By East Lake Blister Staff Published Aug 03, 2011
TALLAHASSEE—At a Cabinet meeting today, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announced the creation of a working group to review the practices of certain bad actors in the check cashing services industry aiding in workers’ compensation premium fraud, which is putting pressure on rates and crippling the business community. The working group will include representatives from the CFO’s Division of Insurance Fraud as well as the Office of Financial Regulation, the Attorney General’s Office, and the construction and money services industries. “This growing crime trend is diverting more than a billion dollars from Florida’s economy,” said CFO Atwater, whose office oversees the Divisions of Insurance Fraud and Workers Compensation. “We are committed to dismantling this scheme and putting these cheats behind bars. Bringing together stakeholders will take us one step closer to the solutions we need to expedite jail time for these con artists.” According to Atwater, this latest workers’ compensation premium scheme is highly organized and orchestrated by individuals who know the construction and subcontracting industry and are intent on evading payment of workers’ compensation premiums. Florida law generally requires every employee in the construction industry to be covered by workers’ compensation insurance. The effect of this scheme is that workers are left unprotected and honest employers suffer from an uneven playing field because they are consistently outbid on construction projects by those who skirt premium requirements. “These organized schemes are disastrous to honest businesses that pay their workers’ compensation premiums and protect their employees on-the-job,” said Attorney General Bondi. “Not only is this fraudulent activity costly to the insurance industry, but also it leaves individuals without protection. We look forward to collaborating with the work group to pursue and prosecute these con artists.” John Askins, Director of the Division of Insurance Fraud, and Major Geoffrey Branch, Bureau Chief of the Division of Workers’ Compensation Fraud, testified on how the scheme works and how it leads to the avoidance of premiums. Organized criminal enterprises set up “shell” or fake companies and obtain a minimal workers’ compensation insurance policy. Uninsured contractors pay a fee to use the shell policy, enabling them to avoid purchasing required workers compensation insurance. The uninsured contractor presents a copy of the shell certificate of insurance to a general contractor, and often gets the job because he is able to underbid honest contractors by removing the cost of workers’ compensation insurance from his expenses. The scheme uses money service businesses to cash the checks that are made out to the shell company. Atwater said the working group will develop recommendations to help stop hundreds of millions of dollars that are being diverted from Florida’s economy. Recommendations from the work group will be presented to the Governor and Cabinet in late fall. If you have any information regarding suspected insurance fraud call 1-800-378-0445. Individuals who provide tips can remain anonymous and are eligible for a reward of up to $25,000 for information that directly leads to an arrest and conviction in an insurance fraud scheme. The Department of Financial Services to date has awarded almost $250,000 to approximately 40 citizens as part of its Anti-Fraud Reward Program.