Fraud in the Construction Industry

work comp fraud is a crime

“A dangerous fraud scheme has infiltrated the construction industry in Florida over the last several years. Usually involving residential home building, it started in South Florida but has swept northward to encompass most major cities in the state. The scheme revolves around “shell companies,” which on the surface look legitimate and have proper workers comp coverage, but in reality are operating a giant pool of off-the-books labor and are hiding millions of dollars of unreported payroll.

The fraud starts when a labor broker, also called a facilitator, induces a (sometimes) innocent third party-often a foreign national with family to support in his or her home country-to set up a company with the state Division of Corporations that has a very generic name that may reference construction. The company’s name has to be generic, because different crews will be (a) working on many different job sites and (b) often performing all types of construction work. Often the words “Construction Services” or “Services Corp” are in the name. A series of three initials like “ABC Construction” is also common.

The owner then approaches an insurance agent to secure workers compensation coverage and reports just enough payroll in a construction class to look legitimate and to not arouse suspicion from the insurance carrier. Most often, the class code is one that typically uses unskilled labor, such as drywall, framing or concrete.

After the workers comp coverage is in place, the business owner takes his certificate of insurance (COI) listing the company’s workers comp coverage and then rents that COI out for a fee to dozens of different construction crews doing work on many different job sites.

When the general contractor pays the crew for work performed, the labor broker takes that check to a check-cashing store, gets the cash, takes his (substantial) cut, gives the check cashing store its cut, and gives what’s left to the crew leader to pay his crew for doing the work. The labor broker can have dozens of crews using hundreds of workers on different jobs sites at any one time, which means he is cashing millions of dollars in payroll checks in any given policy period.

The victims

None of this payroll is reported to the company’s insurance agent or workers comp carrier. Neither the carrier nor the agent know the true exposure associated with the policy for the shell company. For example, what is supposed to be a company with $50,000 in framing payroll that is paying $8,500 in annual premium could in reality be a company with $5 million in framing, drywall and concrete payroll that should be paying $850,000 annually.
This results in hundreds of thousands of dollars of unpaid premium that the insurance carrier never receives. If claims are made on the policy, they usually are from workers the insurance carrier never knew they were covering and for which they never received a penny. Of course, the shell game also reduces the commission the insurance agent should have received.

Other victims of this scheme are the undocumented workers who are injured working for one of these companies. They are the ones doing the hard work, and if they are hurt on the job, they have no idea what to do. Usually the only name they know is their crew leader; they don’t know the name of the shell company and they don’t know the name of the shell company’s insurance carrier. This complicated structure means injured workers can be left on their own to try and find medical help for injuries. ”

Read more about how to identify this very illegal activity so that you will not be caught in the scam at The Shell Game.

An article by Karen Phillips in Rough Notes, Special Report, June 2016.

IMPORTANT: Beware!!! Your Company could be at risk of Corporate Identity Theft..True Story

CorpTheft     If you have a Florida Corporation or LLC, you need to read the following article very closely.    This is a true story of an insurance agency owner that discovered that someone went to the Florida Corporation website, changed the names of officers and proceeded to open accounts in the company name.  Your Corporate information is not safe.

“Insurance agencies should be aware of recent criminal activity involving individuals hijacking corporate identities for the purpose of obtaining credit.

Just last week, I received the following email from an FAIA member:

“The innovation and effort of criminals never ceases to amaze me. Today we were contacted by a technology vendor to confirm a new account that had been opened in the name of our agency. Apparently someone went to the website www.sunbiz.org and changed the officers and the address of one of my corporate entities to show their name and address as a corporate officer. They were polite enough to leave me as the registered agent, as I can only guess that they didn’t want to be served with the litigation that will surely come! They then went on to open accounts in the name of my company, and anyone verifying the application could simply go to www.sunbiz.org and see that yes, this person is in fact the president of the company.

We contacted the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations and we were told that ANYONE can access the website and make these changes by simply paying a fee. To add insult to injury we were required to pay a fee to change it back to reflect the correct officers! The State says they can’t do anything about it. Apparently any corporation can be hijacked. This is corporate identity theft. Can it really be this easy to steal our most valuable business asset, our good name?”

I too was shocked that this type of corporate identity theft is so simple. I personally visited www.sunbiz.org and verified that anyone can file an amended annual report as long as a corporate document number is entered (which is readily available on that website by initiating a corporate entity name search) and the appropriate fee is paid.

After a further inquiry with the Department of State, Division of Corporations, the FAIA member agency received the following response:

The Division of Corporations acts in a ministerial filing capacity only.  We do not have statutory authority to regulate individual businesses nor do we have investigative capability. As such, all documents submitted and filed by our office are accepted at face value. Section 817.155, F.S., states “a person may not, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the Department of State, knowingly and willfully falsify or conceal a material fact, make any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation, or make or use any false document, knowing the same to contain any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry. A person who violates this section is guilty of a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084”. Any disputes or fraudulent filings must be resolved between the affected parties or in the courts. Documents may be filed to correct our records. Forms may be downloaded from our web site.

You should file a police report in your county. If this individual has your Social Security number (our office does not require or request SS#’s) I would suggest asking your financial institution for assistance in issuing a “Fraud Alert” with the credit bureaus.

You can also submit a “Statement of Fact” that we will make public record with this filing stating that the changes on (insert date) were made without your knowledge or consent. In the statement please also include your case number. There is no filing fee associated with the Statement of Fact.

Keep in mind whatever you send will be a public record so please ask to redact any information you do not want posted such as your email address or phone number.

Law enforcement will need the following information:
The Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations uses a third party vendor (FIS PayDirect Solutions) to process credit card payments made to this office. They capture and collect the card/payment information, verify it, process it, and then send us payment 24 to 48 hours later. You’ll need to contact them directly for assistance; I do know that they will require a subpoena from the courts to release any credit card data they have collected.

The subpoena will need to be sent here:
Link2Gov Corp c/o CT Corporation System1200 South Pine Island Road Plantation FL 33324
In the subpoena provide them with the following receipt number: xxxxxxx

Unbelievable!  Moral of the story: you may want to occasionally check your agency’s corporate information on www.sunbiz.org to ensure you have not become a victim of corporate identity theft!”

Posted by Laura Pearce on Feb 15th, 2016 FAIA Community blog
Laura’s Legal Brief of the Week: Corporate Identity Theft – Beware, Your Agency Could be a Target!

Personal Auto Insurance… “Business Use” and the Realtor

accident1

Sooo…..You are headed to Sanibel to show a condominium to a new customer, who you have just picked up at SWFL International Airport. You are talking with the client, who is seated in the passenger seat.  A text comes in on your phone, you look down… 3 lanes of traffic in front of you STOP…..and you do not.  The accident totals your car, and both you and your passenger are seriously injured and taken to hospital.  What happens next??

How is your insurance going to respond? Let’s first look at what auto insurance coverage you have purchased.  Soooo….You went online and purchased what you thought was an adequate policy, a Personal Auto Policy.  You did not research the language in the policy and you filled in the blanks of the online app with the “easiest” answers that you thought would get you the cheapest premium.

Here are some important points to remember……

A Realtor’s largest “Liability Loss Exposure” probably comes from the amount of “on the job” driving that they do. Personal automobile insurance policies typically will not cover a vehicle that is intended for “regular business use,” which is defined differently depending on the policy. Many personal lines policies put restrictions on how much you can actually drive your personal vehicle for work and whether you can carry customers. ASK YOUR AGENT. Make sure he is aware of how you use your vehicle.

If you use your vehicle for “Business Use” most of the time, you should definitely consider purchasing a Business Auto Insurance Policy. Realtors are typically on the road most of their working day. There are “blurred lines” as to when you are “on the job” and when you are on “personal time”.

Are you doing business under an S Corporation or LLC? Your “business use” vehicle should be insured under a Business or Commercial Auto Policy with the business entity being the “named insured ” and your name should be shown as an “Additional Named Insured”.  Your RE Broker should be shown as an Additional Named Insured on this policy.

You have a “higher duty” to be properly insured when you are carrying customers and working under a RE Broker. Take the risk out being properly insured, use the Business Auto Policy.

Always carry Medical Payments at the highest limits available. This coverage will be available to your passengers.

Personal Injury Protection – PIP coverage will typically respond for you and your passengers. This provides some medical and lost wage coverage.  Your out of state customer may not have PIP coverage available.

Always carry Uninsured Motorist coverage at the same limits as your Bodily Injury Limits. UM will typically respond for passengers when an Under or Uninsured Motorist is the cause of the accident with your vehicle.

Always carry the Bodily Injury and Property Damage Limits at the highest limits that you can afford to protect you and your business entity for “at fault” accidents.

Request Drive Other Car coverage to provide protection when you are renting a vehicle.

If you have a personal vehicle, titled in your name and insured in your name, be very careful using this vehicle for business. Have your agent confirm that your present policy will respond should you have and accident while on the job and carrying clients.  Do not assume that you have coverage.

Always read and understand the intent of the insurance policy that you are buying.

Call SWFL Insurance Agency at 239-265-9577 for a review of your present coverage and a premium proposal.

 

Sooo…..Your salesman, Diane, just came into your office and accused Bob of Sexual Harassment…..What Now?

sexual harrassment

Sooo….You just had to ask one of your salesmen to clean out his desk. You had received a written claim of some sexual indiscretions claimed by a fellow female sales person.  The texts and verbal abuses were claimed to have been made over a 12 month period. 

Now what?  Did you do your due diligence in investigating the claims?  Will you hear from an attorney?  Either party may sue you since it supposedly happened on company time in the office.  Will my business insurance respond to protect my company and me?  This type of business professional legal liability situation falls under the heading of Employment Practices Liability.

Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) offers broad policy coverage for discrimination, harassment, and inappropriate employment conduct, including hostile work environment, failure to hire or promote, wrongful demotion, negligent evaluation, deprivation of career opportunity, retaliation, wrongful discipline, libel, slander, defamation of character, and invasion of privacy.

Whether you and your company are at fault or not, the legal fees could bankrupt your company. Even an organization with good human resources policies and procedures in place can be sued, and the cost of defending a claim can be enormous. It is not uncommon for legal fees associated with winning an employment lawsuit to exceed $250,000.

Here are some examples of real life claims. See if you can relate to any of these claims.

  • Sexual harassment and discrimination — $775,000+

A former employee of the insured claimed she was subject to sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation. After complaining to human resources that her manager had verbally harassed her on a number of occasions and had touched her inappropriately on two or three occasions, the plaintiff claimed she was retaliated against and terminated. She sued for sexual harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination in violation of public policy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and tortious assault. Travelers paid more than $225,000 to defend the claim and paid $550,000 in settlement costs.

  • Sexual harassment and discrimination — $450,000

A line worker at a bulk food packaging business filed a charge against his employer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for sexual harassment and discrimination. The charge developed into a class-action suit brought against the insured directly by the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission. The suit contended that the insured had a pattern and practice of failing to respond to claims of harassment and discrimination. Travelers settled the case for $350,000 after paying more than $100,000 in legal fees.

  • Sexual harassment and assault — $350,000

An applicant sued the owner-operator of a franchised bar and grill, alleging that while she was at the restaurant, and after completing her application, she was harassed, drugged, assaulted and sexually attacked by the employees and managers of the restaurant. Further investigation of the matter showed that after drinking for several hours, the plaintiff decided to apply for a position and that she was the instigator of the sexual activity that occurred. The matter was tried in front of a jury, who found in favor of the insured. Legal fees paid by Travelers exceeded $350,000.*

  • Discrimination and retaliation — $250,000+

The president of a small advertising agency sued the agency for sex discrimination, age discrimination and retaliation. The plaintiff alleged that she and the agency’s CEO engaged in a consensual affair. After the CEO passed away, his widow became Chairperson of the Board. The plaintiff claimed she was wrongfully terminated when the affair was discovered after the CEO’s death. The insured contended there were performance and trust issues associated with the plaintiff’s employment at the agency. The insured prevailed on summary adjudication, but more than $250,000 was paid by Travelers defending the case and subsequent appeal.

  • Discrimination and retaliation – $1,370,000

The head of Human Resources for a hospital system, who was a 64-year-old, was terminated by the plaintiff’s 45 year old boss after findings from an outside consultant revealed that the individual created a threatening, demoralizing and dysfunctional work environment which was not acceptable for a person in that position. The former employee of +20 years filed a lawsuit alleging age discrimination and retaliatory termination for complaining about certain business practices. The case was resolved for a total of $1.15m during mediation. Defense expenses incurred were an additional $220,000.

  • Discrimination and harassment — $287,500

In 2004, the plaintiff, a graphic designer hired in 2001, resigned her employment claiming that she had been subjected to sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Specifically, she named four managers/directors of the insured as wrongdoers. The insured performed a thorough investigation and terminated three of the four people involved. The evidence collected included a long series of sexually explicit emails, jokes and comments in the workplace. The claimant was making $45,000 per year. Travelers paid $50,000 to defend the case before settling for $237,500.

Even small companies have this liability exposure. Protect your company.  ELPI coverage is available as a stand alone policy or as an endorsement to a Comprehensive General Liability Policy (CGL).  The premiums are reasonable.

Learn more………Things Employers Wish They Had Never Said

Call SWFL Insurance Agency at 239-265-9577 for a discussion of your exposures and a premium quote. You can also email us at joshw@SWFLAgency.com

What Florida’s new 2015 Drone Law means for you

drone2

In an earlier SWFL Agency Blog post called So…You bought your kid a $2,000. Drone for Christmas, we detailed the issue of how the Homeowners Insurance Policy might react when your kid drives the drone through the neighbor’s windshield.

If you are considering using a drone in your business, we recommend that you review the 2015 Florida Drone Law as outlined in the article at “What Florida’s new drone law means for you”.  There are some very interesting implications.  This thing is going to generate a number of lawsuits.  Even if you hire a company that uses drones for Real Estate activity, you should understand the law and the company you hire should completely know and abide by the rules of the statute…..even though they may be a bit ambiguous.

Home-Based Business Home Insurance In Fort Myers

Working out of your home in Fort Myers can be one of the most affordable options. It allows you a significant amount of freedom. Regardless of why you chose to work from home, you want to make sure that you have sufficient business insurance in place to provide coverage. Do not make the mistake of assuming that your homeowner’s insurance cover if your home-based business.

One of the first things to look at it business property coverage. This can protect against loss when it comes to your computers, merchandise, and any other business related property that you may keep within your home.

You may have clients and/or customers visiting you want a regular basis. If they trip walking through the door or have any kind of other injury or accident, or even file a lawsuit for a claim of negligence, you want to have the necessary coverage so you don’t go broke. General liability coverage can provide this level of protection.

All of the different types of business insurance can be very affordable. You can choose the limits as well as how much coverage you actually need. Every business is a little different and therefore you want to consider what makes your business unique. This will allow you to choose other coverage, including:

  • Data compromise coverage
  • Business interruption coverage
  • Business auto coverage
  • Employment practices liability coverage
  • Equipment breakdown coverage

You may need some or all of these, depending upon whether you rely heavily on computers, have employees within your business, and more.

Call SWFL Insurance Agency Inc. today to learn more about insurance for your home-based business in Fort Myers. We are happy to help you find the right policy at the right price to ensure both your home and your business are protected.

 

Realtors…Are you at Risk for Performing Non Traditional Listing Services

What Should Brokers/Agents Do To Protect Themselves From Liability?

1.  The Brokerage can restrict their agents’ activities to those defined by the listing contract. The typical listing contract does not contain language that would obligate the listing agent to “oversee the property”, “close up/ open up the property”, “check periodically on the property”, or take on other non‐traditional real estate listing services.

2.  If an agent does undertake any additional tasks which are not defined by the listing agreement,the listing agreement should be amended to clearly state what it is that the agent is undertaking. Vague statements such as “keeping an eye” on the property should be avoided.

3.  Any contractual obligation for maintenance or repair should run from the owner to the service provider and not through the agent. The agent should not be a party to a contract with a service provider regardless of the owner’s assurance of reimbursement.

4.  The brokerage should determine, before any non‐traditional tasks are undertaken, if there is  appropriate insurance coverage to provide protection in the event of any claims.  If the agent is performing actual property management, it is important that the agent  understand that all payments for management services must be run through the brokerage. Any payments outside the brokerage may undermine insurance coverage and may be in violation of state licensing laws.

5. If the property requires work before it can be listed, the agent should confirm the work has been completed and done properly before the property is opened for showings. For example, if the agent was called upon by the seller to arrange for a repair to the property, the agent should determine that repair was made prior to the property being listed for sale especially if that repair, if not done properly, could injure people viewing the property.

6.  Any knowledge the agent acquired because of their role in overseeing or arranging for repairs to  the property is knowledge that will need to be disclosed by them as part of the real estate transaction. Specific state laws define the obligation of real estate agents to disclose material facts but knowledge acquired by the agent as a result of their taking on non‐traditional tasks is knowledge nonetheless that may need to be disclosed to potential buyers.

Agents taking on non‐traditional tasks to aid sellers in maintaining and marketing property need to appreciate that all additional tasks that they undertake may expose them to potential liability. Such additional tasks should be undertaken with caution. If undertaken, the exact parameters of the task should be memorialized in writing. The agent should not be the contracting party for repairs with service providers. The agent should also make sure that insurance coverage is in place. Finally, any knowledge they acquire as a result of this additional work may need to be disclosed to potential buyers.

Many real estate agents pride themselves on providing full service to their clients. But full service should not include full liability.   An excerpt from the Real Risks Newsletter, Travelers.

 Not sure your E&O coverage would cover these situations. 

Travelers Real Estate Agents / Property Manager E&O provides professional liability protection for claims or suits resulting from real estate agent or broker professional services.

Call SWFL Insurance Agency, Inc. for a review of your present coverage and a Competitive Premium proposal – 239-265-9577

Small Business 101: Is Employment Practice Liability Insurance Right for You?

Business are facing lawsuits from multiple angles in Fort Myers, Florida. Owners who sell products and have business partners run the risk of lawsuits for negligence and breach of contract. To make matters worse, employees are filing lawsuits against their employers when their rights have been compromised. 

Fortunately, many independent insurance companies offer coverage for employment practice liability. The insurance can potentially cover incidents stemming from:

•    Wrongful discipline
•    Sexual harassment
•    Discrimination
•    Infliction of emotional distress
•    Breach of employment contract
•    Failure to promote

If your business employs workers, purchasing employment practice liability insurance may help protect the future of your business by reducing the financial impact of a large settlement.

Employment Practice Liability Insurance is Claims-Made Coverage
There are typically two types of coverage for insurance protection: claims-made and occurrence. Employment practice liability insurance is considered claims-made coverage, which means the policy covers events that happen and are filed during the coverage period. Of course, your independent insurance agent may be able to provide you with additional coverage to extend your coverage period.

Optional Services Offered with Employment Practice Liability Insurance
In addition to providing your business with protection against violations of employee rights, some independent insurance agents will help you determine areas of risk within your existing business policies. This process benefits both you and the insurance company since it reduces the potential for large lawsuits.

Employment practice liability insurance is added protection many businesses that have employees can use to their advantage. With the right independent insurance agent on your side, you can reduce your exposure to employee lawsuits.

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The Easiest Way to Save on Your SW Florida Business Insurance

Even in an improving economy, businesses still need to be diligent about watching costs. They certainly don’t want to negatively affect their product or services, but keeping an eye on costs is critical. There are some steps you can take in saving on your business insurance. You can increase your deductibles or you can lower your limits. But there is an easy option you can choose that can save you money without increasing your risks or sacrificing coverage and it can be summed up in one word: compare.

Comparing rates is the simplest way to save on your business coverage. Now, the simplest way to compare is to contact an independent insurance agency. In the Fort Myers, FL area SWFL Insurance Agency is an independent agency. While captive agents are restricted to offering the products of the single company they represent, an independent agency is free to select from multiple insurance carriers. Rather than working for an insurance company, we work for you in finding the best rates without cutting coverage. There are other benefits to working with an independent agency as well. Since we are local, you are helping the area’s economy. Because we are nearby, we are here to answer your questions and assist you if filing a claim becomes necessary. We also better understand the needs of local businesses.

We invite you to see what we can do in saving you on your auto and homeowners insurance. Visit our website and request an online quote. We think you’ll be impressed with the savings. There’s no cost or obligation so you have nothing to lose. .

For a business insurance comparative quote, contact us. It is the easiest way to save on your SW Florida Business Insurance.

 

Tips to Get the Most Affordable Commercial Insurance in Fort Myers, Florida

As the commercial center of Lee County, Fort Myers, Florida is home to many companies in the state. If you own a business in this county seat, it is a wise move to start contacting commercial insurance agents to serve you. SWFL Insurance Agency is here to assist you and provide you with your needs. We offer online quoting, so you can find the most affordable commercial insurance in Fort Myers, Florida.

To save some money when purchasing commercial insurance, it is best to know exactly the right type of insurance your business requires. There are different varieties of commercial insurance. One way to learn the type of insurance policy is to consider the kind of business you are running or what industry it belongs to. Also, it helps to be specific about the size of the company, including the number of employees you have.

When you know what type of insurance to buy, you can use this knowledge to save money on commercial insurance. Our commercial insurance agents here at SWFL Insurance Agency are well-trained with the right experience and familiarity to give you the information you need. Our goal is to not only assist you in finding the most affordable insurance for your business, but also help you understand which insurance policies to purchase.

Our commercial insurance agents are equipped with knowledge, so you can get answers to your questions regarding business insurance. We can help you shop around before you make your decision. We here at SWFL Insurance Agency have an online tool that lets you compare rates from various insurers. This is very helpful, especially for those who have no prior experience in buying insurance for their business. Visit our commercial insurance quote for Fort Myers, Florida businesses to search for business insurance that you can afford.