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FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 2, Number 36, September 5, 2005  

Hurricane Katrina, and the catastrophic damage she inflicted, will be talked about for years to come. The images on television are overwhelming and painful to watch, and it's heart-wrenching to see these victims continue to struggle.

While not on the same scale, many in Florida have also suffered major damage and need assistance.  We understand our neighbors' suffering all too well, we want to return the favor to neighboring states who helped us so generously after the storms of 2004.

The day after Katrina made landfall, I deployed 24 law enforcement officials from the State Fire Marshal's Office and 17 from the Division of Insurance Fraud to help with law enforcement and search and rescue efforts. Many of the law enforcement agencies in the affected states have lost their buildings and equipment -- and possibly even personnel.  In addition to working with them during the early recovery, we are helping to gather vehicles, equipment and clothes to help them get back to work in their communities.

We have offered to lend assistance to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to help their residents get temporary living expense payments from their insurance companies. We are also sharing what we learned in Florida to help our fellow states navigate their financial recovery from the storm.

Where we all can help at this stage is through donations to legitimate charities who dedicate their services to disaster recovery efforts such as the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

Let's reach out and help those who were there for us in our time of need.

 

                     -- Tom Gallagher


GALLAGHER MOVES TO PREVENT PUBLIC ADJUSTERS FROM PRICE GOUGING HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIMS 

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher today issued an emergency rule to prevent the victims of Hurricane Katrina from becoming the victims of price gouging by public insurance adjustersIn addition to limiting fees, the rule contains other consumer protections for victims who may consider contracting with public adjusters. 

Gallagher found the need to impose the rules after Hurricane Charley hit in August 2004 and there were reports of adjusters demanding fees of up to 25 percent. 

“Floridians upset after seeing their property damaged by Hurricane Katrina can be particularly vulnerable to signing contracts that are unfair and possibly unnecessary,” said Gallagher.  “They need to strongly consider whether they need the assistance of a public adjuster, as any fees will inevitably come out of their claim settlement.” 

The new rule caps adjuster fees at 10 percent of the claim payment; gives the consumer 14 days to cancel a contract made with a public adjuster without penalty, and prohibits public adjusters from demanding any up-front payments or compensation prior to final settlement of the claim. 

Gallagher also warned Floridians to make sure they are dealing with a licensed public adjuster.  The Division of Insurance Fraud arrested seven individuals last year for acting as public adjusters without a license.  To check on the license status of an adjuster agent or company, consumers should visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com, and click on Verify Before You Buy, or call the Department of Financial Services' Helpline at 1-800-342-2762.


VERY 'NOSY' DETECTIVES

The olfactory senses of a dog are even more sensitive than laboratory equipment, and for that reason K-9 detective teams have become a critical part of fire and arson investigations at the State Fire Marshal’s Office.  Recently the six K-9 teams went through exercises at the State Arson Laboratory in Quincy to give the laboratory technicians an opportunity to see first-hand how the dogs, all Labrador Retrievers, sniff out evidence. Often when a substance such as gasoline is used, the residual amount after a fire is so small that only scientific equipment in a laboratory can detect it – and only dogs can find it.  State Farm Insurance Company has helped fund the state’s Arson Dog Program since 1993. 


GALLAGHER WARNS FLORIDIANS TO BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR CHARITY CON ARTISTS

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher is urging Floridians who are interested in donating to a charity to help victims of Hurricane Katrina to make sure they give their money to a reputable organization and not a con artist.

“Hurricane Katrina has had an extraordinary impact on many here in Florida as well as millions of our neighbors in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana,” said Gallagher, who also serves as State Fire Marshal and has assisted in the coordination of several Florida search and rescue teams to those impacted areas.  “Please contribute whatever you can to help, but take time to check out who you send money to so your donations truly get to the victims and their families.”

In Florida, most charities are required to register with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and to provide financial information, such as how much is raised, how much is spent on administrative costs, fundraising and on the program services. Charities that solicit in Florida are included in this requirement even if they are located out of state.

Gallagher advised Floridians to ask for written information and proof that their contribution is tax-deductible.  He said solicitations may come by phone, mail or in person and said Floridians should follow these tips: 

  • Only give to disaster relief charities you know are reliable.
  • Beware of "copy-cat" names that sound like reputable charities.
  • Do not be pressured into giving. Legitimate organizations will not expect you to contribute
  • Ask for written information. Legitimate organizations will give you materials about the charity’s immediate mission, how your donation will be used and proof that your contribution is tax-deductible.
  • Just because a "charity" has a tax identification number does not mean your contribution is tax-deductible.
  • Ask how much of the donation will go to the program you want to support and how much will go to administrative or fundraising costs.
  • Avoid cash donations. Make checks payable to the charitable organization and not to an individual collecting a donation.
  • Do not give your credit card number or other personal information to a telephone or e-mail solicitor.
  • Find out what the charity intends to do with any excess contributions remaining after they have funded activities for the victims and families of the hurricane disaster.
  • Remember the opportunities to give will continue. The tragedy aftermath will not disappear when the headlines do.
     

GALLAGHER ANNOUNCES CONSUMER SERVICE LOCATIONS FOR HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIMS

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced four locations where consumer service professionals are assisting victims of Hurricane Katrina.  In his capacity as State Fire Marshal, Gallagher also directed the Department of Financial Service’s efforts to cooperate in state efforts to aid the devastated areas in neighboring Gulf Coast states.

“We certainly send our thoughts and prayers to our neighbors in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana who have seen incalculable devastation from Hurricane Katrina, and we will be looking to assist them in every way we can,” said Gallagher. “The death, damage and destruction in Mississippi and Louisiana are beyond comprehension.  My director of the Division of the State Fire Marshal has been deployed to Mississippi to help oversee search and rescue efforts.”  

Gallagher detailed law enforcement detectives to join six teams from Florida to aid in law enforcement and search and rescue efforts – these efforts presently are concentrated in six lower Mississippi counties and along the Gulf Coast.  He also is assisting in providing ambulances and fire engines to the impacted areas.

Gallagher said, “Here in Florida we saw thousands of Floridians also experience major flood and wind damage, and we want to help get their lives back to normal as soon as possible."

The Department of Financial Service’s specialists are located at:

Publix Shopping Center
12850 Biscayne Blvd.
N. Miami 

Home Depot
13501 S. Dixie Hwy
Kendall

Caleb Center
5400 NW 22nd Ave, Miami

South Dade Government Center
10710 SW 211 St, Miami

The insurance specialists will be available to help Floridians from 8 AM to 6 PM. 

Hurricane insurance assistance in Broward County is available from the Department of Financial Services at 499 NW 70th Ave., Room 301B, Plantation or by calling 954-797-8325.

In Pensacola, the DFS Consumer Services office is located on 610 E. Burgess Road and can be reached at 850-453-7800.

Gallagher said consumers can also obtain assistance by calling the DFS Hurricane Hotline at 1-800-22-STORM.
 



Consumer Services HelpLine
(800) 342-2762.