Volume 7 Number 33 August 13, 2010
In these tough economic times every penny counts. That’s why I’m asking all Floridians to visit www.FLTreasureHunt.org this week to find out if we are holding unclaimed property for you or a family member. The state received 1.3 million new items over the past year, and even if you’ve checked in the past, chances are it’s worthwhile to visit the website and check again. I always remind people that when they check our unclaimed property website, to check not only their name, or any name they’ve ever gone by, but also to check the names of their deceased relatives, and any businesses they’ve operated.
Florida’s annual Unclaimed Property Auction, which is open to the public, will be held August 21, 2010, in Orlando at the Florida Hotel and Conference Center at the Florida Mall. I invite interested Floridians to register now to participate. Every year the State of Florida auctions thousands of valuables including jewelry, rare coins and historical items. With more than 40,000 items including unique jewelry, gold finger bars, old coins and more, there’s something to interest everyone in Florida’s lost treasure.
State of Florida
Florida CFO Alex Sink this week asked Floridians to check for unclaimed property prior to her Bureau of Unclaimed Property’s Statewide Auction, an annual sale of unclaimed safe deposit box contents turned over to the state. The auction, which is open to the public, will be held August 21, 2010, in Orlando at the Florida Hotel and Conference Center at the Florida Mall. In the past year alone, CFO Sink’s Florida Bureau of Unclaimed Property has reunited citizens with more than $188 million, the largest amount in state history.
“I encourage all Floridians to visit www.FLTreasureHunt.org to see what property they may have waiting. We’ve collected a record high amount of unclaimed property in the past year, and even if Floridians have visited the site before, it’s always worth checking again,” said CFO Sink. “I am also proud that in these tough economic times, our Bureau of Unclaimed Property has been able to return record amounts through a diligent, proactive, and business-like approach to seeking owners and responding to citizens.”
At the auction, more than 40,000 individual items, including jewelry, watches, and rare coins, with a minimum reserve value in excess of $600,000, will be sold. Featured items include a 52-ounce, 22K gold finger bar from a shipwreck; a platinum necklace with 214 diamonds totaling 28 carats; an 18K Rolex “Daytona” men’s watch and a platinum ring with a 6.6 carat, very high quality diamond. A free catalog, along with details about the auction, is available at www.FLTreasureHunt.org. Participation in the auction is open to the public, but requires registration and a refundable $100 deposit. A public preview of all items will be held Friday, August 20.
Unclaimed money is deposited into the state school fund, where it is used for public education. There is, however, no statute of limitations, and citizens have the right to claim their property any time at no cost.
During Alex Sink’s tenure as CFO, the Bureau of Unclaimed Property has seen record returns, reuniting owners, heirs and businesses with more than one-third of all money returned since the beginning of the program, due largely to aggressive efforts to contact owners. Since the program’s inception 48 years ago, the Bureau of Unclaimed Property has successfully reunited owners or relatives of deceased owners with more than $1.6 billion in unclaimed property held in Florida.
The Bureau of Unclaimed Property is currently holding nine million accounts, mostly from dormant accounts in financial institutions, unclaimed utility deposits, insurance benefits, premium refunds, uncashed checks and trust accounts. It also holds watches, jewelry, coins, stamps and historical items from abandoned safe deposit boxes, some of which will be sold in August’s auction. Unclaimed property can be claimed for free at any time by the rightful owners or heirs by logging on to www.FLTreasureHunt.org or by calling the Bureau at 1-88-VALUABLE.
Florida CFO Alex Sink today sent a letter to Scott Wallace, executive director of Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, calling on Citizens to implement contract reforms to ensure accountable and competitive contracting, and allow all qualified businesses the opportunity to compete for work available from Citizens. Wallace is scheduled to meet with CFO Sink’s staff about contacting procedures at Citizens next week.
“I was disappointed to learn recently that Citizens has elected not to competitively bid 33 of its current contracts, which together are worth close to $50 million,” wrote CFO Sink. “Citizens has an obligation to be accountable and transparent to the people of Florida in its contracting processes. A competitive, open solicitation process is the best way to ensure that Floridians’ money is being spent wisely.”
On Tuesday, Senator Bill Nelson and the new claims administrator for the Deepwater Horizon recovery, Ken Feinberg, held forums in Panama City and Pensacola, where they answered questions from the public.
Feinberg described the way the Gulf Recovery Program will operate and the types of claimants it will serve.
As more details about the new claims process become available, we will post them on our website at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/OilSpill/default.htm.
Cotton States Mutual Insurance Company (Cotton States), and its sister company Shields Insurance Inc., have notified the Office of Insurance Regulation that they will stop transacting property and casualty insurance business in Florida. Both companies currently write automobile, homeowners and commercial coverage. As of June 30, 2010, Cotton States had 45,970 total policies, and Shields had 1,639 policies.
The companies will stop writing new business effective November 1, 2010, and will begin non-renewing existing policies with those policies expiring on or after February 15, 2011. The companies must give personal residential policyholders at least a 100-day notice and commercial policyholders at least 45 days notice.
In recognition of National Immunization Awareness Month and the upcoming school year, Insurance Consumer Advocate Sean Shaw would like to encourage consumers to get immunized. Immunizations are one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century, and consumers should consider taking advantage of the vaccines available to them.
Vaccines are a safe and effective way to protect the population from infectious diseases. By staying up-to-date on recommended vaccines, consumers can protect themselves, family, friends, and their community from dangerous diseases. Vaccinations should begin after birth and continue throughout life.
Consumers should note that under the new federal health care law, immunizations are included as preventative services for women and children. Under the law, new health plans will be required to cover the standard vaccines recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Consumers should refer to their policy or contact their agent to verify immunization coverage.
Immunizations are available to consumers through their primary care physician, public health department, and some pharmacies. For more information regarding immunization schedules, recommendations, and guidelines, consumers should visit the Center for Disease Control’s website http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/events/niam/default.htm.
Consumers that have any additional questions regarding immunizations or immunization coverage 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.
Florida CFO Alex Sink announced the acquisition of a new investigative tool for the Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) to use when investigating insurance fraud crime. The Division is introducing a surveillance vehicle that will assist detectives in undercover and long-term, complex operations.
Investigative tools like this offer detectives enhanced surveillance opportunities and provide an invaluable asset to investigators that directly affect investigative efforts.
This new tool is equipped with state-of-the-art electronic surveillance equipment used on various insurance fraud cases the Division works daily such as staged accidents rings, medical and provider fraud, money-service businesses, workers’ compensation fraud and other specialized criminal activity.
The surveillance vehicle will provide DIF detectives a mechanism to make it harder for criminals involved in fraudulent activity to associate the vehicle with law enforcement and also keeps anonymity, providing for better officer safety.
This investigative tool is one of many being used by the Division to combat insurance fraud crimes. Tools like these provide detectives with more avenues to help deter crime as well as to build stronger cases to fight crime.
Florida’s Division of Insurance Fraud ranks at the top of all state insurance divisions when it comes to the number of investigations worked, making presentations to state attorney offices and arrests. For more information on the Division, visit the website at www.myfloridacfo.com/fraud.
In fiscal year 2009-2010, the Division of Insurance Fraud received 12,820 referrals, made 1,042 insurance fraud-related arrests, presented 1,234 cases for prosecution, had 706 convictions and received over $63 million in court-ordered restitution. DIF investigates various forms of insurance fraud relating to health, life, auto, property and workers’ compensation insurance. 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.
By following these tips and keeping this checklist with the important papers you will take with you if you need to evacuate, your claim can be reviewed and processed in very little time. The more documentation you provide, the better.
For more information on issues to consider when filing or settling a claim, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/Storm/index.htm. Find out when a Hurricane Preparedness event will be in your area on our Calendar of Events. Check back with us next week for more ideas.
The Internal Revenue Service recognizes that many people may be having difficult times financially. There can be a tax impact to events such as job loss, debt forgiveness or tapping a retirement fund. If your income decreased, you may be newly eligible for certain tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Simply called EITC, it is a refundable federal income tax credit for certain people who don’t earn a high income.
When the EITC exceeds the amount of taxes owed, it results in a tax refund to low to moderate income working individuals and families who claim and qualify for the credit. To qualify, taxpayers must meet certain requirements and file a tax return, even if they do not have a filing requirement.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provides a temporary increase in the earned income tax credit for taxpayers with three or more qualifying children. The maximum EITC for this new category is $5,657.
ARRA also increases the beginning point of the phaseout range for the credit for all married couples filing a joint return, regardless of the number of children. These changes apply to 2009 and 2010 tax returns.
The credit begins to phase out at $21,420 for married taxpayers filing a joint return with children and completely phases out at $40,463 for one child, $45,295 for two children and $48,279 for three or more children. For married taxpayers filing a joint return with no children, the credit begins to phase out at $12,470 and completely phases out at $18,440.
Find out if you are eligible for the credit by answering questions and providing basic income information using the EITC Assistant, available in English and Spanish. You can:
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.
Over the last two years, CFO Sink’s Department ofFinancial Services has held more than 400 Safeguard Our Seniors events throughout the state to teach how to guard against fraud and scams targeting seniors. Calendar of Events