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CFO Sink Bans Insurance Agent for Exploiting Elderly Jewish Florida Consumers

6/6/2007

CONTACT:  Nina Banister or Brannon Jordan
850) 413-2842   
 
DELRAY BEACH–Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has revoked the license of a south Florida agent and permanently banned him from the insurance business in Florida for using his insurance license to exploit elderly Jewish Floridians.
 
Leighton David Applefeld, 66, owned and operated Focus Financial Services, Inc. in Delray Beach.  In February, the Department of Financial Services filed an 18-count administrative complaint
against Applefeld alleging, among other things, that he preyed on elderly Jewish consumers, through religious affinity, to engender their trust and sell them inappropriate insurance products that paid high commissions.  In lieu of fighting the administrative charges against him, Applefeld agreed to the revocation of his insurance license, and further agreed to be permanently banned from the insurance business in Florida. 
 
“It is morally reprehensible to use religion to prey upon Floridians who are merely looking for a safe place to keep their finances,” said CFO Sink who heads the department.  “I will use every measure under the law to protect our citizens from financial harm.”
 
Applefeld conducted seminars at local restaurants, Jewish centers, and various other locations throughout Broward and Palm Beach and misrepresented the annuity products he sold.  In many cases, Applefeld was able to convince clients to surrender or withdraw from their in-force annuities or investments to fund new deferred annuity contracts, resulting in thousands of dollars of unnecessary surrender charges and additional penalties that he didn’t explain to his elderly clients. In most cases, Applefeld’s clients didn’t realize the financial harm they suffered until it was too late.
 
In one instance, Applefeld convinced an elderly Jewish couple to give him checks totaling $180,000 to invest.  Applefeld instructed the couple to make the checks payable to his Delray Beach business name rather than an insurance company, but he never invested the funds on behalf of his clients once the money was deposited into his business account. 
 
CFO Sink urges Florida seniors to take the following precautions to avoid becoming victims of financial scams:
 
• Assess your financial means and investment objectives prior to purchasing any investment.
• Ask the sales agent about the licenses and/or designations he or she holds, and what types of investment choices he or she can offer you.
• Ask about commissions, fees, penalties, surrender charges and any other associated costs. Get the figures in writing.
• Always request a comparative analysis in writing between your in-force investment and any new investment.
• Before you surrender any in-force investment to purchase a new product, call the company to find out if you will suffer a surrender charge, and if so, how much it will be. You may discover that the cost of a transfer outweighs any benefit of a new product.
• Beware of "bonus" interest rates, as they are usually limited in duration and have strings attached.
• Be cautious of sales pitches that claim you will "recoup" all penalties with the higher returns of a new policy.
• Ask questions and take notes.  Walk away if an agent doesn’t answer your questions.
• Don’t let your guard down simply because an agent is a member of the same religious, ethnic, cultural, or professional group. It’s only human nature to trust people who are like you, and religious or ethnic identity is a common source for affinity fraud.
• Take your time. High-pressure sales tactics will rush you into an unwise decision. A sound investment will be just as good tomorrow or next week.
• Document all transactions.
• Never agree to make a check payable directly to an agent.
• Carefully read and understand documents before you sign them. Don’t sign any blank or incomplete form.
• Remember:  if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
 
To check on the status of an agent’s license or to file a complaint against an agent, call 1-800-342-2762 or log on to www.fldfs.com.
 
As a statewide elected officer of the Florida Cabinet, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink oversees the Department of Financial Services, a multi-division state agency responsible for management of state funds and unclaimed property, assisting consumers who request information and help related to financial services, and investigating financial fraud. Sink also serves as the State Fire Marshal.