TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – In 10 days, Florida lawmakers will meet in Tallahassee for a special session meant to address soaring homeowners insurance rates.
Some Floridians are seeing their premiums double. According to Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s chief financial officer, fraud is driving that.
The state received more than 1,700 tips or reports of property insurance fraud last year. In the end, just 14 people were convicted, according to data from the Florida Department of Financial Services (DFS).
Some lawmakers are now asking if Florida is doing enough to deter the crime.
“So we started at 1,700 and we held accountable 14 convictions. That concerns me a little bit,” said State Rep. David Smith, a Republican from Seminole.
DFS is responsible for stopping property insurance fraud.
Lawmakers say the frequency of fraud, specifically roofing schemes, is causing the market to collapse.
At a House committee meeting in October, DFS Fraud Director Simon Blank was pressed on the agency’s conviction rate.
“Are we aggressively pursuing that?” Rep. Smith asked. “Can you tell me a little bit about what we’re doing to take on roofers and that type of homeowners’ fraud?”
Blank replied, “Homeowner cases are in particular kind of hard to work, they’re very time consuming.”
Blank explained the complex cases saying, in particular, it’s difficult to prove the intent element of the crime.
Here’s how the scheme often works, according to lawmakers: Contractors promise a free roof, submit an inflated claim, then sue the insurance company. The company eventually settles, losing millions. The costs get passed down to you.
For months, 8 On Your Side has documented the toll of soaring rates on homeowners.
“We have got to be able to have more resources available to dedicated insurance prosecutors,” CFO Jimmy Patronis said. “At the end of the day, there’s only so many hours in the day.”
Patronis is the head of DFS. At a news conference this week announcing grants to protect firefighters, 8 On Your Side asked Patronis about fraud and if he wants to see more people convicted for property insurance fraud.
“I personally don’t want to see anybody convicted. The reason I don’t want to see anybody convicted because the laws right now are allowing this sketchy activity,” he said. “I can’t call it illegal because it’s not illegal.”
“What we are prosecuting are those that have really made a mistake in their unscrupulous business scheme they got,” Patronis added. “I can always use more help but the help that we really need is with the Florida legislature to close the loopholes that are allowing the gaming of the system that is what’s driving your insurance rates up.”
Patronis seemed to say you can’t enforce your way out of this. On Thursday, the CFO announced he wanted to hire 23 new people to fight property insurance fraud. That request will be made to lawmakers during the special session on May 23.
Patronis is also seeking to increase financial incentives for reporting fraud.
If you’re a homeowner impacted by fraudulent activity, email Investigator Mahsa Saeidi at MSaeidi@WFLA.com.