Volume 7 Number 29 July 16, 2010
On Tuesday the Florida Legislature will convene in a special session to offer Floridians the opportunity to ensure their voices are heard on protecting our state waters from the additional risks of near-beach oil drilling through the constitutional amendment process. I first called for this on May 6 when the toll of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on our state was already becoming abundantly clear.
While it is so important that we protect against future disasters, lawmakers should be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and also take this opportunity to provide urgently needed real economic and tax relief to Floridians along the Gulf who desperately need help now. I am disappointed that legislative leaders just yesterday announced that they want to delay relief measures for another two months - especially when so many of our small businesses in Northwest Florida are telling me that their businesses can't take another two months of inaction.
I will continue to encourage Florida's Legislature to do all that they can next week on behalf of our state's small businesses and coastal communities.
State of Florida
Florida CFO Alex Sink issued the following statement after House Speaker Larry Cretul and Senate President Jeff Atwater proposed further delaying relief to small business owners and residents affected by the Gulf oil disaster, opting to not address relief measures during the July 20-23 special session.
“We’re three months into this mess, and our small business owners and citizens should not have to wait another two months for relief,” said CFO Alex Sink. “Delaying urgently needed tax relief and economic initiatives for our small business owners and residents devastated by this oil disaster is wrong. The Florida Legislature should be prepared to do their job and not force taxpayers to spend more money on another special session.”
For more than a month CFO Sink has been calling for the special session to include relief for small business owners. CFO Sink was the first statewide leader to call for a constitutional amendment to ban near shore oil drilling on May 6.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Monday sent a letter to Speaker of the Florida House Larry Cretul and President of the Florida Senate Jeff Atwater outlining incentives, claims changes, and environmental initiatives necessary to protect Florida’s economy for inclusion in the July 20-23 special session.
“Without protecting our state waters through the constitutional amendment process, the Florida we know and love is in critical danger,” wrote CFO Alex Sink. “But you also should take this session to pass smart, meaningful legislation that will directly impact the lives of so many of our residents and offer critically needed help for our small business owners.”
Florida CFO Alex Sink announced this week that her Division of Agent and Agency Services is now making license identifications available electronically for insurance agents, adjusters and other licensees, saving taxpayers an estimated $420,000 a year.
“I continue to look for new and innovative ways to run government more like a business and save taxpayers money,” said CFO Alex Sink. “By allowing agents and adjusters to print their own licenses on demand, we eliminate hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary costs.”
CFO Sink’s Division of Agent and Agency Services issues about 5,000 insurance licenses each month. The new license ID is encrypted and available for printing online at no additional cost to the licensee. New licensees will be e-mailed when their license has been issued and is available to be printed from their MyProfile account. The online license ID is available to print in both wallet and certificate sizes. Consumers can check the division’s web site, www.MyFloridaCFO.com/Agents, to validate the current status of any license.
Last year, CFO Sink’s Division of Agent and Agency Services initiated a paperless initiative that saves an estimated $350,000 each year by streamlining the way it communicates with its licensees. Through e-mail communication, licensees receive pertinent information in real time regarding their licenses, including continuing education reminders and changes in the law. Confidential or enforcement information continues to be sent through regular mail.
CFO Sink has been an outspoken watchdog on behalf of Florida’s taxpayers. Because of common sense cost-saving and efficiency measures taken by CFO Sink, her Department of Financial Services saved more than $5 million in 2009. Other waste-cutting measures include consolidating the Department’s 11 consumer call centers into two call centers, renegotiating existing contracts, and streamlining management, which is estimated to save taxpayers nearly $10 million. At www.GetLeanFlorida.com, citizens can offer tips on how to cut government waste and inefficiency. For more information on CFO Sink’s common-sense waste cutting, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
CFO Alex Sink spoke at the Latin American Association of Insurance Agents luncheon this week, celebrating the organization’s 40th anniversary. The LAAIA is composed of independent agents, insurance firms and other industry support businesses and to promote an insurance environment that is both healthy for agents and meets the needs of consumers for appropriate coverage that is competitively priced.
As Florida’s CFO, Sink oversees the Divisions of Agent and Agency, Consumer Services and Insurance Fraud, and in her remarks spoke to the group about the work her Department does on behalf of both insurance agents and consumers. She also shared an update on the Division of Insurance Fraud’s seven squads dedicated solely to fighting PIP fraud across the state, and also improvements the Department has made by using the internet for licensing and making more information easily accessible. She concluded her remarks by addressing the need for Florida to ensure openness and transparency in the regulatory process, and also the need to create a more competitive and stable insurance market in the state.
Following the luncheon, Sink toured the LAAIA convention, visiting the exhibit hall and the booths representing her Department of Financial Services.
For more information on the Latin American Association of Insurance Agents, visit www.laaia.com.
Florida CFO Alex Sink's Bureau of Unclaimed Property has selected a date and location for its next auction of unclaimed safe deposit box contents. Save the date for this exciting public auction to be held August 20 and 21 at the Florida Hotel and Conference Center in Orlando. More than 40,000 individual items, including jewelry, watches and rare coins with a value in excess of $600,000, will be sold.
"We want all Floridians to know about our Unclaimed Property program,” said CFO Sink. “I encourage everyone to come out and bid for these items!"
The last auction held in Orlando was in 2007, and was the most heavily attended auction to date.
Featured items include a 6.6 carat emerald-cut diamond ring, a 52 ounce gold bar, two Judith Leiber designer handbags, and a 100 ounce silver bar.
A free catalog of the items up for bid is available on the Bureau of Unclaimed Property's website. To preview and bid at the auction, you must bring your valid driver's license and make a refundable one-hundred dollar cash deposit. Proceeds from the auction benefit Florida's public schools.
For more details about the upcoming auction, or to find out if you might have unclaimed property waiting for you, please visit the Bureau’s website at www.FLTreasureHunt.org.
Florida CFO Alex Sink this week announced the arrests of six criminals involved in a mortgage fraud scam that resulted in more than $2 million in fraudulent mortgages. The arrests are the result of a joint investigation by the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF), the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations’ Miami Field Office and the Miami Dade State Attorney’s Office Mortgage Fraud Prosecution Unit.
“This is a prime example of the excellent collaboration among Florida’s law enforcement and investigative agencies, including my insurance fraud detectives,” said CFO Sink. “Mortgage fraud is an insidious crime that continues to be a drag on Florida’s overall economy and hurts all Floridians, including borrowers, neighborhoods scarred by foreclosures from mortgage scams, and lenders weakened by loans that won’t be repaid.”
Investigators discovered that Alan Weitz, vice president of Bal Bay Properties, and his son Brandon Weitz, working for the same company, recruited “straw buyers” who were offered $3,000 each to allow their names to be used on mortgage loan applications to purchase homes with the understanding that the properties would be quit-claimed over to an actual buyer.
The following six individuals were charged with First Degree Grand Theft on various counts:
“Criminals are motivated by profit and ICE’s Asset Identification and Removal Group (AIRG) is an effective tool that HSI uses to remove the profit from criminal acts,” said Anthony Mangione, special agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Miami. “Special Agents assigned to our AIRG take on the complex task of identifying and seizing money and other assets that are the ill-gotten gains of all types of criminal activity.”
“With the creation of our Mortgage Fraud Prosecution Unit, individuals who think that mortgage fraud is an easy, no-risk crime will be having a rude and painful awakening,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. “Our effective law enforcement partnership with insurance fraud detectives is already yielding tangible results, as these arrests show.”
All homes purchased in this scam eventually went into foreclosure as a result of unsuccessfully finding buyers for the properties.
The Division of Insurance Fraud made 1,077 insurance fraud-related arrests in 2009/2010, and investigates various forms of insurance fraud, including health, life, auto, property and workers’ compensation insurance. Depending on the estimated loss amount, DIF 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 to www.MyFloridaCFO.com/fraud.
CFO Alex Sink has committed the resources of the Department of Financial Services to assist small business owners and residents with the BP claims process from damages due to the oil spill.
Anyone interested in scheduling a presentation for a business, local chamber of commerce, economic development group, or other community group can contact the Department’s Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).
Tuesday, July 20 at the Greater Pine Island Chamber of Commerce, 3640 Pine Island Road, Matlacha 33993 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Read flyer)
Thursday, August 12 at Indian River State College (Main Campus), 3209 Virginia Avenue, Fort Pierce 34981 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Read flyer)
Navigating the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) can be a daunting task without guidance. In the previous installments of this series the Florida Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate provided consumers with information related to various benefits and tools that will become available to consumers. In this edition, the Office will focus on the benefits that are available to parents and their dependent children because of the federal healthcare reforms.
The PPACA contains many benefits for parents and their dependent children. For instance, beginning this year health insurers are prohibited from discriminating against children with pre-existing conditions. As a result, parents can be assured that their children can obtain and maintain coverage regardless of their pre-existing condition. Parents will also receive other benefits for their children that will be available as a result of the PPACA, and they are as follows:
As noted in prior installments of the summer series, additional changes will also be enacted in 2014 and beyond, including these future changes:
As more information is available and additional changes become effective, the Florida Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate will generate advisories regarding their effect on parents and children. More information regarding the PPACA can be found on the Florida Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate’s website at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/ica/federalhealthcare.asp.
An “active to extremely active” hurricane season is expected for the Atlantic Basin this year according to the seasonal outlook issued by NOAA's Climate Prediction Center and National Hurricane Center. As with every hurricane season, this outlook underscores the importance of having a hurricane preparedness plan in place.
On average, the first named storm occurs by July 9, with the second named storm forming by August 1 and the first hurricane forming by August 10. The first storm of the 2010 season, Alex, beat both averages as the first named storm and hurricane in June. With one named storm already in the books, there are potentially many more on the horizon.
Storm Names for 2010: Alex, Bonnie, Colin (replaced Charley), Danielle, Earl, Fiona (replaced Frances), Gaston, Igor (replaced Ivan), Julia (replaced Jeanne), Karl, Lisa, Matthew, Nicole, Otto, Paula, Richard, Shary, Tomas, Virginie, Walter).
The number of named storms, hurricanes, and intense hurricanes predicted by various forecasters:
Only four hurricane seasons since 1851 have had at least nineteen named storms, so four out of six of these pre-season forecasts are calling for a top-five busiest season in history.
At day 45 of the official dates of the 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season, or about 25 percent of the way through the 180 day season, there are many lessons that can be learned from history. Attached is a look back at Florida's notable hurricanes and storms, arranged by 5 and 10 year anniversary dates from 2010. Some of these storms are famous and recognizable just by hearing the name and some are responsible for shaping Florida's history. All stress the importance of having a plan and being prepared for the worst.
It is very important to periodically review your homeowners insurance policy, and the beginning of hurricane season is a perfect time. Make sure that you fully understand your insurance coverage before you have to file a claim. Carefully examine your insurance deductible and the policy limits so when you have a loss you know how much coverage you have and what you will have to pay out of pocket.
The deductible is the amount of money you must pay out of pocket if you suffer a loss. For example, if you file a claim that your insurer accepts in the amount of $3,000, and your deductible is $200, the insurance company should pay $2,800. If the amount of your damage is less than your deductible, you should not file a claim.
Most homeowners’ insurance policies contain a separate hurricane deductible. The minimum hurricane deductible available is $500. The other hurricane deductibles available are 2 percent, 5 percent, or 10 percent of the dwelling limit. The deductible must be stated on the policy declarations page as a dollar amount regardless of the percentage that applies. The declarations page also provides the limits for other coverage included in your policy such as other structures, personal property, and liability. For more information on understanding your deductible, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/understandCoverage.htm.
Find out when a Hurricane Preparedness Event will be in your area and check back with us next week for more ideas.
Your credit score affects how much you pay for credit, and it can affect other bills you pay, where you live and where you work. Banks and credit card companies review your score when deciding whether to extend you credit and how much interest to charge.
A high score can lead to lower car- and home-insurance premiums, a deposit waiver from utility companies and a better service package from cell-phone or telephone service providers. Many landlords check credit scores before allowing you to sign a lease and many employers do credit checks on prospective employees as part of the hiring decision process.
With so much at stake, it's wise to find out where you stand then take steps to raise your score, particularly before you apply for a mortgage or other loan. Above 760 and you're in the upper echelon. A score below 620 says you're not a good risk and leads to credit denial or subprime interest rates.
You are legally entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three credit reporting agencies. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to order your free report. Make sure you access the right web site as impostor sites abound.
To watch for errors and identity theft, stagger your requests and get a report from a different bureau every four months. And remember, it pays to pay on time. Source: MSN Money
The Florida Housing Help website can help connect struggling Floridians who may be at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure or may be facing mortgage fraud issues with assistance. For a schedule of workshops that include community partners and resources and offer great information for citizens, read the Florida Housing Help Calendar.
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.
Florida CFO Alex Sink’s Department of Financial Services hosted Safeguard Our Seniors workshops in Fort Walton Beach and Destin this past week as part of CFO Sink’s ongoing statewide initiative to protect seniors from financial fraud through education and increased awareness.
The Department of Financial Services was joined by a local victim of financial fraud who told her story, along with representatives from the department’s Division of Agent and Agency Services, the Division of Insurance Fraud and the Division of Consumer Services.
Over the last two years, CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services has held more than 400 Safeguard Our Seniors events throughout the state to teach how to guard against fraud and scams targeting seniors.