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

Volume 4, Number 25, June 22, 2007

Dear Floridian:

The death of nine Charleston, S.C., firefighters on Monday while battling a furniture store fire is the biggest loss of U.S. firefighter lives since Sept. 11, 2001.

This tragedy has deeply affected firefighters and their families throughout the nation.

Certainly all of us in the fire services will be studying the events in Charleston to learn how to improve firefighter safety. One thing we do know is that sprinklers could have made a difference. The Charleston furniture store did not have sprinklers.

Coincidentally, Ormond Beach Fire Chief Barry Baker announced on Thursday a similar fire occurred in Ormond Beach, but with a much different outcome. Ormond Beach firefighters on Wednesday night responded to a fire at a furniture store, but this store had sprinklers.

If you own property, I urge you to consider installing sprinklers if you do not have them. According to the National Fire Protection Association, sprinklers reduce fatalities and property loss by at least half. Sprinklers could save your life or your family’s life or the lives of your employees and customers, and could save your business or help you get back in business faster after a fire. Your security and that of others makes it worth looking into.


Sincerely,

--Alex Sink


CFO SINK ANNOUNCES FIRST MEETING OF FINANCIAL LITERACY COUNCIL IN TALLAHASSEE ON MONDAY, JUNE 25

In an ongoing effort to increase financial literacy awareness Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced the Financial Literacy Council will convene its first meeting next week in Tallahassee. The meeting will be held from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Monday, June 25, 2007, at the Capitol Complex, House Office Building, Room 306.

The following nine individuals are members of the state’s Financial Literacy Council:

  • Paul Auslander, CFP, President, American Financial Advisors (Orlando)

  • James R. De Santis, M.Ed., Executive Director, Florida Council on Economic Education (Tampa)

  • Liana Fox, Ph.D., Professor, Hillsborough Community College (Tampa)

  • Richard George, President, Junior Achievement of West Central Florida (Safety Harbor)

  • Cassandra J. Grayson, M.Ed., Sr. Vice President, Administration, Florida Credit Union League (Tallahassee)

  • Doug Heinlen, Member of Florida Executive Council, American Association of Retired Persons (Sarasota)

  • Deidre Newton, M.B.A, President and CEO, Community Real Estate Services, Inc. (West Palm Beach)

  • Obdulio Piedra, Miami-Dade Market President, Great Florida Bank (Pinecrest)

  • Dulce M. Suarez-Resnick, Senior Account Manager, HBA Insurance Group (Miramar)

The council, authorized in 2006 by House Bill 825, was created to study the financial problems that affect consumers, particularly young persons, seniors, working adults and small business owners, which arise from a lack of basic knowledge of financial issues. The council will also develop recommendations to aid CFO Sink’s department-- the Department of Financial Services-- in developing programs and resources aimed at increasing financial literacy among Floridians.

CFO Sink is a strong proponent of financial literacy. Through outreach coordinators, the Department of Financial Services aggressively reaches out to local communities to educate consumers on topics such as the wise use of credit cards for teens, credit card identity theft, hurricane preparedness, small business security, life insurance and first-time homebuyer workshops.


SUNCOAST TIGER BAY HOSTS CFO

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink visited the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg on June 22 as their guest speaker. She spoke about her role as chief financial officer, being the top fiscal watchdog and a consumer advocate. 

The Suncoast Tiger Bay Club is a non-partisan political club that fosters a better understanding of public issues. Members and guests meet over lunch and listen to an invited public figure. Afterwards, they spend time peppering the speaker with questions.


SUCCESSFUL MEETING HELD BY TASK FORCE ON CITIZENS PROPERTY INSURANCE CLAIMS HANDLING AND RESOLUTION

The legislatively-created Task Force on Citizens Property Insurance Claims Handling and Resolution met on June 19, 2007, in Ft. Lauderdale with a responsive audience and an effective discussion of the issues.

Consumers who have homeowner policies with Citizens or who have open claims from the 2004/2005 hurricane seasons attended the public hearings and provided public testimony. The task force heard comments from 26 citizens on a variety of specific issues.

Citizens representatives were available to facilitate claims and answer concerns of policyholders. Those with open claims with Citizens are encouraged to contact Citizens for resolution of the issues.

Two areas of immediate concern to the task force are out-of-state-adjusters and the appointment of insurance agents. Citizens is requested to have a detailed action plan for training out-of-state adjusters and to have a first response team in position as hurricane season is here.

The Department of Financial Services consumer specialists were on site to help with questions regarding Citizens claims and policies.

Created by House Bill 1A during the 2007 special session of the Florida Legislature, the task force comprises Chairman and Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate Bob Milligan; Vice Chairman and Senator Mike Fasano; Representative Julio Robaina; Michael B. Twomey Sr., Attorney; Mike Lancashire, VP, The Main Street America Group; Heather Carruthers, Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe County; and Tim Loftin, VP of Claims at Citizens Property Insurance Corporation.

The task force, directed to develop recommendations for Citizens to complete claims remaining from the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, will issue a report evaluating Citizens’ procedures on claims handling, claims resolution and customer service to the Governor, Chief Financial Officer, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House by July 1, 2007.

A Web site dedicated to the task force and its duties is available at http://www.taskforceoncitizensclaimshandling.org.


STATE FIRE MARSHAL SINK SUPPORTS 2007 INTERNATIONAL FIRE AND EMS SAFETY STAND DOWN

Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink is calling for Florida's firefighters to join fellow responders around the nation in a "stand down" this week and suspend all non-emergency activity to focus on safety during the 2007 International Fire and EMS Safety Stand Down, being held this week through Saturday, June 23, 2007.

Florida is at the forefront of firefighter safety as one of the only states to mandate a Firefighter Occupational Safety and Health program by law. In 2006, 105 U.S. firefighters died in the line of duty; however, Florida was fortunate that no firefighters or EMS personnel died in the line of duty last year. So far this year, 53 U.S. firefighter lives have been lost, including one in Florida and nine who died on Monday while battling a fire at a furniture store in Charleston, S.C.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and colleagues of those fallen firefighters,” said CFO Sink. “Emergency responders know there is great risk in what they do, yet their courage and commitment to serve their fellow citizens is strong. I can think of no finer way to honor their lives than to learn from their deaths how to make the job safer for those responders who will follow in their footsteps.”

Drawing attention to both firefighter and emergency medical services, the International Stand Down is sponsored by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Volunteer and Combination Officers Section of the IAFC. The Florida Professional Firefighters and the Florida Fire Chief’s Association work with their counterparts in the U.S. and Canada to encourage firefighters and EMS personnel to take time from their normal duties to closely look at what can be done to reduce the death and injury rate for firefighters.

The theme of the 2007 Stand Down is “Ready to Respond.” Stand downs have been used by the military for years to correct issues throughout the ranks. For more information, please contact Chief Dave Casey at the Florida State Fire College, or visit http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/sfm and click on “Firefighter Safety” for more information on the State Fire Marshal’s Office firefighter safety programs, reports and links.


PUBLIC AUCTION OF UNCLAIMED PROPERTY TO BE HELD IN ORLANDO IN AUGUST

Alex Sink, Florida’s chief financial officer, is urging treasure hunters to join the bidding for unclaimed jewelry, coins, antiques and collectibles at a public auction on Saturday, August 4, in Orlando. The auction offers items for bid to the public. The net proceeds of the auction are deposited into the State School Trust Fund for the benefit of Florida’s public schools. Since the inception of the Unclaimed Property Program, the state’s public schools have benefited from more than $1.5 billion in unclaimed property proceeds.

The items offered for sale at the auction are unclaimed contents from abandoned bank safe deposit boxes that have been turned over to the Department of Financial Services, Bureau of Unclaimed Property, after being unclaimed for at least three years. The Bure
au makes an effort to find owners or heirs and last year returned more than $100 million in cash and property to rightful owners.  In addition, the proceeds from items sold at the auction are always available to the owners or heirs to claim.

The auction will be held on August 3 & 4 in Orlando at The Florida Hotel and Conference Center at the Florida Mall.

Registration and Preview: Friday, August 3, 2007, 10:00 AM - 7:00 PM (Preview this day only - no preview on day of auction.)

Auction: Saturday, August 4, 2007, 10:00 AM - until finished (Registration will open at 8:00 a.m.)
Location: The Florida Hotel and Conference Center, Florida Mall, Sand Lake Road and S. Orange Blossom Trail (U.S. 441), 1500 Sand Lake Rd., Orlando, FL 32809  Phone: 407-859-1500  www.thefloridahotelorlando.com


Please visit www.fltreasurehunt.org, where you can learn more about the unclaimed property program, search our database of unclaimed accounts and file claims for accounts for which you believe you are entitled. You may also contact us by telephone at 888-258-2253 (toll-free in Florida) or 850-413-5555.

Additional information, including a free, downloadable catalog, will soon be available on www.FLTreasureHunt.org Web site and from Fisher Auction Company at www.fisherauction.com.


Agents’ Licenses suspended for improper selling of DISCOUNT HOME HEALTH care service plan 

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced that the licenses of two Sarasota insurance agents have been suspended for making “false and worthless promises” to more than 40 elderly Floridians who thought they were buying a home health care services plan but paid nearly $200,000 for access to providers and never received any services.  One of the victims was a 96-year-old blind woman. 

Michael D. Carll, 49, and James W. Crain, Jr., 41, both of International Life and Health in Sarasota, had their licenses and eligibility for licensure as insurance agents in the state of Florida suspended for a period of 24 months. The two also sold insurance through several other Florida corporations, all of which were located at 2477 Stickney Point Road, Suite 315B in Sarasota.  They cannot apply for reinstatement of their licenses even after the suspension period until full restitution has been made. 

“It is cruel to sell senior citizens on expensive false promises that will not provide the services they need,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the department.  “If they fail to pay back every penny, they will never get their licenses back.” 

Carll and Crain pitched their product as a discount home health care service “to provide referrals for homemaker and companion services and custodial care.” Their referral services were sold to approximately 44 elderly Floridians, most in their 80s or 90s. Several were disabled and suffered from diminishing mental capacity, and some already had home medical care coverage, even though the Home Care membership plan’s application required that the purchasing consumer be of sound mind and body, not be blind, deaf, or wheelchair-bound, and that the Home Care membership plan not replace any existing insurance product. 

The plans sold for between $2,475 and $5,040 and offered a three-payment option plan that amounted to a 25-percent interest charge for premium financing, and the two collected at least $192,700.  The investigation began after victims complained that they were unable to get any referrals or services.  The department’s Division of Agent and Agency Services’ Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation, and the department’s Division of Legal Services issued administrative complaints in June 2006.  Following a contested administrative hearing, an administrative law judge called for the 24-month suspension for both agents.   

The Florida Department of Financial Services’ Division of Agent and Agency Services, Bureau of Investigation, investigates various types of insurance violations by agents including health, life, auto, property, workers’ compensation, bail bond and title insurance.  To file a complaint against an agent call 1-800-342-2762 or go to www.MyFloridaCFO.com.             


CFO SINK REVOKES LICENSE OF TAMPA BAY AGENT FOR DECEPTION IN SALE OF ANNUITIES

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has issued an order revoking the license of a Tampa Bay-area insurance agent for exploiting seniors in the sale of annuities.

Sharon Razdar, 49, was accused of misleading and deceptive practices in the sale of annuities. She and her husband Bijan Razdar owned and operated American Independent Financial Services, located at 10633 U.S. Highway 19 in Port Richey. An investigation by the Department of Financial Services (DFS) determined the Razdars targeted elderly Florida consumers through radio advertisements and seminars, with the goal of soliciting seniors to purchase annuity contracts that would earn the couple high-dollar commissions. Bijan Razdar’s license was revoked last year.

“It is reprehensible that anyone would take advantage of any Floridian, most especially a senior citizen who is looking for help with investing hard-earned money,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the DFS. “I am relieved that these two are out of the insurance business in Florida, and I commend everyone in the department who helped make this happen.”

The Razdars’ radio advertisements were designed to sound like financial talk shows offering financial advice to listeners. The Razdars used their radio advertisements to attempt to induce investors into surrendering in-force life insurance and annuity products or other investments for the purpose of purchasing equity indexed fixed annuities, which may have been unsuitable and inappropriate for listeners’ investment objectives and financial needs. Bijan Razdar continued to sell annuities to elderly consumers even after having his license revoked and was arrested and pleaded guilty to charges that he continued to transact without a license, now a felony in Florida.

While investors may be lured into the purchase of an equity indexed annuity believing that they will realize returns similar to that of an index, such at the S&P 500, such a belief may not be reasonable. Equity indexed annuities can be complex, long-term investments carrying high surrender charges, and investors should consider getting advice from more than one financial professional prior to investing in such products.

When considering buying annuity product, CFO Sink offers Floridians the following advice:

  • Find out the specifics of the particular annuity you are considering (variable or equity-indexed). Request a prospectus from the insurance company or from you financial professional, and read it carefully.

  • Compare the benefits and costs of the annuity to other annuities and to other types of investments (stocks, bonds and mutual funds).

  • Carefully assess financial goals - variable and equity index annuities are designed to be long-term investments to meet long term goals such as retirement.

  • Equity-index annuities are complicated investment products that may contain several features that can affect your investment return. Make sure you understand how an equity indexed annuity computes its index-linked interest rate before you buy.

  • Consult a tax adviser and consider all the tax consequences of purchasing an annuity, including the effect of annuity payments on your tax status in retirement.

  • 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.

  • Before you surrender an 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. The cost of a transfer may outweigh any benefit of a new product.

  • Beware of "bonus" interest rates, as they may be limited in duration and have strings attached, and sales pitches that claim you will "recoup" all penalties with higher returns.

  • 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.

  • Remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Consumers who believe they have been victim of financial fraud should call the Department's Consumer Helpline at 1-800-342-2762 or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com to file a complaint.


Consumer Services Helpline (800) 342-2762
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