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

Volume 7 Number 10 March 5, 2010

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Dear Floridian:

This week, I was excited to announce a new initiative that will allow Florida to connect more of our 1.7 million veterans to the benefits they so rightly deserve from their brave service to our country. I partnered with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs to unveil “Florida Vets Connect.”

Starting in July, with their permission, we will be able to collect contact information from our veterans when they apply for or renew their drivers' license, and send that information to the Department of Vets' Affairs. This is especially important because right now Florida only has up-to-date contact info for less then half of the vets living in our state who could be eligible for many benefits they are not taking advantage of.

Sincerely,

Alex Sink


CFO Sink Announces ‘Florida Vets Connect’ to Recognize Brave Service of Florida Veterans

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Wednesday announced ‘Florida Vets Connect,’ a proposal designed to better recognize Florida’s veterans and provide them with information about the benefits they may be entitled to through their service to our country.

“Our veterans have sacrificed so much for our country, and we should do everything we can to honor their service,” said CFO Sink. “The new Florida Vets Connect initiative will make it easier for Florida’s veterans to receive the benefits they may be entitled to through their brave service.”

This joint initiative with the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs (FDVA) and the Florida Department of Highway and Safety Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) will allow veterans to voluntarily identify their veteran status when applying for or renewing a license or ID card. Their contact information will then be used by the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs to ensure Florida’s veterans are provided information about the benefits to which they may be entitled.

At no cost to taxpayers, ‘Florida Vets Connect’ will utilize driver license offices as an intake point to gather information on veterans not currently in the state system. The DHSMV will collect, store, and make this information available to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The program will begin during the regular DHSMV system update in July.

“This veterans’ identification initiative adds to Florida’s heritage in providing services and opportunities to those who have honorably answered the call to serve our country,” said FDVA Executive Director LeRoy Collins, Jr. “As a result, the Sunshine State strengthens its standing as one of the most veteran-friendly states in the nation.”

“The new initiative will use existing resources to help veterans gain access to benefits they have earned through their service to our nation,” said Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Executive Director Julie L. Jones. “Because of the broad contact we have with so many Floridians, we are perfectly situated to assist in this effort – and we are proud to do so.”

According to the 2009 VA Annual Benefits Report, Florida’s veteran population totals 1,715,114, but the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs only has accurate contact information for approximately 700,000 of them. Nationwide, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Magazine reported more than $22 billion in veterans' pension funds go unclaimed annually.


CFO Sink Takes on Staged Accident Scammers

Florida CFO Alex Sink, the Tampa Police Department, and Allstate Insurance Company held a joint press conference on Friday to draw attention to Personal Injury Protection (PIP) fraud and CFO Sink’s efforts to combat an increased number of scammers throughout Florida. Since July 2009, CFO Sink’s investigators have arrested 240 people for PIP fraud, resulting in 156 convictions.

“Staged accident fraud is not just a problem for insurance companies and victims, but ultimately for every Floridian who will see higher premiums because of it,” said CFO Sink. “We’re getting more and more referrals, which means we’re putting many more of these scammers behind bars.”

According to statistics from CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF)PIP is the most reported type of fraud, accounting for 30 percent of all referrals received in FY 2008-09. Insurance fraud is a second degree felony punishable by a minimum mandatory two-year prison term if convicted.

CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud has seven PIP squads located across the state dedicated solely to investigating PIP fraud. These squads are located in the division’s Central and South Florida regional offices where PIP fraud is most prevalent.

Most Common Types of PIP Fraud:

“Staged auto accidents are no accident, and they are not victimless crimes,” said Mike Sheely, Allstate field vice president, Florida Region. “It costs law enforcement and insurance companies millions of dollars every year to investigate and prosecute these crimes. They endanger lives and drive up insurance costs for everyone.”

CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud made over 830 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.


Consul General McGurgan and CFO Sink Discuss Economic Opportunities

CFO Sink met with Her Majesty’s Consul General Kevin McGurgan on Tuesday to discuss economic growth opportunities for the state. As Consul General, McGurgan and his team facilitate economic activity by giving advice and practical help to British companies that want to enter the United States market. Currently, Britain is the top foreign investor in the United States, with more than $300 billion in investments. The Miami branch of the British Embassy, under Consul General McGurgan’s leadership, is responsible for British interests in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, including political, press and public affairs, consular services and trade and investment opportunities.


Delay of Unemployment Compensation Tax Supported by CFO Sink, Calls for Even More Help for Florida’s Businesses

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday released the following statement commending the Florida Legislature for voting to delay massive unemployment compensation tax increases on the state’s businesses:

“In these tough economic times, the last thing our businesses could afford was this massive tax hike, and I commend the swift action taken today,” said CFO Sink. “By postponing the tax increase that the Legislature and Governor supported last year, they avoided what could have been a crippling blow to Florida’s businesses, especially many of our small businesses.”


CFO Sink Busts Social Security Fraud Ring During Statewide Sting

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday announced a statewide sweep of individuals utilizing fraudulent social security cards to gain employment in Florida, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Eleven arrests have been made in the sweep, and additional arrests are pending. The suspects are accused of utilizing two social security numbers, one belonging to an Orlando resident.

"This is a local, state, and national security issue," said CFO Alex Sink. "These arrests send a clear message to criminals dealing with stolen social security numbers that we are serious about this type of fraud in Florida, and will also help the victims begin putting their lives back together."

CFO's Sink's Division of Insurance Fraud's West Palm Beach Office discovered the suspects after following up on a 2007 investigation in which the division assisted local law enforcement in locating a fugitive. The initial joint investigation ended in the arrest and conviction of 26 criminals utilizing just one fraudulent social security number. Three years later, Detective Paul Sennett proactively reopened the investigation, only to find that the same social security number was once again being fraudulently utilized by dozens of individuals.

The Division of Insurance Fraud has issued Probable Cause affidavits and CFO Sink initiated the statewide sweep last week, dubbed "Operation Dicey Numbers." Suspects currently reside in Alachua, Broward, Flagler, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Martin, Palm Beach, and Sarasota Counties.

The following individuals have recently been arrested as part of the statewide sweep: Andres Gonzalez, Carmen Gonzalez, Jorge Martinez and Omar Olmedo-Ramirez of Broward County;  Alejandro Lux, Norma Mendez, and Ubilio Montejo of Palm Beach County; and German Ramirez of Miami-Dade County.

Each individual will be charged with FS. 440.105(4) (b) 9 workers' compensation fraud, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. If it is determined that any of these criminals knew the social security number belonged to another individual, they can also be arrested for identity theft; which, depending on the monetary benefit gained from the use of the stolen identity, ranges from a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, to a felony of the first degree, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

CFO Sink's Division of Insurance Fraud made over 830 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.


Read The Advocate's Advice Newsletter

Sean Shaw, Insurance Consumer Advocate

The fourth issue of The Advocate’s Advice newsletter has been published with informational articles and advisories. We have found it is a great way for the office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate to communicate directly with the insurance consumers of Florida.

Read the newsletter on the web at http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/ICA/Newsletter/.

If you would like to subscribe to The Advocate's Advice, please select the “Subscribe” link in the left-hand column of the online newsletter. You may also visit our past issues by selecting the previous issues link. We welcome any comments or suggestions you may have for future issues.

Headlines for this quarter’s newsletter:

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.


CFO Sink Celebrates Women’s History Month

Florida CFO Alex Sink, the first female CFO of the State of Florida, released the following statement in recognition of the 30th Anniversary of Women’s History Month 2010:

“This month I encourage all Floridians to recognize and celebrate the important contributions of Florida’s women to our history and our future,” said CFO Sink. “Women’s History Month is a time to learn about and honor Florida’s history of strong, smart and talented women whose accomplishments and legacies have made our state great. I encourage all Floridians to participate in the many events scheduled in our state throughout this month.”


CFO Sink Sends Lake County Insurance Claims Adjuster and Four Pasco County Co-Conspirators to Jail

Suspects accused of stealing more than $240K in insurance fraud scam

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Monday announced the arrests of five individuals involved in defrauding Zurich Insurance Group, including Zurich claims adjuster Donald Alfred Toohey, III, 30, by creating multiple falsified and fabricated claims in excess of $240,000. The arrests are the result of an investigation by CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF). If convicted, each faces up to 15 years in prison.

“Insurance fraud isn’t just a crime against one company, it’s a crime against every Floridian,” said CFO Sink. “I’m committed to ensuring that Floridians aren’t footing the bill for insurance scams like this with higher premiums.”

CFO Sink’s detectives received an anonymous tip in September 2009 of possible fraudulent activity by Toohey, and the resulting investigation uncovered that Toohey as well as four more individuals were committing illegal acts. Each participant received payments from 26 different claims totaling over $240,000 from August 2004 through June 2009 in various counties throughout the state.

The investigation revealed that Toohey used his position as a claims adjuster to create fictitious claims for monetary gain for himself as well as Scott J. Kincaid, 44, Brian Frederick Kneifer, 26, Anthony Michal Kneifer, 26, and Tricia Ann Allen, 27. The scam was initiated by Toohey, who had access to the paperwork to file the fraudulent insurance claims. Toohey would create a fraudulent file and claim on of each of the participants, showing reason for reimbursement to the individual for injuries occurring either to the person or their automobile during a car accident. The participant would then receive a check in the mail with the understanding that a portion would be paid to Toohey.

The initial investigation into Toohey led DIF Detective Steve Firestone to further review the activities and implications of the acts committed by the five individuals, confirming three or more checks were received and cashed by each of these individuals with thefts ranging from $8,800 to over $67,000. With cooperation by the Zurich Insurance Group, it has been determined none of the five individuals were insured with Zurich at the time of payment, or at any other time, and payment audits confirmed the payouts were fraudulent.

All five participants have been charged with Grand Theft under FS 812.014(1) (b) (2) and Conspiracy FS 777.04(3) and were booked into the Pasco County Jail.

CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud made over 830 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.


Financial Literacy Challenge for High School Students

The National Financial Capability Challenge is an awards program designed to increase the financial knowledge and capability of high school aged youth across the United States so they can take control over their financial futures. It challenges high school teachers and other educators to teach the basics of personal finance to their students, and rewards students, educators, schools, and states for their participation and their success. The goal is for one million students to take the Challenge. To make that happen, educators from all across the country need to sign up and prepare their students.

This is a free program.

How does the challenge work?

More information can be found at the National Financial Capability Challenge web site at http://www.challenge.treas.gov/about.aspx.


Consumer Corner: COBRA and Mini-COBRA Amended

President Obama signed federal legislation on Tuesday, March 2, that extends the COBRA/mini-COBRA premium reduction eligibility date from February 28, 2010, until March 31, 2010. This allows individuals who are involuntarily terminated during the month of March the opportunity to take advantage of the 15-month premium reduction.

The basic eligibility requirements and benefits for the COBRA premium reduction are as follows:

  1. The COBRA premium reduction eligibility period is from September 1, 2008, through March 31, 2010. The mini-COBRA premium reduction eligibility time period is February 17, 2009, until March 31, 2010.
  2. The maximum period for receiving the reduction is 15 months.
  3. Those who are eligible for other group health coverage (such as a spouse’s plan) or Medicare are not eligible for the premium reduction.
  4. There is NO premium reduction for periods of coverage that began prior to March 1, 2009.
  5. The qualified beneficiary and/or dependents, if applicable, will pay 35% of the COBRA premium with the employer subsidizing the remaining 65%. The premium includes 2% the administrative fee.
  6. The qualified beneficiary and/or dependents, if applicable, will pay 35% of the mini-COBRA premium with the insurer or HMO subsidizing the remaining 65%. The premium includes the 15% administrative fee.

For complete up-to-date information, consumers should log on to the United States Department of Labor website at http://www.dol.gov/COBRA.


Sentencing of Tampa Senior Scammer Is More Evidence That Stronger Legislation Is Needed

Safeguard Our Seniors legislation would crack down on predatory agents

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Monday reiterated her call for tougher senior investor fraud laws, following a guilty plea last week by a Tampa Bay area scammer who stole a 71-year-old’s life savings after convincing her to invest them in an inappropriate financial product. The case underscores the need for CFO Sink’s “Safeguard Our Seniors” legislation, which would provide senior investors with better disclosures and protections.

Moctar “Justin” Ndiaye, 36, of Tampa, was convicted on charges of Organized Fraud, Grand Theft and Theft from Persons 65 Years of Age or Older, after CFO Sink's Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) arrested him on March 9, 2009. Ndiaye took the victim’s life savings to invest in an annuity by falsely leading her to believe that her investment would be government-insured and would pay back 30-50 percent with no penalty for early withdrawal. At the time of the sale, Ndiaye no longer worked for the insurance company, Mutual of Omaha.

“This case is another disturbing example of why we need to create tougher penalties against unscrupulous agents and provide better protections for Florida’s seniors,” said CFO Sink. “My department continues to hear from seniors who are taken advantage of, and it’s high time the legislature agrees with me that we need to do something about it.”

Ndiaye was sentenced to 10 years probation with 100 hours of community service.  His insurance license was revoked on August 24, 2009, by the Department’s Division of Agent and Agency Services, and Ndiaye is permanently banned from ever working in the insurance industry again.  He was also ordered to pay $23,000 in restitution to two victims and $5,500 in investigative expenses to the Department of Insurance Fraud.

The department’s investigation began when the victim contacted them with concern about the financial transactions she made with Ndiaye involving $20,000, the victim’s entire savings. After contacting Mutual of Omaha to find out about her investments, the victim became very alarmed when the insurance company told her there were no investment policies that existed under her name and that she did not have any accounts with them.  The insurance company further advised that Ndiaye no longer worked as a representative of their company since being removed in February 2008.

While working with DIF detectives, the victim maintained contact with Ndiaye who frequently called the victim to persuade her to invest in more annuities.  With assistance from the victim, DIF detectives made a controlled call to Ndiaye.  The information provided to the victim during the phone conversation gave detectives enough evidence to seek an arrest warrant.  With assistance from Assistant State Attorney Rhonda King, a second undercover operation was conducted at the victim’s home where Ndiaye came to pay her a visit.  On March 9, 2009, when Ndiaye left the victim’s home, he was immediately arrested and taken into custody by DIF detectives.

After the arrest, DIF detectives obtained a search warrant for Ndiaye’s residence and home office in Tampa.  As a result of the search on March 13, 2009, another victim was identified and Ndiaye was arrested a second time at his residence upon the completion of the search warrant.

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 277 complaints from seniors about annuity fraud just in the last year. During the 2009 session, CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors legislation passed the Florida Senate unanimously, but was not heard in a House Committee. This year’s legislation has already passed its first Senate committee.

In the last two years, CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services has held nearly 400 "Safeguard Our Seniors" workshops throughout the state, including 11 in one week this month as part of a statewide Safeguard Our Seniors blitz, designed to draw attention to the need for this important legislation.

To learn more about the 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 or financial fraud should call 1-877-My-FL-CFO or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com to file a complaint.


Florida Housing Help: Need Information about Foreclosure?

Florida Housing Help, a community outreach program, is designed to educate and assist families facing foreclosure. The workshop will include opportunities to meet with mortgage lenders and HUD-certified counselors.

For more about Florida Housing Help, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/FloridaHousingHelp/.

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.

Wednesday, March 15, 2010  Florida Housing Help Workshop The University Area Community Development Center, 14013 North 22nd Street, Tampa, Florida 33613  Time: 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, March 18, 2010  Florida Housing Help - Joseph P. D'Alessandro Office Complex, 2295 Victoria Ave., Fort Myers, FL 33901  Time: 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, March 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.

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


My Family CFO: Free Screenings Make Health Care More Affordable

Doctors recommend cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure screenings yearly. These simple tests might prevent an unexpected trip to the emergency room due to heart attack or stroke.

Two common screenings to detect heart problems are an EKG and a stress test, which is usually done on a treadmill. Both of these tests are non-invasive, easy, and are usually covered by your health insurance.

If you haven’t had health tests done lately, watch for free screenings in your community. Many hospitals, health associations, health professionals and community groups reach out to improve health and quality-of-life for all by providing free health screenings to people in need of affordable health care.

Total Cholesterol Levels – Screenings raise awareness of high blood cholesterol as a risk factor for coronary heart disease. Awareness is the first step toward modifying lifestyle to reduce risk.

Blood Pressure – High blood pressure is one of the most common chronic conditions in adults. However, people with high blood pressure usually don't have symptoms, so they often don't know that they have it until it is measured.

Bone Density – Bone-density testing is a valuable tool in the diagnosis of osteoporosis and is a fairly accurate predictor of an individual’s risk of fractures.

Glucose Levels – Blood-glucose testing is used to screen healthy individuals for diabetes and pre-diabetes, because diabetes is a common disease that begins with few symptoms.

Waist Circumference, Body Composition, and Body Mass Index – The nation's scales are going up, so raising public awareness about the problem of obesity and the risks of excess weight is critical.

Screening Mammogram - Mammograms can be used to check for breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of the disease. This type of mammogram is called a screening mammogram. It has been recommended that women age 40 and older should have mammograms every 1 to 2 years

Pap Test - An important part of a woman’s routine health care, the Pap test can detect cancer or abnormalities that may lead to cancer of the cervix. Women should have a Pap test at least once every 3 years.


Saving Energy, Saving Money: Recycle Your Fresh Flowers as Potpourri

As lovely as fresh cut flowers are, they don't last long in floral arrangements. If you want the lovely smell of the flowers in your home you can create a potpourri, to enjoy the flower fragrances in your home for an extended time.

It’s best if you pick the flowers from your garden early in the morning, just after the moisture has dissipated and before the sun gets too hot. Pull off the petals and lay them on newspaper, preferably on a table in a hot garage. Let them dry and become crisp. This may take about three days.

Next, save them in plastic or glass containers with lids while you mix up your potpourri recipe. Buy some dried orris root, which smells like violets and comes in powdered form or chopped pieces. You will also need essential oils, so buy some like orange oil or rose oil.

Once you have these ingredients, take a small glass jar with a tight fitting lid and add 1 tsp. of essential oil to 3 Tbs. of orris root. Shake the jar every now and then for 3 days.

Take this mixture and add it to 1 quart of dried flower petals and store in a tightly closed glass container for 3-6 weeks. Turn the container upside down every other day so that the oil-fixative mixture is well distributed.

Just take the lid off on special occasions, and it will last for several years. More essential oil can be added at any time. Provided below is one specific recipe. Enjoy your recycled flowers and their essences!

Basic Rose Potpourri: 1 cup rose petals, 1 cup lavender, 1 cup rosemary, 1/2 cup orange peel, 1 cup mixed flower petals, 1 oz. orris root, 15 drops rose oil, 5 drops sweet orange oil, 5 drops lavender oil. Follow the directions above.

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