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

Dear Fellow Floridian:

Everyone knows the holiday season is a great time to express to family and friends how much we value them through the act of gift-giving. But did you know that you may have a something for yourself still waiting to be discovered, or at least re-discovered? Florida's Bureau of Unclaimed Property has more than $1 billion worth of items and money waiting to be returned to their rightful owners.

By the end of this year, our Bureau of Unclaimed Property will have returned another new record amount of unclaimed property, totaling more than $220 million. Every year I have been Chief Financial Officer, we have set a new record for returning unclaimed property. But there is still more unclaimed property that I want to return to you. In addition to money and securities, unclaimed property includes tangible items such as watches, jewelry, coins, currency, stamps, historical objects and other miscellaneous articles from abandoned safe Unclaimed Propertydeposit boxes.

To search for your unclaimed property, go to www.fltreasurehunt.org. Simply type in your name and we’ll tell you if you have something waiting to be returned. If so, the necessary forms are available right on the website, making it easy to reclaim what’s yours. I encourage all Floridians to visit the website. You never know what you’ll find.

In the future, to protect your financial accounts and assets from becoming unclaimed, there are a few simple steps you can take. Always keep track of account information and remember to promptly report address or marital changes. Maintain adequate records of financial assets and promptly respond to all correspondence.

Here in Florida, unclaimed money is deposited into the state school fund, where it is used for public education. There is, however, no statute of limitations, and you have the right to claim your property any time and at no cost.

Don’t wait any longer to reclaim what’s yours. Find out if you have something still waiting to be discovered today. I want to return every last dollar to its rightful owner.

Jeff Atwater
Jeff Atwater
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida

News of Interest

Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Florida posts largest job gain of year in November

Sun-Sentinel: Office Depot picks Florida over Illinois for new headquarters

Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Tourism leaders use wintry weather to pitch Florida

North Central Florida Business Report: Four Keys to Using Social Media to Grow Your Business

Florida Times-Union: Jacksonville building permits hit post-recession high

Sun-Sentinel: Higher home prices lift spirits of 'underwater' borrowers

Associated Press: Florida Economists Predicting Growth Over the Next Few Years

News Service of Florida: State budget surplus could top $1 billion

Gainesville Sun: Manufacturing is returning from overseas, local group told

Undercover Investigation Leads to Nine Arrests for Workers' Compensation Fraud

CFO Jeff Atwater recently announced the arrests of nine men as a result of a two-day undercover operation in Manatee County focusing on unlicensed contractors that failed to provide workers’ compensation insurance, which, in the case of a workplace injury, can result in lost income, a heavy financial burden and inadequate medical coverage for their employees. The operation was conducted by the Florida Department of Financial Services’ (DFS) Division of Insurance Fraud and Bureau of Compliance, in concert with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), Manatee County Sheriff’s office, Bradenton and Holmes Beach Police departments and the Manatee County State Attorney’s Office. Division of Insurance Fraud

“This activity displays a blatant disregard for worker safety, and I commend this joint effort,” said CFO Jeff Atwater. “We will continue working to protect the integrity of the construction industry in Florida and make sure these fraudsters can’t put more Floridians at risk.”

As part of routine efforts to combat unlicensed activity throughout the state, investigators with the Division of Insurance Fraud and DBPR routinely monitor Internet sites, such as Craigslist and Angie’s List, to locate unlicensed scam artists. In order to protect the people of Florida from the harmful consequences of these fraudsters, investigators check advertised businesses for licensure and insurance requirements.

Upon learning that several businesses within Manatee County failed to hold adequate workers’ compensation coverage, DFS began an investigation in partnership with DBPR and local law enforcement, which concluded that these same individuals were operating without being adequately licensed. Undercover law enforcement agents arranged a meeting with the alleged unlicensed workers at a local home to obtain an estimate for construction work, and upon securing a quote, the arrests were made. Multiple subjects were arrested and now face both workers' compensation fraud and unlicensed contracting charges.

Unlicensed activity occurs when an individual offers to perform or performs services that require a state license and the individual does not hold the required license. Florida law sets specific rules and guidelines for obtaining professional licensure, and the people who have met these requirements are held to professional standards. If convicted, they face up to five years prison time for each workers’ compensation charge, and an additional one year for a first time unlicensed contractor charge; five years if a repeat offender.

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 $342,000 to more than 50 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.

Consumers can verify professional licenses online at www.myfloridalicense.com. Additionally, Floridians should report any suspected unlicensed activity by emailing ULA@myfloridalicense.com or calling the Unlicensed Activity Hotline at 1-866-532-1440.

Florida Announces a $12.6 Million Multi-State, Multi-Agency Life Claim Settlement Agreement with Lincoln

A $12.6 million life claim settlement agreement has been reached with Lincoln National Life Insurance Company, Lincoln Life and Annuity Company of New York and First Penn Pacific Life Insurance Company (collectively referred to as “Lincoln”).

Lincoln is one of the top five life insurers in the United States and represents approximately 4.4 percent of the overall life and annuity market. The settlement agreement with Lincoln and other similar insurers focuses primarily on the asymmetrical use of the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (DMF) to cease making annuity payments, but not to search for beneficiaries of a life insurance policy who may be due benefits.

Lincoln has agreed to implement business reforms correcting this practice and to make a multi-million dollar payment, which will be disbursed among the participating states. Florida’s allocation of the $12.6 million payment is expected to be more than $1 million.

The multi-state examination was conducted by Florida, California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania (managing lead state). Along with these states, the agreement includes the Florida Department of Financial Services (DFS), the Florida Office of the Attorney General (AG), and the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (Office).

“I am very pleased with the success we are having in making sure companies who conduct business in Florida are held accountable for providing what is owed to their customers,” said CFO Jeff Atwater. “This settlement agreement is a win for the people of Florida.”

Established in 2011, the multistate examination process of the top 40 life and annuity insurers in the United States is guided and coordinated by the NAIC Life/Annuities Claim Settlement Practices Task Force, which is chaired by Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty.

For more information, visit the Office’s Life Claims Settlement Practices website page. To search or submit a request for unclaimed property, visit www.FLTreasureHunt.org, or call 1-88-VALUABLE or (850) 413-3089.

Florida Cabinet Selects Bruce Meeks as the First Citizens Property Insurance Inspector General

This week, the Florida Cabinet selected Bruce Meeks as Inspector General of Citizens Property Insurance. Meeks, of Tallahassee, is currently a partner at the law firm of Robert and Meeks. He previously served as the inspector general for the State Board of Administration from 2002-2010. Meeks also served in the Florida Attorney General’s office as the Deputy Executive Attorney General from 1998-2002, and as personnel director for the Office of Attorney General from 1995-1998.

“The appointment of Bruce Meeks is a great step towards ensuring that the management and employees of Citizens are held to the highest ethical standards and operate in full transparency,” said CFO Atwater. “I am confident he will be a catalyst for greater accountability, integrity and efficiency.”

On behalf of the Governor and members of the Financial Services Commission, the nationwide search for Citizens’ Inspector General was coordinated by a Selection Committee consisting of the Governor’s Chief Inspector General, the Inspector General from Chief Financial Officer Atwater’s Office and the Inspector General from the Office of Insurance Regulation.

Florida Economic Briefs

Florida’s foreclosure activity slows in November
According to Realty Trac, new foreclosure activity in Florida slowed last month, led by fewer homes going into pre-foreclosure and auction sales. Foreclosure activity was concentrated in Flagler, Duval, Miami-Dade, and Osceola counties which lead the state for their relatively high shares of high foreclosure activity in November.

Source: Realty Trac

Small business optimism rises slightly
U.S. small business optimism edged higher in November - reversing an October drop - as manufacturers and professional services, including architects, doctors and lawyers, led modest gains in newly created jobs. Small-business employment is better at the end of this year than last year; however, uncertainty remains as small business owners anticipate increased taxes, regulations, and healthcare costs.

Source: National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB)

Florida's Bottom Line on Innovative Florida - Aerospace and AviationInside the latest issue of Florida's Bottom Line, you’ll find expert commentary on Florida’s efforts to create and lead the next generation of innovation in the aerospace and aviation industry. It will be the continued commitment and creativity of Floridians who will make our state a global leader for innovation and economic prosperity in the 21st century. Florida's Bottom Line should help equip you with the resources to be a part of this mission.