A fresh round of public records released by the state of Florida’s Department of Financial Service this morning reveals the number of consumer complaints against travel agencies alleged to have sold illegal travel insurance, as well as the claims paid and their estimated value.
Palm Coast Travel had just three claims worth $27,787 — far below those of other large travel agencies such as Vacation Superstore (33 claims worth $131,061) and Legendary Journeys (174 claims worth $503,957). That figure suggests Palm Coast Travel, which also does business as Smartcruiser.com, aggressively moved to settle claims related to its alleged sale of illegal Prime Travel Protection products even before Florida regulators stepped in.
(Palm Coast Travel is suing me in an apparent attempt to stop me from writing about the company. )
Here’s the state’s internal report in its entirety.
DFS’ EFFORTS TO STOP SALE OF UNAUTHORIZED TRAVEL INSURANCE
Last year, DFS learned that an unauthorized insurance company provided travel insurance coverage in Florida through numerous travel agencies in the state. The unauthorized travel insurance company was Prime Travel Insurance, owned by Jerry Watson of Colorado.
OIR entered a Cease and Desist Order against Prime Travel Insurance Company in March, 2009. DFS’s Fraud Division is investigating Jerry Watson, the owner of Prime Travel. Prime Travel is no longer in business.
The sale of unauthorized travel insurance is prohibited by Section 626.901 (1) 1, Florida Statutes. DFS regulates the sale of travel insurance by travel insurance agents and agencies. The Department of Agriculture regulates the business of travel agencies.
DFS’s objective is to stop the sale of unauthorized travel insurance and obtain restitution for consumers. Over 20 Florida travel agencies sold unauthorized travel insurance from Prime Travel. DFS has received almost 300 claims from consumers indicating that they bought Prime Travel’s unauthorized travel insurance through their travel agent and that Prime Travel and their travel agent refused to pay their claim.
DFS has assisted numerous consumers in obtaining refunds and payments on their claims. DFS continues to assist consumers in obtaining payment from the travel agency who sold the unauthorized insurance product where the insurance company itself has failed to pay their valid insurance claim.
DFS has filed numerous Notices of Intent to Issue a Cease and Desist Order against travel agencies, including Legendary Journeys, Vacation Superstore, and Palm Coast Travel, and continues to file Notices of Intent to Issue a Cease and Desist Order against all known travel agencies who sold the unauthorized insurance.
DFS has issued an informational bulletin (attached) to all registered sellers of travel insurance advising them that the sale of unauthorized travel insurance is a felony, regulated by DFS, and that prior to selling travel insurance, every agent should check with the Office of Insurance Regulation to determine if an insurance company is authorized to do business in the State of Florida.
DFS has investigated all 20 of the travel agencies known to have sold the unauthorized insurance and continues to investigate and review sales of travel insurance. DFS is continually checking on travel agencies to determine whether they are selling an unauthorized insurance product.
DFS initiated legal action against 10 of the travel agencies who sold unauthorized travel insurance and plans to institute legal action against all known sellers of unauthorized travel insurance. DFS has issued orders’ of suspension against two travel agencies, has filed notices of intent to issue a cease and desist order against four agencies, has entered into settlement agreements with three travel agencies that include fines of up to $2,500 and restitution to all victims, and has filed administrative complaints against two travel agencies.
DFS continues to file for and obtain cease and desist orders and to file administrative complaints against all known travel agencies and agents involved.
DFS is making consumers whole
DFS has reviewed approximately 150 claims by consumers to determine whether they have a valid insurance claim. (Proper claims documentation is required in order to make travel agencies pay for the unpaid claims that Prime Travel should have paid.)
Below is a list identifying the names of those travel agencies known to the Department to have sold unauthorized travel
insurance. Also listed is the number of consumers who have filed complaints against those agencies. As DFS reviews the information gathered from each claimant, it determines whether more documentation is needed, communicates with consumers to obtain all claims documentation and communicates with the travel agency to obtain payment.
DFS has negotiated and is negotiating settlements and refunds on behalf of consumers who were sold unauthorized
travel insurance. DFS has enlisted the assistance of its Division of Rehabilitation and Liquidation claims adjusters to determine the validity of each consumer’s claims. Once the claim is validated, DFS is demanding payment from the travel agency who sold the unauthorized insurance.
DFS’s actions against licensed travel insurance agents and agencies
In addition to filing a notice of intent to issue a cease and desist order against any travel agency who sold the unauthorized travel insurance, DFS has filed and plans to continue filing administrative complaints with the Department of Administrative Hearings seeking disciplinary action against those travel agencies and agents that are actually licensed by DFS to sell travel insurance.
DFS initially agreed to hold formal administrative action against some of these travel agencies in abeyance in an effort to allow the travel agencies to make consumers whole. However, we are now advising travel agencies that formal administrative action will no longer be held in abeyance and that the Department will be initiating or moving forward with formal administrative actions immediately.
Summary of Claims in Cases in Which NOICDs Have Been Filed
Note: Numbers reported below are subject to fluctuations as data is reviewed and verified. (NOICDs are attached.)
Total claims received: 174
Estimated value of claims: $503,957.26
Number of claims reviewed: 113
Number of requests sent to consumers for additional information: 64
Number of consumer responses received: 3
Rehab and Liquidation is currently reviewing claims information.
Number of claims resolved: 3
Palm Coast Travel
Total claims received: 3
Estimated value of claims: $27,787.55
Number of claims reviewed: All
Number of requests sent to consumers for additional information: 2
Number of consumer responses received: 0
Number of claims sent to Rehab and Liquidation for review: 1
R&L evaluations received: 1
R&L valuation of the claim: $3,888.30
Total claims received: 33
Estimated value of claims: $131,061.51
Number of claims reviewed: All
Number of requests sent to consumers for additional information: 17
Number of consumer responses received: 4
Number of claims resolved: 9
Ahoy Cruises – 1
Anchors Away – 8
Atlantic Travel Agency – 1
Atlantis International Ltd – 1
Bruce Travel of Plantation – 2
Creative Tours With Pat – 1
Cruise Options – 2
Cruise Supermarket – 3
Cruise Value Center – 2
Cruises R Us – 1
Four Seasons – 2
High Performance – 1
JB Cruises – 58
Legendary Travel – 174
Mary’s Travel – 7
Palm Coast – 3
St Lucie West – 6
The Cruise Agency – 4
Top Cruise Club – 1
Travel with Sandy – 1
Vacation Superstore – 33
TOTALS – 312
(Photo: tata_aka_T/Flickr Creative Commons)