CFO Alex Sink's Consumer eViews NewsletterFLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
ALEX SINK'S NEWSLETTER

Volume 6 Number 31 July 31, 2009

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Dear Floridian:

This week I had the opportunity to attend an Enterprise Florida forum and listen to people from different backgrounds and perspectives talk about their ideas for creating a stronger economy for our state. Enterprise Florida is a public-private partnership serving as Florida’s primary organization devoted to statewide economic development, and as CFO, I sit on their Board.

One of the tasks of Enterprise Florida is to create a 5-year strategic plan for economic development in our state, what they call “A Roadmap to Florida’s Future.” This summer they have been holding forums all over the state to hear from different regions as they develop this plan, and I was fortunate to be able to attend the final one in Tallahassee.

With the challenges our state faces right now, it is extremely important that we are planting the right seeds to grow jobs and economic development in Florida. After hearing so many interesting ideas about strengthening Florida’s economy – from innovations in woody biomass to investments in education – I am hopeful about the path that lies ahead.

Sincerely,

Alex Sink
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida


Enterprise Florida’s Regional Strategic Planning Forum attended by CFO Sink

CFO Sink learned about strategies to support dynamic growth and success for Florida’s economy this week when she attended Enterprise Florida’s final Regional Strategic Planning Forum in Tallahassee. Enterprise Florida Inc. (EFI) is a public-private partnership serving as Florida’s primary organization devoted to statewide economic development. This summer, Enterprise Florida held forums across the state to hear from different regional interests as they update their 5-year strategic plan for Florida’s economic development, “The Roadmap to Florida’s Future.”

The Tallahassee forum started with a regional panel focused on key economic engines in Northwest Florida, including physical infrastructure, workforce and business climate. The forum also included a state roundtable discussion, which looked at broader statewide needs such as investing in Florida’s education and multi-modal infrastructure systems. Both panels included a significant amount of audience participation, allowing CFO Sink to hear from stakeholders for many different industry and community groups.

Enterprise Florida's mission is to diversify Florida's economy and create better-paying jobs for its citizens by supporting, attracting and helping to create businesses in innovative, high-growth industries. CFO Sink sits on the Enterprise Florida Board, along with the Governor and other Cabinet officials and business leaders from across the state. Earlier this month, CFO Sink visited the Enterprise Florida Headquarters in Orlando to hear ideas about the Board’s big picture vision to create more jobs and economic development in our state.


CFO Sink Speaks to “Leaders of Tomorrow”

On Wednesday, CFO Sink joined Florida business law firm Berger Singerman for their “Leaders of Tomorrow” breakfast series, a mentoring group comprised of rising stars in the business world suggested by business, political, civic and cultural leaders in the South Florida community. With three decades of business experience, CFO Sink shared stories of how she was able to take on leadership roles in her career and her community prior to her run for public office, and she encouraged the group to “practice, practice, practice” their leadership skills by seeking out opportunities that foster growth.

CFO Sink also talked about how she has used her business experience to provide real solutions for Floridians, especially to cut waste and save millions in taxpayer dollars, and emphasized the importance of entrepreneurs as leaders in Florida’s economy.


Going Once, Going Twice, Sold!  Unclaimed Property Auction will be held in October

Florida CFO Alex Sink announced this week that her Bureau of Unclaimed Property has selected a date and location for its next auction of unclaimed safe deposit box contents. The auction, which is open to the public, will be held October 24, 2009, at the Ft. Lauderdale Embassy Suites Hotel, and a public preview of the items up for bid will be held the day prior on October 23. More than 40,000 individual items, including jewelry, watches, and rare coins, with a value in excess of $500,000, will be sold.

"This is a great opportunity to bring awareness to our Unclaimed Property Program,” said CFO Sink. “I encourage everyone to come out and join in on the fun!"

Featured among the thousands of items up for auction are a 13-carat brilliant-cut diamond ring, a Longines diamond and platinum pocket watch, and a 1934 $1,000 bill. 

 A free catalog of the items up for bid will soon be available on the Bureau's website. Participation in the auction requires registration and a refundable $100 deposit. For more details about the upcoming auction, or to find out if you might have unclaimed property waiting for you, please visit the Bureau’s website at www.FLTreasureHunt.org.


Roofing company owner convicted of workers' comp fraud

Initial Arrest Part of CFO Sink’s Check-Cashing Store Investigation

Florida CFO Alex Sink announced the conviction of Robert McDonald, owner of a well-known roofing company, on chargers of Workers’ Compensation Premium Fraud. McDonald, the owner and operator of Gulfstream Roofing, Inc. in Delray Beach, was found guilty of using fake construction companies to avoid paying $400,000 in workers’ compensation premiums.

“The outcome of Mr. McDonald’s case shows those dishonest people attempting to scam the system that this crime does not pay,” said CFO Sink. “Mr. McDonald and those like him who try to avoid workers’ comp premiums are leaving their workers unprotected and putting them at risk. I commend the work of our dedicated investigators in the Division of Insurance Fraud, including lead investigator Deborah de la Paz-Boxer, who put a stop to this scam.”

CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) first became suspicious of Gulfstream Roofing, Inc. while investigating another check cashing scheme. After DIF began pursuing Gulfstream Roofing, Inc., investigators determined that from 2002 to 2006, Gulfstream Roofing, Inc. moved almost $3 million in payroll through various fake construction companies, under the guise that it was being paid to insured subcontractors.

The checks were cashed at various check-cashing stores throughout Broward and Palm Beach Counties and then delivered back to Gulfstream to pay its employees. As a result, none of the payments made to the fake contracting companies were assessed any workers’ compensation insurance premiums, resulting in more than $400,000 in underpaid premiums during the four-year period. McDonald was arrested on November 22, 2008, by DIF detectives.

On July 24, 2009, McDonald pled guilty to the charge of Workers’ Compensation Fraud. He was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay over $400,000 in restitution to the Bridgefield Insurance Company, over $6,000 in investigative costs to DIF, and approximately $500 in court costs.

As part of his 300 hours in required community service, McDonald was also ordered to make presentations to various groups and organizations regarding to the risks surrounding Workers’ Compensation Fraud, as requested by DIF.

CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud is currently investigating similar schemes throughout the state. Anyone with information about Workers’ Comp or any other type of suspected insurance fraud is asked to call the Department’s Fraud Fighters Hotline at 1-800-378-0445 or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com/fraud.


CFO Sink activates DFS storm line to help with tornado claims

Florida CFO Alex Sink today announced that the state storm line has been activated to assist Floridians who suffered damage to their homes and property due to tornados that touched down in and around Port Orange. Florida residents who have questions or need help filing a claim can call CFO Sink’s Storm Line at 1-800-22-STORM.

“We are standing by to help Floridians affected by this disaster as they contact their insurance companies and start the rebuilding process,” said CFO Sink. “Our hearts go out to the victims of this storm and we will do all we can to assist residents with the steps needed to get their claims paid.”

Storm victims who are unfamiliar with the insurance claim process or need help reaching their insurance company can ask questions and get assistance from the CFO Sink’s team of insurance specialists on the Storm Line from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. General insurance information is also available at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.

CFO Sink also offered the following advice to property owners who have suffered damage:

More information regarding disaster-related insurance topics is available on the Department’s Disaster Response page at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/Consumers/Storm/. Consumers looking for tips on the rebuilding process, including storm-resistant construction and materials, can visit the website of the Department’s My Safe Florida Home program at www.MySafeFloridaHome.com.


Workers' Compensation Bureau Chief speaks at the Florida Association of Self Insurance

Robin Ippolito, Bureau Chief of Monitoring & Audit within the Division of Workers’ Compensation was recently invited to be a guest speaker at the Florida Association of Self Insurance’s (FASI) annual meeting. FASI is an organization comprised of employers who self-fund some aspect of their insurance program, or are engaged in a profession or business related to self-funding.

Chief Ippolito provided an overview of some proposed rules including the Insurer Standards and Practices, insight into claims handling pattern and practice violations, and highlights of the Division of Workers’ Compensations current focus on insurer audits.

The Bureau of Monitoring & Audit serves to ensure that payments of benefits are paid timely and accurately to injured workers, medical bills and required forms are filed timely and accurately to the Division, and verifies that the self-insured employers have sufficient resources to pay outstanding liabilities.

While the Division of Monitoring & Auditing continues to find underpayments, late filings, and inaccuracies in forms and documents, the Bureau proactively educates and trains stake holders to ensure the self execution of the workers’ compensation system.


Live On-line chat spurs attendance at Naples Florida housing workshop

Recently, Ft. Myers/Naples Outreach Coordinator Terry Cerullo participated in a live chat on the Ft. Myers News-Press Web site in an effort to promote CFO Sink’s July 25 Florida Housing Help (FHH) workshop in Naples at Edison State College.

The blog is another example of how the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Consumer Services is working with partners in the community to reach more consumers through new means of communication.

“Blog participants are able to ask questions and get more information prior to the event, and that is great because they have an idea of what to expect and what items they need to bring,” said Cerullo.

The FHH workshop was a great success, with over 127 consumers attending. Those who came said they found the event and all of the information very helpful.

One consumer named Janet said she left the workshop with valuable information. She said she came because the event had CFO Sink’s name attached to it. She expressed concern about the ethics of loan counseling agencies that tout housing help, but she said she felt safe attending the FHH workshop and talking with the representatives on hand.

The next FHH workshop will be held on Saturday, August 1, in Jacksonville from 8 – Noon at the Beaver Street Enterprise Center.

For more information on Florida Housing Help workshops throughout the state, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/OutReach/EventsbyCategory.asp.


Hurricane Checklist: Avoid non-renewal or cancellation of your insurance

Homeowners’ insurance is very important to protecting your family and your home, and it’s even more critical especially now that it is hurricane season.

Since January, more than 1,400 Floridians have called the CFO’s Consumer Helpline for assistance with issues relating to non-renewal or cancellation of their homeowners’ insurance. However, homeowners can take steps to be pro-active and protect their coverage. Following are important tips to follow:

To learn more about cancellations/non-renewals as defined under Florida Statutes, visit the Insurance library at www.myfloridacfo.com. If you have questions about your policy or a cancellation or non-renewal notice, call the Consumer Helpline at 1-850-413-3089 or 1-877-My-FL-CFO (877-693-5236).


Safeguard Our Seniors workshop draws crowd in Gulfport

Those who attended CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors program Thursday in Gulfport were looking to arm themselves with information about financial fraud. The program, held at the Gulfport Senior Center, drew 65 seniors and their caregivers and addressed red flags and questions to ask when considering annuities or reverse mortgages. As one woman said in her survey, “I do get so much of that mail, and I just wanted to know about it that’s all.”

The program, part of CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors (SOS) initiative, was held in partnership with the City of Gulfport.

Rock Roque, an investigator with the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Agent and Agency Services, warned that if a deal sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. He said a common scam is to make consumers think a deal is only good that day, but he advised no deal has to be signed and completed in the same day. Take some time to research and make sure you understand who you are dealing with and what you are buying.

Other speakers included Doug Heinlen, AARP state president; Rene Bauer, Pinellas/Pasco District Assistant State Attorney; Captain Michael Byrne and Detective Steve Firestone, of the department’s Division of Insurance Fraud and Karen Bolin Wessel, DFS’ outreach coordinator.

To listen to WMNF 88.5 Community Radio coverage of the SOS event in Gulfport here .

To learn more about financial fraud or the CFO’s SOS initiative, visit the department’s web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call the CFO’s Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3039 or 1-877- My-FL-CFO (877-693-5236).


My Family CFO

Are you the chief financial officer of your family? Are you always looking out for the best deals, wise investments and smart moves for your family's financial security?

As your family's fiscal watch dog, keep an eye on this column for money-smart ideas from the Chief Financial Officer of Florida, Alex Sink.

If you have a creative way to be fiscally smart, share it with us for this column!

MyFamilyCFO@MyFloridaCFO.com

Ideas from Readers: Minimize Credit-Card Interest Rates

This week, a couple of financially savvy eViews readers shared their ideas for keeping credit card interest payments to a minimum.

Reader William J. “Bill” Getson offered the following advice:

“For quite a few years I have been able to use my credit card for almost anyone or anything that will accept it. But, I ALWAYS pay the current balance IN FULL when my statement comes. If my checking account will not quite cover the balance, for whatever reason, I will "borrow" from our savings account to fill in that gap for that month only. The interest that I "lose" from our savings account is miniscule, based on the fact that we are earning a little less that 2% on the principal. This is our savings account and not an investment. The "loan" from our savings account is then paid off at the earliest possible date, costing us very little in the way of lost interest. I am proud to say that I have never paid a single cent of obscene credit card interest over the past 20 years!”  

Reader Cathy A. Norris also had a smart suggestion for making a habit of paying down debt:

“Pay down the smallest balance credit card first (even if other cards have higher interest rates).  Once it's gone use the money you were paying toward this card and add it to the payment of the next smallest balance.  Keep doing this with all your card balances, and you'll soon have a debt reduction snowball that's bigger than life!  Paying off the little balances first helps the psyche experience the joy in making progress and you'll be more likely to achieve longer term results!”

Disclaimer:  eViews financial information is provided for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional financial advice.  Always seek the advice of a qualified professional before taking any course of action that may affect your financial or legal rights.


SAVING ENERGY, SAVING MONEY
Energy tips for Florida families - these actions represent ways to behave kindly toward Mother Earth, AND save money as well as energy. These tips are presented by CFO Alex Sink's science advisor Meg Lowman, Ph.D., on the faculty at New College of Florida. Dr. Lowman has written numerous award-winning books and is an expert on the rainforests of the world.

The "Cash for Clunkers" program goes fast

You may have recently heard about the CARS program. If you have an old car and have been thinking about buying or leasing a new car, this week was the perfect time to do that.

CARS (Car Allowance Rebate System) is a federal law passed by Congress that gives vouchers valued from $3,500 - $4,500 to people who trade-in certain cars and buy new ones that meet or exceed higher miles per gallon (MPG) standards. The idea behind CARS is to get consumers to buy or lease more environmentally-friendly cars or trucks from participating dealers. This in turn will energize the economy, boost auto sales and put cleaner and more fuel-efficient cars on the roads.

The amount that was available on July 1, 2009, when the program started was $1 billion. As of this Friday, most of the money had been committed and government officials were studying the feasibility of extending the program.

Certain restrictions apply to getting this voucher. For example, you will need to provide a one-year proof of insurance as well as registration. Likewise, you will need to show you have a clear title. The vehicle manufacturer date found on the door or door jamb has to be less than 25 years old when you trade it in. Your trade-in has to have had a combined city/highway fuel economy of 18 miles per gallon or less when it was new. Your trade-in has to be in drivable condition. The amount of the credit generally depends on the type of vehicle you purchase and the difference in fuel economy between the new vehicle and the trade-in vehicle. Take the time to go to www.CARS.gov to learn more details and to find registered dealers. You may soon find yourself the proud owner of an energy-efficient new car!