Volume 7 Number 7 February 12, 2010

Dear Floridian:

This week we kicked off our Safeguard Our Seniors “statewide blitz”, and in just seven days across the state we’re holding eleven workshops designed to help seniors better protect themselves from financial fraud.  Since starting our Safeguard our Seniors Task Force almost three years ago, we have held hundreds of these workshops -- hearing heartbreaking stories, helping Florida seniors recover nearly $9 million, and receiving tips that allowed us to put some of these senior scammers in jail.

These events around the state are also to highlight the importance of my Safeguard Our Seniors legislation, which cracks down on these scammers and provides better protections up-front for senior investors. While passing laws that would better protect our seniors seems like common sense, unfortunately for a couple of years now, this legislation has been blocked in the Florida House by special interests who don’t want to hold fraudsters who are preying on our seniors accountable.

That’s why I urge you to call your local legislators and tell them to protect Florida’s seniors by supporting our Safeguard Our Seniors bill. For more information about our Safeguard Our Seniors initiative, please visit www.flseniors.net.

Sincerely,

Alex




Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


CFO Sink takes fight for tougher senior investor fraud laws statewide during weeklong blitz

Safeguard Our Seniors Task ForceSink Announces Legislation to Increase the Penalties for Agents Misleading Senior Investors

Florida CFO Alex Sink kicked off a statewide blitz on Tuesday to draw the attention of seniors and legislators to the need for tougher senior investor fraud laws.

“We need tougher laws on the books, but so far some politicians in Tallahassee have been protecting the special interests, not our seniors’ interests,” said CFO Sink. “Seniors are losing their life savings, deceitful agents are operating undeterred, and it’s time to stand up and take action. Nothing should stand in the way of holding criminals accountable for their actions, especially special interests and unresponsive politicians.”CFO Alex Sink introduces Safeguard Our Seniors legislation

CFO Sink and Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force members will hold eleven workshops across Florida in just one week to highlight the need for stronger punishments against scammers who prey on Florida’s seniors, and teach seniors what to look out for to better protect themselves.

For the third year in a row, CFO Sink has proposed Safeguard Our Seniors legislation to strengthen senior investor fraud laws. Senator Mike Bennett and Representative Maria Sachs have sponsored the 2010 legislation (SB 844), which comes after another 800 complaints from seniors. Last year, the legislation passed in the Florida Senate CFO Sink meets a resident at the SOS meeting.unanimously, but was not even heard in a House Committee. This year’s legislation has already passed its first Senate committee.

CFO Sink was flanked by AARP, the Florida Bar Division of Elder Law, and the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, who will be participating in the statewide blitz along with Insurance Consumer Advocate Sean Shaw in Tampa, West Palm Beach, Fort Myers, Port Charlotte, Green Cove Springs, Ormond Beach, Lake City and Newberry.

To view Safeguard Our Seniors workshops across the state visit: http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/OutReach/SafeGuardSr.asp.

Over the last two years, CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services has held 386 Safeguard Our Seniors events throughout the state. TheCFO Sink meets a resident at the SOS workshop seminars inform and teach seniors how to protect themselves from financial fraud. The programs have helped Florida seniors recover nearly $9 million, and helped put some senior scammers behind bars. But unfortunately, investigations against senior scammers are on the rise, with 277 annuities investigations opened in 2009 alone.

CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors legislation makes the act of “twisting” or “churning” an annuity to a senior consumer a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Twisting occurs when an existing life insurance policy or annuity contract from one insurance company is surrendered and the money is used to purchase another annuity from a different insurance company. Churning occurs when an annuity is switched within the same insurance company. Either way, the insurance agent gets a commission, and the annuity switch may not hold any financial benefit for the consumer and, in fact, may actually cost the consumer money.

Other protections under the proposed legislation would:

The Safeguard Our Seniors events this week will include programs designed to arm seniors, as well as their family and caregivers, with tips and warning signs to be aware of when they are looking to purchase insurance and financial products. There will also be investigators on site to take complaints.

For consumer stories regarding annuities fraud, go to http://www.flseniors.net/SOSInvestors.htm.

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 the 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.

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

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 calls for Attorney General and Banking Commissioner to take action against suspected fraud

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday called for Florida’s Attorney General and Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Tom Cardwell to be more aggressive in holding financial institutions that may have misled Florida’s citizens accountable. CFO Sink expressed the need for Florida to take a stronger role on behalf of our state’s citizens who have suffered financial losses at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.CFO Sink at Tuesday's Cabinet meeting

“Floridians have lost untold millions because of suspected financial fraud, and any financial institution that misled our citizens must be held accountable. Though that seems obvious to every Floridian, so far the Attorney General, the Office of Financial Regulation, and the SBA have failed to take significant action on behalf of the people of Florida,” CFO Sink said. “Other states are taking the lead on going after wrongdoers and recovering money for their taxpayers – it’s high time for Florida to do the same. Especially in times like these, Floridians won't tolerate delays or excuses when it comes to setting things right.”

On Friday, CFO Sink applauded the New York Attorney General for his recent fraud suit against Bank of America and top Bank of America executives, and requested that Attorney General McCollum determine whether Florida can take action on behalf of all of our citizens who suffered losses as a result of this alleged fraud. In the letter, CFO Sink also reiterated her call that the State Board of Administration pursue an aggressive action plan for lawsuits against Bank of America and other financial institutions if they have misled Florida’s pension fund. Read CFO Sink’s letter.


Commissioner Bronson, Carole Crist, CFO Sink, Governor Crist andAt Florida State Fair, CFO Sink Attends Governor's Luncheon, Visits Fair Exhibits

From left: Agriculture Commissioner Bronson, Carole Crist, CFO Sink and Governor Crist at the State Fair

On Monday, CFO Sink met with elected officials, community leaders and Floridians from across the state during the Governor’s Luncheon at the Florida State Fair.

The fair, which is organized by the Florida State Fair Authority, is now in its 106th year. Each year, the event is held in February in Tampa, and is a boost to the state’s tourism and agricultural sectors.

CFO Sink visits the purebred dog exhibitWith her family farming background, CFO Sink spoke with fair attendees about the opportunity the Florida State Fair offers to highlight Florida agriculture and livestock, and she stopped into the fair’s purebred dog exhibition to meet some four-legged friends.

For more information, visit http://www.floridastatefair.com/ or call toll-free (800) 345-FAIR or (813) 621-7821.


CFO Sink attends Florida Sheriffs Association conference in Destin

Florida Sheriffs AssociationCFO Alex Sink attended the Florida Sheriffs Association Mid-Winter Conference in Destin on Monday. During conversations with numerous sheriffs, CFO Sink expressed her dedicated support of law enforcement efforts, placing emphasis on the importance of continued training and having the proper tools to aid in staying ahead of criminals.

In relation to her own law enforcement divisions, she discussed proposed legislation for the upcoming session with an emphasis on the spike in Personal Injury Protection (PIP) fraud and the proactive steps being taken to anticipate what a criminal is going to do next. CFO Sink expressed her deep sympathy for the loss of FSA’s Executive Director Gary Perkins and the recent losses of sheriff officers working in the line of duty.


Sean M. ShawInsurance Consumer Advocate Honors Prenatal Infection Prevention Month  

Sean M. Shaw, Esq., Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate

Office of the Insurance Consumer AdvocateIn recognition of February as Prenatal Infection Prevention Month, the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate would like to provide consumers with an overview of prenatal infection prevention and maternity benefits.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), group B strep, or GBS, is one of the most common life threatening infections and one of the leading causes of blood infection in newborns. This bacterial infection can occur in babies during the first week after delivery. It can lead to respiratory distress, pneumonia, shock, apnea and meningitis in babies.

GBS is very common and is present in up to 40 percent of all pregnant women. Many women do not know they have the bacterial infection because it can be asymptomatic. The best means of combating GBS is through proactive prenatal care. Pregnant women should have urine culture tests in the first and third trimesters testing for GBS and other bacteria. If symptoms of an infection do manifest, see your physician immediately.

For more information in preventing infections during and after pregnancy, visit the CDC’s web site at http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/pregnancy_gateway/infections.html.

Effective treatments are available if infected and a healthy baby can be delivered. Care should be taken for the first three months of a newborn's life since the baby is still susceptible. Fevers and trouble breathing should be treated by a physician immediately.

Though prenatal screenings and immunizations are covered by most health insurance providers, there are some important issues mothers should consider before receiving preventative care:

GBS is preventable with proper care and testing, and can be treated when discovered. Be proactive and protect yourself and your newborn baby.

Under Florida Statutes, all health plans including HMOs issued or delivered in Florida must provide for child health supervision services delivered or supervised by a physician. Coverage must include periodic visits which shall include a history, a physical examination, a developmental assessment and anticipatory guidance, and appropriate immunizations and lab tests. Such services and periodic visits shall be provided in accordance with prevailing medical standards consistent with the Recommendations for Preventive Pediatric Health Care of the American Academy of Pediatrics. You can access their web site at http://www.aap.org/.

If you have any questions regarding your health insurance coverage you should contact the Division of Consumer Services within the Department of Financial Services on-line at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/ or by phone at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236), toll-free in Florida, and (850) 413-3089 from out of state.

The Insurance Consumer Advocate is appointed by Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and is committed to finding solutions to insurance issues facing Floridians, calling attention to questionable insurance practices, promoting a viable insurance market responsive to the needs of Florida’s diverse population and assuring that rates are fair and justified.


Kids Score Touchdown on Financial Literacy

Financial FootballDuring these tough economic times, now is the time to educate students about the importance of financial literacy. By learning the value of saving money, students can establish a solid financial foundation for the future. As part of her ongoing effort to help promote financial literacy among young consumers, CFO Sink has charged her outreach coordinators around the state to provide financial education to students to empower them to set manageable financial goals and learn valuable financial lessons that ensure their financial future.

In Jacksonville, students from the City Kidz Financial Literacy Bootcamp recently learned the importance of renters and car insurance to protect their financial assets. In Lake City, students from Columbia County High School discussed the car-buying process and the importance of having adequate car insurance to protect their financial interests. Both groups also took part in a game of Financial Football, a football-themed on-line game CFO Sink and the NFL rolled out as a fun and interactive way to to increase the financial knowledge of high school and college students.

To play Financial Football, log on to http://www.myfloridacfo.com, click on Citizen Resources and then click on Fun and Games.


Saving Energy, Saving MoneyBegin your gardening endeavor now

Even though Florida seems to be in the dead of winter, now is the time to think about gardening and planting certain vegetables. Not only does gardening provide great healthy food, it provides an excuse to get out to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, and to get some exercise. Provided below are some of the main steps to consider as you begin your gardening endeavor.

Garden Site - One of your most important considerations will be deciding where to site your garden. Remember the adage of “out of sight, out of mind” when finding a spot. If you place your garden where you constantly see it and one close to the house, you will be more likely to continually care for it. But you should also consider planting the garden on a well drained site, close to a source of water, and in a location that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight daily.

Garden Plan - Before you plant, draw a garden plan that includes the name, location and planting date(s) of the vegetables you will grow. If you don’t do this, you might get extremely frustrated as the plants grow and you don’t know what they are!

Soil Preparation - Gardeners often plant on whatever soil they have. However, you should consider improving the garden plot with additions of organic matter. You can also contact your IFAS extension office to determine your soil Ph. You want your soil Ph to be correct to allow your vegetables to grow well. Be sure to spade or plow your plot at least three weeks before you plant. At planting time, rework the soil into a smooth, firm surface.

For a detailed chart identifying planting dates for many vegetables throughout Florida, visit the University of Florida’s IFAS extension document at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021.


Florida Housing HelpFlorida Housing Help 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 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 for citizens, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/OutReach/EventsbyCategory.asp.


Consumer CornerNew credit card rules take effect in February

The month of February brings changes in the ways Floridians manage their credit. The new federal credit card law should make credit cards easier for consumers to understand. Cardholders will have more time to pay their monthly bills, greater advance notice of changes in credit card terms and fewer penalty fees and late charges.

Significant changes in terms on accounts will need 45 days advance notice of the change. The practice of raising interest rates on customers based on their payment records with other unrelated credit issuers such as utility companies will end.

Credit card companies will have to give cardholders a reasonable amount of time to make payments on monthly bills. That means payments will be due at least 21 days after they are mailed or delivered.

Other factors of the new rules include:

For more information on new credit cards rules, visit the MSN Money Web site at http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Banking/CreditCardSmarts/.

For more tips on insurance and financial matters, visit CFO Sink’s Florida Department of Financial Services Web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


My Family CFOHow to help victims of the earthquake in Haiti

In response to the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti Jan.12, the U.S. is expediting the delivery of medical supplies, providing critical health services, and conducting USAidassessments to help determine health priorities as part of the international response effort.

It is unfortunate following such events that disreputable persons may try to take advantage of unwary contributors, but there are many legitimate groups in the relief effort in Haiti. Be sure to contribute to a legitimate charitable organization and be wary of high-pressure tactics and fake solicitations. Avoid giving cash and make checks out to the charity, not to an individual, and obtain a proper receipt. Do not disclose any of your personal or financial information.

You can find how best to help from the U.S. Agency for International Development at the http://www.usaid.gov/haiti/ web site.

The IRS has important facts about donations for relief in Haiti:

1) To be deductible from your federal income taxes, contributions must be made to qualified charities, specifically for the relief of victims in areas affected by the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti. To be eligible for a deduction on the 2009 tax return, donations must be made after Jan. 11, 2010, and before March 1, 2010.

2) The new law applies only to cash contributions, and contributions made by text message, check, credit card or debit card may be claimed on your federal tax return. Federal law requires that you keep a proper record of any deductible donations you make. For donations by text message, a telephone bill will meet the record-keeping requirement if it shows the name of the organization receiving your donation, the date of the contribution, and the amount given.

3) You must itemize your deductions in order to claim these donations on your tax return and you have the option of deducting these contributions on either your 2009 or 2010 tax return.

4) Contributions made to foreign organizations generally are not deductible.