Volume 8 Number 23 June 10, 2011
Dear Fellow Floridians:
They have been called ‘The Greatest Generation’ - the brave soldiers who went off to fight in World War II, not for fame, accolades or recognition, but because it was the right thing to do for their country. This week, we marked the 67th anniversary of D-Day and honored the brave soldiers who risked their lives to bring an end to WWII.
As of last November, more than 150,000 brave WWII soldiers called Florida home. These are remarkable American heroes. I encourage you to take a moment to listen to their stories and learn about their important place in history.
As we mark the 67th anniversary of D-Day, I hope you will take a moment to recognize the valiant efforts of these soldiers and salute the active military men and women who fight for our freedoms today.
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida
On Monday, I was honored to be invited by Israeli Consul General Ofer Bavly to speak at the Florida Jewish Symposium in West Palm Beach. Florida is fortunate to have the third largest Jewish community in the United States, and to be home to over twelve thousand Holocaust survivors. In March, I announced partnerships with several Florida financial institutions to waive the wire transfer fee on Holocaust survivors’ reparation payments. It is my goal to have every financial institution in this state pledge to waive this fee. The Symposium was also a great opportunity to celebrate the signing of SB 444, which the Governor signed last week. This new law is a bold step in the right direction - ensuring that taxpayer resources are deployed in markets that promote free and fair democracies.
I have the privilege to serve as Florida’s State Fire Marshal and was asked to throw the first pitch in the Florida Professional Firefighter Appreciation baseball game in Jacksonville on Tuesday evening. It is always humbling to be among the brave men and women who selflessly protect our fellow Floridians each and every day and an honor to recognize their service.
On Wednesday morning, I served as the keynote speaker for the opening ceremonies at the Florida Insurance Fraud Education Committee meeting with the focus on protecting Florida's consumers. Unfortunately, three of the nation's top cities for staged auto accidents are right here in Florida. One of those cities, Orlando, hosted the meeting. The conference provided a wealth of information for professionals who work to combat and prevent insurance fraud. Conferences like these are imperative to our continuing fraud efforts. As your CFO, I am committed to combating insurance fraud and protecting the money Floridians work so hard for every day.
On Thursday, I led an International Trade Roundtable in Miami to discuss Florida's trade and how growth can be obtained for greater financial diversity. The roundtable included representatives from Latin Chamber of Commerce USA, Colombian American Chamber of Commerce, Embassy of Spain Trade Commission, Enterprise Florida, Florida Foreign Trade Association, Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, Miami Free Zone, Panamanian American Chamber of Commerce, Port of Miami, Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Miami, Taiwan Trade Center Miami, Taiwan Business Association of Florida. I received extremely valuable feedback and am looking forward to my small business roundtable meetings later this summer.
Florida CFO Jeff Atwater announced on Friday that the Department of Financial Services has reached an agreement with Sarasota-based Legendary Journeys, a statewide travel agency, to reimburse nearly $90,000 to dozens of Floridians. An investigation conducted by the department determined that Legendary Journeys sold unauthorized travel insurance offered by Prime Travel Protection to Floridians from 2006 to 2008.
“I commend the dedicated staff who worked tirelessly for the Floridians who thought they were protected by purchasing this product,” said CFO Atwater. “As a result, many Floridians will now be rightfully compensated for the financial losses they suffered as a result of the trust they placed in this company.”
Legendary Journeys was one of 20 travel agencies that sold policies on behalf of Colorado-based Prime Travel Protection Services, Inc.¸ which was never licensed in Florida to sell insurance. This joint investigation was conducted by the divisions of Consumer Services, Rehabilitation and Liquidation, Legal Services, Agent and Agency Services, and Insurance Fraud.
The settlement amount is based on claims previously submitted to the department and determined to be valid.
Travel insurance is a common product offered by travel agencies. Before purchasing this product, consumers should verify that the insurance company providing the travel insurance coverage is licensed in the state of Florida. Travel insurance can protect consumers against costs from unforeseeable circumstances, including trip cancellation, early return and emergency medical needs.
Consumers should also read the fine print before making a purchase, as the policies often contain exclusions for coverage. If the insurer providing travel insurance coverage is not authorized, claims may not be honored.
To verify the licensure of an insurance company or agent, consumers should visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call the Consumer Helpline at 877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236).
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater on Tuesday announced that he has permanently revoked the insurance licenses of John Daniel Mueller, 40, of Sarasota, for an annuity scheme that robbed tens of thousands of dollars from elderly Floridians, following an investigation by the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Agent and Agency Services.
“We must make certain that insurance agents who do business in this state maintain the highest standards in their sales practices. Whether it’s selling annuities or any other products, we have a deep responsibility to protect Floridians—especially our elderly—from deceptive schemes like the one used in this case,” said CFO Atwater.
Mueller was investigated after the department received complaints that he sold unsuitable annuities to several elderly consumers. Mueller would drop in unexpectedly on unprepared elderly consumers and take advantage of their trust by misleading them using false statements or by leaving out important information regarding insurance products.
Between 2002 and 2008, at least five seniors lost more than $50,000 on investments that left them unable to pay needed medical and living expenses. Many of Mueller’s victims shared common traits: they had limited investment experience; were elderly; had limited communication skills due either to a medical condition or being foreign-born; and readily signed their names to voluminous documents, mostly without reading them.
Many also had liquid assets or other annuities before meeting Mueller. As a result, they suffered hefty surrender penalties on the annuities they had held, in many cases only briefly, and were cashing out or exchanging for the annuity products Mueller sold them. They were misled into believing that such losses would be offset by "bonus" payments on the newly purchased annuities. With the information uncovered in the investigation, the department’s Division of Legal Services sought the strictest action by permanently barring him from the insurance industry and ordering him to pay restitution.
Anyone who suspects they may be a victim of annuity fraud should log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call the department’s Consumer Helpline at 850-413-3089 or 1-877-My-FL-CFO (877-693-5236).
In disaster situations, dishonest individuals are ready to take advantage of the misfortunes of others. The elderly are often the most prone to scams and deceitful people. Seniors, in addition to neighbors and friends who have suffered damage from a disaster, should be aware that dishonest individuals may try to take advantage of this vulnerable population. Here are some tips to avoid being scammed:
Many decisions must be made in the aftermath of a disaster which can be confusing and difficult to sort out. Seek the advice of a family member or a trusted friend before making substantial financial decisions. For more tips visit www.myfloridacfo.com.