Consumer eViews
     FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER
    
Volume 5, Number 2, January 11, 2008

GETTING READY TO FILE TAXES, REMEMBER EITC

It’s that time of year again. Floridians are awaiting the arrival of their W-2s with a mixture of nervousness and anticipation about filing their annual tax returns.   

But did you know that you might be one of thousands of Floridians who are eligible for a tax credit that is often missed? The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a special federal tax credit available to lower-income working individuals and families, many of whom aren’t aware of its existence.

Every year, millions of dollars in tax relief are forfeited because eligible Americans fail to claim their share of the EITC. This is money that could be used to pay down debt, make a down payment on a home, open a college fund or help you prepare for retirement.

To find out if you or someone you know may qualify, click here.  Help spread the word, and you might help someone have a great start in the new year.


CFO SINK ADDRESSES BUSINESS EDITORS SUMMIT

Speaking to the business editors of several state newspapers on Thursday, Florida CFO Alex Sink thanked them for helping readers understand important issues including the effects of personal injury protection (PIP) reform and efforts to educate Floridians about windstorm mitigation through the My Safe Florida Home program.

Sink spoke during a two-day Business Editors Summit held by the Florida Press Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Hosted by the Tallahassee Democrat, the event was also sponsored by the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Environmental Defense Fund.

Sink said economic challenges this year will demand Floridians’ continued attention, including the $28 billion in risk exposure Floridians face through the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund. If a big storm hits, she said, Floridians could be hit with $1.8 billion in assessments each year for 30 years. That is why she will pursue legislation this year to create more flexibility in the fund and allow the Florida Cabinet, which meets every two weeks, to set reinsurance prices and levels in an effort to better control the risk.

She also addressed recent reports about Florida’s economy, saying there is plenty to be optimistic about in our state.  Sink said that Florida has reinvented itself every decade and the current challenges provide a terrific opportunity to make our state more attractive to businesses and entrepreneurs.

 


FLORIDA WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
A Photographic Documentary by Scherley Busch

The exhibit affords viewers an opportunity to experience the rich history of our state through Ms. Busch's artistic and impressive collection of many of Florida's remarkable women, pioneers and leaders in their chosen fields. Select color, environmental portraits and biographical information will be shown.

"Scherley Busch's powerful photographs of Florida's women leaders don't merely capture their images; they reflect the worlds they inhabit, their very essences. "  --Sun-Sentinel

"In her hands, a camera is more than lens and lever. It is a seeker of soul."  --Miami Herald

The Florida Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Office of Governor Crist have invited Scherley Busch, a renowned photographic artist, to exhibit her work at the Florida Capitol's Cabinet Room Gallery, January 15 through April 21, 2008. In collaboration with the Florida Commission on the Status of Women, sponsors of this acclaimed exhibit invite you to experience the exhibition as it appears in the state capitol to highlight the celebration of Women's History Month, March 2008. CONTINUED

Florida Women of Achievement combines art, education and history in a vivid photographic portrayal of women who have made contributions in the areas of science, education, art, business, sports, philanthropy and public service. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Gloria Estefan, Chris Evert, Ana Azcuy, U.S. Congresswomen Carrie Meek and Ileana Ros-Lehtenin, Florida's first lady Adele Graham, U.S. Attorney Janet Reno and more than 50 other women have sat before the lens of the renowned photographer to be immortalized in the exhibition that has been shown at over 35 venues including the U.S. Senate Russell Rotunda, Washington, D.C., The Florida Governor's Mansion, The Tallahassee Artport Gallery, The Historic Museum of Southern Florida, and the Spirit of Beijing Conference in Tampa, Florida.

About the Artist:
Ms. Busch has been photographing Florida Women of Achievement since 1992 as she continues to add to portraits of history making women. Educated in the fine arts, Ms. Busch developed a love for photography while working at the United Nations in New York. Initiating her career in photography in the 1970s, she exhibited fine art black and white and color images captured in Spain where she had been living and studying. This led her to an advertising-fashion photography career in Miami, as one of the first female photographers entering commercial photography in the South. She has instructed at the University of Miami and Miami-Dade College. Today, she is recognized as one of the foremost portraitists in the state. She continues to create her fine art images including series Miami DreamScapes and Tropical Visions (selections will also be on exhibit in the Capitol) and photographing editorial, corporate and advertising assignments.


NINETEEN FLORIDIANS SURRENDER ON CHARGES IN ONGOING INVESTIGATION INTO FRAUDULENT DRIVER LICENSES
Twenty-six arrested so far, hundreds more suspected to be involved

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced the arrests this week of 19 additional Floridians accused of posing a risk to Florida’s and the nation’s security by fraudulently obtaining Florida commercial driver licenses (CDLs). Those arrested this week surrendered, some calling in response to initial arrests last Friday. So far, 26 individuals have been charged in the ongoing investigation, and authorities believe hundreds of individuals may be involved. Some will also face charges of insurance application fraud.

Between November 2005 and April 2007, civilians who had never been in the military fraudulently obtained a United States Department of Defense waiver form. The waiver indicated that the holder had been trained by the United States Army to operate heavy vehicles. Some of these individuals, who had never received or completed the required training, used these fraudulently obtained CDLs to obtain either personal or commercial vehicle insurance.

“This scheme posed a risk to our nation’s security and put others on the road in jeopardy because these drivers did not have the training they claimed to have,” said CFO Sink. “I thank all of the law enforcement agencies involved for working together to protect Floridians and our nation.”

CFO Sink, who oversees the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF), said that today’s arrests follow an investigation by DIF, the U.S. Department of Defense - Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS); U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); the Florida Highway Patrol, and the Florida Department of Transportation Motor Carrier Compliance Office.

Steven Baez, a sergeant with the Army National Guard stationed at the Homestead Air Reserve Base in Homestead, sold each waiver form, Operator Qualification Record DA FORM 348-E, for as little as $400 and as much as $1,300. Baez pled guilty in October to one count of conspiracy to cause the production of false identification documents and two counts of bribery of a public official and faces up to 15 years in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for January 16, 2008, before U.S. District Court Judge Marcia G. Cooke. Today’s arrests are being prosecuted in Miami-Dade County and sentences upon conviction could range from five to 10 years in prison.

“These arrests clearly demonstrate our commitment to thwarting identity theft and document fraud,” said Anthony Mangione, special agent-in-charge of ICE investigations in Miami. “Document fraud involves efforts to obtain genuine identity documents through fraudulent means and the alteration of valid documents to be used for fraudulent purposes. Identity and document fraud pose a clear national security threat and we will continue working tirelessly to identify, arrest and bring to justice those involved in these illegal schemes."

Special Agent in Charge Christopher Amato, of the Pentagon's Criminal Investigative Service, Southeast Field Office, stated, "The fraudulent use of Department of Defense resources by a military member to violate the integrity of our infrastructure is taken very seriously by the DCIS. The DCIS will continue to play a vital role in the ongoing efforts to better secure and protect our nation from both external threats and internal corruption."

Anyone who purchased one of these fraudulent waivers or has additional information is urged to cooperate with the investigation by calling DIF Lt. Bill Santner at 305-536-0355.

Those who surrendered this week are:

ALEGRIA, CARLOS – DOB 10/22/1974, Miami
CASTRO, SERGIO – DOB 1/19/1980, Hialeah
ESPINOZA, STEVEN - DOB 1/21/1968, Ft. Myers
FERNANDEZ, RAUL – DOB 2/13/1959, Miami
GOMEZ-PRESNO, ALEXANDER – DOB 4/14/1977, Miami
HORTA, RENE – DOB 10/8/1963, Miami
PENADO, JOSE ROLANDO – DOB 5/14/1974, Homestead
NIETO, YUNIER ¬– DOB 8/13/1984, Hialeah
PICON, LUSI MARIA – DOB 10/7/1967, Homestead
PUENTES, ANXEL – DOB 12/13/1985, Miami
PUENTES, JUAN BARBAR – DOB 9/21/1973, Opa Locka
RODRIGUEZ, EDUARDO – DOB 6/24/1972, Miami
RODRIGUEZ, ERNESTO – DOB 5/2/1945, Homestead
RODRIGUEZ, VICTOR – DOB 11/16/1981, Homestead
RODRIGUEZ, YOSIEL – DOB 7/7/1983, Miami
SIAN FABIO, JOSE A. – 8/25/1966, Homestead
VANEGAS, PEDRO – DOB 10/1/1973, Homestead
VASALLO, ROMAN MARIANO – DOB 4/30/1963, Mayo
VIEYRA, ANTONIO – DOB 6/13/1964, Homestead

These individuals were booked into the Miami-Dade County Jail.

Those arrested on Friday were:
DIAZ, GREGORY – DOB 11/27/1984, Miami
DIAZ, LINA BELKIS - DOB 12/19/1964, Miami
DIAZ, LUIS ENRIQUE - DOB 4/12/1969, Miami
FERNANDEZ, JOSE – DOB 12/19/1983, Homestead
MONTESINO, JESUS LUIS - DOB 8/15/1959, Miami
RAMOS, ADALBERTO – DOB 11/28/1967, Miami
RAMOS, JACINTO – DOB 9/11/1968, Homestead

These individuals were booked into the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center.


FACAP INVESTIGATOR OF THE YEAR AWARD

Detective Tommy Barron, an arson detective in the northwest region for the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, was recently named 2007  Investigator of the Year by the Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention.  Detective Barron, who works with K-9 partner Amy, was recognized for demonstrating the level of excellence sought by FACAP.


FIVE PENSACOLA JUVENILES CHARGED WITH ARSON, BURGLARY

Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink announced today that five juveniles are facing arson and burglary charges following an investigation into a fire that destroyed a commercial building on January 3. No injuries were reported.

The arrests, which occurred today, are the result of a joint investigation by the Florida Division of State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, the Pensacola Fire Department and the Pensacola Police Department. The juveniles, ages 8 to 13, were processed through the Escambia County Jail and subsequently turned over to the Juvenile Justice Center in Pensacola.

“Playing with fire not only is dangerous but also can lead to criminal charges, as these children have unfortunately learned,” said CFO Sink. “I am just very relieved that no one was injured.”

The juveniles allegedly destroyed Markham Sign Company, located at 1000 West Government St., after they broke in and started lighting matches or a cigarette lighter they found, flipping the lit matches throughout the front office and eventually igniting some loose papers inside the office. The business was determined to be a total loss, with damages estimated at $150,000.

The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations 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. Anyone with information about this case or any incident of fire is asked to call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON).


YOU CAN BE A VICTIM OF IDENTITY THEFT

According to a recent Federal Trade Commission report, identity thieves victimize up to 2,000 consumers every week, making identity theft one of the fastest rowing crimes in the United States. The Florida Department of Financial Services urges consumers to take precautions against identity theft. Here are some actions you should take to protect your good name.

If you discover or suspect your identity has been stolen in some way, the Florida Department of Financial Services recommends that you take immediate action. These are some steps to take.

FILE a report with your local law enforcement agency or with a law enforcement
agency where you believe the identity theft happened. Keep a copy of the report
in case your creditors need it later to verify the theft.

CONTACT the three credit bureaus. Tell them you’re an identity theft victim and ask that they place a “fraud alert” on your accounts, with a statement instructing creditors to get your permission before opening any new accounts or changing any existing accounts in your name.

ORDER copies of your credit reports from the credit bureaus and review them carefully. Make sure no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name or unauthorized changes made to your existing accounts.
write your

CALL every one of your creditors – card companies, banks, credit unions, utility companies, phone services, retail stores and others – to determine if any of your accounts have been tampered with or new accounts opened fraudulently. Follow up your phone calls in writing, and keep copies of all correspondence.

CLOSE accounts that have been tampered with and open new ones with different Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords.

FILE a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft Hotline toll-free at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338) TDD 866-653-4261.

Mail written complaints to:
Identity Theft Clearinghouse
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20580

BE PATIENT. Your creditors are as anxious as you are to straighten out the circumstances. Remember, when an ID thief strikes, victims can be many.

Quick Tips
• When making a purchase, try to keep your debit/credit card
in your sight at all times.
• Review your monthly statements and question any unusual or unauthorized
charges.
• Shred receipts once you have matched them to your monthly statement.
• Be wary of anything suspicious at an ATM machine – for example, an
unusual piece of equipment.

NEVER give personal information to someone over the phone, on the Internet or by mail unless you know who it is and you initiated the contact. Check your mailbox every day. If you take a trip, ask the post office or a trusted friend to hold your mail until you return. Send outgoing mail from a post office or a post office collection box. A red flag on your personal mailbox is a green light to an ID thief.

ALWAYS ask for and destroy your credit card receipts. Review credit card statements as soon as you get them. If you see any suspicious charges, contact the card issuer immediately. In Florida in 2001, $60 to $70 million was stolen by fraud. Do not enter your credit card numbers on unsecured Internet sites. Make sure Internet vendors keep your credit card information in encrypted
form.

DO NOT write your Social Security number on your checks. Have new checks delivered to your financial institution (bank, credit union, savings association) for pickup, rather than your mailbox. Report lost or stolen checks immediately. Review statements from financial institutions the instant they arrive. Use ATMs in well lit areas, but never let anyone see you enter your PIN number. Always
take your receipt from an ATM.

ASK how it will be used if someone wants to see your Social Security number. If the answer doesn’t make sense to you, do not give your number. Your Social Security number is one of your most valuable pieces of personal identification. You will rarely need to show it.

SHRED
all unwanted credit offers and other documents containing any personal
information about you before you throw them away. Keep all documents with personal information in a safe place – especially if you have a roommate, employ outside help, or are having work done on your home.
REVIEW your credit report at least once a year. Your report is available for a small fee. The three main credit bureaus are:

Equifax – www.equifax.com
To order your report, call: 1-800-685-1111
or write: P.O.Box 740241, Atlanta, GA
30374-0241
To report fraud, call: 1-800-525-6285 and
write: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA
30374-0241

Experian – www.experian.com
To order your report, call: 1-888-397-3742
or write: P.O. Box 2104, Allen, TX 75013
To report fraud, call: 1-888-397-3742 and
write: P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion – www.tuc.com
To order your report, call: 1-800-888-4213
or write: P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022
To report fraud, call: 1-800-680-7289 and
write: Fraud Victim Assistance Division,
P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834


Consumer Services Helpline 1-877-My-FL-CFO
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