FLORIDA CFO ALEX SINK'S CONSUMER EVIEWS NEWSLETTER

Volume 7 Number 38 September 17, 2010

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Dear Floridian:

This week I joined Governor Crist in calling on Gulf Coast Claims Facility Administrator Ken Feinberg to find ways to make the claims process simple and seamless to expedite helping Florida businesses recover their losses from the oil spill. We called for allowing businesses to use their existing claims numbers submitted under the BP process, making the claims process easy enough that people don’t need legal counsel, and for claims eligibility to rely less on proximity to the beach in determining claims payments.

An analysis by my legal division suggests that many of the claims in question should be covered when economic damages have been suffered, regardless of proximity to where oil washed ashore. Unfortunately, the longer these businesses have to wait for compensation, the more likely they risk going out of business. This is devastating for them, and another blow to Florida’s economic recovery. I feel strongly that the process should not punish those businesses suffering legitimate losses through no fault of their own. I will continue to stand up for Floridians, our small businesses and our state.

Sincerely,

Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


Joint Letter from Governor Charlie Crist and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink Sent to Ken Feinberg

The attached letter from Governor Charlie Crist and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink to Ken Feinberg, claims administrator for the Deepwater Horizon Compensation Fund, is requesting immediate action be taken to address the concerns Floridians have regarding the BP oil spill claims process.

The letter emphasizes the need for the claims process to become seamless and simple, including completing individual claims within three to five days and relying on the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990 as the standard for evaluating all claims. The letter additionally requests the claims process be modified so that average citizens and small businesses alike can file claims without the help of legal counsel.


CFO Alex Sink Recognizes Financial Planning Week

Florida CFO Alex Sink presented a Cabinet resolution designating the week of October 4 through October 10, 2010, as Financial Planning Week.

“Financial planning empowers individuals to manage realistic financial goals and negotiate the financial barriers that arise throughout life,” said CFO Sink. “I have always been an ardent advocate of financial literacy and I encourage all Floridians to take steps that can help them to have a secure financial future, which may include seeking assistance from a financial planner.”

CFO Sink was joined at the presentation by members of the Financial Planning Association of Florida, including:

The Financial Planning Association of Florida is the membership organization for the financial planning community, representing 1,700 members dedicated to supporting the financial planning process as a way to help Floridians achieve their goals and dreams. For information, visit: http://financialplanningflorida.org/.


Terry Butler Named as Interim Insurance Consumer Advocate by CFO Sink

Florida CFO Alex Sink announced this week that Terry Butler has been tapped to serve as Interim Insurance Consumer Advocate. Butler has spent his entire 32-year career as an attorney in Tallahassee, Florida, working on legislative and regulatory matters involving insurance. He has served as the Senior Attorney in the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate since August 2007 and has been with the Department of Financial Services for more than 17 years.

"Terry’s legal experience and expertise in standing up for Florida’s insurance consumers is invaluable and he is very well-prepared to take on this new role," said CFO Sink. "The Office of the ICA is a strong, independent voice for Floridians who rely on quality insurance products to protect their homes and property, their health and their financial well being."

Butler holds a B.A. in Political Science from Miami University of Ohio and a J.D. from Florida State University. He replaces Sean Shaw who resigned effective September 2.


CFO Alex Sink Honors Lives Lost on 9th Anniversary of 9/11

CFO Sink recognized the 9th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks:

“It is hard to believe that nine years have gone by since the September 11 attacks, for the memory of that day remains fresh in our minds. It was a day of unspeakable terror, juxtaposed with incredible selflessness by emergency responders. Today we pause to honor the brave men and women whose lives were lost, and also give thanks to our military and law enforcement officials fighting here and overseas to ensure that our homeland is secure and our freedoms are protected.”

CFO Sink joined elected officials and local firefighters in Orlando this past Saturday for a candlelight memorial service to honor the 343 firefighters that lost their lives in the September 11 attacks.


CFO Alex Sink Again Calls on the Florida Legislature to Help Small Businesses Impacted by Oil Spill

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday issued the following statement after reviewing the final report by the House of Representatives’ work groups regarding the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill:

“I continue to be shocked by the inaction of the Florida Legislature when the people of Northwest Florida are still suffering severe economic losses,” said CFO Alex Sink. “Many small businesses are struggling because of the disaster in the Gulf, yet the Florida Legislature has decided that there is nothing that needs to be done to help them. These reports are just the latest glaring example of the lack of leadership and common sense solutions coming out of Tallahassee.”

Fully three months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion occurred on April 20, the Florida Legislature convened in Tallahassee for only one day -- on July 20 -- then promptly adjourned. “Work groups” to develop legislative initiatives to help Florida’s small businesses that have suffered economic damages as a result of this oil spill were intended to spur legislative action, and yet instead of reporting back with meaningful initiatives, the work groups’ final reports called for “no recommendations that require formal legislative action at this time.” (Executive Summary to Speaker Cretul, August 31, 2010)

An analysis by CFO Sink’s legal staff shows obvious gaps in Florida law which may cause some of Florida’s small businesses to have difficulty recovering economic damages caused by the oil spill. The analysis, which can be accessed here, shows that some state laws, such as Alaska’s, provide for broader recovery by small businesses in the event of an oil spill than Florida’s law. The analysis suggests that the Florida Legislature should amend Florida law to provide broader economic recovery for Floridians and Florida’s businesses that were affected by the oil spill.


State Fire Marshal and CFO Alex Sink Announces 5th Annual Volunteer Firefighters Training

Florida State Fire Marshal and CFO Alex Sink on Wednesday announced that volunteer firefighters from throughout Florida will gather this weekend at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, Florida, at the fifth annual Northwest Florida Volunteer Firefighter Weekend. Over 200 pre-registered volunteers have signed up for the training, which consists of hands-on and classroom training to teach the latest firefighting and investigative techniques.

“Offering free courses for our state’s honorable volunteer firefighters is one way we are able to show our appreciation for their tremendous service to our communities,” said CFO Alex Sink. “Volunteer firefighters take on a large responsibility by volunteering their time and service in addition to their other personal and professional commitments. I want to personally thank each firefighter for participating this weekend and providing this invaluable service to Floridians.”

The volunteers will participate in classes ranging from two to forty hours, including hands-on vehicle extrication, incident management, and handling a “mayday” situation. New this year will be “Responding to CO Emergencies” and “Firefighter Water Safety and Survival.” The event begins on Wednesday, September 15, 2010, and continues through Sunday, September 19, 2010. All activities will be held on the college campus. For a complete list of class offerings, visit: www.nwflvolunteerffweekend.com.

Advance registrations include firefighters from all areas of the state including the Florida Keys. This free training is made available through the cooperation of local fire departments, the Florida State Fire Marshal and the Florida Fire and Emergency Services Foundation.


CFO Alex Sink’s Florida Housing Help Initiative to Hold Workshop In Orlando on Saturday, Sept. 18

Florida CFO Alex Sink’s Department of Financial Services will offer a Florida Housing Help workshop tomorrow in Orlando. Struggling homeowners will be able talk to lenders and certified HUD counselors about foreclosure issues and options. Representatives of various banks including SunTrust, Chase, Bank of America, Fifth Third, Freddie Mac, HSBC, Wachovia/Wells Fargo will be available, along with counselors from In Charge, HANDS, Consumer Credit Counseling Services, the Internal Revenue Service and Community Legal Services.

DATE: Saturday, September 18, 2010 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
LOCATION: Dr. James R. Smith Neighborhood Center, 1723 Bruton Boulevard, Orlando, FL 32805

To date, CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services has held more than 150 Florida Housing Help workshops across Florida, helping more than 14,000 Florida homeowners connect with their lenders or housing counselors. Details on CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help initiative and a calendar of upcoming Florida Housing Help events can be found at: http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/FloridaHousingHelp.


CFO Alex Sink Recognizes Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

At this week’s Cabinet meeting, Florida CFO Alex Sink sponsored a resolution designating the month of September as Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Ovarian Cancer is the deadliest of gynecologic cancers and the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the United States; about 25,000 new cases of ovarian cancer are detected each year and more than half are fatal.

“During Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, we pause to remember those women who have lost their lives to this deadly disease, and honor the courage and strength of those who continue to fight it,” said CFO Alex Sink. “Also, I would like to take a moment to thank all the dedicated medical professionals and researchers whose tireless efforts help provide a brighter and healthier future for women.”

Known as the “silent cancer,” ovarian cancer can be tragically detected too late because many women and their healthcare providers do not detect the subtle symptoms of the disease. The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and the Big Bend Florida Chapter, through its Break the Silence campaign, are committed to improving patient survival, public and professional education, emotional support, advocacy and awareness efforts and quality of life for women with ovarian cancer. For more information visit ovariancancer.org.


Volunteer for National Public Lands Day on September 25

CFO Alex Sink sponsored a resolution recognizing Saturday, September 25 as National Public Lands Day in Florida and encourages citizens to volunteer to improve a park or a trail.

Florida’s legacy of buying land to benefit the public, including using Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever funds, has resulted in the protection of almost two and a half million acres of parks, beaches, trails, watersheds, a working ranch and timber lands.

According to the United States Fish & Wildlife Service, the economic benefits of conserving land are substantial, making outdoor recreation an $8.1 billion annual industry in Florida. Florida’s natural beauty and natural resources are world-renowned and the environmental, aesthetic and recreational benefits of land conservation are many.

The Florida State Parks System has been recognized by the National Recreation and Park Association as the nation’s first and only two-time gold medal winner for the best park service.

Since its creation in 1965, the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund has provided over $826 million to conserve Florida's natural resources, national parks and forests, wildlife refuges and neighborhood parks. Since 1996, more than 50 county and city land protection ballot measures have been passed by Florida voters generating more than $2 billion in local government funds for land conservation.

National Public Lands Day celebrates service and volunteerism while bringing families together to experience our treasured public lands and has become the Nation’s largest volunteer effort to enhance public lands. Last year, 50,000 volunteers participated and removed an estimated 900,000 pounds of trash, planted an estimated 100,000 trees and shrubs, collected an estimated 20,000 pounds of invasive plants and built and maintained an estimated 1,320 miles of trails.

On National Public Lands Day Florida will host 33 sites throughout the state, giving citizens volunteer opportunities ranging from trail maintenance to building picnic tables to removing invasive plants.

Find a site where you would like to participate in the educational and restoration events of the day.


Insurance Consumer Advocate Urges Floridians To Learn About Health Insurance Reforms That Take Effect Sept. 23

Terry Butler, Interim Insurance Consumer Advocate

Many consumers have been confused about or unsure as to when many of the reforms in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) will take effect. Some of the reforms do not take effect until 2014 or even later. However, on Thursday, September 23, 2010, many very important PPACA provisions will go into effect and the Office of Insurance Consumer Advocate urges Floridians to be aware of and take advantage of the changes.

The most important changes will ensure that some policyholders may not be able to take advantage of all of these new provisions until policy renewal, which for many employees in group plans is in January.

The benefits that will be effective on September 23, 2010, are as follows:

Consumers should contact their insurer or their employers’ benefit administrator to obtain any additional information regarding changes to their specific policy.

As more information is available and additional changes become effective, the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate will generate advisories regarding their effect on consumers. More information regarding the PPACA can be found on the website of the Insurance Consumer Advocate at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/ica/federalhealthcare.asp.

The Insurance Consumer Advocate is appointed by Florida CFO 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.


Hurricane Checklist: Using Social Media during a Natural Disaster

When Hurricane Katrina hit five years ago, Facebook was in its infancy and Twitter had not been developed yet. In 2010, we have those tools at our fingertips not only through the Internet, but also through smartphones and other technological gadgets.

With the help of social media, your friends and loved ones don’t have to wait through a disaster to know that you are ok. Here are ways social media can help.

Emicus.com is a site full of free tools that help you prepare for and recover from a natural disaster. Here, you can connect with others and share information.

One of the tools on Emicus.com is the "I'm OK" service. This feature allows you to send a text message via phone, SMS or email that lets your contacts know you're safe. Before a storm, you just sign in and add your emergency contacts. You are then given a number to text to in the event of a storm. When you text "I'm OK" followed by a personal message, it will be sent to all of your contacts. This message can even be read aloud over a standard phone line. The site also has a hurricane planning option.

Twitter is a great way to keep track of a storm and connect with people who may be in need of help. It also allows you to post real time information to let your followers know you are okay. Real time information in your tweetstream will keep you in the loop with storm-related news as well as letting others know how you are. Here are a just a few of the many Twitter accounts that you should follow in the event of a natural disaster.

@hurricanealerts: hurricane alerts and tropical storm updates and advisories for the coastal U.S.

@breakingweather: updates on tropical storms and other severe weather conditions.

@stormpulse: frequent updates on tropical weather worth tracking.

Many local televisions stations use Twitter to update viewers about weather and major news events. Check your local station's Web site for that information.

Make sure your loved ones and friends know how to find you on Twitter in the event of a storm. It is a great way to receive and give information to your followers.

Follow the Department’s events and receive updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/CFOAlexSink.


Consumer Corner: Life insurance buys vital peace of mind

By Bob Lotane

For years, I have expounded on the importance of life, long-term care and disability insurance through my job as political affairs and communications director for an association that represents insurance agents and financial advisors. And I certainly learned the significance of sound insurance planning as the communications director for the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation and as press secretary at the Department of Financial Services. This year, however, I learned firsthand the importance of insurance planning.

Following a tough 16-month battle with cancer, my wife Robin passed away, in July, at age 48. Suddenly, I was the subject of one of the hundreds of stories I have been told about a loved one whose life ended way too early. The agents I work with deal with these tragedies all the time. I was the one, like those in the many tearful videos I have seen at so many conventions, who had to try to put my life back together after I lost my wife, my partner, my best friend. And, yes, I was the one who had one less concern on my mind as it seemed my world was crashing around me.

That is because Robin and I, fortunately, had made sure each of us had our future well protected by life insurance. But I learned it was not only about the future. Knowing you are protected allows you to not have to worry about the consequences of some of the large costs that can accrue during a terminal illness or accident.

When the hospital social workers gingerly told me how much it would cost to hire private ambulances to get Robin to Tampa for a procedure to alleviate suffering, and then to get her home to Tallahassee, I was able to say, "Don't worry about it. Do whatever it takes to make her comfortable." We were fortunate enough to have the resources, but even if we didn't, I would not have had to be concerned about going into debt to make her comfortable or about the costs after she passed away. The funeral director told me that conversations with families about final arrangements are much less stressful when the family has life insurance.

September is Life Insurance Awareness Month. The importance of this has been proclaimed by Gov. Charlie Crist. Each year, a significant number of Americans (550,000) die prematurely. In fact, the chances a 25-year-old male will die before reaching the retirement age of 65 is nearly 1 in 5; for a female, the odds are 1 in 9. Effective life insurance can be bought for relative pennies on the dollar. I urge you to consider it carefully with your loved ones.

Bob Lotane is the communications and political affairs director with the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors-Florida.


My Florida CFO: Watch Out for Simple Credit Card Scams

From an eViews reader, an astute view of potential credit card scams.

A friend went to the gym and placed belongings in a locker and locked the door. Afterward the locker hung open but there appeared to be no items missing.

Then a credit card bill arrived with $14,000 in charges unknown to the unwary victim.

The credit card company said there was no mistake on their end and asked if his card had been stolen. The answer was no, but then the gym incident came to mind.

It soon became apparent a switch had been made. An expired credit card from the same bank was in the wallet. The thief who broke into his locker had switched cards. The credit card issuer said since the card had not been reported as missing earlier, the amount owed would have to be paid. The unfortunate gym incident had become a major crime.

When paying with a credit card anywhere, make sure the card returned to you is your card. Look at it closely to read your name. A card switch can happen easily and many customers just put the card away without looking at it, trusting the clerk or server and the fact that the card appears to be the same.

Be aware, double check and preferably don’t pay with a card if the card needs to leave your sight. But even in plain sight another scam works by a simple plan. The clerk puts the card down on the counter, and then appears to be occupied with a phone call. In actuality, a photo is being taken of the card for future use. And the clerk could easily make note of the security code. This scam could clean out your bank account quickly or run up your credit card balance.

Be aware of your card at all times as these types of scams are easy for smooth operators to implement - even in plain sight. Keep a separate list of your card numbers and the phone numbers to call to report theft, as cancelling your card is the first step of protection. Filing a police report is a necessary part of the process and the card number will be needed for that report.


Safeguard 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 by unscrupulous agents and scam artists into making risky or inappropriate financial investments, including annuities and reverse mortgages. 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 Safeguard Our Seniors workshops to help seniors guard against financial fraud and scams. Read the Safeguard Our Seniors Calendar of Events.

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