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My Florida C F O

Dear Fellow Floridians:

Last week, our office announced the arrests of three more individuals following an investigation into a Jacksonville Personal Injury Protection (PIP) fraud scheme. The success of our dedicated and tireless employees to fight fraud and abuse in our state is incredible, yet the fight against insurance fraud remains an ongoing battle.

More than 5,000 insurance fraud arrests have been made since January 2011, an average of 3.8 insurance fraud arrests per day. Among these arrests are nearly 2,000 PIP fraud arrests, meaning we average 1.5 PIP fraud arrests every day.

Anyone who suspects insurance fraud is asked to call 1-800-378-0445. Our department has awarded $349,000 to nearly 60 citizens as part of our Anti-Fraud Reward Program, which rewards individuals up to $25,000 for information that directly leads to an arrest and conviction in an insurance fraud scheme.Fraud and Scamse - Your Guide to Understanding the Scam Artists

Recognizing fraud and scams is the most important step to avoid becoming a victim. Here are a few tips to help you take charge and protect yourself and your loved ones from fraud:

  • Be suspicious of something that sounds too good to be true.
  • Don't pay upfront fees to companies or organizations you are unfamiliar with.
  • Only buy insurance from licensed companies and agents.
  • Don't provide personal or confidential information by email, phone or text to someone you don't trust.
  • Don't post your travel plans online.
  • Do not wire money in response to any threats.

For more information about fraud and consumer protection, visit our website:

Jeff Atwater
Jeff Atwater
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida

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CBS Miami: Record number of tourists visited Florida last spring

Forbes: 10 business leaders all entrepreneurs should follow

Washington Post: Better-paying jobs stage a comeback

CFO Atwater Announces Sentencing for Martin County Man Convicted of Arson

State Fire Marshal BadgeChief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jeff Atwater recently announced that Joseph Edward Haas has been sentenced to 65 years in prison for setting a house fire in 2012 that injured four Martin County firefighters. Haas was convicted last month for attempted manslaughter, arson and arson resulting in injury. He also faces $1.3 million in restitution costs.

"Florida’s firefighters risk their lives for the protection of others, and any action that deliberately puts their lives at risk will not be tolerated," said CFO Atwater. "This conviction is the latest example that arsonists will be held accountable for their life-threatening crimes."

In late December 2012, Martin County Fire Rescue personnel responded to a fire on S.W. Blue Water Way, in Stuart. Four members of the search and rescue team were injured while inside the residence checking for occupants who may have been trapped. A subsequent investigation into the fire conducted by the Florida State Fire Marshal’s Office, Martin County Sheriff’s Office, Martin County Fire Department and the Martin County State Attorney’s Office provided supporting evidence that led to the defendant’s arrest on January 24, 2013.

A circuit court jury required less than one hour to reach a guilty verdict on all counts.

Three Jacksonville Residents Arrested for PIP Fraud

Division of Insurance Fraud BadgeChief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater recently announced the arrests of three Jacksonville residents for personal injury protection (PIP) fraud. Yolanda Vargas, Christian Vargas and Willdelyn Rodriguez are each charged with one count of committing a staged motor vehicle accident and one count of insurance fraud.

"PIP fraud hurts all Floridians by driving up the cost of insurance," said CFO Atwater. "I will not tolerate these harmful acts, and I am proud of our investigators for diligently working to hold these fraudsters accountable."

Investigators are still searching for Felix Vargas who is accused of recruiting the arrested individuals to participate in the PIP scheme. He is believed to be connected to a large scale identity theft ring in New York City as well an IRS scam in which he directed the payment of others’ tax returns to himself.

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 $349,000 to nearly 60 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.

Florida Economic Briefs

Florida’s unemployment rate remains constant while the national rate increases
In July, Florida’s unemployment rate remained constant at 6.2 percent, which is a decrease of 1.1 percent from July of 2013 (7.3 percent). Nationally, the unemployment rate increased from 6.1 percent in June to 6.2 percent in July.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Increased domestic production drives down gas prices in Florida
In Tampa and Orlando, drivers were pleasantly surprised to see gas prices at or below $3.20 on Monday. This is due to an increase in domestic oil production, which has driven down gas prices to historic lows. Additionally, the price of oil declined slightly last week, which could indicate a further decrease in gas prices for the following days.
Source: Gainesville Sun

Florida's Bottom Line - Summer Edition

Florida's Bottom Line - Summer 2014Small businesses are the backbone of Florida’s economy, which is why we are focused on cultivating an environment where they can continue to thrive. Florida is home to 2.3 million small businesses, which constitute nearly 99 percent of our state’s employers. These businesses are truly the heart of Florida’s economic lifeblood, employing one-in-every three working Floridians and creating nearly two-thirds of new private sector jobs statewide.

This edition of Florida’s Bottom Line highlights why Florida’s small businesses must continue to grow, prosper and remain in our state for our economy to thrive. Inside, you will find keen insight from small business experts as well as a wide array of helpful resources for your small business.

Read the latest edition of Florida's Bottom Line here.