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

Volume 1, Number 33, August 16, 2004             

SPECIAL HURRICANE EDITION


As federal, state and local officials begin to get a handle on the extent of damages from Hurricane Charley, we have deployed our Mobile Response Unit to assist Floridians in filing insurance claims and quickly resolving insurance problems.
 
Although our first priority is to continue search and rescue efforts, we will quickly focus on ensuring a prompt response from insurance companies and adjusters so that Floridians can begin the rebuilding process.
 
Our storm hotline continues to be available at 1-800-22-STORM (1-800-227-8676).  Below are claims reporting contact telephone numbers for the state’s 20 largest insurance companies. 
 
In addition, if you believe you may be the victim of a scam or if you have been contacted by an unlicensed adjuster, click on the link below to report it to an insurance fraud investigator.
 
 
 

Our thoughts and prayers are with the storm victims and the dedicated professionals and volunteers helping in this time of need. 

                                      -- Tom Gallagher


GALLAGHER DEPLOYS MOBILE RESPONSE UNIT TO HELP FLORIDIANS GET INSURANCE CLAIMS PROCESS UNDER WAY

As federal, state and local officials begin to get a handle on the extent of damages from Hurricane Charley, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher has deployed the Department of Financial Services’ Mobile Response Unit to southwest Florida to assist Floridians in filing insurance claims and quickly resolving insurance problems.

 “Thousands of Floridians have suffered tremendous losses, and now we are beginning to start on the road to recovery,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services.  “Volunteers from across the state are helping out with immediate needs.   Local and national support organizations, including the Red Cross and FEMA, are coming together to ensure food, water and shelter are available.  It’s now our job to make sure insurance claims are paid quickly and that no one takes advantage of storm victims.”

The department’s Mobile Response Unit will be arriving in Port Charlotte at approximately 5 p.m. today, August 15, and will begin canvassing damaged areas.  It will center operations at 24123 Peachland Blvd., Port Charlotte, which may be relocated to additional affected areas as needed.  Available on the mobile unit are cellular phones, computers and other information resources to allow staff to assist victims immediately, in their communities.  Using the “E-Storm” system, the state’s electronic complaint reporting system, consumers will also be able to receive immediate assistance from their insurance companies in resolving problems.   The unit will also help insurance agents and adjusters locate policyholders. 

Since Hurricane Charley made landfall on Friday, the department has fielded 3,000 calls from affected consumers.  Frequently asked questions include consumers searching for claims reporting phone numbers, assistance in obtaining basic necessities and debris removal.  The department also has heard from many Floridians who have uninsured property loss.  For those consumers, the department has forwarded requests to FEMA, at 1-800-621-3362, which can assist uninsured residents with immediate shelter needs and also in the rebuilding process.

Early estimates of damage place insured residential property damage at $5 to 11 billion, not including auto or commercial properties, or flood damages.  A more precise estimate of damage is expected from the Insurance Information Institute by Tuesday, August 17.

Gallagher further advises affected Floridians to take the following actions: 

    Make emergency repairs to protect from further damage, document the damage and repairs in writing, and with receipts and photos.

    Maintain copies of your household inventory and other documentation, including photos.  This will assist the adjuster in assessing the value of the destroyed property.

    Beware of fly-by-night repair businesses. Hire licensed and reputable service people.

    If considering the assistance of a public insurance adjuster, verify that they are licensed by calling the department’s toll-free storm hotline at 1-800-22-STORM.

    Be sure you understand how much a public insurance adjuster is charging and what services are included before signing any contract.

    If you need to cash a check and go to a check casher, remember they can't charge more than 10 percent of the check amount plus a $5 fee.

Informational flyers are also being distributed to storm victims.  A copy of the flyer, in English and Spanish is available by clicking the link Hurricane Charley Flyer. 

Consumers who are approached by an unlicensed agent or adjuster or have been the victim of an insurance fraud scam can also file a complaint on line or by calling the storm hotline.

Fraud complaints received online at Report Insurance Fraud can be sent directly to the appropriate field office within five minutes.  

Consumers can call the disaster hotline at 1-800-22-STORM (1-800-227-8676) and find additional resources on the department’s website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


GALLAGHER ACTIVATES NEW ONLINE SYSTEM TO EXPEDITE PAYMENT OF CLAIMS FOLLOWING CHARLEY

As local, state and federal officials and volunteer organizations prepare to assist residents affected by Hurricane Charley, the Department of Financial Services is gearing up to quickly help thousands of Floridians who will need assistance in filing insurance claims, Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher said today.

According to Gallagher, the department will activate its new “E-Storm” system as it receives questions and complaints from consumers.  “E-Storm” will automatically link up with participating insurance companies to ensure consumers receive immediate assistance.

“Charley will be devastating to thousands of Florida families.  We are here to help them pick up the pieces and start the rebuilding process,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services.  “With E-Storm, we’ll be able to serve consumers faster and get companies to quickly resolve questions and complaints.”

“E-Storm” is an electronic reporting system in which consumer questions and requests-for-assistance are input into a state database, which is connected to customer-service offices for several insurance companies, including State Farm, Nationwide, Citizens, USAA, Allstate, Tower Hill, Liberty Mutual, Farm Bureau and Sunshine State.  Additional insurance companies are expected to participate within the next several days.

According to Gallagher, the department will keep its storm line, 1-800-22-STORM, operating to assist Floridians.  Information is also available on the DFS web site, www.MyFloridaCFO.com on storm preparation and the claims reporting contact numbers for the state’s twenty largest homeowners insurance companies.


GALLAGHER REMINDS FLORIDIANS TO STAY
READY FOR POSSIBLE HURRICANE STRIKES AS NEW STORMS FORM

 

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher wants Florida residents to have their hurricane supplies and escape plans in order before the next storm threatens.

 

“Preparedness is the best defense - both for a storm and the aftermath that could lure unlicensed adjusters and scam artists,” said Gallagher, who also oversees the Department of Financial Services. “It is unfortunate, but there are individuals who will try to take advantage of other people’s misfortune. Residents should be wary of certain offers for assistance, especially if cash is demanded.”

 

The National Weather Service/National Hurricane Center reported this morning that Tropical Storm Earl has degenerated into an open tropical wave located in the central Caribbean Sea. Maximum sustained winds are near 45 miles per hour. No more advisories will be issued on Earl unless regeneration occurs.

 

Hurricane Danielle is maintaining strength at 105 miles per hour and is no immediate threat to land, located 915 miles west-northwest of the Cape Verde Islands. The storm is moving to the northwest at 17 miles per hour with a gradual turn to the north predicted.

 

Gallagher suggests these storm preparation tips: 

    Be sure you know what your deductible is for hurricane losses.  Most policies now have a hurricane deductible of two to five percent of a home’s insured value.  If your property is damaged, you will be responsible for a portion of the repair costs.

    Inventory your household items, including receipts, purchase dates and serial numbers.  Photograph or videotape your possessions.  Keep copies of this information and your insurance policies in a safe place and keep the originals in a safe deposit box.

    Write down the name, address and claims-reporting telephone number of your insurance company, which may differ from your agent’s contact information.  Keep this information in a safe place and make sure you have access to it if you are forced to evacuate your home.

    When a hurricane threatens, take action to protect your property.  Buy the materials you need to secure your property and minimize your losses.  Cover your windows with shutters, siding or plywood.  Move vehicles into a garage or carport when possible.  Grills and/or patio furniture should be moved inside.

    Keep materials such as plywood and plastic on hand in case you need to make temporary repairs after a storm.  Keep receipts for those repairs so that your insurance company can reimburse you.

Hurricane season continues until November 30. For more hurricane preparation tips, visit the Department of Financial Services’ web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.  If a storm strikes, Gallagher will again activate the toll-free storm helpline to assist consumers with claims. Call the Consumer Helpline at 1-800-342-2762 for all financial questions and requests.


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