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

Volume 3, Number 49, December 4, 2006

Many of us have made our holiday shopping lists and checked them twice but we don’t always double-check our finances before heading to the mall.

Experts say there are many tips consumers can use to eliminate stress and debt, including developing a budget and sticking to it, making a list to avoid last-minute impulse buys and carefully monitoring your credit card spending.

Other tips for saving time and money during the holidays include:

  • Avoid paying full price for an item.

  • Comparison shop for items by calling stores first or checking prices on-line.

  • Check your receipts after making purchases and keep them in a labeled envelope in case you need to return items.

  • If shopping on-line, make sure you are using a secure Web site before disclosing personal financial information.

  • Keep all records of online transactions, including printouts of web pages with the seller’s name, phone number and address and a description of your order.

If possible, check out Consumer Reports ratings before making a purchase at www.consumerreports.org to see how a retail site scores on buyer-friendly criteria such as return policies, shipping procedures and easy site navigation.

Resolve not to start the new year in debt – that could be the best gift of all for you and your family!

Best,

 -- Tom Gallagher


GALLAGHER ANNOUNCES PROGRESS OF FORTIFYING FLORIDA AGAINST HURRICANES
Goal to Provide Free Home Inspections to 12,000 Homeowners Met and Exceeded

Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced that the pilot phase of the My Safe Florida Home program ended today and his goal of completing 12,000 free home inspections by the end of this hurricane season was met and exceeded by nearly 1,000 inspections.  In addition, Gallagher said that an estimated 560 inspectors and 800 contractors have been specifically trained for the program during the pilot phase.

“When we launched the My Safe Florida Home program in August, my goal was to provide 12,000 free home inspections by the end of this hurricane season, and we have served nearly 13,000 homeowners,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services which administers the My Safe Florida Home program.  “Fortifying homes in Florida is our top priority and we were able to exceed our service goal thanks to the hard work and dedication of every person involved in this program. I’m proud of what they’ve been able to achieve.” 

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.

Since the program launched in August, the Department of Financial Services has received more than 58,000 applications statewide for free home inspections from homeowners. The free home inspections will help tell homeowners:

• The current rating of their homes against hurricane damage on a 0-100 scale.

• Up to seven ways they can improve the strength of their homes against hurricanes.

• The estimated costs to make recommended improvements.

• What their potential insurance premium savings could be if they were to make those improvements.

Inspections have been done in Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Escambia, Hillsborough, Indian River, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Lee, Manatee, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, St. Lucie and Walton counties over the last eight weeks.  The number of completed inspections is detailed in the attached progress report. 

Thanks to a partnership with the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH), the My Safe Florida Home program has held six training sessions for inspectors and 12 training sessions for contractors interested in doing mitigation improvements. The program currently has an estimated 560 specifically trained, qualified inspectors who have also undergone drug tests and background checks to conduct free home inspections for the program.  Over 600 contractors who have applied to participate in the My Safe Florida Home program are currently being reviewed to verify licensure and that current workers’ compensation insurance coverage is in place.

"Florida leads the nation in its commitment to better protecting residents from disasters and building safer communities," said Leslie Chapman-Henderson, president/ceo of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes.  "We won't get there overnight, but our accomplishments in the last 12 weeks are evidence that we are well on our way.”

To leverage resources through local programs, the My Safe Florida Home program has partnered with 12 non-profit entities to serve as many as 4,000 low-income homeowners in 10 counties. To achieve this, the program has partnered with Volunteer Florida Foundation.

“We are on track to provide free home inspections to another 40,000 Floridians in the coming months, and are excited to proactively help homeowners strengthen their homes and better protect their families against catastrophic storms,” Gallagher said.

Applying and obtaining a free home inspection is just the first step of the program.  Homeowners who undergo a 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.

Floridians eligible for a free home inspection 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 www.mysafefloridahome.com or by calling 1-800-342-2762 to get an application packet.

Gallagher said that the public response to this program and support for strengthening their homes has been tremendous. Nearly 100,000 Floridians have gone on-line or called to learn more about the My Safe Florida Home program.  Nearly 58,000 eligible Floridians have submitted completed applications for free home inspections.

My Safe Florida Home Program Progress Report

Inspections


County

Inspections Completed (as of 11/29/06)

Broward

2,654

Charlotte

223

Collier

125

Escambia

218

Hillsborough

1,316

Indian River

208

Lee

710

Manatee

361

Martin

241

Miami-Dade

2,867

Monroe

70

Palm Beach

1,623

Pinellas

1,028

Santa Rosa

102

Sarasota

485

St. Lucie

365

Walton

9

Total

12,605

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trainings Held by Date and Location

Course

Date

City

Inspector

8/21/06

Miami

Inspector

8/28/06

Dunedin

Contractor

8/29/06

St. Petersburg

Contractor

9/20/06

Ft. Lauderdale

Contractor

9/21/06

Miami

Contractor

9/25/06

Pensacola

Contractor

9/26/06

Jacksonville

Inspector

9/27/06

Jacksonville

Inspector

10/3/06

Ft. Lauderdale

Contractor

10/10/06

Orlando

Inspector

10/11/06

Orlando

Contractor

10/17/06

Tampa

Contractor

10/18/06

Fort Myers

Contractor

10/19/06

Naples

Contractor

10/20/06

Miami

Contractor

11/17/06

Orlando

Contractor

11/17/06

Orlando

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


GALLAGHER’S INITIATIVE TO CREATE FINANCIAL LITERACY COUNCIL WINS AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE

An organization that works to promote financial literacy among youth in Florida has awarded the Department of Financial Services its President’s Florida Jump$tart for Personal Financial Literacy Excellence Award. The award recognizes the department’s “Your Money, Your Life” outreach program and Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher’s successful effort this year to win legislative approval to create a Financial Literacy Council.

“The lives of all Floridians are better when our families and businesses are financially strong,” said Gallagher, who also oversees the Department of Financial Services. “I appreciate the Florida Jump$tart Coalition for recognizing this department’s efforts, and I applaud them as well for their hard work to help young people have a brighter economic future.”

“We truly appreciate and value the partnership Florida Jump$tart has with the Department of Financial Services and for CFO Gallagher’s support of financial literacy efforts,” said Rosanna Jacobsen, president of Florida Jump$tart. Florida Jump$tart is a non-profit organization composed of individuals, for-profit and non-profit organizations, government agencies, and community- and faith-based groups to promote personal financial literacy, with emphasis on kindergarten through young adults.

“Your Money, Your Life” is a statewide public education initiative Gallagher launched in 2004 in cooperation with the financial services industry and consumer groups. Building on its success, Gallagher earlier this year pushed for and got approval from the Legislature to create a Financial Literacy Council. The Council, scheduled to be named in early 2007, will serve as a resource for consumers and small businesses on financial issues. Gallagher said he proposed creating the council after a Mason-Dixon poll showed too many Floridians are in a precarious financial condition, with one-third of surveyed Floridians having more debt than savings and nearly half not saving enough to retire.

The Council will be composed of nine members, headed by the state’s chief financial officer, and is tasked with studying the financial problems that affect consumers, particularly small businesses, young people and seniors. It will also be charged with creating a central, comprehensive state resource for the public to provide financial information on savings, loans, investment products, managing debt and planning for college expenses and retirement.

“The Financial Literacy Council will serve as central resource and clearinghouse for families and small businesses to obtain the information and resources they need to make informed financial decisions,” Gallagher said.

For more information on the department’s program, visit www.yourmoneyyourlife.org.


GALLAGHER ANNOUNCES THREE FRAUD FIGHTER REWARDS
Department of Financial Services program has paid $94,000 since 2001

Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced that $2,500 in Fraud Fighter rewards have been paid recently to three individuals who provided key information that led to the arrests of four individuals for insurance fraud totaling more than $35,000.

The Department of Financial Services has awarded $94,000 as part of its Fraud Fighters Reward Program, which rewards individuals up to $25,000 for information that directly leads to an arrest and conviction in an insurance fraud scheme.

“Insurance fraud costs us all, but working together we can do something about it,” said Gallagher, who oversees the department. “These tips made a big difference in our ability to prosecute these crimes, and we thank these individuals for coming forward to help us in the fight against crime.”

A $1,000 reward was paid to a man who provided information that led to the arrest and conviction of a Cocoa Beach man who fraudulently reported the theft of two Mercury 200 HP outboard motors. John Turk reported the motors stolen in June 2000, and State Farm Insurance paid Turk more than $19,000 to resolve the claim.

A man who later notified State Farm that the motors had suffered mechanical failures prior to the claim being filed, said he saw Turk and two other men use a forklift to remove the motors from Turk’s boat and put them in a trailer the day before Turk claimed the motors had been stolen.

Turk was convicted of filing a false and fraudulent insurance claim and grand theft and was sentenced to serve 50 hours of community service and pay $50 a month for six months of county supervision, $260 to the county victim witness program, $700 in investigative costs to the department’s Division of Insurance Fraud and full restitution to State Farm.

Another $1,000 reward was paid to an Orlando woman who provided information that led to the conviction of a brother and sister for theft and a scheme to defraud.

Mary Chen Kuo and her brother George Chen, owner of Formosa Gardens Homes Inc., International American Resorts and Comfort Inn Suites Maingate in Kissimmee, were convicted of claiming Mary Kuo as a full-time employee of the businesses so that she could get health benefits. When asked for proof of employment, Chen provided copies of three annual profit share checks that had been paid to his sister. As a result of the fraud, detectives said, United Health Care and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida paid more than $8,500 for health care benefits that Mary Kuo was not entitled to receive.

Kuo and her brother entered pleas of no contest and were placed in the Pre-Trial Diversion Program. Both were ordered to pay restitution and investigative costs. Adjudication was withheld.

In a third recent case, a Hudson man was awarded $500 for helping to thwart another man’s scheme to fraudulently obtain more than $9,000 in workers’ compensation benefits.

Matthew J. Womack reported in April 2003 that he suffered a work-related injury to his lower back while he was employed with Stock Building Supply in Hudson. As a result of his claim, Sedgwick Claims Management Services paid Womack more than $4,800 in indemnity benefits and more than $4,200 in medical benefits. But, investigators said, Womack failed to disclose that he had been in a vehicle accident the day before his alleged work-related accident.

In a deposition, Womack said the injury occurred when he attempted to grab a sliding truss, felt a sharp pain in his back and fell to the ground where he lay for 30-45 minutes. Womack named several co-workers as witnesses. But a co-worker whom Womack named as a witness said he never saw an accident, and further investigation determined the accident did not occur as Womack claimed.

Womack was adjudicated guilty of workers’ compensation claim fraud and was placed on five years’ probation and ordered to pay restitution of $9,123.34 and court costs of $255.

The Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, investigates various forms of fraud in insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers' compensation insurance. Anyone with information about a possible insurance fraud scheme is urged to call the department's Fraud Fighters Hotline at 1-800-378-0445. Information may be provided anonymously.


CECIL FIELD COMMERCE CENTER SELECTED AS SITE FOR MAJOR AVIATION PRODUCTION SITE

Governor Bush applauded the C-27J industry team of L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, Finmeccanica's Alenia North America, Global Military Aircraft Systems and Boeing Integrated Defense Systems for their commitment to establish the group's advanced aircraft operation at Jacksonville's Cecil Commerce Center if awarded a Department of Defense contract. The governor toured the C-27J aircraft and potential assembly and production site along with Congressman Ander Crenshaw, Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton, and state and local business leaders.

In selecting Jacksonville's Cecil Field, the C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft team has embraced the strengths of Florida's pro-business climate, robust defense industry and highly skilled aviation and aerospace workforce. This new assembly and production activity will enhance Florida' economy and would be a great addition to the state's thriving aviation sector, currently the third strongest in the nation. Most importantly, the C-27J will help the men and women of the Army and the Air Force continue to serve and defend the United States.

The Department of Defense is expected to award the Joint Cargo Aircraft contract in early 2007. Should the Department award the multi-billion dollar contract to the C-27J team, the group will begin establishing its advanced aircraft operation at the Jacksonville site in 2007. The facility is expected to employ more than 200 people. For more information on economic development initiatives, please visit www.myflorida.com.


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