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

Volume 4, Number 32, August 10, 2007

Fellow Floridian:

Families with children going back to school can save money on school supplies this weekend thanks to a Back-To-School Sales Tax Holiday approved by the Florida Legislature. State and local sales tax will not be collected on clothes, footwear, books and certain accessories selling for $50 or less through midnight Monday, August 13, 2007.  The sales tax holiday began on August 4.

This is a great opportunity for your family to get the supplies they need at significant savings.

Businesses and shoppers with questions regarding the sales tax holiday can contact the Department of Revenue toll-free taxpayer assistance line at 1-800-352-3671 between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays.  For more information on the sales tax holiday, visit www.myflorida.com/dor.

In addition, this is an excellent time to give back to your community by donating school supplies for needy students. School supply drives are being sponsored by retailers, communities and agencies around the state.

For some children, donated supplies mean the difference between showing up at school prepared with paper and pencils -- or with nothing at all.

Sincerely,

--Alex Sink


CFO SINK: FLORIDA’S UNCLAIMED PROPERTY AUCTION RAISES RECORD FUNDS FOR FLORIDA’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Auction shatters attendance record and raises over $800,000 for education

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced that the Department of Financial Services, Bureau of Unclaimed Property (Bureau) broke previous unclaimed property auction records at Saturday’s auction in Orlando, raising more money than previous auctions and breaking last year’s attendance record.

“I am thankful to the Floridians who bid on the wonderful items up for auction and the members of our Bureau who worked so hard to make this event a success,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the Bureau. “Not only did we raise a record-breaking $800,000 for Florida school children, we also raised awareness about the Bureau’s mission of reuniting Floridians with their unclaimed property.”

During Saturday’s auction, the Bureau raised over $817,000 for the State School Trust Fund from the selling of 534 lots, or groups, of items. The top selling item was a 3.3 ct. pear-shaped diamond that sold for $22,000, $12,500 over the reserve price. The highest-percentage performing lot contained a Royal belt buckle and spurs believed to be from the last Empress of France, Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III. It sold for $5,000, compared to the reserve price of $400.

Among the other top selling items at Saturday’s auction were autographed Hank Aaron and Don Larsen baseballs that sold for $450, an un-circulated 1896 $1 silver certificate that sold for $1,100, a 1934 $500 bill that sold for $14,000, a five ct. blue-green diamond that sold for $14,000, and a 17 ct. natural sapphire ring that sold for $10,700. The auction had approximately 450 registered bidders—a record number—with bidders from 15 states and one from the United Kingdom.

The public interest in the auction also led thousands of Floridians to the Unclaimed Property Web site,
www.FLTreasureHunt.org, to see if the state was holding their assets. While on a typical day, the Bureau’s Web site receives approximately 4,000 visitors, more than 48,800 Floridians visited the site the day before the auction (August 3, 2007). In the first four days of August, the Bureau received claims from approximately 30,000 Floridians for over $13 million in unclaimed property.

Floridians are encouraged to search not only for their own names, but also for the names of their family members and ancestors. Many of the accounts held by the state are in the name of deceased relatives, and it can be difficult for the state to locate the heirs of these accounts.

The Bureau receives items that have been abandoned in safe deposit boxes for at least three years and spends up to two years searching for the rightful owners or heirs. The Bureau has had tremendous success in finding owners. In the past year alone, the Bureau returned a record 255,000 accounts valued at more than $171 million. But when owners or heirs cannot be found, the items are auctioned. While the proceeds from the auctioned items are transferred to the state's Public School Trust Fund, the money is held in the original owners' name and can be claimed for free at any time.

Since the program's inception 46 years ago, the Bureau has successfully reunited owners with more than $1 billion in unclaimed property. Over the past five years, the program has returned more than $546 million-- more than half of all the money returned since the beginning of the program-- due largely to aggressive efforts by the program to contact owners.

The Bureau is currently holding 7.8 million accounts, mostly from dormant accounts in financial institutions, unclaimed utility deposits, insurance benefits, premium refunds, uncashed checks and trust accounts, as well as watches, jewelry, coins, stamps and historical items from abandoned safe deposit boxes.

Unclaimed property can be claimed for free at any time by the rightful owners or heirs by logging on to
www.FLTreasureHunt.org or by calling the Bureau at 1-88-VALUABLE. Until claimed, the unclaimed funds are transferred to the state’s School Trust Fund to benefit public schools. Since the program’s inception in 1961, more than $1.5 billion has been transferred to the fund.


CFO SINK NAMES NEW INSURANCE FRAUD DIVISION DIRECTOR

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced that she has named a 30-year law enforcement veteran to run the Department of Financial Services’ nationally recognized Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF), a sworn statewide agency that investigates fraud in all lines of insurance.

Vicki Cutcliffe most recently served as Chief of Law Enforcement Support for the Florida Department of Transportation, Motor Carrier Compliance Office, where she led the agency to full accreditation by the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation. In addition, she managed the Training, Recruitment and Selection, Policy Development, Public Information, Facilities Inspection, and Penalty Collection sections. She also is a member of the State’s Emergency Operations Command Center.

“I am pleased to have someone with Vicki’s experience and expertise lead our insurance fraud division, which is recognized as a national leader among state fraud bureaus,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the department. “I am confident that she will lead us to new heights in the ongoing fight against costly insurance fraud.”

The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud last year released a study that showed DIF leading the nation’s fraud bureaus in the number of cases presented to prosecutors and in the amount of court-ordered restitution won in court cases. DIF is one of 40 state anti-fraud bureaus and one of 32 with police powers, and last year the division made a record 819 arrests and won 590 convictions.

According to the Coalition, Floridians pay an additional $1,400 a year due to insurance fraud. The division offers a reward of up to $25,000 for information directly leading to an arrest and conviction in complex insurance fraud cases, and has paid more than $94,000 in rewards since 2001.

CFO Sink began looking for a new DIF Director earlier this year after appointing former director Eric Miller to serve as Deputy Chief Financial Officer.

Director Cutcliffe has a Bachelor of Science Degree from Thomas University. She was awarded the Florida Department of Transportation’s 2006 Distinguished Manager Award, Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation 2003 Accreditation Manager of the Year as well as the 2004 Commission award for being the sole law enforcement professional to lead two law enforcement agencies through to successful accreditation. She serves as a member of the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation Standards and Interpretation Committee, and is a Distinguished Graduate of the University of Louisville, Southern Police Institute’s Command Officer’s Development Course.


CFO SINK HOSTS ROUNDTABLE MEETING

Friday, August 3, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink hosted a roundtable meeting in Orlando with local leaders in the Hispanic community.  At the event, elected officials and community leaders discussed ways in which they could work together to educate the Hispanic community on a variety of financial issues, ranging from the expiration of Florida’s no-
fault insurance to mortgage fraud. 
 

CFO Sink listened to concerns and promised to use her office to not only prosecute criminals who try defraud citizens, but also to increase awareness about the financial and insurance information available through the Department of Financial Services regional consumer service offices.
  
For more information on the department’s Division of Consumer Services outreach, please visit our Web site at www.myfloridacfo.com or call 800-342-2762.


UNCLAIMED PROPERTY FINDS AN HEIR

Tuesday, August 7, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink visited the Daytona Beach International Airport for a breakfast with the Daytona Beach/ Halifax Area Chamber of Commerce.  While at the airport, CFO Sink met with Mary Tyson, an airport employee, who discovered about $4,000 in unclaimed property on the Department of Financial Services Web site, www.FLTreasureHunt.org.  

Mary visited the Web site after hearing about the Bureau of Unclaimed Property through press coverage surrounding the August 4th auction in Orlando.  The money Mary discovered was from dividends left behind for about 25 years that belonged to her late father.

Mary's story is not unusual - many Floridians don't know to check for unclaimed property that might belong to family members or deceased relatives. For that reason, the bureau works to raise awareness about the importance of checking the Web site for ancestors as well as current family members.

UPDATE:  Since Tuesday' s meeting with the CFO, Mary has uncovered three additional unclaimed property accounts belonging to her brother!


WORKERS’ COMP COMPLIANCE SWEEP NABS 23 EMPLOYERS

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink commended state workers’ compensation compliance investigators who conducted a recent sweep of 177 businesses in two Panhandle counties that resulted in 23 Stop Work Orders against employers found to be operating without the required coverage.

The sweep was conducted by the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Workers Compensation, Bureau of Compliance (District 1A). Two examiners and 13 investigators executed the sweep between July 23 and July 26 in South Walton County and the Panama City/Panama City Beach area. Seven of the checks were conducted on a military installation with a federal investigator attending and observing.

“Our investigators are tenacious about protecting workers by ensuring employers are complying with the law,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the department. “Because of our aggressive investigations and tougher laws, compliance is increasing. Employers are becoming more aware of their responsibilities and that if they fail to obtain workers’ compensation coverage, they will be caught.”

During the last fiscal year, District 1A led the state’s seven districts with a total of 546 Stop Work Orders and also led the state with the amount of premium generated – more than $3.2 million – as a result of employers coming into compliance and obtaining workers’ compensation coverage. District 1A was second in the state with the number of new employees – 1,054 – coming into compliance as well as the total amount of penalties the district assessed, which came to more than $15.6 million.

Employers are enjoying a cumulative 40-percent drop in premiums, carriers have seen Workers’ Compensation Administration Trust Fund assessments plummet from 2.57 percent to .25 percent beginning in January, and Florida has experienced overall premium growth with 28 new carriers writing workers’ compensation coverage in Florida.

“A strong economy and tougher compliance efforts have produced these solid results,” said CFO Sink. “More importantly, more workers are getting the protection they deserve.”


OPEN ENROLLMENT FOR SELF-EMPLOYED INDIVIDUALS
Unlocking the door to Health Insurance


The month of August is open-enrollment for self-employed individuals seeking health insurance in the state of Florida. Created in 1992, the Employers Health Care Access Act ensures health care to small employers and their employees regardless of their health conditions. While insurance carriers can inquire about an applicant’s health and medical history, the answers cannot be used to deny enrollment; however, the applicant may be subject to a waiting period before medical claims are paid for certain pre-existing conditions.

During the open enrollment period, participating insurance companies and Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO) will offer applications for coverage to the self-employed on a guaranteed-issue basis from August 1st to August 31st each year, with a plan start date of October 1st. Self-employed now covered by a small business plan may also switch to another company’s plan during this open enrollment period.

Under the Act, each participating carrier is required to offer a Standard and a Basic benefit plan to allow employers and employees a basis for comparing prices and benefits between carriers. Open-enrollment can be the key that opens the doorway to the previously uninsurable. The Department encourages all that qualify to take advantage of this yearly opportunity to ensure their financial and physical well being.

A listing of the Small Group Carriers and benefits of the Basic and Standard plans can be found on our Department’s website: www.MyFloridaCFO.com or by calling our toll-free helpline number (800) 342-2762. Our office also offers a free Small-Business Owner’s Guide, which can answer many of the consumer’s insurance concerns.


Consumer Services Helpline (800) 342-2762
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