AP Day: Jimmy Patronis seeks accountability for benefits scammers, identity thieves

Florida Politics

Originally published by Florida Politics   |   View Story

Following questionable contractor practices after Hurricane Michael, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis wants laws to curb abuse of Florida’s claims laws.

“The assignment of benefits process has become very deceiving,” Patronis said. “We have a law on the books that is being legally exploited.”

He labeled as scoundrels those abusing the claims process in Florida now. He said since Hurricane Michael made landfall, the Panhandle airwaves feature out-of-region contractors promising work on area homes.

But with work often done without insurance avenues already explored by homeowners, it’s leading to more insurance companies refusing even to offer policies in Florida.

At The Associated Press annual legislative briefing, Patronis pounded on the problem and committed to helping lawmakers develop a solution.

“It is a law on the books that is being used in ways that are perverted,” he said. “The intended use was to protect the consumer and give them greater access.

“What you have done is taken this law on the books with the assignment of benefits, and you’ve twisted it. You are doing nothing but driving up rates and driving out insurance carriers.”

Patronis said families facing the loss of a home, likely the largest investment in their lifetime, end up signing all their claims benefits away on a promise a provider will solve their problems for them. It often doesn’t work out that way.

But Patronis wants changes in the law that provide oversight.

Similarly, he noted Florida leads the nation in identity theft scams.

He’d like the state then to also impose the most severe penalties of any state in the union when violators get prosecuted.

“I had my own identity stolen during the campaign,” he noted, so he takes the matter seriously.

He also called for greater accountability to crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe,

“We create not-for-profits out of thin air just because it makes a great narrative,” he said. But stories are proliferating about GoFundMe accounts that go viral, then founders — who face no accountability for how they spend the money — disappear with the cash.

As the state’s Fire Marshal, Patronis also said he would prioritize first responder safety this year. He noted that PTSD support for first survivors made it into law last year. He similar wants procedures implemented statewide that reduce exposure to toxic materials for rescue personnel.

Patronis said firefighters and first responders face a 15 percent higher chance of dying from cancer. Better precautions in handling of hazardous materials, he added, could reduce that.