FLORIDA CFO ALEX SINK'S CONSUMER EVIEWS NEWSLETTER

Volume 7 Number 12 March 19, 2010

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Dear Floridian:

This week I was pleased that legislation I proposed to help save millions of dollars by reforming our state's risk management program passed unanimously in House and Senate committees. These reforms are based on business best practices and advice from private sector risk management experts that I asked to help. Last year, our Risk Management Division saved $12 million by refocusing their efforts, and if this common-sense legislation passes, it will help us save even more money.

Also this week was "Sunshine Week", and I took the opportunity to highlight the many ways we are working in the Department to make government more transparent and accountable for the citizens of Florida. For instance, did you know that our Sunshine Spending web site launched last year is averaging more than 1,400 visitors every month? This site allows citizens to track which companies are getting your state tax dollars, and is a wonderful way for everyday Floridians to hold officials accountable.

I will continue to use the lessons I learned in business to cut costs and hold Tallahassee more accountable to the people of Florida.

Sincerely,

Alex Sink


CFO Sink Speaks to Leadership Florida

On Friday, CFO Sink met with a diverse group of leaders from different sectors of Florida at the Leadership Florida Class XXVIII meeting in Tallahassee. In her remarks to the group, CFO Sink discussed the importance of aggressively seeking leadership roles to become better leaders through experience. Addressing the state’s current budget situation, CFO Sink described the connection between Florida's economic difficulties and the state's need to support small businesses and entrepreneurs to grow and diversify Florida’s economy, and the importance of investing in public education to build a 21st century workforce.

Leadership Florida was created in 1982 by the Florida Chamber of Commerce to bring together and train individuals who have proven their leadership abilities, passion about our state and commitment to make great things happen for Florida. CFO Sink is a graduate of Leadership Florida Class IV.


CFO Sink Releases Sunshine Spending Results in Recognition of Sunshine Week 2010

Florida CFO Alex Sink, in recognition of Sunshine Week 2010, reported that the Sunshine Spending web site launched during the 2009 open government celebration is averaging more than 1,400 visitors per month. Sunshine Spending allows Floridians to track payments to vendors getting state dollars.

“In just the three short years I have been in office, I have worked to make Florida’s government more open and accountable to our taxpayers,” said CFO Sink. “I am delighted that especially in these challenging economic times, Floridians are making use of these online tools to become more informed about how their tax dollars are being spent.”

An avid proponent of making state and local government more accessible to the public, CFO Sink has implemented several innovative solutions to promote open government within her Department of Financial Services (DFS) including:


CFO Sink’s Risk Management Legislation Passes House Committee Unanimously

Florida CFO Alex Sink this week commended the Florida House Government Operations Appropriations Committee for unanimously passing legislation that implements recommendations made by CFO Sink to strengthen the state’s Risk Management program and reduce workers’ compensation costs to the state.

“I applaud Chairman Hays and his colleagues today for recognizing the importance of this legislation, which holds state agencies accountable and emphasizes loss prevention,” said CFO Sink. “In the business world, it is accepted that you must inspect what you expect, and these program modifications allow us to do just that.”

In January, CFO Sink announced $12 million in taxpayer savings through businesslike reforms in CFO Sink’s Division of Risk Management, including refocusing on loss prevention and addressing agencies with the highest claims numbers. These reforms were based on business best practices and advice from private sector risk management experts and led to the creation of CFO Sink’s Risk Management Advisory Council.

Based on CFO Sink’s recommendations, key elements of the legislation passed today (GOA 10-02) include establishing return-to-work programs in state agencies, basing agency premiums on actual loss experience and giving CFO Sink’s Division of Risk Management the authority for evaluating state agencies’ risk management programs and ensuring necessary corrective measures are taken.

Risk management is responsible for identifying and controlling exposure to loss or injury resulting from the daily operation of Florida’s government. Through the Florida Department of Financial Services, the Division of Risk Management delivers sound, professional guidance to Florida’s 48 state agencies and universities to help control loss and mitigate risk.


CFO Sink’s Staged Accident Sweep Results in 20 Arrests Statewide

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Monday announced that her statewide sweep of staged accident scammers last week resulted in the arrest of 20 suspects, including arrests in Ft. Myers, Miami, Orlando, Pensacola, Tampa, and West Palm Beach. Since July 2009, CFO Sink’s investigators have arrested 259 people for PIP fraud, culminating in 156 convictions. Insurance fraud is a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

“Staged accidents put every Floridian at risk, both physically and financially,” said CFO Alex Sink. “I am taking aggressive action every day to get these scammers off our streets and behind bars where they belong.”

According to statistics from CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF), Personal Injury Protection (PIP) fraud is the most reported type of fraud, accounting for 30 percent of all referrals received in FY 2008-09. DIF has seven PIP fraud squads dedicated solely to investigating PIP fraud across the state. These squads are located in the division’s Central and South Florida regional offices where PIP fraud is most prevalent. Each squad works in cooperation with local law enforcement and consumer groups.

“Medical fraud crimes (PIP) can be among the most intricate types of fraud to investigate,” said National Insurance Crime Bureau Director Ron W. Poindexter. “Being able to build coalitions and collectively bring proactive resources to bear against these crimes is critical to our success. Our partnership with CFO Sink’s division is an example of the coalition building that benefits both consumers and industry.”

Most Common Types of PIP Fraud:

Sweep Arrests To Date:

Tampa (3)

Miami (8)

Ft Myers (4)

West Palm Beach(1)

Orlando (3)

Pensacola (1)

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.


ICA Sean Shaw: Consumer Tips about Auto Accidents and Filing a Claim

Sean Shaw, Insurance Consumer Advocate

Just about everyone can agree that accidents happen, but what should consumers do when they find themselves in an automobile accident? The Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate would like to share some information regarding automobile insurance and accident protocol.

When on the road, drivers should always have their insurance cards and the phone numbers of their insurance company and agent on hand. The Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate has a few tips that motorists should keep in mind if they find themselves in an accident:

There are also some important issues for consumers to note when preparing to get their vehicle repaired:

Consumers with questions regarding auto insurance and auto insurance protocol 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.


Consumer Corner: Online Banking, Bill Paying and Shopping:
10 Ways to Protect Your Money

Internet commerce is fast and convenient, but as with the old-fashioned ways of doing business, it pays to take precautions

Online banking, bill paying and shopping are conveniences that many people enjoy today. And most of the time, high-tech transactions are completed quickly and securely. However, just as with other transactions, in a small percentage of cases something goes wrong. That's why you need to take precautions against theft and errors.

Even as banks and merchants tighten up security, Internet thieves devise new, sophisticated ways to trick consumers into sending money or into revealing information that can be used to commit fraud.

"Today's Internet threats wear many different disguises, from fake web sites to fraudulent text messages on cell phones," warned Michael Benardo, chief of the FDIC's Cyber-Fraud and Financial Crimes Section. "That's why online consumers need to be aware that they may be targeted and they should always be on guard."

David Nelson, an FDIC fraud specialist, added: "Online fraud is an ongoing game of cat and mouse. Crooks continuously hunt for security holes, banks and merchants plug those holes, and then the criminals find new ones to slink through. But consumers play an important role in keeping crooks at bay by being aware of the potential risks, taking precautions and remaining vigilant." Read more.


Florida Houdin Help: Need to Find Out 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 information about Florida Housing Help, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/FloridaHousingHelp/.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010  War on Poverty, Inc. (inside Gateway Mall) 5196-A Norwood Avenue Jacksonville, Florida 32208 Time: 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Saturday, April 10, 2010 The Center for Civic Engagement, 740 International Speedway Blvd., Daytona Beach, 32114 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 War on Poverty-Florida (inside Gateway Mall) 5196-A Norwood Ave, Jacksonville 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Monday, April 19, 2010 The University Area Community Development Center, 14013 North 22nd Street, Tampa 33613 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: Jargon to Know to Protect Your Identity

What do vishing, smishing, skimming, phishing, pharming and spyware have in common?

Identity theft. These newly crafted words are different ways bad guys can access your personal information. Once they get the right details about you, crooks can get to your bank accounts, your insurance policies and your credit cards to steal your money.

To protect yourself and your family, beware of these scams:

Vishing: Voice phishing, or an automated voice message that directs you to call your bank or credit card company. Under the pretext of clearing up a problem like theft, you'll be asked to share personal or account information.

Smishing: Text messages sent to your cell phone appear to be from a trusted source and ask you to confirm confidential information. Stands for "short message service."

Skimming: An altered ATM slot and cameras that record account and password information; also, dishonest store or restaurant employees can use a portable card reader to steal card information.

Phishing: An email from a trusted source like a government agency or bank, asking for account information, login or password. Legitimate organizations never request verification of sensitive information by email or phone. Do not click on any link in the email - it can lead to a copycat web site capable of infecting your computer with worms, viruses or other infections.

Pharming: A redirect from a legitimate web site to an impostor site to "farm" personal data you provide. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are also being targeted for this activity.

Spyware: Illicit software from email attachments, popup windows or corrupt songs or games that can reach out to your computer to gain confidential information.

To reduce your risk of identity theft, always shred paperwork and receipts containing personal or account information. Lock up unneeded credit cards and your Social Security card. Examine monthly credit card and bank statements for errors. Order your free report from the three major credit bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com and monitor your credit reports for erroneous or fraudulent activity. Make online purchases from known web sites and look for "https" in the address to indicate a secure site. Keep a list of your cards and bank and credit card issuers' names and phone numbers handy so you can quickly report a loss.


Saving Energy, Saving Money: Develop a Bird-friendly Yard for the Ecosystem

Birds are essential to keeping Florida ecosystems healthy. They are part of the food chain in forests, scrub, beaches, and even urban landscapes. In addition, birds bring in millions of dollars per year in tourism to Florida -- bird enthusiasts come to our state from all over the world, especially in the winter months.

Develop a bird-friendly yard, and encourage the conservation of our feathered friends. Here are a few ways to bring birds into your daily life, and in doing so, you will develop hobbies that do not use much energy:

1. Learn about the birds in your area. Keep track of the songs, flocks, and nests that might exist in your neighborhood. If you have a cell phone or iPod, consider buying an application that includes bird songs and a field guide, all contained in your pocket! Apple has iBird Pro, and Audubon is just about to launch a special Florida field guide application that covers birds as well as reptiles, animals, plants and other wildlife. If you have children, consider buying them binoculars as a birthday gift.

2. Plant a bird-friendly yard. Check out this website: www.audubonathome.org or other sources of information about planting natives that encourage bird life, and especially vegetation that birds enjoy for nesting and roosting.

3. Check out local birding sites. Contact your tourist bureau or the local Audubon Society. Talk with your neighbors about developing a bird-friend neighborhood. This will create a larger habitat with more birds, and ultimately provide more biodiversity in your community.


Safeguard Our Seniors Protects Floridians from Financial Fraud

Every day, hundreds of Floridians fall victim to financial fraud. Many of these victims are trusting seniors who were misled into making risky or inappropriate financial investments including annuities and reverse mortgages by unscrupulous agents and scam artists,  In response, CFO Alex Sink created the Safeguard Our Seniors (SOS) Task Force to develop solutions to better protect Florida seniors from falling victim to financial fraud.

The Department of Financial Services offers these Safeguard Our Seniors events for seniors and their caregivers to learn how to guard against fraud and scams targeting seniors.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010 Maitland Senior Center, 345 S Maitland Ave., Maitland 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 University Community Hospital, 3100 E. Fletcher Avenue, Tampa 1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 Spruce Creek Golf and Country Club, 13601 Del Webb Blvd., Summerfield 1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 The Odell Recreation Center, 2260 Odell Circle, The Villages, 32162 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 The Wakulla County Senior Center, 33 Michael Dr., Crawfordville, 32327 10:30 a.m.- Noon

Thursday, April 8, 2010 Victoria Gardens, 1001 Garden Club Drive, Deland, 32724 10:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.

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