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A restoration contractor company owner has been arrested over an alleged assignment of benefits (AOB) fraud scheme that impacted 19 homeowners in eight Florida counties and one Texas county, according to a statement from Florida Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis.

Timothy Matthew Cox, owner of Nationwide Catastrophe Services, Inc. and Restoration Response Services, Inc., is alleged to have stolen nearly $140,000 for home repairs related to damages from tropical weather events that he never provided. As a result of Cox’s alleged activity, the victims’ homes sustained additional damage from significant weather events, including Hurricane Irma, the statement said.

The Florida Bureau of Insurance Fraud, a division of the Florida Department of Financial Services, found that Cox and his team targeted Brevard, Clay, Escambia, Flagler, Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia Counties and Tarrant County, Texas.

These areas were impacted by tropical storms and hurricanes, and according to DFS, Cox is alleged to have pressured homeowners to sign an AOB contract to have damages repaired. Cox received $139,444.97 from the 19 victims and their insurance carriers.

After receiving the insurance payments, Cox’s team never started any of the work they were contracted to perform on the 19 homes, according to the statement. The payments made to Nationwide Catastrophe Services, Inc. and Restoration Response Services, Inc. were deposited into bank accounts controlled by Cox, who used the money for personal use, DFS said

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https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2018/06/13/491931.htm

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Like thousands of other Floridians, I recently received my homeowner’s insurance renewal statement only to learn that my premium was increasing by a double-digit percentage – nearly $600 annually. But like most homeowners who have a mortgage and who pay insurance and property taxes through an escrow account, I won’t have to pay anything out-of-pocket yet. It will be a year from now when the pain will come.

I will receive a new escrow calculation showing that my monthly mortgage payment will increase – not only to make up for the shortfall from the previous year’s premium increase, but also to pay the increased premium for the following renewal year – a total of $1,200 for the year, or $100 extra per month.

And if rates continue to increase as they did this year, I and virtually every other Florida homeowner will continue to see our mortgage payments increase this way year after year after year.

Seniors on a fixed income, working families struggling to make ends meet, people saving for college or retirement, and the rest of us who would simply rather keep more of our earnings will suffer. It will feel no different than a huge tax increase, but at least taxes pay for useful things like schools, roads, police, and firefighters. The proceeds from this increase will be used to pay fraudsters.

Real estate values will also take a hit because the more we spend on insurance, the fewer dollars we can apply to the actual mortgage payment. If you want to sell your house, there will be fewer people who can afford it. Lower demand means lower prices. We have only recently experienced in the last decade how a soft real estate market drags down the overall economy.

There is only one entity that can act to reverse course on these rate increases and protect our real estate-driven economy: the Florida State Legislature. There are two reforms legislators can enact that will provide relief from relentless insurance premium rate hikes: 1) reduce systematic fraud by preventing abusive and needless assignments of benefits litigation, and 2) lower the cost of reinsurance by reforming the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, a move that would decrease rates by 8 to 10 percent.

The time to act is now. Even if the proposed reforms are passed during the next legislative session in 2019, homeowners will have to wait until 2020 or beyond to feel relief through mortgage payments that go down instead of up.

That’s a long way off – way past the November elections. But candidates we elect in November will be the ones who must act.

If we want lower rates in the future we need to commit to do two things today: 1) get candidates to state on the record that they will fight for both reforms, and 2) have memories like elephants if they don’t. There are plenty of special interest groups who will pressure them to resist. Go to http://www.floridainsurancereform.org/petition to learn more about these two specific reforms and sign a petition demanding action. Elected officials must fear accountability from Florida voters more than the pressure of special interest groups. We need at least a quarter million signatures to show them that we expect and deserve action

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https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2018/06/07/491458.htm

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The 2018 hurricane season is officially underway, even as the dust continues to settle on the 2017 hurricane season — one of the costliest hurricane years on record — that brought devastation to Florida from Hurricane Irma.

Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast has already received a stark reminder to be prepared from a Memorial Day storm — Tropical Storm Alberto. The cost was at 50 Million per estimates so far!

Irma first hit the Florida Keys as a category 4 storm on Sunday, Sept. 10, with 130-mile per hour winds. It then worked its way north passing over the east and west coasts. Loss estimates from Hurricane Irma ranged between $25 billion to $65 billion by catastrophe modelers.

According to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, 90 percent of the 770,658 reported residential property claims had been closed as of April 6, 2018. Total estimated insured losses as of April 12 had reached $8.6 billion. The Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund is expected to pay out $2 billion in claims associated with Irma.

Citizens, the state-run insurer of last resort, said in March it had reopened about 37 percent of Hurricane Irma claims as part of ongoing efforts to assist policyholders affected by the storm. As of March 28, more than 24,500 of 66,400 Irma claims, about 37 percent, were reopened for supplemental payment and to allow policyholders or their representatives to provide additional information.

Overall, Citizens has closed nearly 90 percent of its Hurricane Irma-related claims. Open claims include extensively damaged properties, disputes and those waiting for a contractor to provide a repair estimate.

The National Hurricane Center updated the death toll from Irma in April to 44 fatalities directly caused by strong winds and heavy rains, plus 85 fatalities indirectly linked to the storm.

Still, Irma could have been worse, a fact the Florida insurance industry is aware and mindful of as it heads into the 2018 season

Mother Nature wasted no time starting off the 2018 hurricane season, kicking the Atlantic — and more specifically the Gulf Coast — into high gear several days ahead of the official June 1 start date.

Tropical Storm Alberto hit the Florida Panhandle on May 28, bringing winds, rains, and even the possibility of tornadoes. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said winds from the tropical storm reached up to 65 miles per hour.

There is undoubtedly more to come as the season progresses. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) released its forecast for the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season in May, estimating a total of 10 to 16 named storms, of which five to nine could become hurricanes and one to four expected to become major hurricanes with winds of 111 miles per hour or more. It noted a 75 percent chance that this year will be a near or above normal hurricane season.

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https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2018/06/01/490890.htm

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Policymakers need to find a way to get banks involved in property mitigation if Florida is to improve its hurricane resiliency, according to a former state insurance commissioner.

Banks are currently unmotivated to protect mortgages through mitigation because the government steps in and bails them out when there is a crisis, Kevin McCarty, who was insurance commissioner of the state for 13 years, told the audience of the Florida Association of Insurance Reform (FAIR) Foundation’s conference in Tampa on May 2.

McCarty spoke about resiliency and mitigation, emphasizing the need for both in the catastrophe prone state.

“We know we are going to have more storms; we also know there is a lot of uninsured property,” McCarty said. “We also know somebody is mysteriously not at the table.”

He was referring to banks, which he said continue to be bailed out by the government and therefore will continue to make money no matter what. He referenced the financial crisis as an example of how banks are not motivated to protect their financial assets.

“Until banks actually have skin in the game, they are not going to be at the table,” he said.

McCarty’s said it’s important to think about what strategies could work to hold banks accountable and bring them to the table.

“If I as a taxpayer have to pay for it, it should be part of the law that if you have a federally backed mortgage you have to have an all-perils policy – and that means all perils,” McCarty told the audience, which responded with big applause.

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https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2018/05/08/488539.htm

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Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis has released a top 10 list of most wanted insurance fraud criminals and called on local communities to help with finding the individuals.

According to a statement from the Florida Department of Financial Services, each of the following individuals is wanted for various insurance-fraud related crimes:

  • Anthony Fitzgerald Phillips, last known address Fullerton, Calf.: Grand Theft.
  • Huberto Del Sol Puerto, last known address Hialeah/Miami, Fla.: Organized fraud ($50,000 or More), false and fraudulent insurance claims, grand theft (3rd Degree), money laundering, false statement (Jurisdiction of Department of State).
  • Gabriel Sanchez, last known address Miami, Fla.: Racketeering.
  • William Brenes, last known address Hillsborough County: Fraudulently presenting a false statement ($100,000 or more).
  • Jose Alexis Orellana Ramos, last known address North Lauderdale, Fla.: Organized fraud ($50,000 or more), grand theft (1st Degree, $100,000 or more), workers’ compensation fraud (Over $100,000).
  • Joseph J. Beckford, last known address Carrollton, Ga.: False and fraudulent insurance claim.
  • Bernardo Romero-Ortiz, last known address Orlando, Fla.: Workers’ compensation fraud ($100,000 or more); organized fraud.
  • Roland Terencio Delgado, last known address Coral Gables, Fla.: Racketeering, grand theft (2 Counts).
  • Paul Emmanuel Pierre, last known address Orlando, Fla.: Racketeering, false and fraudulent insurance claim.
  • Javier Lopez Rivero, last known address Miami, Fla.: Racketeering, grand theft, false and fraudulent insurance claims.

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https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2018/04/18/486707.htm

 

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Citizens Property Insurance Corp. has approved a slate of policy language changes designed to protect consumers while addressing rising costs of nonweather water loss claims and related litigation that continue to drive premiums higher, according to a statement from the state-run insurer of last resort.

The policy changes will also address issues that have arisen since the Citizens Managed Repair Program was enacted last year and a subsequent rise in litigation the company says has occurred as a result.

The proposed policy changes, approved by unanimous vote at the Board of Governors meeting on Wednesday, would boost incentives for policyholders to participate in Citizens Managed Repair Program while better ensuring that customers who choose not to participate have adequate funds to make permanent repairs following a nonweather related water loss.

The new policy language would limit payment on nonweather related water losses – a broken pipe, a leaking water heater – to $10,000, including $3,000 for emergency water mitigation services. Additional water mitigation exceeding the $3,000 limit would be completed by Citizens managed repair contractors at no cost to the policyholder. The changes would take effect Aug. 1, 2018, if approved by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

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https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2018/04/12/486137.htm

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In another step shifting risk to private markets, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said it intends to secure additional reinsurance for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) through issuance of a catastrophe bond.

FEMA began purchasing private reinsurance in 2017 and recovered $1.042 billion from the private markets due to losses from Hurricane Harvey. In early January 2018, FEMA continued the practice by securing $1.46 billion in reinsurance from 28 private reinsurers to cover any qualifying NFIP flood losses in excess of $4 billion per event occurring in calendar year 2018.

FEMA said it now plans to transfer additional risk by engaging the capital markets for the first time through an insurance-linked securities (ILS) transaction on or about July 1, 2018.

Adding this new resource will enable FEMA to transfer risk through two avenues – the traditional reinsurance markets and the capital markets. Wright said that using both markets will create more competition and reduce the NFIP’s risk transfer costs. It will also enable FEMA to access greater market capacity and spread its risk across a more diverse pool of companies and investors, according to the announcement.

“The NFIP requires a stronger financial framework built on expanding our portfolio of actuarially-priced policies. Transferring more of the risk burden to the private capital markets continues to be part of that strategy,” said Roy Wright, director of the NFIP.

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https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2018/04/05/485448.htm

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