Drew Breakspear: Fighting fraud and serving Floridians in 2015

consumer fraud

The New Year brings with it opportunity to reflect on 2015 and use it as a foundation to set a strong course for the year ahead.

The Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) is the primary regulator of Florida’s financial services industry, covering securities and consumer finance as well as state-chartered banks and credit unions. As such, we touch the financial lives of every consumer interacting with a financial business in Florida.

Our mission is to protect Floridians, promote a safe and sound financial marketplace, and contribute to the growth of Florida’s economy with smart, efficient and effective regulation.

In 2015, our office continued to fight financial fraud by taking action against criminals who cost victims more than $31.5 million. As a result of the OFR’s efforts, 30 defendants were convicted and sentenced to 142 years in prison and 155 years of probation.

Keeping Florida’s financial marketplace safe for business is one of our top priorities, and the agency is also focused on job creation and economic growth. The number of professionals and businesses licensed by our office increased nearly 3 percent in 2015, and 12 percent over the last four years.

Now, there are more than 415,000 OFR licensees doing business in the state. This growth is one of many bright spots in Florida’s economic rise.

The OFR is truly committed to serving Floridians. We have discovered that listening to consumers and receiving information through the agency’s complaint system is one of the most valuable tools we have to combat financial crime and ensure that the best services are provided to our customers.

In 2015, call volume increased more than 6 percent. Our team answered more than 45,000 phone calls from consumers and businesses across the state, helping respond to their questions and complaints and providing information about our agency and the services we offer.

The OFR decreased average call wait time by 22 percent in 2015, connecting with customers in an average of 31 seconds. And that’s not all — in the last four years, the OFR has reduced the average time it takes to get licensed from 22 days to five. Our rapid licensing timeline allows businesses and professionals to get to work faster.

As we look toward 2016, we expect to see continued licensure growth in the consumer finance and securities industries, and merger activity in the financial institutions sector.

If you have questions about the licensure status of a company or individual handling your financial matters, call (850) 487-9687 or visit us online.

Remember that these tips can help you prevent financial fraud: check the license before you do business, seek a second or third-party opinion on financial decisions, get everything in writing and read it carefully, ask questions, be wary of financial products that sound too good to be true, file a complaint if you’re a victim of financial fraud. More information is available through our Consumer Knowledge Center.

As commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, I am committed to continuing our success, while remaining focused on serving Floridians, increasing efficiency and streamlining regulation so we can ensure Florida’s financial marketplace is the best place for businesses and consumers.

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Drew J. Breakspear is commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, www.flofr.com.

For more state and national commentary visit Context Florida.

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