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

Volume 4, Number 51, December 21, 2007

Fellow Floridian:

As the year draws to a close, I wish you and your families a happy holiday season. Living in this beautiful state, we have much for which we can be appreciative.

I am especially thankful for a year of wonderful memories. It was just a year ago that I came to Tallahassee to begin my service as your Chief Financial Officer. I am so proud of the dedication and commitment to public service shown by the thousands of employees in the Department of Financial Services.

As I travel the state, I am often greeted by citizens who are appreciative of the work of the department to help make their lives better, whether it’s through effectively managing taxpayers' dollars, returning unclaimed property, helping homeowners learn how to mitigate their homes or enforcing many of our state’s laws. Our work is never finished, and we pledge to continue to do our part to help protect and safeguard Floridians and their assets every day.

I hope that you are able to spend time with your family and friends over the holidays. I am thankful for the opportunity to be your public servant in Tallahassee.

Sincerely,  

Alex


TERRY BUTLER NAMED ACTING INSURANCE CONSUMER ADVOCATE

Insurance Consumer Advocate and General Bob Milligan is briefly serving as Interim Executive Director of the State Board of Administration.

Until General Milligan resumes his post, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has asked Terry Butler to serve as acting Insurance Consumer Advocate. Butler has more than 28 years of insurance and legal experience in Florida, and began serving in the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate in July 2007. An experienced lawyer, Butler has worked for the Department of Financial Services since 2000.

Prior to joining the Department, his experience included serving as Director of Legislation and Regulation with the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, Senior Attorney under Insurance Commissioners Bill Gunter and Tom Gallagher, and as an analyst and attorney on the Florida House Committee on Insurance. Butler holds a B.A. in Political Science from Miami University of Ohio and a J.D. from Florida State University. He resides in Tallahassee, Florida, with his wife, Kathleen.


PERSONAL INJURY PROTECTION INSURANCE IS REQUIRED FOR DRIVERS ON JANUARY 1, 2008

Since the Florida Legislature passed a bill to reform Florida’s Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law, citizens should know that Florida law will once again require drivers to carry personal injury protection insurance effective Jan. 1, 2008.

As part of the legislation restoring PIP coverage, insurance companies must notify policyholders how  the mandatory restoration of PIP/no-fault will impact them. The notice must clearly inform the policyholder on these points:

  • Beginning on Jan. 1, 2008, Florida law requires drivers to maintain PIP insurance coverage which pays covered medical expenses for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle crash by the policyholder, passengers, and relatives residing in the policyholder's household.
  • If a policyholder fails to maintain PIP coverage, the State of Florida may suspend the policyholder's driver license and vehicle registration.
  • If a policyholder already has personal injury protection coverage, the coverage will be amended effective January 1 to incorporate legally required changes without any additional premium and that the policyholder need take no further action.

Through the end of 2007, however, you may be financially liable for automobile accidents if you are the at-fault driver.  Or, you may find yourself in an accident with another driver who is unable to pay your medical bills.  It is essential that consumers review their insurance policies and purchase adequate coverage in the event of an accident.

If you need assistance, please contact your insurance agent or call our Consumer Helpline at 1-877-MyFLCFO.


WEEKI WACHEE PROPOSAL TO BECOME STATE PARK

This week, Mike Sole, Secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced to the Cabinet that Weeki Wachee signed a preliminary agreement to donate its assets to the State of Florida. This agreement provides the framework for the District, Weeki Wachee and the DEP to continue a dialog and to come to a final resolution for the attraction. Under the terms of the preliminary agreement, the state could be in charge of the Weeki Wachee mermaid show and the water park by October 2008.

The state would turn Weeki Wachee Springs into a state park and would increase the acreage to allow for camping, hiking and interpretive trails.

In 2001, the Southwest Florida Water Management District bought over 800 acres in the Weeki-Wachee River watershed, including nearly 28 acres that includes the Weeki Wachee springhead and mermaid show. That 28 acres also consists of a several buildings and cottages. Weeki-Wachee is a first magnitude spring and is noted for its clear high quality water.

The District entered into a 30-year lease with Weeki Wachee Springs, LLC to allow it to continue running the mermaid shows, maintaining the concessions and providing upkeep of the buildings. Because the District felt the buildings were not being maintained in a safe condition and because other lease conditions were not being met, in 2003 the District filed a lawsuit to terminate the lease.


UNDERSTANDING IDENTITY THEFT

Identity theft, sometimes referred to as identity fraud, is a crime that involves someone using your personal information — such as your name, Social Security number, credit card number or other financial account information — without your permission to commit fraud and/or other crimes.

Identity theft occurs in many forms, such as someone using your stolen personal information to apply for loans or purchase items using your credit card number, along with many other fraudulent activities.

Tips to Protect Your Identity

  • Know what’s in your wallet. Avoid carrying your Social Security number in your wallet or purse. This number provides access to personal information, and it should be stored in a safe and protected place. In addition, only carry the credit cards you need. This practice limits access to your accounts in the event that your purse or wallet is lost or stolen. It’s also a good idea to periodically photocopy your cards and keep a record of the customer service phone numbers associated with your financial accounts to speed up the process of cancelling credit cards, if needed.

  • Shred, shred, shred. Open all mail and read it carefully—even the items that might appear to be junk mail could contain personal offers. Any items with personal information, such as pre-approved credit offers, bank statements or utility bills should be shredded before being discarded.

  • Be suspicious of solicitors. You should never give personal information or your Social Security number to people unless you have verified that they are trustworthy. This advice applies to sharing information over the phone, in-store or online.

  • Monitor your revolving accounts and credit score. Check your bank, credit card and other financial account information, along with your credit score, once a year to reduce the risk of unauthorized charges or credit applications. If you see a suspicious charge, immediately contact your financial institution.

  • Take action against unauthorized actions. If you notice a new account has been opened in your name without your permission, immediately contact one of the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian or TransUnion—and ask that a “fraud alert” be placed on your record. Once the alert is placed, the other two bureaus will be notified, and creditors will be required to contact you directly before opening new accounts or making changes to existing accounts. In addition, file a police report and submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. You also might consider enrolling in paid services that monitor your credit report and alert you when someone applies for credit in your name or account information is altered.

  • Surf the Internet safely. Millions of people are online at any given time, some of whom are thieves looking to steal your identity. These hackers can be found collecting information from unsuspecting “pop-ups,” surfing unsecured networks or hacking into retail Web sites. Be sure to always use a secured network, and frequently update firewall protections on your computer. Also limit the amount of personal information you post on networking Web sites.

  • Consider purchasing identity theft insurance. Several insurance companies offer identity theft insurance. Although it cannot protect you from becoming a victim of identity theft, this insurance provides coverage for the cost of reclaiming your financial identity, such as the expenses of placing phone calls, making copies, mailing documents, taking time off from work without pay and hiring an attorney. As with any insurance policy, make sure you understand what you are purchasing and compare prices, coverages and deductibles among multiple insurers.

Some insurance companies offer identity theft insurance as an endorsement on a home or auto policy, which covers lost wages, out-of-pocket costs, and other expenses associated with repairing credit damaged through identity theft.

Insurance agents can offer consumers information about whether their home or auto insurance company offers identity theft coverage and to learn the details of the services the coverage may provide. 

Other ways to protect against identity theft are available on the Department of Financial Services' Web site at http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/consumers/id_theft/.


NEW LAW PASSES TO REQUIRE BETTER ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Congress sent an energy bill to the White House that will increase the federal auto mileage requirement and also will require an increase in the use of ethanol as a substitute for gasoline.

Veto-proof majorities in both houses passed the measure. The House passed the bill 314-100, with 95 Republicans joining Democrats in support of the legislation, after the Senate approved it last week 86-8. Bush signed the measure Wednesday morning at the Energy Department.

The new law requires the industry to achieve an average of 35 miles per gallon for all vehicles, including SUVs and small trucks, by 2020, about a 10 mpg increase from what these vehicles get today. While all vehicles from small sedans to large SUVS must make some improvement in fuel economy, the required improvements may vary among vehicle classes as long as the overall industry average is 35 mpg.

The bill also calls for:

  • A sixfold increase in ethanol use to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022. Of that, 21 billion gallons will have to be from feedstock other than corn such as prairie grasses or wood chips.
  • Improved energy efficiency of appliances such as refrigerators, freezers and dishwashers, and a 70 percent increase in the efficiency of light bulbs.
  • Energy efficiency improvements in federal building and new efficiency standards for construction of new commercial buildings with the idea that they produce as much electricity as they use.

THE BASICS OF FLOOD INSURANCE

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), floods are the most common, and most costly, natural disaster. Floods can happen anytime and anywhere, and they can happen fast. Also, the damage is not covered under a standard homeowners policy. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) offers some important tips on flood insurance to help you prepare.

What is a flood?

A flood is an excess of water (or mud) on land that’s normally dry. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) defines flood to be a general and temporary condition of partial or complete inundation of two or more acres of normally dry land area, or of two or more properties (at least one of which is the policyholder’s property) from overflow of inland or tidal waters; unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source; mudflow; or collapse or subsidence of land along the shore of a lake or similar body of water as a result of erosion or undermining, caused by waves or currents of water exceeding anticipated cyclical levels.

What is Flood Insurance?

Flood insurance is a special policy that is federally backed by the NFIP and available for both homeowners and businesses.
You can buy flood insurance for your home or business regardless of whether the property is in or out of a floodplain, as long as the property is located in a participating community.
You may buy flood insurance covering up to $250,000 of flood damage to your home. A standard flood policy will cover structural damage, including damage to the furnace, water heater, air conditioner, floor surfaces (carpeting and tile) and debris clean up.
For an additional premium, you also may buy flood coverage for up to $100,000 of damage to the contents of your home.
Coverage is available for up to $500,000 for non–residential buildings and their contents.

How Much Does Flood Insurance Cost?

According to FEMA, the average homeowners flood insurance premium is a little more than $500 a year.

Premiums for flood insurance will vary depending upon your risk level for a flood loss, the amount of coverage you choose, the type of coverage you need and your deductible.

How Can I Buy Flood Insurance?

You can purchase flood insurance for your home or business regardless of whether the property is in or out of a floodplain, directly from your property and casualty insurance agent, or insurance company if your community participates in the NFIP. To find out if your community participates, visit www.fema.gov/fema/csb.shtm.

Your insurance agent or insurance company also can confirm whether flood insurance is available to you and what it would cost.

Plan Ahead — Waiting Period

It is very important to plan ahead. A flood insurance policy normally will not go into effect until 30 days after you purchase the policy.


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