For many Floridians, fraud may not be top of mind, but financial fraud schemes are quite common in the newspaper, on TV, and even in our email in-boxes.
Combating financial fraud is a critical part of what we do at the Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR). One of our most important goals is to help Floridians be more aware of financial fraud, how it affects them and how they can protect themselves.
Consumer education is the key to fraud prevention. More than 80 percent of adults, age 40 and older, have been solicited to participate in potentially fraudulent schemes. Our agency depends on consumers to share their experiences, thereby alerting our investigation team to potential financial crimes and suspicious situations.
The OFR is on the front lines of the financial services arena and we are proactive, safeguarding Floridians through licensure of financial professionals, as well as investigation of those who are suspected of crimes. When someone applies for a license with our agency, we conduct a background check before a license is granted, and then monitor the entity with continual examinations. Our agency also partners with other regulators and members of law enforcement to investigate complaints of questionable business practices.
There are several ways that you can protect yourself from financial fraud.
Verify the license of the company or individual with whom you plan to do business. Typically, violations that result in civil or criminal action are committed by unlicensed entities. Floridians can verify a professional license on our website, www.flofr.com, or by calling 850-487-9687.
Additionally, be sure to do your homework. Consult with multiple professionals and select one who listens and understands your financial goals. Ask for written information and read it thoroughly, so you can ask informed questions. Consider every financial investment decision carefully and completely and dont be afraid to sleep on it.
Finally, always keep in mind the old adage, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.
In the past year, our agency put together many cases against financial criminals, which resulted in 71 defendants being convicted and sentenced to 239 years in prison. The average loss to the victims per defendant convicted was $2.7 million. Each time we have a successful case with a positive outcome, we are one step closer to keeping Floridas financial services marketplace vibrant and safe for our citizens the way it should be.
Drew J. Breakspear is commissioner of the Florida Office of Financial Regulation.