Volume 2, Number 43, October 24, 2005
Many Floridians were already storm-weary before Hurricane Wilma made landfall in Florida today.
-- Tom Gallagher
GALLAGHER MOBILIZES SEARCH AND RESCUE, CONSUMER ASSISTANCE TO AREAS IMPACTED BY HURRICANE WILMA
Tom Gallagher, Florida’s state fire marshal, said more than 300 search and rescue officers are now fanning out in the southwest Florida area and are heading toward southeast Florida and the Keys to assist in search and rescue.
In addition, Gallagher said the Department of Financial Services’ consumer assistance specialists and mobile response units have been dispatched to set up tomorrow in Naples, West Palm Beach, and Miami to help hurricane victims begin the recovery process. Gallagher said consumers can also obtain assistance by calling the department’s Hurricane Hotline at 1-800-22-STORM from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“This hurricane inflicted widespread damage, and a lot of people will need immediate assistance,” said Gallagher, who oversees the department. “Our thoughts and prayers are with our friends and neighbors who have been hit by the storm. The primary concern is the health and safety of those who are in the affected areas; then we will work to help them get resources to repair homes and businesses.”
The State Fire Marshal’s Office joined members of other state agencies on Saturday in Miami, Orlando and Tampa so they could be ready to move into affected areas as soon as the storm passes to begin search and rescue missions. Other team members include representatives of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Law enforcement officers from the department’s Division of Insurance Fraud are also standing by to assist with law enforcement functions.
Noting most deaths and injuries happen in the aftermath of a storm, Gallagher offered the following suggestions to help residents stay safe:
• Use generators with extreme caution. Do not use them indoors or in garages. Keep them outdoors where fumes cannot enter the home and keep them dry. Do not refuel generators until they have a chance to cool off.
• 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 available, use a credit card to finance emergency repairs and document all transactions. Your insurance 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.
FLORIDA SENIORS URGED TO BEWARE OF SCAMS WHEN CHOOSING NEW MEDICARE PRESCRIPTION COVERAGE
One-Stop Shopping for Information and Resources Made Available
With the start date for enrolling in the new Medicare Part D prescription drug program less than a month away, Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer reported that his department’s consumer helpline is getting calls from Floridians looking for help signing up for the new coverage. Also, incidents of possible scams to take advantage of seniors have been reported by Medicare officials.
“I am deeply concerned that scam artists will exploit seniors interested in new options under Medicare,” said Gallagher. “We will aggressively pursue those who attempt to rip off the elderly. I urge Florida seniors to log onto our Senior Resource Center at www.flseniors.net and to avoid fraudulent offerings.”
Gallagher said there are approximately three million Medicare beneficiaries in Florida eligible for the new Part D coverage. But he urged eligible seniors to seriously consider signing up for a Medicare plan unless they have existing coverage that is equal to the Medicare plan. If an individual lacks coverage and doesn’t sign up during open enrollment, a penalty of as much as one-percent per month could be added to the monthly premium.
The eight companies awarded contracts by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services were: Electronic Data Systems Corp.; Delmarva Foundation for Medical Care, Inc.; IntergrGuard, LLC; Livanta, LLC; Maximus Federal Services, Inc.: NDC Health; Perot Systems Government Services, Inc.; and Science Applications International Corp.
Gallagher offered tips to seniors to avoid becoming victims of Medicare Part D scam artists:
One-stop shopping for website links and toll-free phone numbers to numerous state and federal contacts is available at http://www.flseniors.net/ or by calling the Department of Financial Services consumer helpline at 1-800-342-2762.
INSURANCE AGENT LOSES LICENSE, MUST PAY $90,000 FINE
Misrepresentation and forgery earned agent thousands in commissions
An insurance agent who misled at least 35 customers, including several senior citizens, in the sale of annuities and forged their signatures to cover his tracks has had his license revoked and has been ordered to pay a $90,000 fine.
Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, last week ordered Clinton Mitchell Alford’s insurance licenses revoked after a formal hearing ended with a Division of Administrative Hearings judge recommending license revocation. The action follows Alford’s arrest in August on one count of scheme to defraud, a first-degree felony, and one count of uttering a forged instrument, a third-degree felony. He faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted on the criminal charges.
To conceal his misrepresentations, Alford forged customer signatures and falsified documents sent to the carrier, Lincoln Benefit Life (LBL), as well as those returning to the consumer from LBL. Alford earned commissions ranging from $1,300 to $36,000 on the sale of the annuities, earning well over $125,000 in commissions. LBL agreed to honor the terms under which the customers thought they had bought the annuity products.