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My Florida C F O
Weekly eNewsletter from Florida's Chief Financial Officer

Dear Fellow Floridian:

Floridians across the state work hard for every dollar they earn. If they don’t do their job, they don’t get paid. Businesses also are held to the same standard. If they don’t offer a quality product or service, they will simply lose customers. Unfortunately, government plays by a different set of rules. Government does not “earn” revenue; it borrows out of your pocket to provide the public with services. This is done under the pretense that government is spending your money wisely, but this can’t be left to chance.Florida's Bottom Line

Government must be transparent and offer convincing proof that it is up to the task. It’s your money, and you have a right to know how every penny of it is spent. To make this a reality, the public must have access to government records, especially concerning expenditures. In the past, this would require sifting through mountains of paper. Technology has revolutionized government accountability by enabling the public to have unprecedented and easier access to government data. But we can always do better, and we continue to update our systems to make government more easily accessible.

In this quarter’s edition of Florida’s Bottom Line, we focus on government transparency and how the leaders elected to serve you are putting measures in place to make government more accountable to its people. Additionally, you will find information about ongoing efforts to continue making government in Florida more open and ethical. This includes articles from Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, who discuss their top priorities as we enter the second half of the 2013 Legislative Session.

Making government transparent is not an option; it’s a responsibility. I hope this issue of Florida’s Bottom Line equips you with the resources to be a part of this mission.

Jeff Atwater
Jeff Atwater
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida

Consumer Awareness Week Brings New Educational Resources for Consumers

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is urging Florida consumers to take advantage of new financial education resources in his online OnDemand Library in honor of Consumer Awareness Week, which begins Sunday and continues through April 20.

The library, available on the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Consumer Services’ web page, offers short educational videos to give consumers the opportunity to educate themselves on a variety of insurance and financial topics. A new business identity theft video will help small business owners avoid becoming victims of this growing fraud.

“In the fast pace of running a business, it is easy for owners to overlook procedures that could protect them from becoming a victim of business identity theft,” CFO Atwater said. “The damage from this crime can be devastating. During Consumer Awareness Week, I renew my promise to provide individuals and businesses in Florida with resources to arm themselves with solid financial information to combat fraud and protect their hard earned dollars.”

The OnDemand Library includes presentations on insurance and financial topics such as homeowners insurance, annuities, credit scoring, reverse mortgages and more. In addition to business identity theft, presentations about On Guard for Seniorsunclaimed property and workers’ compensation have been added to the library as part of Consumer Awareness Week.

The On Demand Library is just one of many resources the department offers. Other resources include the Your Money Matters website that provides financial education to all Floridians with online resources, financial calculators and interactive games to increase financial knowledge. On Guard for Seniors focuses Financial Frontlineson insurance and financial issues specifically for seniors, and Financial Frontlines provides resources for the unique financial needs of military servicemembers to help them fight back against fraud and debt.

For additional assistance, contact the Consumer Helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO or 1-877-693-5236.

News of Interest

Sunshine State News: Florida Realtors: Every Home Purchase = $60,000 for Economy

Bloomberg: Rising U.S. Home Prices May Shrink FHA Shortfall

Tampa Bay Times: In Florida, a new day for business schools

Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Is 2013 the year of the office condominium?

Wall Street Journal: Housing Prices Are on a Tear, Thanks to the Fed

South Florida Business Journal: South Florida wage growth remains on upward trend   

Scammer Convicted for Insurance Fraud

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi announced the conviction of former insurance agent Neal Seth Smalbach, 50, of Palm Harbor, for grand theft in misrepresenting details of financial products to more than 30 senior clients who suffered losses of more than $2 million in unsuitable financial investments.

“This is a great victory in the fight to protect seniors from financial crimes,” said CFO Atwater. “I applaud the fraud investigators, prosecutors, and all those involved in bringing this criminal to justice. This case sends a clear message that if you prey on seniors or anyone who is vulnerable in Florida, you will be put behind bars.”

DFS Fraud badge

“We put this criminal behind bars by working together, and we were able to obtain restitution for consumers who were affected by these shady deals,” stated Attorney General Pam Bondi. “Smalbach profited from knowingly misguiding elderly investors into making risky investments they did not qualify for, and these dishonest business practices will not be tolerated.”

An investigation by the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud revealed that Smalbach misrepresented factual details of investment products to multiple senior citizens for personal gain. As a result of Smalbach’s misrepresentations, an estimated $4.6 million was invested by seniors in products that were unsuitable for them.

The Division of Agent and Agency Services also conducted anAgent and Agency badge investigation and found that Smalbach falsified two applications for insurance. As a result, Smalbach agreed to surrender his insurance licenses, permanently banning him from the insurance industry.

The Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Office of Statewide Prosecution prosecuted the case on behalf of the senior victims. As a result, Smalbach was sentenced to seven years in prison followed by 10 years’ probation and was ordered to pay full restitution to the victims.

CFO Atwater encourages seniors to visit the On Guard for SeniorsOn Guard for Seniors website, www.MyFloridaCFO.com/OnGuard, for great tips and resources designed to help seniors navigate through challenging financial decisions and avoid financial fraud. For additional information, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call the department’s Consumer Helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).

Anyone with information of suspected insurance fraud is asked to call 1-800-378-0445. Citizens who provide tips can remain anonymous. The Department of Financial Services to date has awarded almost $275,000 to more than 40 citizens as part of its Anti-Fraud Reward Program. The program rewards individuals up to $25,000 for information that directly leads to an arrest and conviction in an insurance fraud scheme.

Legislative Agenda

SB 464 by Senator Flores and HB 263 by Representative Mayfield

Unclaimed Property Electronic Claims Process: authorizes the Department of Financial Services to adopt rules that allow an apparent owner of unclaimed property to submit a claim to the department electronically.

  • SB 464–Passed Senate April 10; will be messaged to House
  • HB 263–Passed favorably by all committees of reference; placed on House Calendar, available for Special Order

SB 422 by Senator Benacquisto and HB 301 by Representative Mayfield

The Cancer Treatment Fairness Act: requires that an individual or group insurance policy or contract or a health maintenance contract that provides coverage for cancer treatment medications provide coverage for orally administered cancer treatment medications on a basis no less favorable than that required by the policy or contract for intravenously administered or injected cancer treatment medications. The legislation also prohibits insurers, health maintenance organizations, and certain other entities from engaging in specified actions to avoid compliance with this act.

  • SB 422–Passed Senate April 4; in messages to House
  • HB 301–Now in House Health & Human Services Committee (last committee stop)

SB 860 by Senator Galvano and HB 553 by Representative Hager

Workers' Comp Regulatory Reform: revises the duties of state agencies covered by the state risk management program with respect to funding costs for employees entitled to workers’ compensation benefits; revises immunity from liability standards for employers and employees using a help supply services company; revises and deletes penalties for noncompliance relating to duty of employer upon receipt of notice of injury or death; and deletes a requirement that a provision that is mutually agreed upon in any collective bargaining agreement be filed with the Department of Financial Services.

  • SB 860–On Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee agenda for April 16
  • HB 553–Passed favorably by all committees of reference; placed on House Calendar, available for Special Order

SB 1410 by Senator Simmons and HB 883 by Representative Boyd

State Fire Marshal Regulatory Reform: Fire Safety and Prevention; revising and clarifying provisions relating to the authority of the State Fire Marshal.

  • SB 1410–On Senate Criminal Justice Committee agenda for April 15
  • HB 883–Passed favorably by all committees of reference; placed on House Calendar, available for Special Order

Got an Insurance Claims Story to Share?

Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate and the Division of Consumer Services invite you to an Insurance Consumer Forum to share your experiences and voice your concerns with the homeowners insurance claim handling process in Florida. Insurance Consumer Forums

Both the Insurance Consumer Advocate’s office and the Division of Consumer Services work with consumers daily, via Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater’s toll-free Helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236), to find solutions to insurance claim issues. Policyholders’ testimony gathered during the workshops will be used to push for improvements to the insurance claim handling process.

For more information please visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com/Division/Consumers , call 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236)or visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com/ICA.

Printable Forum Flyer

Forums scheduled in April and May:

APRIL23Pensacola 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Pensacola Association of Realtors
107 W. Main Street Pensacola, FL 32502

MAY22WEST PALM BEACH 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches
3200 N Military Trail, Suite 102, Boca Raton, FL 33431

MAY22FT. LAUDERDALE/BROWARD 6:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors East
1765 NE 26th Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33305

MAY23MIAMI/DADE 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
Miami Association of Realtors®
700 S. Royal Poinciana Blvd, Suite 400, Miami, FL 33166

MAY23FT. MYERS 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Realtor® Assn. of Greater Ft. Myers and the Beach
4081 Center Pointe Dr, Ft. Myers, FL 33916