Volume 7 Number 17 April 23, 2010

Dear Floridian:

This week I sent a letter to Florida House of Representatives Speaker Larry Cretul urging him to allow the House to vote on my “Safeguard Our Seniors” legislation that puts much-needed alligator teeth into senior fraud laws. The legislation has passed the Senate unanimously for the past three years, but has been blocked in the House by Rep. Patterson and special interests.

The number of complaints received by my department from seniors who have fallen victim to unscrupulous agents have quadrupled in the past four years, and it’s clear that the current law doesn’t do enough to discourage these shameful scammers. Our seniors deserve better, and I hope you will also join me in standing up for them by calling or emailing the House leadership today.

Together, we can put some alligator teeth into our laws.

Sincerely,

Alex




Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors Legislation Passes Senate Unanimously

Safeguard Our SeniorsFlorida CFO Alex Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors Legislation (SB 844) was passed unanimously by the Florida Senate this week. Unfortunately for Florida’s seniors, this is the second year in a row that the Senate has unanimously approved CFO Sink’s proposals to strengthen senior investor fraud laws, yet Rep. Pat Patterson continues to refuse to allow the bill to be heard in the Florida House.

“I commend Florida’s Senators for once again unanimously voting to better protect Florida seniors and thank Senator Bennett for his leadership on this common-sense, bipartisan bill,” said CFO Sink. “Unfortunately in the House, Rep. Patterson has continued his two-year crusade blocking senior protections for his special interest friends. His disregard for Florida seniors represents so much of what’s wrong with Tallahassee.”

CFO Sink proposed Safeguard Our Seniors legislation again this year to strengthen senior investor fraud laws, after hearing hundreds of heartbreaking stories from seniors who had been defrauded by senior scammers, sometimes losing their life-savings. Sen. Mike Bennett and Rep. Maria Sachs sponsored the 2010 legislation (SB 844/ HB 825) in response to hundreds more complaints received this year from Florida seniors, just about annuity fraud.

“Standing up for Florida’s seniors and holding scammers who prey on the elderly accountable is just the right thing to do. Yet right now, there is a status-quo system in place that protects politicians who take their marching orders from special interests, blocking good ideas and real solutions from ever seeing the light of day. I urge the leadership of the Florida House to take up this important bill and do the right thing for Florida's seniors.”

CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services has held nearly 400 ‘Safeguard Our Seniors’ workshops throughout the state during the last two years to help seniors become better informed about 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.

To learn more about CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force, learn what to consider when purchasing annuities, or read the stories of senior victims, please 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.


CFO Sink Encourages “Green” Jobs on Earth Day

In celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, Florida CFO Alex Sink highlighted many of her efforts to support and encourage “green” and renewable energy industry business development in Florida.

“With record-high unemployment in Florida, we should be doing everything we can to bring jobs and new industries to our state, while still protecting the very attributes that first attracted all of us to Florida,” said CFO Sink. “I will continue to promote Florida’s natural resources and business-friendly climate so we can create jobs and become a leader in green and renewable energy industries, which will help Florida’s economy and protect our environment for generations to come.”

CFO Sink is in constant communication with many companies throughout Florida, listening to their ideas for growing our green economy. Recently, CFO Sink called Frank Erickson of Erickson Energy in Jacksonville, a company that installs wind towers and solar panels on commercial properties, to discuss expanding access to these renewable energy sources. She also met with the Florida BioFuels Association, which works to increase the use of locally produced and distributed ethanol, biodiesel and other agriculturally and waste-derived fuels.

According to a study published this month by the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, Florida would experience a net gain of over 63,000 jobs and save over $7.4 billion in energy costs by 2020 from the implementation of energy efficiency policies. Recognizing the impact of energy conservation on Florida’s economy and its environment, CFO Sink has also encouraged legislators to keep funding for solar rebates in this year’s state budget.

An avid supporter of the state’s commitment to the Florida Forever program, which purchases and protects environmentally sensitive lands, CFO Sink has called on state leaders to continue their commitment to the program. CFO Sink also signed a pledge to support funding for the program.


Division of Insurance FraudCFO Sink Announces Arrest of Eight PIP Scammers in Continued PIP Sweep Arrests

Two Clinics Served with Search Warrants; Owners, Employees Taken to Jail

Florida CFO Alex Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) joined the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) this week to announce a staged vehicle accident Personal Injury Protection (PIP) sweep, including clinic owners and workers involved in PIP fraud scams around the state.

“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.”

These arrests are part of an ongoing PIP sweep by DIF that began earlier this year through partnership with the New Port Richey Police Department, Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Direct Insurance, Met Life Insurance and NICB. Further arrests are pending around the state. For more information on PIP fraud, visit DIF’s website at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/fraud/.

CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud made more than 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.


Division of Insurance FraudDavie Insurance Agent Arrested after Scamming Elders Out of Millions of Dollars

Florida CFO Alex Sink and State Attorney Michael McAuliffe this week announced the arrest of Steven Brasner, a Davie, Florida, insurance agent, for knowingly making material misrepresentations on life insurance applications, agent certifications and financial statements resulting in the receipt of close to $2 million in commissions with death benefits of $78 million.

“Seniors in our state are being targeted by scammers every day,” said CFO Sink. “I put together the Safeguard our Seniors taskforce to help identify ways to better protect Floridians and put senior scammers behind bars. We’ve already recovered nearly $9 million for seniors and today we’re holding this senior scammer accountable for his deception.”

Insurance Agent Steven M. Brasner of Infinity Financial Group, L.L.C. in Boynton Beach, Florida, was arrested following an investigation by CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) and the State Attorney’s Office, Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, on charges stemming from his insurance practices

According to the probable cause affidavit, after receiving a tip from AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company (AXA), the Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) opened an investigation. The investigation confirmed Brasner submitted life insurance applications using false information regarding prospective insured’s net worth and had pre-arranged for the life insurance policies to be sold on the secondary market in a manner to disguise the fact that they were intended to be Stranger Originated Life Insurance, commonly known as STOLIs.

Further, the affidavit alleges that AXA’s life insurance policy files contained life insurance applications for five seniors over 65-years-old as well as certifications by Brasner indicating that the policies would not be sold or transferred for any type of pre-death financial settlement, such as viatical settlement, senior settlement, life settlement, or other secondary market. The policy death benefits total $78 million, on which Brasner earned commissions amounting to over $1.6 million.

All of the elderly AXA consumers applied for life insurance under Brasner’s direction with the intention of selling the policies at a later date. Brasner explained to them that there were no out of pocket premium expenses and he offered to pay them between three to five percent of the face value of the life insurance policies, after the two-year contestable period when they were sold on the secondary market. Many of the insureds also stated that Brasner made misrepresentations on applications prepared by him and that their income and net worth were grossly inflated on the financial statements that had been sent to AXA by Brasner. Further investigation revealed an additional life insurance application accompanied by an agent certification containing the material misrepresentations, which was written by Brasner for another elderly female consumer who was also over 65-years-old at the time of the application. The $6.5 million life insurance policy was placed with Transamerica Occidental Life Insurance Company, now known as Transamerica Life Insurance Company, TLIC.

Some of the unforeseen pitfalls of a STOLI transaction for seniors include:

CFO Alex Sink met with some of the victim/witnesses of the Brasner STOLI scheme at the Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force Meeting hosted by State Attorney Michael McAuliffe in West Palm Beach in January of this year.

Brasner was arrested at his place of business, Infinity Wealth and Marketing, LLC and booked into the Palm Beach County Jail. He is charged with seven counts of Grand Theft over $100,000 in violation of s. 812.014(1)and(2)(a) (maximum penalty of 30 years per count), 4 counts of Grand Theft over $20,000 in violation of s.812.014(1) and (2)(b) (maximum penalty of 15 years per count), 1 count of Grand Theft in violation of s. 812.014(1) and (2)(c) (maximum penalty of 5 years), 8 counts of Insurance Fraud in violation of s. 817.234(1)(a)3 (maximum penalty of 15 years per count), one count of Organized Scheme to Defraud over $50,000 in violation of s.817.034(4)(a)1 (maximum penalty of 30 years) and one count of Aggravated White Collar Crime in violation of s. 775.0844(5) (maximum penalty of 30 years).

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


Consumer CornerSweepstakes Scams and Solicitations

Sweepstakes are contests that offer you a chance to win a prize and offer merchants potential customers such as yourself. Sweepstake solicitations are also an excellent tool for scam artists to get your credit card or bank account information.

Before participating in a sweepstakes, follow these precautions.

Stop sweepstakes mail

Federal law requires companies to stop mailing sweepstakes offers if you make a request. Write the companies and request that they remove your name and address from their mailing lists. Remember to include your name and address as they appear on mail sent by those companies.

Remove name from more mailing lists

Write to Mail Preference Service and ask that all members of the Direct Marketing Association remove your name and address from DMA members' mailing lists:

DMA Mail Preference Service, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512


Florida Housing HelpTampa FHH Workshop Draws More than 350 Families

Despite heavy rain, more than 350 families on Monday visited the University Area Community Development Center to receive loan modification assistance from Citi Mortgage and Chase Banks. The event was originally scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m.; however, families continued coming in after 8:40 p.m.

Families traveled from New Port Richey, Largo, Palm Harbor, Kissimmee, Ellenton, St. Petersburg and Hudson for the opportunity to meet with their lenders. Dr. Liana Fox, PhD, Hillsborough Community College professor and member of Florida CFO Alex Sink’s Financial Literacy Council also attended and reported she was pleased with the event.

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

For more information on housing help visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/FloridaHousingHelp.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010, War on Poverty Florida (inside Gateway Mall), 5196-A Norwood Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32208 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.

Monday, May 17, 2010, The University Area Community Development Center, 14013 North 22nd Street, Tampa 33613 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Saturday, May 22, 2010, Central Florida Community College – Ewers Century Center, 3001 SW College Road, Ocala, FL 34474 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010, Joseph P. D’Alessandro Office Complex, 2295 Victoria Avenue, Fort Myers, Florida 33901 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 CFOSave on Your Summer Vacation

Even in these economic times, you need to have fun on your well-deserved vacation. Planning early, booking ahead and being flexible about your travel dates and times can save money and a well-planned trip will be more enjoyable. Here are a few ideas that can help you economize for that special vacation.

Try flight-search and airline websites. Check the comparison/flight-search sites but also check directly with airline websites. The airlines may have prices that are not published on comparison sites and don’t charge transaction fees, which can add up quickly with multiple flights in your vacation plan.

Check on car rental insurance. If you use your credit card to rent a car, check if rental insurance is offered through the card before paying extra – some credit cards cover this. If you have an auto insurance policy, it’s possible it will extend to the rental car, so check your policy before you’re offered more coverage at the rental counter.

Consider a hybrid rental car to save on gas money, and don’t forget to check on the insurance. Coverage for a hybrid should be the same as for a standard vehicle, but it never hurts to be sure. Ask the car rental agent if the accident coverage they offer is specifically for the hybrid, and then call your auto insurance agent or company and make sure your policy doesn’t have limitations for hybrids.

Bargain for a hotel rate. With the advent of bargain and bidding websites, it is more acceptable to ask the hotel if the price can be lower. And call a few hotels in the area to compare rates.

Contact the local tourism bureau to see if coupons and discounts for area attractions may be available. Be sure to visit the natural and scenic areas, too.

Travel light. Airlines are making additional revenue by charging extra for checked bags. A wheeled carry-on bag is most useful for air travel, but note that the European-sized carry-on is smaller than the American one. You can take a second, smaller carry-bag of a size that can be stowed under the seat in front of you - a backpack is easy to carry and is useful for a day trip. Plan to pack your bags so they are not too heavy - pulling and carrying over-stuffed bags through airports and train stations can be difficult, especially when using stairs.


Safeguard Our SeniorsSafeguard Our Seniors Helps Protect Floridians

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 Sink created the Safeguard Our Seniors 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 so that you can learn how to guard against fraud and scams targeting seniors.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010, Safeguard Our Seniors, Right at Home Offices, 4061 Bonita Springs Rd. Ste 208, Bonita Springs, FL 34134 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Thursday, May 6, 2010, Sensational Seniors May Celebration - Safeguard Our Seniors, North Colliers Regional Park, 1500 Livingston Rd. Naples, FL 34109 10:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010, Safeguard Our Seniors, Lake Eustis Institute, 127 N. Grove Street, Eustis, FL 32727 2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010, Safeguard Our Seniors, Gulf Coast Village Retirement Community, 1333 Santa Barbara Blvd., Cape Coral, FL 33991 1:30 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010, Safeguard Our Seniors, Whistle Junction Restaurant, 1854 S. Ridgewood Ave., S. Daytona, FL 32119 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.


Saving Energy, Saving MoneyKeep Florida's Environment Home to Native Species

A recent environmental challenge for Florida is the invasion of non-native or exotic species, predominantly the result of human activities. Pet owners have naively released exotic pets into neighborhoods, and zoos and botanical gardens indiscriminately bring in animals and plants with the best intentions of education on biodiversity but little regard for potential escape into the wild. Conservative estimates indicate that Americans are paying billions annually in futile attempts to eradicate an increasing number of invaders.

Florida is now home to over 45 species of invasive reptiles. The Burmese python has had a population explosion from two captured in the Everglades in the year 2000 to more than 250 caught in the year 2007. And according to herpetologists, for every one snake sighted in the open there may be ten in the brush. Everglades scientists and invasive species experts have estimated that before this winter's extended cold as many as 30,000 pythons might thrive in the Everglades.

America's first-ever python-hunting season just ended on April 17 when in addition to Burmese pythons, hunters were allowed to kill Indian and African rock pythons, green anacondas and Nile monitor lizards. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says the state's unseasonably cold winter weather is believed to have killed up to 50 percent of the pythons.

An upcoming Python Patrol Workshop is scheduled for April 26 at New College of Florida. This event is presented by the Longboat Key Garden Club and TREE Foundation in conjunction with Sarasota County, Southwest Florida Water Management District, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and The Nature Conservancy. Allison Higgins of the Nature Conservancy will train people to capture pythons safely and New College environmental initiatives students plan to analyze their diet and reproductive capacity.

The workshop is free on a first-come, first-served basis. Visit http://pythonpatrol.eventbrite.com to learn more. Ms. Higgins' methodology will be filmed and made available for others to learn about special python-handling techniques. If you are not personally excited about learning how to handle pythons, please keep your eyes open as you walk, bike or drive through South Florida. Keeping invasive species out of natural ecosystems is not only important to the health of our native species, but removing pythons may prove a necessity to the economic future of our state.