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

Volume 4, Number 29, July 20, 2007

As you know, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink leads the Department of Financial Services (DFS), which has 14 division and offices.  The CFO’s responsibilities are vast and numerous—from the Division of Accounting and Auditing to the Division of the State Fire Marshal—and every DFS employee shares the same goal: providing excellent service to the people of Florida. 

Recently, CFO Sink and her team have adopted a new mission and vision statement, which we would like to share with you: 

Mission Statement

“To safeguard the people of Florida and the state’s assets through financial accountability, education, advocacy, fire safety and enforcement.” 

Vision Statement

“The Department of Financial Services is to be known as the most ethical, professional and pro-active state agency in Florida.” 

Whether it’s through educating consumers about important financial or insurance issues, returning unclaimed property, protecting Floridians from arson and insurance fraud, or managing the long-term financial health of the state, CFO Sink and the employees of the Department of Financial Services are committed to helping Floridians make wise financial decisions. 

If we can help you, please contact us at MyFloridaCFO.com or toll-free at 1-800-342-2762. 


MYFLORIDACFO.COM  DEBUTS AS CFO SINK'S WEB SITE

The Department of F inancial Services' internet Web site has been renamed MyFloridaCFO.com. The new domain name reflects CFO Sink's vision to have the department serve as a one-stop-shop for Floridians on a wide range of financial issues.

Both MyFloridaCFO.com and www.MyFloridaCFO.com will bring up the CFO's Web site, and both addresses will be functional for as long as needed.  Additionally, MyFloridaCFO.com will work with or without the “www.” in front of it, though the preferred usage will be MyFloridaCFO.com.  Resave your bookmarks and favorites with the new name!

Letter sent to Governor Crist, Senate President Pruitt and House Speaker Rubio

Post-PIP Considerations

PIP Chart


CFO SINK HOSTS COMMERCIAL PROPERTY ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink hosted a roundtable discussion at the Florida Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, July 18th to discuss the availability and affordability of property insurance for business owners. In addition to the current crisis in the residential property insurance market, CFO Sink has been concerned about the number of small- and medium-sized businesses that are struggling in today's commercial property insurance market. During the roundtable discussion, CFO Sink met with business leaders, insurance companies, the Chair of the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, insurance agents, and representatives of the Florida Chamber.

Fortunately, many in the group felt the current commercial property insurance market is beginning to stabilize. Insurance carriers are insuring more commercial properties, although rate affordability remains a concern for business owners. A number of participants expressed their concern about the role of Citizens in the commercial property insurance market. Additionally, CFO Sink agreed with the group that more windstorm mitigation research and competition in the private property insurance market in Florida is needed. CFO Sink will continue to work with Florida’s leaders to identify ways to improve both the residential and commercial property insurance market in our state.

For more information, read New territory, familiar fears for Citizens.


STATE FIRE MARSHAL SINK PRESENTS CHECK FOR SMOKE ALARM PROGRAM

Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink presented a $500 personal check on Thursday to the Florida Fire & Emergency Service Foundation's Smoke Alarm Give-A-Way program. She presented the check while meeting with the Board of Directors of the Florida Fire Chiefs' Association.

Plantation Fire Chief Robert Pudney serves as Chairman of the Florida Fire & Emergency Service Foundation, and accepted the CFO's check on behalf of the program. The Foundation to date has provided 30,000 smoke alarms that have been installed for free by local firefighters in low-income, at-risk homes in 130 communities throughout Florida. The program relies primarily on grants for funding, but welcomes donations.

As State Fire Marshal, CFO Sink oversees the Division of State Fire Marshal whose mission is to protect Floridians from fire through education and investigation of fires of suspicious origin.


STATEMENT FROM CFO SINK ON MINOUCHE NOEL

During the 2007 Legislative Session, the Legislature passed a claims bill to compensate Ms. Minouche Noel and her family for their losses. Recently, however, the Noel’s lawyers have taken legal action in an effort to increase their compensation beyond that which was specified under the claims bill.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has been consulting with House and Senate leaders about their concerns for the family, and today received a letter of legislative intent from Senate President Ken Pruitt and House Speaker Marco Rubio suggesting the CFO take legal action to protect the interests of the Noels.

CFO Sink offered the following statement:

“My heart goes out to Ms. Minouche Noel and her family, who have suffered for far too long after an incident of medical malpractice almost two decades ago.

“I thank President Pruitt and Speaker Rubio for their leadership on this issue. I too, share their concerns for Ms. Noel and her family. My legal staff is aggressively moving forward to protect the Noels. Further, I would like to work with the Legislature to standardize our claims payment process so that in the future families will not suffer as the Noels are today.”

For more information on the Minouche Noel case:


SUNSET OF FLORIDA'S NO-FAULT LAW

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink sent Governor Charlie Crist, Senate President Ken Pruitt, House Speaker Marco Rubio and other legislative leaders the letter attached here about the implications of the October 1, 2007, sunset of Florida’s Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law. During the past several weeks, CFO Sink has been analyzing the potential effects on consumers and speaking with stakeholders to develop a comprehensive, objective outline of the policy issues that may arise out of an automobile accident after October 1, 2007.

These policy issues have been outlined in the attached discussion paper. Additionally, please find a hypothetical scenario involving a simple two-car, two-driver accident in Florida, post-PIP.


CFO SINK ANNOUNCES REWARD OFFERED FOR INFORMATION IN ARSON OF HOME THAT WAS TARGET OF ANTI-ISLAM SLURS

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who also serves as state fire marshal, announced today that a reward of up to $2,500 is being offered for information leading to the arrest of whoever is responsible for an intentionally set fire on July 6 at a Sarasota residence where anti-Islam slurs were also spray-painted throughout the home.

“Arson is a violent crime and the State Fire Marshal’s Office is committed to protecting Floridians from arson,” said CFO Sink. “As in every arson case we investigate, we will follow every lead and we urge anyone with information about this particularly heinous crime to please come forward and help us get the perpetrator off the street.”

The reward money has been posted by the Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention (FACAP), which includes the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Detectives with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations (BFAI), have determined that the fire was the result of arson.

In addition to the arson, which heavily damaged the home located at 5311 Avila Ave. in Sarasota, the arsonist spray-painted anti-Islam messages inside and outside the home. The crime is also being investigated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. There were no injuries reported.

The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations (BFAI) is 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 information about this case or any suspected arson to the BFAI, call 1-877-NOARSON (1-877-662-7766).


MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME PROGRAM TO SIGN UP HOMEOWNERS FOR FREE WIND INSPECTIONS AT FAIA HURRICANE EXPOS

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink would like Floridians to know that on Saturday, July 21, the My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program will be signing up eligible homeowners for free wind inspections at the Florida Association of Insurance Agents' (FAIA) Hardening Your Home Against Hurricanes: A Trusted Choice Safe Living Expos. Last weekend representatives from the MSFH program signed up homeowners at expos in Tallahassee, Pensacola, Miami, Daytona, and Winter Park.

Future Hardening Your Home Against Hurricanes expos will be held in four Florida cities on July 21 from 8:00 a.m. until 12:00 noon.  Homeowners can sign up for their free wind inspection at select Home Depot stores in St. Petersburg, Bradenton, Boynton Beach, and Davie.  The MSFH program will be joining representatives from FAIA, FLASH, the National Weather Service and County Emergency Management at local Home Depot stores to promote the importance of mitigation and hurricane safety.  

On Saturday, July 21, 2007, homeowners can sign up for their free wind inspection at select Home Depot stores in St. Petersburg, Bradenton, Boynton Beach, and Davie.

As CFO, Sink oversees the state’s MSFH program, which helps Floridians identify how they can strengthen their homes and reduces the overall potential for hurricane damage in our state. The MSFH program offers eligible homeowners a free wind inspection by trained and qualified hurricane mitigation inspectors. Homeowners who have received these inspections and meet additional criteria set by the Legislature may also have the opportunity to apply for a matching grant of up to $5,000 to make recommended improvements. 

In order to be eligible for the program’s matching grant reimbursements of up to $5,000, the 2007 Legislature requires that homeowners meet the following requirements: have received a completed wind inspection after May 1, 2007; live in a single-family, site-built home with a building permit issued before March 1, 2002; have a valid homestead exemption; have an insured value of $300,000 or less; and be located in the wind-borne debris region.  Additionally, while the free wind inspections will still cover seven potential wind-resistance improvements, matching grants may only be used for opening protections, including windows, exterior doors and garage doors, as well as the bracing of gable ends.  

The MSFH program expanded statewide this spring after a pilot program the previous year and has performed more than 55,000 free wind inspections since April 23, 2007.  More than 5,800 homeowners statewide are currently working with the MSFH program to harden their homes and will receive their matching grants upon the completion of their recommended improvements.  Statewide, the program has issued nearly $1.2 million in grants to 413 homeowners who have completed the improvements recommended in their inspection reports. 

MSFH will be signing up homeowners for free wind inspections at select Home Depots for the following FAIA Expos:

DATE & TIME: Saturday, July 21, 2007, from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
 

LOCATIONS:   
St. Petersburg Home Depot #257   
2300 22nd Ave North

E. Bradenton Home Depot #6319
5475 University Parkway

Boynton Beach Home Depot #224
1500 SW 8th Street

Davie Home Depot #222
2300 S University Drive


CONSUMER ALERT: CFO SINK WARNS OF BOGUS LOTTERY, CHECK SCAM
Phony check looks like State of Florida warrant and bears CFO’s name

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is warning consumers to be on the lookout for a bogus lottery contest scam that includes a letter indicating the recipient has won money from the “North American Prize Pool” along with a check that appears to be a State of Florida warrant and contains the CFO’s name and signature—but it is all bogus, warned CFO Sink.

“So far we have no information that anyone has cashed the check or been financially harmed, but these vultures are playing a numbers game,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the Department. “They are sending out hundreds of bogus letters and checks hoping that if only one percent of the recipients respond they will be able to make some easy money.”

The bogus checks have been traced so far to Washington, California, Hawaii, Pennsylvania and Florida.
The letter indicates it comes from the “Lottery, Resources Management & Payment Verification Center” and provides a British Columbia address. The last sentence of the letter advises consumers against sharing the information with others: “Please note that in accordance with our company’s policy … and safety reasons, we strongly advice [sic] that you keep your winnings and claim number confidential and personal.”

The letter claims the recipient has won $100,000, provides a claim number and directs the recipient to contact Jean Gorden at 1-416-854-2096. The letter states that the enclosed check for $3,850 is intended to cover non-residence taxes, but upon calling the phone number provided in the letter, the recipient is directed to cash the check and use the cash to buy a MoneyGram to send to an address in Toronto, Ontario. Each of the checks included in the letters contain the same warrant number, 7714957150. Canadian officials have been advised of the scam.

The Department’s Bureau of Fiscal Integrity is looking into the matter. Anyone who receives one of these letters is asked to call the Department’s Consumer Helpline at 1-800-342-2762.


INSURANCE BROKER TO REIMBURSE $2.6 MILLION

Agreement also requires national broker to disclose commissions   

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Attorney General Bill McCollum, and Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty announced that multiple Florida cities and counties will receive approximately $2.6 million in reimbursements from Willis Group Holdings Ltd., a national insurance broker. Under the settlement, the broker denied wrongdoing but agreed to reimburse its clients without any formal action taken by the state agencies. 

A joint investigation by the Attorney General's Antitrust Division and the Department of Financial Services (DFS) led to allegations that Willis improperly collected undisclosed fees or commissions when it placed various coverages with insurance companies. Willis brokered multiple insurance contracts in Florida from 1999 through 2004, and clients included more than a dozen public entities in the State of Florida, including economic development councils, city and county governments and school boards. 

“Florida’s taxpayers deserve complete disclosure when local governments are conducting financial transactions with insurance brokers,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the DFS.  “I commend everyone who assisted in the investigation and in getting this money rightfully returned to the citizens of Florida.” 

“Honesty and accountability are of paramount importance in the insurance industry and the Attorney General’s Office will continue working to ensure such characteristics are in place,” said Attorney General McCollum. “I am pleased the agencies involved in today’s settlement were able to achieve this success for the Florida entities due the reimbursements.” 

Insurance brokers represent their clients by advising them on their insurance needs and options. The brokers also represent the clients when negotiating the price and terms of insurance coverage offered by insurance companies. Under today’s agreement, Willis also agreed to make full written disclosure of all such commissions in the future and to pay the costs of the investigation. The recovery of $2.6 million in restitution funds is the result of an industry-wide investigation into insurance broker activities. 

 “This settlement is another step toward ensuring that Florida consumers are fully informed in their insurance transactions,” said Commissioner McCarty. “The expansion of transparency in the insurance marketplace serves to protect the interests of Florida consumers and continues to be a regulatory priority of the Office of Insurance Regulation.”

Settlement Agreement – http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/PressOffice/pdfs/settlement.pdf 

Willis Public Entity List - http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/PressOffice/pdfs/willispublicentitylist.pdf


CFO SINK ADVISES FLORIDIANS THAT TENNESSEE HAS PLACED NFOA INTO RECEIVERSHIP

Following up on a warning she issued in April, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is now advising Florida consumers who made annuity transactions with the unauthorized Tennessee-based National Foundation of America (NFOA) that the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance (TDCI) has appointed a special deputy to take over and resolve the company’s business affairs.

Tennessee officials have said they will “pursue all means necessary” in effort to have investments returned to the elderly consumers who invested with NFOA.

Records indicate that 41 Florida senior citizens, mostly in Central Florida and the Fort Myers area, transferred more than $6 million in assets to NFOA, and that 10 additional Florida transactions were never completed. CFO Sink issued a warning to Floridians in April that NFOA was operating without a license, following an investigation by the Department of Financial Services’ Bureau of Investigation and the filing of a cease and desist order by the Office of Insurance Regulation. Now investigators have determined that the company never had designation as a 501(c)(3), or charitable organization, under the Internal Revenue Code.

“We are looking into the actions of several Florida agents who sold these products,” said CFO Sink, “and we stand ready to assist Tennessee officials in any way we can.”

NFOA marketed itself as a charitable organization and sold a term annuity product in several states, convincing consumers to replace their existing annuities or cash value life insurance policies in exchange for significant tax benefits due to their alleged charitable organization status.

CFO Sink urges Floridians not to transact insurance or financial business with any entity not authorized to do business in Florida. To verify licensure, consumers can log on to the Department’s website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call the Department’s Consumer Helpline at 1-800-342-2762. Investors who have transacted annuity business with NFOA should contact TDCI’s Special Deputy Paul Eggers at (615) 277-0700, by fax at (615) 277-0710, or by e-mail at peggers@nfoarehab.com.


HURRICANE BUSINESS SEMINAR TESTS DISASTER PREPAREDNESS 

The Department of Financial Services (DFS), in conjunction with the Capital Area Chapter of the American Red Cross; Gadsden County Board of County Commissioners; Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office, Division of Emergency Management Department; and Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce held a Hurricane Biz Seminar in Quincy on Wednesday, July 18, 2007, to highlight the importance of businesses having an effective hurricane response plan. 

At the event, DFS had experts on hand to answer businesses’ insurance questions as well as test the ability of businesses to coordinate disaster response and recovery activities in the event of a hurricane.   

Through simulated activities, business owners and operators were tested on the effectiveness of their hurricane plans, while also stressing the importance of establishing special needs shelters, employee location and staffing, points of distribution, warehouse activities and the staffing of emergency aid stations. 

For more information on the seminar please visit http://redcross.tallytown.com/biz/midway/.


Consumer Services Helpline (800) 342-2762
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