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

Volume 1, Number 52, December 27, 2004     

This 52nd edition of the Consumer eViews marks a year of chronicling Florida's events and the efforts of the Department of Financial Services on behalf of Floridians. Thank you for your interest in our newsletter each week. We look forward to new and exciting issues in 2005.

Looking back at previous issues of eViews brings to mind four hurricanes. Not much can be said to top that aspect of 2004!

The actual storms were a small part of what followed. After initially responding to disaster locations all over the state, we were finding answers to questions, helping to solve problems, working with companies to help policyholders, and facilitating a mediation program.

The work of the Department of Financial Services is still ongoing. And for victims of the storms, the rebuilding of lives will likely evolve further in the coming months.

Thanks and gratitude to all of the state employees, volunteers, neighbors, caregivers and storm victims for working so well to get through these difficult times.

My New Year's resolution will be to keep us all going down the path to recovery, with steady spirits and helping hands.

Happy New Year!

                      -- Tom Gallagher


MORATORIUM ON INSURANCE CANCELLATIONS AGAIN EXTENDED TO MARCH 31 FOR HOMES NOT YET REPAIRED

In an emergency meeting, Governor Jeb Bush and members of Florida’s Cabinet again moved to approve an emergency rule banning insurance companies from canceling or non-renewing insurance policies of storm victims whose homes have yet to be repaired.  

Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, as a member of the Cabinet, urged adoption of the rule to protect thousands of hurricane victims still waiting for repairs to be completed and would be uninsurable if they lost their insurance coverage.  Gallagher had pushed for the rule to be made permanent in Florida law during the recent special session.

“Thousands of Floridians still waiting for help to rebuild or repairs to be done can breathe easier thanks to action we took today,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Florida Department of Financial Services.  The department has taken more than 160,000 calls from Floridians recovering from the back-to-back hurricanes and needing help with their insurance company or financial institution.

The emergency rule, developed by the Office of Insurance Regulation, applies to all homes and condominiums damaged during the 2004 hurricane season in which a storm claim has been filed.   Insurance companies will be prohibited from canceling or non-renewing these policyholders until 60 days after repairs are made.  

The rule is effective January 1, 2005, and will remain in effect until March 31, 2005. 


STATE FIRE MARSHAL'S OFFICE PARTICIPATES IN THE GREAT AMERICAN TEACH-IN

Recently, the State Fire Marshal's Office Bureau of Fire & Arson Investigations participated in the Great American Teach In. The teach-in gives business and community leaders and anyone wanting to share their jobs, interests or hobbies a chance to talk to students. Meanwhile, kids learn about career options.

Detectives from the Bartow Field Office reached out to more than 400 elementary school children and educated them about fire safety and the dangers of fire play. Presentations were given to students in Polk and Hillsborough Counties that included a lecture, question and answer session, and equipment demonstration.

The State Fire Marshal's Office participates annually in this event that provides the Bureau of Fire & Arson Investigations a valuable opportunity to reach out to children across the state of Florida about the consequences of playing with fire. As reported by the NFPA and USFA, between 40-50% of all intentionally set fires are perpetrated by juveniles. Juveniles experimenting with fire contribute to hundreds of fire fatalities nationwide every year.

The BFAI appreciates the opportunity to reach our future generations and hopefully prevent needless loss of life and property.


OPEN ENROLLMENT FOR HEALTHY KIDS AND KIDCARE JAN. 1-30

KidCare open enrollment begins with the new year and continues through the month of January. Children will be enrolled on a first-come, first-served basis based on the date when the application is received.

Starting December 30, 2004, Florida KidCare application forms will be available by calling toll-free 1-888-540-5437or online at www.healthykids.org or www.floridakidcare.org. Applications will also be available at local Department of Children and Families and health department offices.


Florida's child health insurance program, KidCare covers uninsured children from birth through age 18. Four different programs are included: Healthy Kids, MediKids, Children's Medical Services Network and Children's Medicaid. When you apply for insurance, Florida KidCare will check which program your children may be eligible for based on age and family income. Many non-citizen children are eligible.

Changes to the Florida KidCare state law now require families to attach proof of income with your Florida KidCare application. Your application is not complete without these documents. Please send copies – do not send original documents.
 
New enrollee applications are accepted for MediKids, Healthy Kids and the CMS Network only during open enrollment periods. Applications for Children's Medicaid are accepted anytime and if eligible your children will receive Medicaid benefits right away.
 
Applications may be returned by in person or by delivery service to
661 E. Jefferson St., Tallahassee, FL, 32311; by U.S. Postal Service to P.O. Box 980, Tallahassee, FL 32302 or by fax to 850-681-2131.

Scanned applications and required documents also will be accepted by e-mail at: healthykids.apply@healthykids.org.
 


ONLINE BUYING, SELLING REQUIRE ADDED CAUTION

Take steps to avoid being snagged by shopping scams

Chances are good that you will do at least some of your shopping online this year. With online fraud growing bigger every day, it is worth your while to know how some of the popular shopping scams work and what you can do to protect yourself. Whether you are a shopper or seller, keep these tips in mind.

First, don't be quick to provide personal information. If you must give it out, be sure to use a secure browser.

Second, know whom you are doing business with. Shop online at reputable sites. Buy from easily recognized companies that have "brick and mortar" retail locations and that do e-commerce as a supplement to its regular retail business. If you must do business with a company you don't know, then investigate the Web site.

Many e-businesses explain their security policies and procedures on their Web sites. If it is not listed, send the company an e-mail asking them to explain how they protect information from hackers. If you don't want your personal information shared with others, be sure the business you are dealing with will honor your privacy request.

Keep your passwords private. Avoid using telephone numbers, birth dates or portions of your social security number. Use a random selection of numbers, letters and symbols. Also, use different passwords for different Web sites. That way if one password is jeopardized, the others will still be secure.

Keep good records of your online purchases. If you think you have been defrauded or want to dispute a charge you will need a record of what you did online. Print out purchase orders and confirmation numbers and save credit card statements. These items may become evidence if a crime has been committed.

The dangers of online credit card fraud for retailers are much less publicized but the problems are just as big. You should take time to validate purchase orders. Don't accept orders that have incomplete information, particularly addresses and phone numbers. Consider address verifications for all credit card orders. Watch for red flags of fraud such as different "bill to" and "ship to" addresses. If you receive an order with different shipping and billing addresses, ask the buyer to send you a fax with signature and credit card number authorizing the deal.

Be especially cautious when processing larger than normal orders, especially if the buyer is requesting overnight delivery. While you don't want to miss out on a large sale, it could be an identity theft swindle being perpetrated at the destination address.

Likewise, be extra cautious with international orders. Swindlers residing outside of the United States pull frauds regularly on American businesses because they know you will not expend the funds or time required to investigate or settle an international dispute. If you accept international transactions be sure to validate the transaction as much as possible before you ship products to another country.

To play it really safe, insist on advance payment before shipping your product. That way you know you will be paid.

If you find yourself a victim of credit card fraud, contact your merchant processor as soon as you become suspicious. The merchant provider can help you determine if the transaction is legitimate. They can probably give you the name of the cardholder's bank so you can verify owner information.

Mark Mathosian is a financial administrator with the Florida Department of Financial Services, Office of Financial Regulation. He can be reached at mathosianm@dfs .state.fl.us or by calling 338-2445.


Consumer Services HelpLine
(800) 342-2762.