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

Volume 6 Number 52 December 25, 2009

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Dear Floridian:

I would like to offer my best wishes to you and your family during this joyous holiday season. The holidays provide us with such wonderful opportunities to celebrate life’s blessings, and serve as an important reminder of the many things that bring us together.

I have so many fond memories of times I’ve spent with my family decorating our home for the holidays. But unfortunately, many families suffer holiday tragedies because of the fire hazards holiday decorations can create. For instance, just this Monday one St. Petersburg family lost everything (including their Christmas gifts), because of a decorative candle that was knocked over.

That’s why this week I held press conferences in Tampa and Tallahassee with my State Fire Marshal team encouraging all Floridians to take extra fire safety precautions this holiday season. Please read some of these life-saving tips in this week’s eViews.

Wishing you a safe and happy holiday,

Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


CFO Sink offers Floridians fire safety tips for the holiday season

Florida CFO and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink this week at press conferences in Tallahassee and Tampa announced precautions to take this holiday season, encouraging Floridians to protect themselves and their families with proactive fire safety measures.

Many citizens like to celebrate the holiday season by decorating their homes and businesses, but unfortunately some decorations can be fire hazards. Each year fires occurring during the holiday season claim the lives of over 400 Americans, injure 1,650 more, and cause over $990 million in damage according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

Above right: Florida CFO and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink, joined by Tallahassee Fire Chief Cindy Dick, on her left, Division of State Fire Marshal Director Chief Julius Halas, on her right, and Tallahassee firefighters at a press conference on Monday in Tallahassee.

“We don’t want anyone’s home to become one of these statistics this holiday season,” said CFO Sink. “I encourage everyone to take extra precautions to avoid a holiday tragedy, and I wish all Floridians a safe and happy holiday season.”

View a video of CFO Sink’s comments from her press conference on holiday fire safety.

Each year State Fire Marshal Sink provides safety tips around the holidays to remind Floridians of the seriousness of fire damages in an effort to protect our citizens. Simple life-saving steps Floridians can take to ensure a safe and happy holiday include:

As State Fire Marshal, CFO Sink and her Division holds numerous educational seminars and training throughout the year. The Bureau of Fire Prevention annually inspects more than 16,000 public and private buildings including public schools, university facilities and adult living facilities; enforcing regulations regarding the handling of explosives materials, boiler safety, and fire system installation contractors to ensure public safety. For more information and fire safety tips, visit CFO Sink’s State Fire Marshal web site at http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/sfm.

Above: Florida CFO and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink, joined by Tampa Fire Rescue Chief Dennis Jones, on her left, Division of State Fire Marshal Director Chief Julius Halas, on her right, and Tampa firefighters at a press conference on Tuesday in Tampa.


Warranty company liquidated by judge, all remaining policies cancelled

A Circuit Court Judge has ordered the warranty company, Intercontinental Marine Service Corporation (IMSC), DBA First Warranty Group of Florida, into liquidation. The company, with approximately 10,000 in-force policies in Florida and other states, was originally placed in receivership for purposes of rehabilitation in July 2009, with the Department of Financial Services as the receiver.

The liquidation order, issued late Friday, December 18, by Judge John C. Cooper of the Second Judicial Circuit Court in Leon County, cancelled the remaining motor vehicle service warranty agreements written by IMSC as of 11:59 p.m., December 18, 2009.

“We have specialists standing by to assist policyholders with any questions and to guide them through the liquidation process,” said Florida CFO Alex Sink. “We will continue to provide information to keep policyholders informed, and I urge consumers to call my helpline or visit my web site if they have any questions.”

Floridians who had service warranty agreements with IMSC, or have any other questions, should visit http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/Receiver or call CFO Sink’s help line at 1-800-882-3054 or 850-413-3081.

After thoroughly reviewing the books and records of IMSC, the Department of Financial Services determined the company lacked the financial resources for a successful rehabilitation. The company previously issued motor vehicle service agreements in Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Oklahoma. IMSC was licensed in Florida in 2003, and surrendered its Florida insurance license in October 2007.

The Department of Financial Services will send a notice of the liquidation proceeding to the known IMSC warranty policyholders, and to automobile dealers that sold the warranties.

There is no guaranty association in Florida for warranty companies. IMSC policyholders will need to file a claim for any unearned premium and other claims they may have under the warranty contracts as part of the IMSC receivership proceeding. Instructions for filing claims in the receivership proceeding will be provided to the policyholders at a later date.

Information regarding the liquidation process and copies of the liquidation order for IMSC are available at http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/Receiver.


State Fire Marshal Sink’s personnel attend Annual Firefighter Health & Safety Conference

State Fire Marshal Director Julius Halas and staff members from State Fire Marshal Sink's Florida State Fire College recently attended the Annual Firefighter Health and Safety Conference (FHSC) in Orlando, Fl. The three-day conference, attended by over 100 participants, opened with welcoming remarks by  Florida fire leaders, including Director Halas and Fire College Bureau Chief Barry Baker.

The conference is held every year to educate and foster safe practices for Florida's firefighters. The agenda featured numerous speakers from across the United States on a variety of subjects, including classes for continuing education unit credits. Topics discussed were leadership accountability, culture and knowledge, what's new in safety, electrical safety for fire service, and safety issues during hurricane and wildfire deployments.

Speakers at this year’s conference included Director Halas, Chief Barry Baker, Instructional Supervisor Susan Schell and Safety Management Charlie Brush.

State Fire Marshal Sink was a co-sponsor of the conference with the Florida Fire Chief's Association and the Florida Professional Firefighters.


Identity Theft Awareness Month - Can You Insure Your Identity?

By Sean M. Shaw, Esq., Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate

As Insurance Consumer Advocate, I would like to share some information regarding identity theft insurance with consumers in recognition of December as Identity Theft Awareness Month. Identity theft has become a national concern affecting an estimated 10 million consumers in the United States in the last year. Because restoring your credit history and correcting information is a slow and time-consuming process, consumers are being inundated with offers for identity theft insurance, credit monitoring plans, and other services.

If you are a victim of identity theft, it can be very costly to reestablish your credit and identity. Several companies are now offering identity theft insurance, which generally costs between $120 and $180 per year. Identity theft insurance cannot protect you from becoming a victim of identity theft and does not cover direct monetary losses incurred as result of identity theft. Instead, identity theft insurance provides coverage for the cost of reclaiming your financial identity, such as the costs of making phone calls, making copies, mailing documents, taking time off from work without pay (lost wages) and hiring an attorney.

Consumers who are interested in purchasing identity theft insurance should inquire about policy limits, deductibles, and other policy terms. Most identity theft insurance policies have policy limits of $5,000 for lost wages. Consumers should also inquire about deductibles. Some policies require you to pay the first $100 - $500 of costs incurred for reclaiming your financial identity. Remember, identity theft insurance does not cover direct monetary losses. If the policy covers lost wages, verify what limits apply and what is required to trigger this coverage. If you are a salaried employee or are required to request vacation time in the event of a work absence associated with reclaiming your financial identity, you may not have unpaid leave and lost wages. If the policy covers legal fees, verify what limits apply and if legal work needs to be pre-approved by the insurer.

Consumers should also check to see if their current homeowner’s insurance includes identity theft insurance. If not, you may be able to add identity theft insurance to your homeowner’s policy for a small fee or purchase a stand-alone policy from another insurer, bank or credit card company.

As with any insurance product, consumers should understand what they are purchasing and compare the product’s price, coverage and deductibles among multiple insurers.

If you have any questions regarding identity theft insurance you should contact the Division of Consumer Services within the Department of Financial Services on-line at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/ or by phone at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236), toll-free in Florida, and (850) 413-3089 from out of state.

The Insurance Consumer Advocate is appointed by Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and is committed to finding solutions to insurance issues facing Floridians, calling attention to questionable insurance practices, promoting a viable insurance market responsive to the needs of Florida’s diverse population and assuring that rates are fair and justified.


Florida Housing Help for all Floridians

Many homeowners are dealing with the stress of making their mortgage payments in a time when many families are trying to rebuild their financial footing.

CFO Sink has offered Florida Housing Help workshops to over 12,000 homeowners in 2009 and plans to keep up the effort in 2010.

If you are a homeowner struggling to make your mortgage payments, you don’t have to be in foreclosure to receive help at a Housing Help workshop. Florida Housing Help workshops are designed to bring lenders and homeowners to the table to work out a solution and avoid the foreclosure process. Many people find that by coming to a Housing Help workshop, their financial stresses are relieved.

Just ask Karen McGann, from Marion County, who worked with her lender at a Housing Help event and had her mortgage reduced from $1,700 to $800 a month.

“I will tell anyone to go to one of CFO Sink’s workshops,” said McGann. “Don’t let your pride keep you from coming. These people are here to help you.”

Details on CFO Sink’s work to help Florida’s homeowners and a calendar of upcoming Florida Housing Help events can be found at: http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/FloridaHousingHelp.

Upcoming Florida Housing Help events:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010, from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at Cooperative Extension Service, Clayton Hutcheson Agricultural Services Center, 559 North Military Trail, West Palm Beach.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010, from 5:00-8:00 p.m. at the Joseph P. D’Alessandro Office Complex, 2295 Victoria Ave., Fort Myers.

Saturday, January 23, 2010, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at The University Area Community Development Center, 14013 North 22nd Street, Tampa.

Saturday, January 23, 2010, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Deltona City Hall, 2345 Providence Blvd., Deltona.


Consumer Corner: 2010 is right around the corner, time to look at your calendar

It is hard to believe that 2010 is almost here. Community groups and organizations are busy planning events and reserving space on their calendar already.

Have you contacted the Department of Financial Services about scheduling a presentation for your group?

Our outreach coordinators are available to speak to your business, civic group, customers, school, or faith-based group or association on a variety of issues including:

To schedule a presentation or speaker for your group, call the CFO’s Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236) and ask for the outreach coordinator in your area. You can also request a program by visiting www.MyFloridaCFO.com.

Visit the Department’s web site calendar to view already scheduled events and presentations near you.


Saving Energy, Saving Money: Save Money and Help the Environment During the Holidays

The holiday season is always filled with fun festivities for the entire family, including present-giving, house decorating and feasting on bountiful home-cooked meals. But just as our bank balances and waistlines might suffer come January, so can the environment if we don’t stay aware. Here are some steps that can save you money and help the environment over the holiday season.

Holiday Lights – You can significantly save money on your energy bills by closely monitoring usage of your holiday lights. If you keep your outdoor lights on, make sure they are on a timer so that they only turn on when it’s dark and automatically shut off around 10 p.m. Likewise, be sure to turn off your Christmas tree lights before you go to bed for the evening and whenever you leave your house. In addition to helping you save on your energy bill, turning your Christmas tree lights off during these times is a good fire safety measure.

Holiday Dinner – As you shop for your holiday dinner, try to buy produce from local merchants to reduce the number of miles the food has to travel before it ends up on your plate for dinner. This helps local businesses and reduces greenhouse gas emissions from the travel. Also, as you prepare your dinner, consider turning your home heating off – heat from the kitchen will keep surrounding areas warm. If you have family or friends in your home, remember that extra activity and people means it is easier to keep warm – try turning your thermostat down a degree or two.

Christmas Tree - If you purchased a Christmas tree that still has its roots, you can replant your tree in your garden after the holidays. If you can’t replant your tree, contact your city for safe and environmentally-conscious disposal. Many cities offer a place to drop off your tree where it will be shredded and used as compost for local parks.

Have a safe holiday season and a prosperous new year!


My Family CFO: Holiday savings accounts allow you to prepare for holiday spending in advance

The holiday season an excellent time to review your spending and start planning for next year. By planning ahead, you can save for holiday gift buying and leave the credit cards at home next year.

A holiday savings account is set up by your credit union or bank to automatically withdraw money from your checking account each month. The amount that you have accumulated will be made available in November. The account usually earns the same interest rate as a basic savings account.

The biggest advantage to this account is that you never see the money, so it doesn't get spent. You can have the money drafted out of your checking account the same day that your paycheck is deposited. Estimate the amount you would like to save, divide it by the number of months remaining until November, and have that amount deposited into your holiday savings each month.

The holiday savings account is a good option for those who might need a little extra discipline to set aside money each month. One of the best ways to begin saving money is to do so automatically. If you are interested in opening a holiday savings account, talk to an account representative at your local bank or credit union.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink's Consumer eViews 1-877-MY-FL-CFO