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

Volume 2, Number 20, May 16, 2005    

The older we get the more we have to keep up with – health, family and finances, just to name a few.

The Department of Financial Services can assist our state's seniors in almost every area of life – from checking out an insurance agent to checking out a potential investment to saving money on prescription drugs.

Today we unveiled a new website to help arm Florida’s seniors with valuable information about issues important to their future, including shopping for long-term care or Medicare supplements, finding ways to grow their money with investments or steer clear of financial scams, or gaining access to discounts on prescription drugs.

Dubbed the “Senior Resource Center,” the Florida Department of Financial Services senior website can be found by logging on to www.flseniors.net .

Florida is currently home to more than 2.9 million Floridians over the age of 65 and that number is projected to grow by as much as 30 percent.  Many of these seniors have so much to keep up with – their health, family and finances – and they are going on-line for information and assistance.  This website will link seniors directly to tips and resources they can use to make informed choices.

Some of the most important features of the site for seniors are links to organizations offering information on free and discounted prescription drugs.  Other resources on the website offer extensive information about Medicare, insurance plans and long-term care options.

After working to successfully push for changes in state law that will better protect seniors who invest in annuities and viatical settlements, I urge seniors interested in reading comprehensive guides on these investments and others to download them via the new website.   There are also many tips for seniors on avoiding financial scams and not becoming victims of identity theft.

Many of our state’s seniors are looking for ways to grow their money and enjoy their golden years.  Education and awareness are some of the best weapons in the fight against investment and insurance fraud.

Seniors who don’t have access to a computer, whether at home or a local library, can call the department toll-free at 1-800-342-2762 to order brochures on any of the health or financial topics referenced on the website.

At this point in life, our seniors deserve to enjoy all that they have created for themselves and their families. On this website, we have pulled together numerous resources that can help seniors make smart choices and protect themselves and those they love.

Sincerely,

                     -- Tom Gallagher


MIAMI MAN ARRESTED FOR SELLING BOGUS DISCOUNT PLAN

Investigators suspect hundreds of residents in South Florida were victimized  

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced the arrest of an individual involved in defrauding hundreds of Floridians in a discount health plan fraud ring. Enrique Angulo, 41, of Miami-Dade County, was arrested by investigators from the Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud. 

“Criminals who prey on the needy deserve no mercy,” said Gallagher, who oversees the department.  “This suspect stole from people looking for affordable healthcare for their families and people like him are part of the reason insurance costs are rising throughout the state. Getting criminals like this off the street is good news for all Floridians.” 

Angulo, presently on four years probation for grand theft in excess of $20,000, was arrested, charged with violation of probation, as well as second-degree grand theft, uttering forged instruments, and organized scheme to defraud.  Currently Angulo is being held at the Miami-Dade County Jail without bond. If convicted, Angulo faces a maximum of 25 years in prison. 



Gallagher pushed for legislation last year that now requires companies selling discount health plans in Florida be licensed.

“This is an industry where the potential for rampant fraud was great.  Too many Floridians were being ripped off by unscrupulous operators, and many were made to think they were buying health insurance when in fact they were signing up for discounts on medical services or prescriptions,” said Gallagher.       

To verify that a plan is authorized go to www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call 1-800-342-2762. 

Angulo purchased Americ Health Benefits, a Discount Health Plan in December 2004 after its owner was arrested and jailed on separate charges of insurance fraud. In January 2005, Angulo realized the business he purchased was a front for criminal enterprises and had no legitimate use. Rather than close the business, he too began defrauding unwilling consumers.

 This particular scam worked like this: A consumer would come to Americ Health Benefits to buy a low-cost health discount plan. As part of the registration process, Angulo would request voided or blank checks from the consumer. In addition to charging customers for a discount plan he knew he could not provide, Angulo would create check drafts to withdraw the monthly membership fees from the victims’ accounts. 

One victim discovered the health insurance policy she was paying for was worthless after seeking medical attention for her husband and son. The victim was left with more than $15,000 dollars in hospital bills after her calls to Angulo went unanswered. Up until his arrest, Angulo continued to withdraw monthly membership fees in excess of $5,000 from a closed account in the victim’s name.  

Consumers that believe they purchased this discount health plan from Angulo are encouraged to contact the Department of Financial Services Division of Insurance Fraud hotline at 1-800-378-0445.  

Gallagher reminds consumers, “Verify before you buy.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
 


GALLAGHER ANNOUNCES LAUNCH OF DATABASE SHOWING EMPLOYERS WHO HAVE BEEN ISSUED STOP WORK ORDERS

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced the launch of a database that will continually update employers who have been issued stop work orders.  The orders are issued by investigators with the Division of Workers’ Compensation when they determine that the employer has not secured workers’ compensation coverage for its employees.  Stop work orders are also issued to employers that materially understate or conceal payroll or materially misrepresent or conceal employee duties so as to avoid proper classification for premium calculations.

“This is another tool that will aid us in rooting out those who cheat the system and raise the costs of those who play by the rules,” said Gallagher.  “I urge contractors and others to check this database before you contract a job.  If we find out employees are working without compensation coverage – we’ll shut the job down.”  

The new database is updated daily and displays employers who have been issued stop work orders.  It can be queried by county, month, or by specific employer. 

During the last fiscal year the Division of Workers’ Compensation, Bureau of Compliance served 1,791 stop work orders, assessed over $19 million in penalties, caused over $25 million in additional premium to be written and ensured over 13,000 more employees had workers’ compensation coverage.

The Compliance Stop Work Order Database can be accessed by going to the Division of Workers’ Compensation website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/wc/ . Click on the “Databases” link and then click on  “Compliance Stop Work Order Database.
 


MONEY TREE LENDING PLACED INTO RECEIVERSHIP

Port Charlotte Mortgage Company Selling Unauthorized Annuity Contracts

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced the Money Tree Lending Group (Money Tree), of Port Charlotte, has been taken over pending a court hearing.  The move is a result of an Order to Show Cause handed down in addition to an order to seize the company.  This comes on the heels of a joint investigation by the Department of Financial Services, the Office of Insurance Regulation and the Office of Financial Regulation.

“I thank the court for taking such a proactive approach in this matter,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services.  “Our interests are to simply safeguard investor assets until we can iron these matters out, and the court has been very helpful in our efforts.  Florida will continue to pursue unauthorized entities; we have seen too many people victimized by bogus insurance and investment products.” 

Judge Terry P. Lewis of the Second Judicial Circuit Court in Leon County ordered Money Tree to appear at a hearing in Tallahassee on June 10, 2005 to explain why it should not be placed in receivership.  Money Tree is authorized as a mortgage lender, however, the company was selling unauthorized annuity contracts and it is not licensed to conduct insurance business in Florida. 

Under the court’s order, the Department of Financial Services was directed to immediately seize all Money Tree property, bank accounts and records, in an effort to protect the company’s claimants and creditors.  A team from the Division of Rehabilitation and Liquidation is on site carrying out the order. 

Consumers with questions on this matter are directed to call the Division of Rehabilitation and Liquidation at (850) 413-4585.  Information will not be posted on the division’s website pending the June 10th hearing on the Order to Show Cause.   Floridians are urged to Verify Before they Buy insurance or investment products and those that offer to sell them by calling 1-800-342-2762 or go to www.MyFloridaCFO.com.  Make sure the agent, the product and the company are authorized.   

 

CAREER DAY WITH THE STATE FIRE MARSHAL'S OFFICE

More than 700 students at Beverly Shores Elementary School got a chance to explore what it would be like to be a state fire and arson detective during the school’s Career Day on April 29.   

In the photo below, Detective Ronald Queen with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, is shown getting ready for the kids to show up - and they did.

Detective Queen, spoke to 42 classes during a four-hour period. 

He also gave them a chance to see one of the State Fire Marshal’s Office arson vans, a traveling arson crime scene investigation vehicle and lab that allows the detectives to conduct detailed investigations and some preliminary tests at fire scenes.  Detective Queen used the opportunity to also speak to the young students about the danger of fire and how important it is to tell an adult if they ever see anyone playing with fire.

 


THE NOSE KNOWS 

The newest detectives in the State Fire Marshal’s Office, Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, work for food – literally. 

In fact, Misty, Molly and Amy wouldn’t have it any other way.  Neither would their partners because, when these ladies eat, it means they may have found an important clue at an arson scene. 

Misty, Molly and Amy recently joined the K-9 ranks at the bureau that is the law enforcement arm of the State Fire Marshal’s Office.  The Bureau of Fire and Arson    Investigations assists other state and local fire and law enforcement agencies in the investigation of fires of suspicious origin. 
                 
Trained in Alfred, Maine, by the Maine State Police, these certified officers will use their noses to find out if an ignitable liquid has been used to set a fire. Quite often when a substance such as gasoline is used to start a fire, the amount remaining is so small that only scientific equipment in a laboratory can detect it. With the olfactory senses of a dog being even more sensitive than the laboratory equipment, having a K-9 at a fire scene is invaluable. 

The State Fire Marshal’s Office has six K-9 teams. The K-9s worked 243 suspicious or incendiary fires during 2004.  Misty will work in the Central Florida region, Molly in the Northeast Florida region and Amy in the Northwest Florida region.
 


ARE YOUR CHILDREN SAVERS OR SPENDERS?

The Department of Financial Services is helping Floridians raise a generation of money-savvy savers. Participating in National Teach Children to Save Day on April 26th, DFS worked with schools, parents and children to teach how a solid financial future starts young with good saving and spending habits.

Turning two-liter bottles into piggy banks was one fun lesson to show children the value of money. Other activities encouraged children to take an active role in saving and understanding the value of every penny.

The goal of the DFS outreach effort is to use National Teach Children to Save Day as a starting point to teach financial literacy year round. We have formed partnerships with various programs throughout the state, partnering with driver’s education teachers by leveraging the teen-age consumer's desire for a car as an incentive to save. We are teaming up with the Big Brother/ Big Sister program to promote healthy saving habits and an understanding of the concept and value of compound interest. We are also working with at-risk students to help them learn that a healthier financial future starts by saving that first penny.

The DFS piggy bank project is a fun way to help young consumers take a creative role in financial literacy education. The project lets students decorate an outline of a pig printed on paper and paste the pig to a two-liter soda bottle. An opening at the top of the bottle, made by an adult, finishes the transformation to a piggy bank. 

The piggy bank project is available in English and Spanish, and available to download in PDF form from the DFS website at http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/PressOffice/Documents/Pig.pdf.

With stories like “The Adventures of Penny,” and games like “Toss the Coin,” students have fun while learning about saving money.

The aim is to make financial literacy a year-round focus of DFS' consumer outreach. For more information about how your organization can increase financial literacy education among Florida’s young consumers, contact us toll-free at 1-800-342-2762. Or, visit our website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com to contact the regional office closest to you.



Consumer Services HelpLine
(800) 342-2762.