Volume 4 Number 28
July 16, 2007


Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has revoked the license of a South Florida insurance agent and ordered him to pay a $40,000 fine for targeting senior citizens, some suffering from dementia, for the sale of unsuitable deferred annuity products.   

In one instance, Joseph John Ripa, 48, convinced an 83-year-old retiree seeking supplemental retirement income to invest his entire liquid net worth in an equity indexed deferred annuity that provided no immediate income and carried with it 13 years of surrender charges as high as 17 percent.  The license revocation is based on findings arising out of an investigation and prosecution by the Department of Financial Services, which CFO Sink oversees, and was recommended by a Division of Administrative Hearings judge following a formal hearing. 

“It is sad and deplorable that anyone would take advantage of senior citizens looking for help in supplementing their income,” said CFO Sink.  “This man knowingly locked his customers’ money away in annuities that could be accessed only by paying steep penalties or after a dozen years or more, and that certainly was not to the benefit of the customers he targeted.”  

Ripa, who was associated with Fidelity Assurance, Inc., of St. Petersburg, was aware that the products he was selling were unsuitable for the seniors he targeted, but concealed that fact by failing to disclose to his clients the applicable surrender charges and penalties, along with other potentially harmful features of the products. He sold equity indexed deferred annuities and other annuity products to consumers, ranging in age from 75 to 90, and in at least three instances he targeted vulnerable consumers who he knew suffered from dementia and could not exercise sound judgment on their own behalf at the time of the sale. 

Even though they are sometimes marketed as “safe” investments that offer a guarantee of principle with a potential to earn stock market-like returns, equity indexed deferred annuities can be complex products to understand and frequently carry hefty surrender charges that may last for many years. Because these products typically restrict a consumer’s ability to access the funds without penalty and are not considered liquid investments, they are often unsuitable for seniors. For more information, log on to http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/Consumers/. To file a complaint or ask a question, log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call the Department's Consumer Helpline at 1-800-342-2762. 

The Department's Division of Agent & Agency Services, Bureau of Investigation, investigates various forms of insurance agent violations concerning health, life, auto, property, workers compensation, bail bonds and title insurance.