Fla. Agent Facing Felony Fraud Charges

August 31, 2004

A Windermere, Fla. insurance agent who allegedly forged customers’ signatures and manipulated their trust to take out personal loans and earn fraudulent commissions may have scammed several Orange County residents out of more than $200,000, said fraud investigators with Florida’s Department of Financial Services.

Michael Harris Lait, d.b.a. Harris Financial Services, is facing felony charges of elder exploitation, scheme to defraud, and fraudulent reporting and accounting of funds. The department’s Division of Insurance Fraud, with assistance from the Windermere Police Department, arrested Lait on Aug. 23. At the same time, Lait was served with an administrative complaint from the Division of Legal Services resulting from an investigation conducted by the Division of Agent and Agency Services, Bureau of Investigation.

“The department is committed to ensuring that those licensed to serve in the insurance industry work for the consumers’ best interests,” said Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who oversees the department. “Anyone who believes they may be a victim of fraud is urged to contact the department.”

Lait, 45, of 11449 Lake Butler Drive, faces up to 30 years in prison on each charge.

Lait allegedly forged customers’ signatures to obtain personal loans on the cash value from their annuities and life insurance policies, concealing the loans by diverting the payments and correspondence to his Windermere address. Lait also is suspected of forging customers’ signatures to cancel life insurance policies and purchase new policies, and using fraudulent and deceptive practices to convince customers to allow him to “roll over” mature life insurance policies and annuities, so he could collect commissions while his customers were socked with lost interest and surrender penalties.

It is further alleged that Lait convinced one of his customers to donate cash, savings bonds, and stock certificates to the West Orange Children’s Foundation, an organization Lait claimed to establish to assist persons in need of continuing education. Investigators said Lait diverted the money for his personal use.

To report information about this case or another possible insurance fraud case, call the department’s fraud hotline at (800) 378-0445.

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