new features. The goal is to make our site easier to use and more helpful for you! If you have any suggestions, please email me at Alex.Sink@MyFloridaCFO.com.

Sincerely,


Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


Prestigious accreditation received by CFO Sink's State Fire Marshal Bureau of Fire & Arson Investigations

CFO Sink’s Bureau of Fire & Arson Investigations is the Only Stand-Alone Fire Investigative Unit in Country to be Accredited

On Wednesday, CFO and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations received the prestigious honor of full accreditation status from the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation. The Bureau of Fire and Arson qualified for the highly prized recognition of law enforcement excellence after meeting 260 standards of professionalism designed specifically for Florida law enforcement agencies. CFO Sink attended the accreditation ceremony in Stuart, and commended Bureau Chief John Corbett and accreditation manager Captain Janet Hartman for this achievement.

“This honor demonstrates the hard work and professionalism of our Fire and Arson investigators, as they join the ranks of top law enforcement agencies in Florida,” said CFO Sink. “Our State Fire Marshal team work diligently alongside local law enforcement everyday to keep Floridians safe and investigate wrongdoing, and they greatly deserve this prestigious honor.”

The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is now the only stand-alone fire investigative unit in the country to be law enforcement accredited. The accreditation lasts three years.

CFO Sink’s 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-NO-ARSON and rewards are offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.


CFO Sink encourages young Floridians to play "Financial Football" on Super Bowl Sunday

While South Florida gears up for this weekend’s Super Bowl festivities, Florida CFO Alex Sink encouraged young Floridians to try and win their own game of “financial football.” The online game, located at www.florida.financialfootball.com, was launched by CFO Sink last year with NFL players and VISA, and teaches smart money management techniques to high school and college students.

“It is so important for Florida’s young adults to have a good financial foundation, before they start to accumulate student loans and other debts in these tough economic times,” said CFO Sink. “Financial football is a great way for young Floridians to become familiar with smart money management – and, it’s a lot of fun, too!”

Financial football allows players to choose their favorite NFL team, and make advances in the game when they answer financial questions correctly. As Florida’s CFO, Sink oversees the Financial Literacy Council, and her Department of Financial Services provides a range of educational services to help Floridians better manage their money.

The Department of Financial Services has consumer outreach coordinators available throughout Florida to present Financial Football programs or other educational presentations on issues such as preventing foreclosures and protecting seniors from financial fraud. For more information, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call CFO Sink’s Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-My-FL-CFO.


State Fire Marshal Bureau of Fire Standards & Training earns re-accreditation

Last week, the State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Fire Standards and Training, also known as Florida State Fire College, earned re-accreditation status by the Pro Board Fire Service Professional Qualification System at the Pro Board’s 2010 annual conference in Orlando. During the ceremony, State Fire Marshal Director Julius Halas, Assistant Director Jeff Merritt and State Fire College Chief Barry Baker accepted the award on behalf of the Bureau.

“I am extremely proud of this accomplishment and would like to thank my staff at the Fire College for the countless hours spent to ensure we stay in compliance with the accreditation standards in order to continue receiving our Pro Board re-accreditation,” said Director Halas. “It is a privilege to stand here today and be a part of such a professional organization that serves the certification needs of emergency responders throughout the world - such as the U.S. Department of Defense Fire Fighter Certification System who is here today.”

Shown above: Florida State Fire College Chief Barry Baker, State Fire Marshal Director Julius Halas, and State Fire Marshal Assistant Director Jeff Merritt.

The Bureau of Fire Standards and Training received its initial accreditation from the ProBoard 8 years ago. The Pro Board is an International Accreditation for Fire Service Organizations and accredits organizations that use nationally recognized and approved fire standards, predominately the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA's) professional qualification standards. For more information visit the Pro Board’s web site at http://www.theproboard.org/default.htm.

The Florida State Fire College provides extensive training for both paid and volunteer firefighters with subjects ranging from basic fire fighting to advanced arson investigation. FSFC students are trained in life saving, rescue and fire fighting techniques to prepare them for the rigors of actual emergencies. In addition to hosting numerous seminars, the FSFC conducts more than 200 regularly scheduled classes each year, reaching approximately 4,000 students.


CFO Sink stands up for Florida small businesses to FDIC Chairman

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Wednesday called for more small business lending and a balanced approach to lending guidelines in a letter sent to Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Chairman Sheila Bair. CFO Sink called on FDIC Chairman Bair to help Florida’s small businesses gain better access to the resources they need at a meeting of the Florida Bankers Association last week.

“It’s so important that this money is put in the hands of responsible business owners who will in turn create jobs and grow our economy,” CFO Sink wrote. “I am asking for swift execution of plans that would accomplish the goal you and I discussed last week of creating an environment that allows our small businesses to get appropriate loans they need and deserve. This goal has to be realized sooner rather than later.”

CFO Sink supported the updated federal initiative announced yesterday that will provide $30 billion in loans to small businesses. She has taken the lead on encouraging Florida’s community banks to give small businesses the tools the need to create more jobs and a stronger economy for Florida.

Read CFO Sink’s letter to FDIC Chairman Bair.


CFO Sink tours Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter

Last Friday, CFO Sink visited the 350,000 square foot, state-of-the-art Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter. CFO Sink toured multiple labs at the Research Institute and spoke with faculty and administrators about what Scripps provides for the South Florida community and the state.

CFO Sink also had the opportunity to meet with area business leaders for a discussion of how to cultivate and support “Early Stage Spin-Off” development to create more innovative, diverse companies in the region.

Scripps is the world’s largest independent nonprofit biomedical research organization, and just last year, the company opened the research facility adjacent to the Florida Atlantic University campus. CFO Sink has long advocated that Florida needs to support businesses like Scripps that provide jobs and boost Florida’s economy, and she also noted that the company’s research facilities are key to ensuring that our state develops a skilled workforce well into the 21st century.


Safeguard our Seniors Workshop Blitz Hits Florida Next Week

Florida CFO Alex Sink will kick off a Safeguard Our Seniors Statewide Blitz next Tuesday at Cherry Laurel Retirement Residence in Tallahassee.

CFO Sink and her Department of Financial Services will be holding eleven workshops in one week to arm seniors with information and the right questions to protect themselves from financial scams, and will educate veterans on financial and social service issues that affect them. The Blitz Week is a collaborative effort among CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Service, AARP, the Florida Bar and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

The Safeguard Our Seniors Statewide Blitz will also highlight CFO Sink's efforts to pass legislation that provides tougher penalties for those who defraud senior investors and better protections up-front for seniors. CFO Sink's Safeguard our Seniors legislation has already passed its first Senate Committee unanimously this year.

Below is a schedule of events for the SOS Statewide Blitz:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010—CFO Attending Cherry Laurel Retirement Residence, 1009 Concord Road, Tallahassee 32308 1:00 to 2:30 p.m.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 Mandarin Senior Center, 3848 Hartley Rd., Jacksonville, 32257 10:30 a.m.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 Aberdeen at Ormond Beach, 50 Allwood Green Blvd., Ormond Beach 32174 8:45 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 LifeStyle Enrichment Center, 628 SE Allison Ct, Lake City 32025 10:00 a.m. to Noon

Thursday, February 11, 2010 Clay County Senior Center, Green Cove Springs 32043 10:30 a.m.

Thursday, February 11, 2010 Cultural Center Theater, 2280 Aaron Street, Port Charlotte 33952 10:00 a.m. to Noon

Friday, February 12, 2010—CFO Attending Parish Hall, The Church of Bethesda by the Sea, Palm Beach 33480 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

Friday, February 12, 2010 Fleamasters Fleamarket, Grand Pavilion Building, 4135 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd., Ft. Myers 33916 10:00 a.m. to Noon

Friday, February 12, 2010 Leon County Senior Center, 1300 N. Monroe Street, Tallahassee 32303 10:00 a.m. to Noon

Saturday, February 13, 2010 Brighton Gardens of Tampa, 16702 N. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa 33618 10:00 a.m. to Noon

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 Mount Zuri Baptist Church, 225 NW 253rd St, Newberry 10:00 a.m.


CFO Sink supports new small business lending opportunities for Florida

Continuing her work to provide Florida’s small businesses with the resources they need to survive and grow, Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday emphasized the need for Florida’s community banks to take advantage of the updated initiative announced by President Obama, which will provide $30 billion for small business lending.

“I have heard from small business owners across the state that their number one roadblock to creating jobs is access to credit, and I will continue to support efforts to give our small businesses these critical resources,” said CFO Sink. “Over 90 percent of Florida’s businesses are small businesses, which is why it’s critical to our state’s economic recovery that our financial institutions – from our community banks to our top lenders -- use everything at their disposal to offer small businesses the loans they need.”

After the initial federal Small Business Lending Initiative was announced in November 2009, CFO Sink wrote to all 167 community banks in Florida, encouraging them to participate in the program to ensure more small business lending in Florida and help create jobs in the state.

CFO Sink also reached out to executives at the top five lenders in Florida (Bank of America, Wachovia/Wells Fargo, SunTrust, Regions, and BB&T) to inquire about their small business lending practices and received a report from Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Tom Cardwell on small business lending activity in the state.


In recognition and celebration of Black History Month

Florida CFO Alex Sink encouraged all Floridians to join her in the recognition and celebration of February as Black History Month 2010.

“African-Americans in Florida and throughout our country have broken barriers, fought for equality, and paved the way for American democracy as we know it. This month gives all Floridians an opportunity to proudly honor our state’s diversity and heritage by reflecting on the past and present accomplishments of our African-American residents. I urge all Floridians join me in recognizing the significant milestones of these trailblazers during Black History Month by participating in the many events scheduled throughout our state.”

For information on Black History Month events in Florida, visit http://www.floridablackhistory.com/.


CFO Sink "Safeguard Our Seniors" legislation passes Senate committee unanimously

Bi-Partisan Legislation to Protect Florida’s Seniors Clears First Hurdle

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday commended the Florida Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance for unanimously passing Safeguard our Seniors legislation (SB 844) sponsored by Senator Mike Bennett and Representative Maria Lorts Sachs. The legislation will hold those who prey on Florida’s seniors accountable by increasing the penalty for unscrupulous agents to a third degree felony and establishing better disclosures and protections upfront for seniors who invest in annuity products.

CFO Sink is continuing her fight to protect Florida’s seniors, after these proposals were blocked during the 2009 session by special interests who did not want to hold these deceptive insurance agents accountable. Last year, the Safeguard our Seniors bill passed the Florida Senate unanimously, but failed to be heard in the Florida House. CFO Sink expressed hope that the Florida House would make protecting seniors a priority this year.

“Today’s vote is a significant first step toward offering Florida’s seniors the protection they deserve and holding those who try to prey on our seniors accountable, and I thank Senator Bennett for his continued work to address this issue,” said CFO Sink. “Unfortunately, we have had even more seniors come forward with complaints about annuities scams, with our department investigating 277 annuity cases in 2009 alone. It is my hope that this session Florida’s lawmakers will put the interests of Florida’s seniors above the special interests, and pass this important bill.”

The Safeguard our Seniors legislation makes the act of “twisting” an annuity to a senior consumer a third degree felony. Other protections under the proposed legislation would:

Two years ago, CFO Sink created a Safeguard our Seniors Task Force to examine and recommend solutions to better protect Florida seniors from being robbed of their life savings after being lured into purchasing unsuitable financial products. The Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force includes representatives from AARP Florida, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the Insurance Consumer Advocate, the Offices of Insurance Regulation and Financial Regulation, NAACP, the Florida Bar, the American Council of Life Insurers, insurance agents and securities broker-dealers. The Safeguard our Seniors legislation was developed from recommendations by the task force.

To learn more about the Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force or what to consider when purchasing annuities, visit www.flseniors.net/. Senior Floridians who believe they may have been the victim of annuity fraud should call 1-877-My-FL-CFO or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com to file a complaint.


Ft. Myers bail bondsmen arrested on multiple felony charges

Suspects accused of grand theft and other illegal activity

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Monday announced the arrests of Ft. Myers bail bond agent and business owner Onil Martinez and unlicensed bail bond agent Wilfredo Gonzalez, who allegedly committed multiple crimes including stealing $90,000 in bond collateral.

Onil Martinez, owner of “A 2nd Chance Bail Bond Agency,” has been charged with Extortion, Felony Criminal Mischief, Employing an Unlicensed Bail Bond Agent, Grand Theft, and Employing a Convicted Felon; if convicted, he faces up to 35 years in prison and permanent revocation of his license. Wilfredo Gonzalez has been charged with working as an Unlicensed Bail Bond Agent, Felony Criminal Mischief, and Grand Theft; if convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison. Martinez and Gonzalez were arrested late last week following an investigation by both CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud and Division of Agent and Agency Services. Both were booked in the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and are currently out on bail.

In October 2009, the Division of Agent and Agency provided the Division of Insurance Fraud with a tip received from a victim that Martinez failed to return her bond collateral in the amount of $90,000. The victim paid Martinez’s company a $9,000 premium and used her mortgage to post a $90,000 bond for her husband; to date, the victim’s mortgage has not been released back to her. The victim also advised that Martinez and other employees in his office were partaking in additional illegal activities including attempting to extort money and information from the victim, stealing personal belongings of the victim’s such as a computer, cell phone and medical files, and displaying a firearm in inappropriate and illegal manners.

CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud made over 800 insurance fraud-related arrests in the last fiscal year, and investigates various forms of insurance fraud relating to health, life, auto, property and workers’ compensation insurance policies. Depending on the estimated loss amount, the Department of Financial Services 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 www.MyFloridaCFO.com/fraud.


Safeguard Our Seniors effort nabs Tampa-area senior scammer

Florida CFO Alex Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud arrested Richard M. Incandela, 57, for selling nearly $500,000 worth of bogus insurance policies to two Hillsborough County senior citizens. Incandela made the sale by falsely represented himself as a licensed insurance agent at a pitch to a local church. CFO Sink’s investigators were able to arrest Incandela in an undercover sting operation after the victims’ stories were uncovered at one of Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors workshops.

“Florida seniors need better protection from financial fraud and more information on the front end – reforms I have been trying to put into law for years,” said CFO Sink. “This latest Tampa arrest is yet another outrageous example of innocent seniors falling prey to deceptive sales practices.”

This week, the Florida Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance unanimously passed CFO Sink’s Safeguard our Seniors legislation (SB 844) sponsored by Senator Mike Bennett and Representative Maria Lorts Sachs. The legislation holds those who prey on Florida’s seniors accountable by increasing the penalty for unscrupulous agents to a third degree felony and establishing better disclosures and protections upfront for seniors who invest in annuity products. The Safeguard our Seniors bill passed the Florida Senate unanimously last, but failed to be heard in the Florida House.

 

Incandela was arrested during an undercover operation by CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud after making promises and solicitations regarding life insurance policies. From December 2007 through September 2009, Incandela received 15 premium payments totaling $489,426 from two senior citizens he met after making presentations at a local church. The victims were told to make payments to two fraudulent corporations, both of which listed Incandela as the manager and president. Incandela led the victims to believe he had obtained life insurance policies through legitimate insurance companies in the seniors’ names and that the policies would be sold to a third party for a profit, known as a Stranger-Originated Life Insurance (STOLI) transaction.

Incandela was booked into the Hillsborough County Jail, charged with Scheme to Defraud, a first-degree felony, and Unlicensed Selling of Insurance, a third-degree felony. If convicted, he faces up 35 years in prison.

To learn more about the Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force or what to consider when purchasing annuities, visit www.flseniors.net/. Senior Floridians who believe they may have been the victim of annuity fraud should call 1-877-My-FL-CFO or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com to file a complaint.


Saving Energy, Saving Money: Green applications via iPhone for reducing your energy footprints

Did you know that iPhones and iPods now have applications for green living? Here are a few suggestions for downloading, if you want to keep learning how to make better use of our natural resources.

ARealTree – download this application if you are interested in tree-   planting around the world

RepairPal – Need to have something fixed, instead of throwing it       away and buying a new one? This application provides information about your local repair services.

TheNextTrain or iTrans operate in some parts of the country to identify public transport options for citizens who are taking the train instead of using their cars.

iGas provides information about the lowest price for gasoline and efficiency standards for cars

iBird Pro is a wonderful instructional application to learn local bird songs. It is also available in modules for different geographic regions such as the southeastern U.S. There are also applications to identify invasive species, to find wildflowers, and to identify poisonous snakes in Florida. So watch for them!

Mapquest and other directional services help save gas and find the most direct route between two places. No need to get lost any more!

We no longer carry mere cell phones, but we carry walking encyclopedias of knowledge to assist us with environmental decision-making.


Florida Housing Helping workshops for homeowners with questions

Florida Housing Helping workshops are designed to allow homeowners facing foreclosure to talk to face to face with counselors and lenders, as well as various community resources, to explore options and solutions. The schedule of upcoming workshops is as follows:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010  Florida Housing Help - Free Legal Clinic War on Poverty-Florida, inside Gateway Mall, 5196-A Norwood Ave, Jacksonville, FL 32208 Time: 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010  Florida Housing Help Workshop at the Joseph P. D'Alessandro Office Complex (State Building) 2295 Victoria Ave, Fort Myers FL 33901 Time: 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 Florida Housing Help Workshop Joseph P. D’Alessandro Office Complex, 2295 Victoria Ave., Fort Myers, FL 33901 Time: 5 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010  Florida Housing Help War on Poverty, Inc. 5196-A Norwood Avenue Jacksonville, Florida 32208 Time: 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010  Florida Housing Help - Free Legal Clinic War on Poverty-Florida, inside Gateway Mall, 5196-A Norwood Ave, Jacksonville, FL 32208 Time: 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

For more workshops that include community partners and resources and offer great information to citizens, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/OutReach/EventsbyCategory.asp.


Consumer Corner: Tax Tips for Disabled Taxpayers

With taxes and refunds on many Floridians’ minds, we are all looking for tips to save more of our hard-earned money. Here are some tax credits or benefits that disabled Floridians and parents of disabled children should talk to their tax preparer about:

For more information on tax credits and benefits available to disabled taxpayers, see Publication 3966, Living and Working with Disabilities or Publication 907, Tax Highlights for Persons with Disabilities available on www.IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

Information excerpted from www.IRS.gov.

My Family CFO: Starting and building a small business

To start your own business you will need a detailed business plan with well-researched financial information to back it up. Then you will need the funds to begin and to continue through the start-up period.

Figure out your costs. Initial costs are one-time expenses needed to get your business going. Ongoing costs are those expenses that you will pay routinely, such as rent. Start by listing all of your initial costs, small and large.

Initial costs: incorporation/legal fees, accounting fees, licenses/permits, rent/security deposit, building/remodeling, signage/graphic image, insurance, supplies, initial inventory, furniture/equipment, installation/transportation.

Ongoing costs: rent or mortgage, utilities, office supplies, business insurance, health insurance, inventory, attorney, CPA or professional fees, payroll, equipment lease payment, building/landscape maintenance, advertising/promotions, delivery expenses, loan payments/credit card charges, miscellaneous expenses.

What you have now is a total for your initial costs and a total for one month of ongoing costs. Take your one-month total and multiply it by six. It is generally recommended that you have enough cash on reserve to keep your business going for six months. Some might recommend a full year, but make sure you prepare for at least a six-month period.

When you review your monthly financial statements, you’ll be able to tell if you are on track with your business plan. If you have done your initial research in depth and with care, you can confidently stick to your budget and your plan for business success.

To learn more about understanding and planning for your business, contact SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business.” SCORE is a nonprofit organization of more than 10,500 volunteer business counselors who provide free, confidential business counseling and training workshops to small business owners. Visit the SCORE website at www.score308.org.

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