Consumer eViews
FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 4, Number 23, June 8, 2007

Dear Floridian:

Over the years, it has become increasingly evident that climate change is not only a reality – but also a real threat to our economy and way of life.  As the state’s Chief Financial Officer, I am concerned about any issue that may affect the future of Florida’s economy.  That is why Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bronson and I have partnered to co-host a series of “Conversations on Climate Change.”  

The second conversation, Climate Change: Renewable Energy Solutions, will begin Tuesday, June 12, 2007 at 11 a.m., after the Florida Cabinet meeting.  This workshop will feature presentations on: America’s Energy Future, Florida’s Farm to Fuel Initiative, Carbon Credits, Solar Solutions and more.  

I invite you to visit our Climate Change Web site at www.FloridaClimateChange.com to learn more about these workshops and the presentations.  Online, you can also read about the science of climate change, see what other states are doing and visit links to important resources.  

These workshops are designed to give elected officials, business leaders and Floridians the opportunity to understand the challenges and potential economic opportunities of climate change in our state.  We hope to develop new ways to safeguard our state’s fiscal health and diversify our economy by catalyzing emerging industries.

We invite you to follow along with us as we engage in these conversations.

Sincerely,

--Alex Sink


TASK FORCE ON CITIZENS PROPERTY INSURANCE CLAIMS HANDLING AND RESOLUTION TO MEET IN PENSACOLA WEDNESDAY

In an ongoing effort to improve Citizens’ policyholder and applicant services, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is convening the third meeting of the legislatively-created Task Force on Citizens Property Insurance Claims Handling and Resolution. The meeting will be Wednesday, June 13, 2007, from 2 p.m. – 8 p.m. with a break from 4-6 p.m. at the Pensacola Junior College in Pensacola.

The public is encouraged to attend and will be able to offer personal testimony from 2:30 – 4 p.m. as well as from 6:15 – 7:45 p.m. The Department of Financial Services will also have consumer assistance on site to help Floridians with questions regarding Citizens claims and policies.

The Citizens task force was created by House Bill 1A during the 2007 special session of the Florida Legislature. The task force is composed of four full members, with one appointment each by the Governor, Chief Financial Officer, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House. In addition there are three ex-officio voting members: the Insurance Commissioner, Insurance Consumer Advocate and Executive Director of Citizens Property Insurance Corporation or their designees.

Specifically, the committee is directed to develop recommendations for Citizens to complete claims remaining from the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. This committee report is due to the Governor, Chief Financial Officer, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House by July 1, 2007. The task force is additionally charged with evaluating Citizens’ procedures on claims handling, claims resolution and customer service, with a final report and recommendations due July 1, 2008.

The third meeting of the Task Force on Citizens Property Insurance Claims Handling and Resolution will be as follows:

DATE:         Wednesday, June 13, 2007
TIME:          2 p.m. – 8 p.m. with a break from 4-6 p.m.
LOCATION: Pensacola Junior College
                  Hagler Auditorium, Building 2, Room 252
                  1000 College Blvd
                  Pensacola, Fl 32504

CFO Sink has also created a Web site dedicated to the task force, its duties, appointments, and upcoming meetings. Floridians who would like to learn more about the task force are encouraged to visit the Web site at http://www.taskforceoncitizensclaimshandling.org.


CFO SINK BANS INSURANCE AGENT FOR EXPLOITING ELDERLY JEWISH FLORIDA CONSUMERS 

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has revoked the license of a south Florida agent and permanently banned him from the insurance business in Florida for using his insurance license to exploit elderly Jewish Floridians.  

Leighton David Applefeld, 66, owned and operated Focus Financial Services, Inc. in Delray Beach.  In February, the Department of Financial Services filed an 18-count administrative complaint against Applefeld alleging, among other things, that he preyed on elderly Jewish consumers, through religious affinity, to engender their trust and sell them inappropriate insurance products that paid high commissions.  In lieu of fighting the administrative charges against him, Applefeld agreed to the revocation of his insurance license, and further agreed to be permanently banned from the insurance business in Florida.   

“It is morally reprehensible to use religion to prey upon Floridians who are merely looking for a safe place to keep their finances,” said CFO Sink who heads the department.  “I will use every measure under the law to protect our citizens from financial harm.” 

Applefeld conducted seminars at local restaurants, Jewish centers, and various other locations throughout Broward and Palm Beach and misrepresented the annuity products he sold.  In many cases, Applefeld was able to convince clients to surrender or withdraw from their in-force annuities or investments to fund new deferred annuity contracts, resulting in thousands of dollars of unnecessary surrender charges and additional penalties that he didn’t explain to his elderly clients. In most cases, Applefeld’s clients didn’t realize the financial harm they suffered until it was too late. 

In one instance, Applefeld convinced an elderly Jewish couple to give him checks totaling $180,000 to invest.  Applefeld instructed the couple to make the checks payable to his Delray Beach business name rather than an insurance company, but he never invested the funds on behalf of his clients once the money was deposited into his business account.   

CFO Sink urges Florida seniors to take the following precautions to avoid becoming victims of financial scams: 

• Assess your financial means and investment objectives prior to purchasing any investment.
• Ask the sales agent about the licenses and/or designations he or she holds, and what types of investment choices he or she can offer you.
• Ask about commissions, fees, penalties, surrender charges and any other associated costs. Get the figures in writing.
• Always request a comparative analysis in writing between your in-force investment and any new investment.
• Before you surrender any in-force investment to purchase a new product, call the company to find out if you will suffer a surrender charge, and if so, how much it will be. You may discover that the cost of a transfer outweighs any benefit of a new product.
• Beware of "bonus" interest rates, as they are usually limited in duration and have strings attached.
• Be cautious of sales pitches that claim you will "recoup" all penalties with the higher returns of a new policy.
• Ask questions and take notes.  Walk away if an agent doesn’t answer your questions.• Don’t let your guard down simply because an agent is a member of the same religious, ethnic, cultural, or professional group. It’s only human nature to trust people who are like you, and religious or ethnic identity is a common source for affinity fraud.
• Take your time. High-pressure sales tactics will rush you into an unwise decision. A sound investment will be just as good tomorrow or next week.
• Document all transactions.
• Never agree to make a check payable directly to an agent.
• Carefully read and understand documents before you sign them. Don’t sign any blank or incomplete form.
• Remember:  if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

 To check on the status of an agent’s license or to file a complaint against an agent, call 1-800-342-2762 or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


CFO SINK ANNOUNCES ARRESTS IN IDENTITY THEFT SCAM
WARNS EMPLOYERS TO BE CAUTIOUS REGARDING EMPLOYEE IDENTIFICATION

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced the arrests of 26 individuals throughout Florida on charges of using fraudulent identification to gain employment. The arrests, which began Monday and have continued through today, stem from a joint investigation by the Department of Financial Services (DFS) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that found 115 individuals using one 10-year-old’s Social Security number.

“Employers need to know that this issue goes beyond finding workers to fill jobs, this is about the safety of our citizens,” said CFO Sink. “Identity theft is a huge and costly problem, and employers who turn a blind eye pose a very real and serious threat to the public.”

The investigation began with DEP’s Division of Law Enforcement looking into allegations that individuals were illegally harvesting and selling aquatic plants, which belong to the State of Florida. During the course of the investigation, agents found that one of the suspects was using a fictitious Social Security number on his employment record. DEP law enforcement agents contacted the DFS, and began working jointly with DFS agents on the investigation.

“Enforcing Florida’s laws, particularly those that protect our environment, is an important part of DEP’s mission,” said DEP Division of Law Enforcement Director Henry Barnet. “By coordinating with the Department of Financial Services, law enforcement agents are investigating and solving several crimes simultaneously. This is an excellent example of state law enforcement officials working together to protect Floridians.”

As a result of the joint investigation, workers using fraudulent Social Security cards have been arrested this week on job sites in Seminole, St. Lucie, Broward County and West Palm Beach.
Detectives have learned that they bought the cards for $30 to $300 each.

While the initial investigation found 115 individuals using the same Social Security number, that of a 10-year-old girl, as the investigation progressed detectives were able to track down several of the individuals using that Social Security number as well others using different Social Security numbers, all assigned to other people. The investigation is continuing with assistance also from the U.S. Social Security Administration.

Florida Statute 440.105(4)(b)9, states that it “shall be unlawful to knowingly present or cause to be presented any false, fraudulent or misleading oral or written statement to any person as evidence of identity for the purpose of obtaining employment or filing or supporting a claim for workers’ compensation benefits.” It is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Some common ways that ID theft occurs include:
• Dumpster Diving. Rummaging through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
• Skimming. Stealing credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
• Phishing. Pretending to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
• Changing Your Address. Diverting billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
• Old-Fashioned Stealing. Stealing personnel records or bribing employees who have access; wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information.
• Pretexting. Using false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.

CFO Sink offered the following tips:

• Promptly remove mail from mail box and take outgoing mail to a post office box or drop box
• Never leave receipts and empty your purse or wallet of extra items
• Memorize your social security number and passwords
• Do not give personal information over the phone, by Internet or for a sweepstakes contest
• Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails
• Use a separate credit card for Internet purchases
• If you apply for a credit card and do not receive it in a timely manner, notify the creditor
• Notify creditors and financial institutions in advance if you plan to move
• Shred pre-approved credit card offers, financial documents and paperwork with personal information
• Report lost or stolen credit cards immediately
• Regularly review credit reports

For more information on identity theft, log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com or the Florida Attorney General's web site at http://myfloridalegal.com/identitytheft.

Anyone who has information about this case or suspects such fraud should call the DFS’ Fraud Fighters hotline at 1-800-378-0445. A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.


STATE FIRE MARSHAL AND CFO SINK APPOINTS NEW FIRE CHIEF TO THE BUREAU OF FIRE AND ARSON INVESTIGATIONS 

Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink announced the appointment of Dan Spillman as Chief of the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations.  As Bureau Chief, Spillman will oversee 105 sworn fire and arson investigators within the Division of State Fire Marshal. 

“I am so pleased to announce Dan Spillman will join the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations,” said CFO Sink.  “I know his vast experience investigating arson will serve the Bureau and the people of Florida well.” 

Chief Spillman has been actively involved in all facets of Florida’s fire and emergency services for over 32 years.  Most recently, Chief Spillman was the Public Safety Director for Taylor County.  Prior to that, he was with the City of Tallahassee Fire Department for over 22 years where he retired as Deputy Chief.  He has over 20 years experience in fire scene investigations and holds a bachelor’s degree in Fire Science and Safety as well as an associate’s degree in Fire and Arson Investigation.  In addition to Chief Spillman’s law enforcement experience in arson, he has served as a Reserve Deputy for the Leon County Sheriff’s Office and as a member of the FDLE-North Special Operations Team. 

The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is the law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local fire and law enforcement agencies in investigating possible criminal activities as it relates to fire. This Bureau conducts approximately 4,200 investigations each year involving fires, explosions, fireworks and other fire and arson-related incidents.  

In addition to conducting investigations, the Bureau takes a proactive approach toward the suppression of arson in the state. These efforts are coordinated through sponsoring numerous seminars which provide state-of-the-art investigative training techniques to people from various agencies and municipalities.


STATE FIRE MARSHAL ACCELERANT K9 TO RETIRE        
Replacement K9 Already at Work
 

The Florida State Fire Marshal’s Office will be retiring its Southern Region Accelerant K9 “Buddy” on Tuesday, June 5, at 9:30 a.m. at the Plantation Fire Department located at 550 NW 65 Ave. in Plantation.  The retirement ceremony will took place during the Broward County Fire Inspector’s Association Meeting, and the region’s new accelerant K9 will be introduced and will demonstrate how an accelerant K9 works and how effective they can be at determining the cause of fires.   

Buddy has served the state as a law enforcement officer since April of 2001.  He has assisted in the investigation of many fires and his findings at fire scenes have led to numerous arrests over the past six years.  Buddy and his handler Detective Greg Gilkey have put in countless hours of training together and have participated in numerous public and fire safety expositions. 

In addition, the State Fire Marshal’s Office will be introducing the new Southern Region Accelerant K9 “Ember.”  Detective Gilkey and Ember have just completed training in Maine and are already working fires throughout south Florida.  The State Fire Marshal’s Office has six accelerant K9s, all Labrador Retrievers, and the dogs and training are provided by State Farm Insurance.   

The accelerant K9 teams are part of the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, a law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local fire and law enforcement agencies in the investigation of fires of suspicious origin.  To report suspected arson, call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON).


CITIZENS PROPERTY INSURANCE POLICYHOLDER PUBLIC FORUM

Citizens Property Insurance Corporation executives invited its policyholders to speak with them at a Public Forum held in Fort Lauderdale on May 15th, 2007.  Around 100 people accepted the offer to attend, including policyholders, insurance agents, news organizations and several elected State officials. 

During the presentation, Chairman Bruce Douglas explained that Citizens is created, controlled and regulated by the State of Florida but has its own management team whose sole purpose is service.  He noted that although Citizens intends to build its surplus fund, it is not profit oriented. 

Several key Citizens executives spoke about various topics, such as EVP Susanne Murphy, the former South Carolina Insurance regulator.  Underwriting SVP Paul Palumbo informed about rate rollbacks resulting in refunds to about 100,000 policyholders, and further premium credits available for reinforcement of homes against storms.  CONTINUED

Director of Communication and Legislative Affairs Christine Turner discussed important recent legislation that begins in August to provide potential benefits from purchasing a multi-peril policy in the Wind pool area.  Assistant Director of Agent and Consumer Services Steve Bitar discussed several recent initiatives being made to improve customer service, including enhancements to the Citizens website and to its consumer advocate role. 

Chairman Douglas then solicited comments, questions and suggestions from the audience and legislators.  In total, around 50 questions were asked by 35 people.  The questions ranged from why other companies cancelled long standing homeowner policies, how many claims remain from Hurricane Wilma, to how much premium discounts are available for condos and mobile homes that have mitigated their hurricane risks by fortifying these structures. 

People wanted to know what amount of money is being forecast for future hurricane claims, and whether that impact may result in the need for additional assessments to all Florida insurance policies.  One person asked how much the Chairman’s salary was and he replied that he did not accept one penny of salary from Citizens!  Any time that a consumer posed a specific question about their policy, they were referred to a team of Citizens operations support staff with company laptops who immediately looked up the answer for them.  

Chairman Douglas accepted one suggestion as having value for future consideration; to have vendors in place such as pre-need contracts with designated hotels to provide for Additional Living Expense housing at reasonable rates for Citizens policyholders if necessary.  The Florida Department of Financial Services was also on site at the event, providing attendees with free consumer guides to homeowner insurance.  The Department also provided information about how to sign up for the My Safe Florida Home program offering free home inspections to determine a home’s strength against windstorms, with possible matching grants to fortify the structure.  The results of this Policyholder Forum will be presented to the Task Force on Citizens Property Insurance Claims Handling and Resolution, which is scheduled to hold two public hearings in Ft. Lauderdale at Nova University on June 19th.  The Task Force will then make significant recommendations to Citizens management and Legislature based on the information being gathered at different locations statewide.   

If you were not able to attend any of these meetings in person, you may submit your suggestions for improved customer service online at the following website:   http://www.citizensforabettercitizens.com All suggestions received will be forwarded to Citizens staff for review and consideration.


STATE FIRE MARSHAL ARSON DETECTIVES ASSIST IN ARSON, MURDER ARREST 

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who also serves as State Fire Marshal, announced the arrest this week of a Jacksonville man on charges that he killed his wife by setting fire to their home. 

Kenneth Rader, 57, is charged with arson and murder following a fire at a home, located at 10201 W. Beaver St. #133, on Monday around 3:18 p.m.  Firefighters discovered a body, later identified as Rader’s wife, Nataline Rader, 55, and detectives with the Division of State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations (BFAI) were asked to assist with the investigation.     

The BFAI was joined in the investigation by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, the Jacksonville Fire Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.  The suspect, Rader, was located in Columbus, Ohio, and members of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Homicide Unit flew to Ohio and interviewed Rader, and he subsequently confessed.  Rader is facing extradition back to Florida. 

The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is the law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local law enforcement agencies in the investigation of fires of suspicious origin.  Anyone with information about this case or any suspicious fire is asked to call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON). 


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