TALLAHASSEE, FL (Sept. 24, 2010) – Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson and Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum announced yesterday that a major statewide crackdown on telemarketing operations that peddle timeshare units has resulted in 4 arrests, 137 cease-and-desist orders and about $125,000 in fines.
The week-long sweep, in which Bronson’s department partnered with Attorney General Bill McCollum and representatives of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, paid unannounced visits to 67 telemarketing operations in the Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Tampa/St. Petersburg and Orlando areas. It ran from September 13 through September 17.
It found numerous instances of unlicensed sales people, unregistered businesses and in two cases employees against whom outstanding arrest warrants existed.
“For too long consumers have been victimized by unscrupulous telemarketers, especially those selling time share units,” Bronson said. “And when you get on the inside of many of these operations as we just did, you see too many of them with no licenses, registration or accountability of any kind simply trying to turn a quick buck at a consumer’s expense.”
One of the most common timeshare scams, Bronson said, is one in which a telemarketer calls a time share unit owner who is desperate to unload his or her property and informs the owner that it has a buyer for the unit if the owner is willing to quickly send the telemarketer a fee of $1,500 or more. Rarely in such a scenario does an actual buyer exist.
While Bronson’s Consumer Services Division and Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement investigators were inspecting the telemarketing operations and making arrests, issuing cease-and-desist orders and imposing fines, Attorney General McCollum’s investigators were issuing subpoenas for business records of some of the businesses and launching new investigations for possible fraud.
“Fraud in the timeshare resale industry is on the rise in Florida and must be stopped,” McCollum said. “Collaborative efforts such as this allow scam artists to know that these horrendous business practices will not be tolerated in this state.”
Both the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and Attorney General’s Office have seen major increases in calls and complaints alleging fraud in the timeshare industry, which triggered last week’s sweep. Because of the faltering economy, many consumers are trying to sell their timeshare units as they can no longer afford the cost of a vacation home.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services regulates telemarketers in Florida, requiring that both businesses and salespersons engaged in that activity register with the department and comply with laws and regulations governing the activity. To inquire about the registration status of a business or file a complaint against it, consumers can visit the department’s Division of Consumer Services’ website at www.800helpfla.com or call the department at 1 800 HELP FLA (435-7352).
The Attorney General’s Office also takes complaints involving timeshare disputes, and consumers can file a complaint with that office by calling the Attorney General’s fraud hotline at 1 866 9 NO-SCAM (966-7226) or by visiting the office’s website at www.myfloridalegal.com
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