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

Volume 2, Number 28, July 11, 2005   

FLDFS MOBILIZES STATE RESOURCES TO ASSIST IN HURRICANE RECOVERY

Mobile consumer assistance units to assist with insurance claims
 
Once again, Governor Bush deserves enormous credit for mobilizing the state's forces ahead of this disaster. Those of us in public office can now pool the full resources of the state to speed recovery from these storms and help our friends and neighbors get their lives back to normal. 

I have dispatched members of the Department of Financial Services’ two law enforcement agencies to assist in search and rescue efforts in areas devastated by Hurricane Dennis and  I will be in the northwest Florida area assessing damage and directing the department’s operations.

 
The department’s Division of Consumer Services has mobile response units moving into the area. The first unit will begin operations Tuesday at the Gateway Plaza, 6588 Caroline Street in Milton. The hours will be 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. A second location will be announced as soon as it can be confirmed. The department's law enforcement personnel also will be assisting the Office of Financial Regulation with the transport and set up of ATMs in the storm-damaged areas. 

The department’s two law enforcement agencies are the Division of Insurance Fraud and the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, a unit of the Division of State Fire Marshal.  The State Fire Marshal’s Office is responsible for mobilizing search and rescue efforts from the state Emergency Operations Center during an emergency. 
 
In my capacity as the State Fire Marshal,  I caution Floridians without power to be extremely careful when using candles or portable generators.  The time following a storm can be just as dangerous as the storm itself. If you use candles, place them in stable, fire-safe holders, never leave them unattended, and extinguish them before going to sleep. Never operate a generator indoors.   Report downed power wires immediately, and avoid flooded areas where standing water could be charged by an unseen power line, and keep children indoors until debris is cleared away.
 
The Division of Consumer Services’ mobile service center will be ready to assist those with property damage claims. The mobile unit has satellite and cellular phones, computers and other information resources to allow staff to provide immediate assistance.  The unit will also help insurance agents and adjusters locate policyholders.

Floridians needing assistance with hurricane recovery can get help by calling 1-800-22-STORM or by going to www.MyFloridaCFO.com.  Mediation centers set up in the wake of last year’s hurricanes are still open and can help Floridians having trouble settling claims with their insurance companies.

                     -- Tom Gallagher
 


 

AFTER THE STORM

Here are tips and warnings to those with property damage: 

If forced to evacuate your home, let your agent or insurance company know your temporary forwarding address and phone number.

Immediately report property damage to your insurance agent and company. Your company will issue a special reference number for your claim — make sure you write it down. You will need to keep this number handy in all your dealings with the company. Your agent or company should arrange for a licensed insurance adjuster to visit your property and assess the damage.  

Make emergency repairs to protect from further damage, document the damage and repairs in writing, and with receipts and photos. Keep receipts for those repairs so that your insurance company can reimburse you.

Beware of signing contracts with public adjusters. Public adjusters do not work for insurance companies or independent adjusting firms. Public adjusters contract with the policyholders to settle claims and are paid a percentage of any claim settlement. If considering the assistance of a public insurance adjuster, verify that the adjuster is licensed by calling the department’s toll-free consumer helpline at 1-800-22-STORM, or 1-800-227-8676.

Use a credit card, if available, to finance emergency repairs and document all transactions. Your policy allows you to make emergency repairs to prevent further damage to your home or its contents. Materials such as plywood, tarp and duct tape used to keep rain from entering your home are reimbursable as well as labor costs to complete repairs.

Keep all receipts and take photographs of the damage, before and after repair, to submit with your claim.

Beware of fly-by-night repair businesses.  Hire licensed service and repair people. Beware of anyone offering to help after a storm who wants cash only. Call the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation at (850) 487-1395, or go to www.state.fl.us/dbpr to make sure contractors are licensed or to file a complaint.

If you suspect insurance fraud, call the DFS Fraud Hotline toll-free at 1-800-378-0445.

AS HURRICANE SEASON CONTINUES:

Early preparation before a storm is essential.  Many insurance companies, including Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, may stop writing new homeowners policies when a storm is projected to make landfall in any part of Florida.  

Chief Financial Officer Gallagher recommends that property owners take the following actions in the event of severe weather approaching:  

Take steps to protect yourself and your family, evacuating if ordered to do so.  Don’t take unnecessary risks.  Human lives are more important than property. 

Safeguard important documents such as your insurance policy information, company contact numbers, and mortgage documents. 

Have plenty of cash on hand since access to ATMs, debit cards and credit cards will be limited in the event of power outages. 

Buy the materials you need to secure your property and minimize your losses.

Protect windows.  If you need to protect your windows, get plywood panels 5/8” thick.  If plywood is scarce, a second option is oriented strand board.  If you have to prioritize which windows to protect, cover larger ones first, like bay or picture windows.  Sliding glass doors are often made of tempered glass, so worry about these last.

Limit flying debris.  Clean your yard and remove anything that will become airborne missiles, including dead tree limbs.  

Reinforce your garage door.  Your garage door is your home’s largest single opening, next to your roof, making it vulnerable to high wind.    

Batten down the hatches.  If the hurricane will be more of a rain event for you, be sure to close and lock all windows, doors, skylights and vents in your home to prevent water intrusion.  

Move vehicles into a garage or carport when possible. Grills and/or patio furniture should be moved inside.

Buy tarps.  If a storm is projected to move slowly across Florida, long periods of rain could be an issue.  If the storm damages your roof, you’ll want to cover the area with water-resistant material, like a tarp or plastic sheeting when it is safe to do so.

For more hurricane information, visit the Department of Financial Services’ web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


VOLUNTEER FLORIDA FOUNDATION RECOGNIZES EXCELLENCE 

The Volunteer Florida Foundation recognized Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher and Department of Financial Services’ Financial Administrator Mark Merry for instrumental work in helping establish the financial policies and procedures for the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund. 

The Florida Hurricane Relief Fund was established by Governor Jeb Bush to help Florida’s hurricane survivors with needs not covered by government or insurance assistance.  Gov. Bush named nonprofit Volunteer Florida to manage it. 

CFO Gallagher praised Mark Merry for helping establish the Fund’s allocation formulas, financial structure, financial policies and auditing procedures.  Mark was recognized for his work with a Governor’s Award for outstanding service.  Giving the award was the Fund’s Voluntary CEO Steve Uhlfelder, a Tallahassee-based attorney, and Foundation President Liza McFadden. 

“Their leadership and important work has helped ensure efficient and effective allocation of much needed recovery funds to the most distressed communities of our state following the devastating 2004 hurricanes,” remarked Uhlfelder of CFO Gallagher and Merry. 

According to Gallagher, Mark’s knowledge of accounting and auditing procedures enabled him to advise the allocation of more than $20 million in donations collected from 50 states in less than six months.  The funding is being made to help impacted communities assess unmet needs on an on-going basis as recovery progresses.  

“On behalf of the department, we congratulate Mark for achieving this special recognition and for his incredible work to ensure money is properly directed to storm victims,” said CFO Gallagher.

LOXAHATCHEE WOMAN ARRESTED FOR FAKING DEATH TO COLLECT ON LIFE INSURANCE POLICY 

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced the arrest of a Loxahatchee woman who faked her death in Jamaica to collect on a $260,000 life insurance policy.  Golden Marie Vasquez, also known as Golden Marie Cox and Golden Marie Ramdeen, was arrested by investigators from the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud.   

Vasquez is charged with one count each of insurance fraud, forgery and theft over $100,000.  She faces up to 15 years in prison and a $25,000 fine if convicted.

Vasquez bought a $60,000 life insurance policy in 1996 and then bought an additional policy with $200,000 in benefits in 2000.  Both policies were with Prudential Insurance Company. 

In June of 2003 a death claim was filed with Prudential Insurance alleging that Golden Marie Ramdeen was killed in a motor vehicle accident in Jamaica, on the date of March 26, 2003.  Prudential received a Jamaican death certificate, a bogus police report from the Jamaican constabulary and a death benefits claim form.  The beneficiary of this policy was her ex-husband Jerry Ramdeen.

Prudential refused payment for the claim and it was referred to the Division of Insurance Fraud in June of 2004.

Investigators first determined that Golden Marie Ramdeen was not deceased.  She divorced from Jerry Ramdeen in February of 2003.  She obtained a new Florida driver license on March 25, 2003; the day before she supposedly died in Jamaica, in her maiden name of Golden Marie Cox.   Jerry Ramdeen filed with the Broward courts for a legal name change on April 16, 2003, just 21 days after his ex-wife’s alleged demise.  Then Golden Marie Cox and Jerry Vasquez married again on July 11, 2003 to become Mr. Jerry Vasquez and Mrs. Golden Marie Vasquez.   

It was further discovered that Golden Ramdeen was the probable writer of the death claims request form.  In addition, four fingerprints were developed and identified as belonging to Golden Marie Ramdeen on the death claim and benefits forms, leading to her arrest.
 



Consumer Services HelpLine
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