Consumer eViews

Volume 3, Number 48, November 27, 2006

Following two years of back-to-back hurricanes, it is a relief to get through this hurricane season, which ends this Thursday, with just one tropical storm that generated some heavy rainfall.  With thousands of Floridians still working diligently to repair past damage, we are fortunate that Mother Nature has given us a break.

With that said, however, it’s never too soon to plan ahead to protect your family from catastrophes.  Thousands of homeowners have already taken that step by applying for a free home inspection through the My Safe Florida Home program.  In fact, we have already conducted over 11,000 inspections to date and hope to assist as many as 50,000 Floridians over the next year. 

For many of us, buying and owning a home is one of the greatest and smartest investments we make in our lives.  Strengthening your home against hurricanes is also a smart financial investment for a number of reasons, including:

  1. You reduce the likelihood of property losses.
  2. You reduce the likelihood of damage to irreplaceable possessions.
  3. You reduce your out-of-pocket expenses after a storm.
  4. You may save money on your insurance premiums.
  5. You may increase the resale value of your home.

While all of these reasons help us make the financial decision to strengthen our homes against catastrophic losses, the most important reason is your safety and the safety of your family from a storm.

To learn more about what steps you can take to better protect your family and home from hurricanes, visit


 -- Tom Gallagher


Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced that free home inspections will soon begin in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Walton counties for approved homeowners who applied through the My Safe Florida Home program. The program, funded with $250 million by the Florida Legislature, was created to better protect Floridians by strengthening their homes against hurricanes and to reduce the state’s exposure to hurricane damage.

“Before this hurricane season ends, my goal is to provide 12,000 free home inspections across the state to help Floridians strengthen their homes and better protect their families against catastrophic storms,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services which administers the My Safe Florida Home program.

Gallagher said that homeowners in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Walton counties who have already submitted completed applications will be contacted by a department-approved inspector to schedule an inspection. The department has already received roughly 1,400 completed applications in these three counties. Future applicants will be served with additional funding of the My Safe Florida Home program.

Following an inspection, homeowners will receive a report that outlines up to seven areas that could be improved to better protect the home against hurricanes, an estimate of how much
improvements would cost, the expected insurance savings the homeowner would receive if improvements were made, and a rating of the home’s current ability to withstand hurricanes and its future ability to withstand hurricanes with improvements.

Gallagher said that the expansion into Escambia, Santa Rosa and Walton counties is possible thanks to a partnership with the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) to screen and train over 500 inspectors.

Applying and obtaining a free home inspection is just the first step of the program. Homeowners who undergo the My Safe Florida Home inspection may also qualify for matching grants of up to $5,000 to fortify their homes. As directed by the new law to reduce hurricane exposure and property losses in Florida, grants will be prioritized and awarded to homeowners who live in high-risk, hurricane-vulnerable areas of the state.

Since the My Safe Florida Home program launched in late August, approximately 9,500 inspections have been completed in 17 Florida counties. To ensure each county receives a fair share of free home inspections, the My Safe Florida Home program is limiting the number of inspections in each county based upon population. Applicants who do not receive a free home inspection before this limit is met will have their applications held for future phases of the program.

Eligible Floridians must live in a single-family, site-built home with an insured value of $500,000 or less and have a valid homestead exemption. Documents verifying this information must be submitted with a completed application. Floridians can apply on-line at or by calling 1-800-342-2762 to get an application packet.

A circuit court judge ordered DoctorCare, Inc., a Medicare HMO operating in Miami, into receivership for purposes of rehabilitation and has named the Department of Financial Services as receiver.  The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which regulates Medicare HMOs, has a plan to transition nearly 5,700 of DoctorCare’s enrollees into other HMOs with no break in coverage or care. 
Under the receivership plan, DoctorCare’s enrollees will have the option to secure new coverage through the HMO they will be transitioned to or pursue coverage with an alternate one by March 31, 2007.    CMS has worked with the following HMOs to assist enrollees: WellCare of Florida Inc. and Preferred Care Partners Inc.
“This plan protects our seniors by ensuring uninterrupted access to health care services and Medicare drug benefit coverage,” said Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher.
Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry P. Lewis ordered DoctorCare into receivership because the HMO has become insolvent and appointed the Florida Department of Financial Services (DFS) as receiver.  As receiver, DFS will eventually liquidate all assets once the company is ordered liquidated to pay outstanding claims. 
CMS will be responsible for monitoring the plan to transition enrollees into other Medicare Advantage plans serving Miami-Dade County.  CMS will also oversee continuation of care and answer questions, including coverage options available through a special election period that begins immediately and will continue through March 31, 2007.
Current enrollees in DoctorCare who have questions or concerns should contact CMS at 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227), TTY toll-free 877-486-2048, or log on to
View the receivership order at:   


PayPal sent an email requesting an update on account information due to a supposed security breach that could cause a loss of access. Or so it seemed. Unfortunately the e-mail was not from PayPal. Filling out the phony form handed over private financial information to cybercriminals.

Phishing, identity theft through an email or Web site that seems to be legitimate, is used by scammers to get personal information from individuals and use it for fraudulent purposes.

Phishing and financial fraud have become a challenging part of the financial services industry. In Florida, financial institutions spend increasingly larger amounts each year for recovery from financial scams.

Scammers pretend to be banks or actual businesses such as PayPal. The emailers use logos and messages that look and sound authentic, and request personal information such as addresses, Social Security numbers, debit card numbers, personal identification numbers and telephone numbers.

Though some of the phishing emails can be fairly sophisticated, misspelled words and poor grammar are signs that the messages are counterfeit. Plus, a legitimate organization would not ask for information such as PINs over the internet or the phone.

Despite warnings, consumers can fall for the phishers' scams. Victims should take protective steps by telling credit bureaus of possible identity theft to avoid the compromise of personal information.

The Fraud Hotline at the Social Security Administration and the Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Hotline should both be notified. Watch for unauthorized charges on credit card statements and check for fraudulent accounts that may have been opened in the victim's name.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the Fair Credit Billing Act limits the liability for unauthorized credit card charges to $50 per card.

Liability for debit card charges depend on how quickly the loss is reported. Unauthorized transactions reported within two business days limit losses to $50. Reporting between three and 60 days raises the liability to $500 and after 60 days the entire amount becomes the responsibility of the victim.

Phishing may make consumers hesitant to use online banking but it actually can help find fraud faster because accounts can be checked frequently.

Consumer Services HelpLine (800) 342-2762

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