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FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 3, Number 22, May 29, 2006

Hurricane season begins June 1. Another active hurricane season has been predicted and, while we can't control the weather, we can control its impact on our lives.

Take the opportunity now to stock up on supplies and prepare your home, your finances and your family.  Many of the items you need to be hurricane ready are now exempt from state and local sales taxes until June 1st. For a list of supplies that are exempt, visit the Florida Department of Revenue site http://dor.myflorida.com/dor/.

Planning ahead greatly increases our ability to respond and recover from the devastation of a hurricane and that includes being financially prepared.

To help Florida families, we've created a Hurricane Toolkit to guide you through the steps of financial preparedness. The Hurricane Toolkit, can be downloaded from our website or you can call us at 1-800-342-2762.

I'm also urging Floridians to check out our consumer Checklist, which we designed to help Floridians review and understand their insurance policy coverage.

You and your family's safety are a top priority for us. That is why we have created these special tools for you.

In service,


-- Tom Gallagher


GALLAGHER SAYS FLORIDA PREFERRED POLICYHOLDERS WILL BE PROTECTED THIS HURRICANE SEASON

Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced that policyholders with Florida Preferred Insurance Company will be protected this hurricane season because company officials finally agreed to let the financially-troubled property insurer enter into liquidation effective June 1.

“This decision is in the best interest of 140,000 Floridians who were covered by Florida Preferred and deserve protection,” said Gallagher, who petitioned a court on May 9 to put Florida Preferred into liquidation. “Our focus will now be getting the company’s outstanding claims resolved as quickly as possible.”

A hearing, set for May 30, was originally scheduled to deliberate the company’s refusal to liquidate Florida Preferred. Now that company officials have consented to liquidation, the hearing will focus on having the judge sign the consent to liquidation agreements for three financially-impaired insurers with Poe Financial Group, including Atlantic Preferred, Southern Family and Florida Preferred.

The judge will also be presented with the transition plan for Poe’s policyholders for approval. Under the plan, Gallagher wants Poe policyholders unable to secure coverage in the private market to automatically transition to Citizens Property Insurance Corporation by July 2 without the need to fill out a new application.

If approved by the court, the Department of Financial Services, which Gallagher oversees, would be appointed receiver for the three insurers in liquidation. As receiver, the department assumes the company’s operations and liquidates its assets to pay outstanding claims.

Once the companies are in liquidation, the department can also tap into guaranty funds through the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association (FIGA) so claims get paid immediately. FIGA is funded by insurers with written premiums in the same lines of coverage.

For more information, policyholders can contact the Department of Financial Services at 1-800-342-2762 or log onto www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


GALLAGHER URGES RESIDENTS TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF TAX SAVINGS AND PREPARE FOR HURRICANE SEASON

Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer and state fire marshal, is urging Floridians to take advantage of the Hurricane Preparation Tax Free Holiday, going on now until June 1 when the 2006 hurricane season begins. Gallagher also announced that the Department of Financial Services’ is offering a Hurricane Toolkit to help homeowners organize their financial information, so recovery can begin more quickly in the event of a disaster, along with a checklist they can use to review their insurance coverage with their agent.

"Another active hurricane season is in the forecast and, while we can't control the weather, we can control its impact on our lives,” said Gallagher, who as CFO oversees the Department of Financial Services and as state fire marshal oversees search and rescue operations when the state’s Emergency Operations Center is activated.

“It is vitally important to take personal responsibility now by stocking up on supplies and preparing your home, your finances and your family,” Gallagher said. “The more we prepare now, the quicker we will be able to respond and recover from any potential hurricane."

The tax holiday is intended to provide an incentive for Floridians to stock up on items like flashlights, batteries, generators and storm shutters, and is expected to generate more than $41 million in tax savings. For more information on items included in the tax holiday, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com and click on “Hurricane Season 2006.”

Eight storms struck Florida in 2004 and 2005 and damaged an estimated one in five homes. To help lessen potential hurricane damage, the Legislature and governor earlier this month approved $250 million for inspections and matching grants to help Floridians enhance their homes so they can better withstand a storm. The department is currently working to implement the program, and Gallagher said the program is expected to be in place by early fall.

In addition to taking advantage of the tax holiday, Gallagher is urging homeowners to use the department’s new Hurricane Toolkit to organize their financial information. The toolkit will help jumpstart the recovery process should disaster strike.

“We’ve learned to take steps to minimize the physical damage storms can inflict; however, many of us may not think about being financially prepared for a storm,” Gallagher said. “This toolkit will provide the financial tools you and your family will need to recover from a disaster.”

The department has also created a checklist, available at www.MyFloridaCFO.com, designed to help Floridians review their coverage with their agent and understand what their policy covers and what their potential out-of-pocket costs could be. Gallagher said consumers should understand whether they have “replacement cost” or “actual cash value” for a covered loss and what their deductible would be under each potential peril. In addition, homeowners should strongly consider adding flood insurance and law and ordinance coverage to help pay for rebuilding an older home to meet current building codes.

Gallagher said Floridians also should:

•Inventory your household items, including receipts, purchase dates and serial numbers. Photograph or video-tape your possessions. Keep copies of this information and your insurance policies in a safe place and keep the originals in a safe deposit box.
•Write down the name, address and claims-reporting telephone number of your insurance company, which may differ from your agent’s contact information. Keep this information in a safe place and make sure you have access to it if you are forced to evacuate your home.

•Designate a relative or friend who lives outside of the area or the state as a family contact in the event of a disaster. This is the person your family should call if they get separated during a storm.

•Buy the materials you need to secure your property and minimize your losses. Cover your windows with shutters, or stock up on siding or plywood.

•Store gasoline for generators safely. Store only as much gasoline as you will need to operate your generator for 72 hours and store the gasoline away from any source that may produce heat or a spark. Condominium owners should note that state law forbids bringing gasoline into a multi-residential unit, and that using a generator on a balcony is not advisable because deadly carbon monoxide fumes could seep back in through an opening in the balcony door.

•Create a disaster survival kit. Each member of your family -- including pets -- should have their own survival kit that includes water, food, extra medications, flashlight and batteries, photos of other family members, contact numbers, cash and/or credit cards and a change of clothes.

For more tips or to download the Hurricane Toolkit or checklist, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com and click on “Hurricane Season 2006” or call the Department of Financial Services’ Consumer Services Helpline at 1-800-342-2762.
 


UNCLAIMED PROPERTY SURPRISE STARTS DISCOVERY PROCESS FOR ORLANDO AREA

WESH 2 News in Orlando got to play the role of the Prize Patrol recently when reporter Michelle Meredith gave Nicholas Bavaro a check for $9,172.

The state's Bureau of Unclaimed Property found the windfall for Bavaro, printed his check and were gracious enough to let WESH 2 surprise him with it.

What is unclaimed property? It’s money or property that belongs to you, that you either didn’t know you had or plain forgot about. It's held over from old bank accounts, stocks and securities -- even insurance and utility companies. The holders of the property turn it over to the state's Department of Financial Services, Bureau of Unclaimed Property.

Bavaro has some old stock money coming to him and he thought the check was in the mail. Instead, WESH 2 delivered it in person.

"That’s great, that’s cool. It will come in handy," he said. What does he plan to do with his money? He might use it to build a garage.

WESH 2 uncovered dozens of people in the Orlando area who have more than $10,000 coming to them. Check the state's unclaimed property Web site to see if you have forgotten money at www.fltreasurehunt.org.

In conjunction with delivering the check to Mr. Bavaro, Unclaimed Property specialists staffed six phone lines in the WESH 2 studio and in three hours almost 1,000 calls came in, with about 80 claims resulting in $54,218 to be returned to owners.

In the following days, the Bureau of Unclaimed Property in Tallahassee reported double the usual phone volume and about five times the number of visits to the internet site. In that time, 4,848 discoveries of unclaimed property by owners from the WESH  2 viewing area resulted in $1,707,180.89 in claims.

The largest amount on a single account found was $90,058.24.
The smallest amount on a single account was $0.03 and the number of accounts claimed over $10,000 totaled 27.


UNLICENSED PUBLIC ADJUSTING LEADS TO ARREST

CFO Tom Gallagher announced that Luis Gonzalez surrendered to a detective from the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud, and was charged with two counts of Acting as an Unlicensed Public Adjuster – a 3rd degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison per offense.  He was booked into Miami-Dade County Jail, where he remains pending the posting of $3,000 bond. 

The detective stated that in May 2005, under the name “Luis A. Gonzalez, Insurance Recovery Services, Inc.,” Gonzalez entered into agreements with two insureds who had suffered claims for mold and roof damage, and a kitchen fire, respectively.  Gonzalez agreed to a ten-percent fee to represent them as “attorney in fact” in dealing with the insurance companies regarding the claims.  Gonzalez identified himself as representing the insureds in subsequent communications with Gulfstream Property and Casualty Insurance Company.

His activities would have required him to be either a practicing attorney admitted by the Florida Bar, or a public adjuster licensed by the Florida Department of Financial Services.  Gonzalez is neither, and was charged as stated above.


Consumer Services HelpLine (800) 342-2762