Consumer eViews
FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 1, Number 32, August 9, 2004             

They say the two most important things we will do in life are the very things we don’t learn much about in school—how to be a parent and how to manage money. 

According to a recent Mason-Dixon poll, many Floridians don’t know how to manage their finances.  More than half of Floridians are not setting anything aside in case of emergencies.   

Personal financial decisions are always an individual’s personal responsibility, but people need information to make good decisions. Last week, the Department of Financial Services and numerous partners in the financial industry launched a new public education campaign titled Your Money, Your Life.  The campaign offers Floridians access to quality information on a wide-range of financial topics at www.yourmoneyyourlife.org, with details about choices, benefits and pitfalls in easy-to-understand language.   

The story below offers more information about the campaign and the survey. 

The key to financial security is knowledge.  That’s what Your Money, Your Life is all about—putting that key within reach of every Floridian.

                                                                    -- Tom Gallagher


GALLAGHER, INDUSTRY PARTNERS LAUNCH STATEWIDE FINANCIAL EDUCATION INITIATIVE

New survey shows many Floridians struggle with debt, save too late

Most Floridians are financially conservative, but a significant number put themselves at financial risk by waiting too late to save, running up debt and other practices, a new statewide survey shows.  Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher said the survey underscores the need for a comprehensive financial education effort aimed at all ages and incomes.

“This survey shows there is a great unmet need among Floridians for clear information on how to manage money, save and avoid debt,” CFO Gallagher said, in launching “Your Money, Your Life,” a statewide public education initiative formed in cooperation with financial industry groups and the Allstate Foundation.

The Your Money, Your Life initiative is being privately funded by the Allstate Foundation with support from the Florida Department of Financial Services, Florida Council on Economic Education, Florida Insurance Council, Florida Bankers Association and the Florida Credit Union League.  The initiative includes public outreach, a media campaign, and one of the most comprehensive Web sites on personal financial matters yet created for Floridians, www.yourmoneyyourlife.org

Also joining Gallagher at the press conference today was Christina Nelson, a senior attending Florida State University, who said that she often goes on-line to gather information before making major purchases or for financial advice.  Nelson applauded the CFO for promoting access to information that she believes will help her and her friends make better financial decisions.

Among the findings of the survey, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, are:

    About one in five Floridians has suffered a financial crisis due to job loss, divorce or illness, yet most say they don’t contribute regularly to an emergency reserve fund.

    The number one money concern of Floridians is having enough money to retire, yet one in four puts nothing aside for retirement each month and an equal number waits until their 40s or 50s to begin saving for retirement.

    Less than half of those under 35 invest.

    Only 44 percent of those with children have started saving for college.

    More than a third of Floridians under age 50 say they are “living from paycheck to paycheck.”

    76 percent have started no new investments this year, and 78 percent have not added significantly to existing investments.

Lower income Floridians face particular challenges.  Of Floridians earning less than $25,000, one in five has filed for bankruptcy. As a group, they are half as likely to invest at all as those earning $50,000 or more, and they are more likely to have suffered a financial crisis due to job loss, injury or medical expenses.  Yet, three of four Floridians earning less than $25,000 fail to set aside money in an emergency reserve fund.

For that reason, Gallagher said the Your Money, Your Life website can specifically be of help to lower income Floridians in need of information on how to stretch limited budgets, avoid debt and build assets, including savings and home ownership.

“Floridians who struggle to get by financially need the most help,” Gallagher said.  “We need to make a special effort to arm lower-income Floridians with smart strategies to lower their taxes and expenses in ways that let them grow savings, avoid spiraling debt, and move toward home ownership.”

Debt is a problem for many Floridians, according to the survey.  One in four Floridians reports more debt than savings.  One in three carries credit card debt forward from month to month and reports credit card debt of more than $5,000.  The only thing most Floridians own debt free is a car, a depreciating asset.

At the same time, the survey shows that one in three Floridians has less than $5,000 in savings, and one in five has less than $2,000 saved.

“More than 80 percent of Floridians hold credit cards and many report having as many as two to 10 cards, with debts of between $2,000 and $20,000,” observed Bethany H. Corum, executive vice president of the Florida Bankers Association.  “One of our chief aims through Your Money, Your Life is to encourage people to spend responsibly and avoid getting in over their heads.”

Gallagher said the Your Money, Your Life Web site will be helpful to retirees, families with children, workers and students, providing information on everything from the benefits of beginning to save money while you are young to tips on home buying, investments and insurance.  The site, in both English and Spanish, features eight custom-built calculators to help individuals figure such things as loan repayment schedules or determine their personal investing styles and whether they’re saving enough money for retirement.

He said the initiative also helps reinforce the basics of money management, such as closely checking credit card bills and bank statements.  The survey found that while nearly all Floridians say they review their credit card statements, one in 10 does not review his or her monthly bank statement.

“Armed with information, Floridians can do more with their money at every age and income level,” said Ryan Priest of the Allstate Foundation.  “We are proud to sponsor this initiative to help fill a critical void and help Floridians make the best decisions on the money matters that most affect their lives.”

The Mason-Dixon survey also found that interests run high statewide in providing Florida’s young with a solid education in personal finances.  Nearly 90 percent of Floridians believe schools should make teaching financial management skills a required part of the curriculum.

“I know this is an especially important, long-standing issue to the CFO and it’s certainly important to us,” said Jennifer Thomas, vice president of the Florida Council on Economic Education. “The Florida Council on Economic Education has been actively working with the Florida Department of Financial Services to develop classroom experiences that help students across the spectrum develop these skills.”

“The Your Money, Your Life initiative dovetails with those school room efforts and, just as importantly, gives families of students a way to get involved,” said Gallagher.   Gallagher also said that department staff across the state will be joining the Council in doing presentations  in many public schools to help teach basic financial management skills to Florida students. 
The Your Money, Your Life survey of adult Floridians was conducted June 15-17 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. and can be viewed in its entirety at www.yourmoneyyourlife.org.  


CFO GALLAGHER RENEWS WARNING:  FLORIDIANS MUST BE VIGILANT AGAINST BOGUS INSURANCE OFFERS

Man arrested for luring pregnant women to buy fraudulent insurance

At least 150 pregnant women were lured into buying bogus health insurance by a man not even licensed to sell insurance, prompting Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher to issue a renewed warning to Floridians to be vigilant against unauthorized insurance scams.

“Before buying any insurance product, it is absolutely critical that consumers verify that both the agent and the product are licensed,” Gallagher said.  “Unauthorized insurance scams are spreading into every line of coverage, and due diligence is the only line of defense.”
Gallagher oversees the Florida Department of Financial Services, which since February 2001 has shut down more than 200 unauthorized entities, marketers, third-party administrators and agents selling fake insurance in Florida.  The most recent action came late last week when investigators with the department’s Division of Insurance Fraud arrested Angel Alcedes Golindano, 39, of Orlando, on numerous felony charges for his role in a three-year insurance fraud scheme that targeted pregnant women.

Golindano lured the women into the scheme through magazine advertisements and booths at health fairs, investigators said.  Typically, the women paid $1,200 up front and an average of $2,000 during the pregnancy.  It was understood that the policy would expire upon the birth of the child.

Investigators said Golindano never purchased real coverage for the women.  Instead, he altered their insurance applications to make it appear that they were employees of one of two shell companies he operated.  The women were then placed on a group health policy, allegedly obtained through fraudulent means, purchased for the shell companies.  Av-Med Inc. paid out nearly $900,000 on claims Golindano filed totaling more than $2.3 million.  Investigators believe Golindano pocketed as much as $80,000 he collected from fees the women paid.
Golindano is charged with two counts of grand theft, two counts of insurance fraud and one count of organized scheme to defraud.   If convicted on all counts, he could face as many as 10 years in prison.  He currently remains in the Orange County Jail awaiting extradition to Miami-Dade County, where he allegedly conducted the scheme from February 1999 to June 2002. 

The women, almost all from South Florida, told investigators they did not know they were being listed as employees and that they had contacted Golindano because they were unemployed and in need of coverage to cover their pregnancies. 

The Division of Insurance Fraud was assisted in the investigation by the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office, Economic Crimes Unit, and Av-Med’s Special Investigative Unit.

As part of Gallagher’s ongoing efforts to stop the proliferation of unauthorized insurance activities, he has filed administrative actions against the licenses of nearly 100 agents, who are being ordered to pay unpaid claims or lose their licenses.  Most are agreeing to pay the unpaid claims and serve a probationary period.

Anyone who believes they have purchased unauthorized insurance should visit the department’s web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com, where all actions against entities or agents are posted, or call the department’s toll-free consumer helpline at 1-800-342-2762. 


STATE FIRE MARSHAL GALLAGHER, COMMISSIONER HORNE APPLAUD ORANGE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS

School district selected to participate in national Safe and Secure Schools Project

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher joined Education Commissioner Jim Horne today to congratulate Orange County Public Schools for being selected to participate in the Safe and Secure Schools Project by the National Association of State Fire Marshals.

As one of only 20 participants in the program, Orange County Public Schools will test and refine analytical tools that could help schools assess, prioritize and then manage potential fire and safety risks that exist, at some level, in all school buildings.   Orange County Public Schools has 158,000 students and 9,000 teachers.

“When parents drop their children off at school,” Gallagher said, “they should be comfortable knowing they are being left in the hands of staff who care about them and their safety. The Orange County school district has taken great steps to ensure its schools are safe and in compliance with fire safety codes.”

“Developing a safe learning environment for our children must be a top priority,” Commissioner Horne said. “When students feel safe in school they can focus their attention on education. Orange County has shown the needed commitment to safety and security, developing an atmosphere that fosters learning.”

The Department of Education (DOE) continues its efforts to develop a safer school environment.  Through the K-20 Education Safety Partnership, DOE puts a focus on maintaining safety and security on all of Florida’s school campuses, so teachers, school administrators and students can continue putting individual instruction and student achievement at the forefront of a quality education.

In the fall, the State Fire Marshal’s Office will release its second annual report summarizing the findings of school fire code inspections reported by Florida’s school districts. 

For more information on the Safe and Secure Schools Project, please visit www.safesecureschools.org.  To see last year’s school inspection summary report, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com/sfm


SECOND AGENT WITH BECK INSURANCE AGENCY SUSPENDED FOR AIDING AND ABETTING UNLICENSED INSURANCE SALES AND “SLIDING”

In another case involving the John Beck Insurance agency in Jacksonville, the Florida Department of Financial Services has suspended the insurance license of Anna Mack, for aiding and abetting an unlicensed person in the sale of insurance and for selling an insurance customer a non-insurance product without the customer’s informed consent, known as "sliding."

“Insurance agents who sell coverage without a license or sell coverage from an unlicensed insurance company jeopardize their customers’ insurance,” said Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who oversees the department.  “We will hold these agents accountable for their actions, to protect Florida’s consumers.”

Investigators obtained evidence that Mack, 34, 8726 Atlantic Blvd., allowed an unlicensed employee of the insurance agency to transact insurance business with a customer.  The investigation also revealed that a customer was tricked into unknowingly purchasing a product besides the insurance policy, in this case a “towing and rental contract,” at an additional charge.  This offense, known as “sliding,” is considered an unfair and deceptive business practice.  Mack was also found to have sold products outside the scope of her license authority.

Based on this investigation, the department filed an administrative complaint, and administrative hearings were held in February and March of 2004.  Following the proceedings, the department suspended the insurance license of Mack for one year, followed by a two-year probation.

For more than three years, the department has conducted a statewide public education campaign urging Floridians to verify that they are dealing with a licensed insurance agent and company.  Consumers can call the department’s toll-free consumer helpline at 1-800-342-2762 to “Verify Before You Buy.”


Florida Department of Financial Services
Consumer Services HelpLine
(800)342-2762.