Tallahassee, Fla. – March 8, 2011 --
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam continued his crackdown against unlicensed telemarketers last week, shutting down firms in several southwest Florida counties.
Investigators from the Department’s Division of Consumer Services, in partnership with the Department’s Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement, conducted inspections in Sarasota, Manatee, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.
Investigators issued cease and desist orders to 12 businesses and 170 salespeople. In addition to the unlicensed telemarketing activity, investigators found violations ranging from operating at an undisclosed location to using telephone sales scripts that had not been submitted to the Department for review. In total, 19 businesses were inspected and more than 200 violations of the Florida Telemarketing Act were cited resulting in $108,000.00 in fines against offending businesses. Further investigations are pending.
“The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is focused on protecting consumers from harmful and deceptive practices,” Commissioner Putnam said. “Effective telemarketing regulation benefits consumers by providing protection from identity theft and unscrupulous operators. It creates a fair and level playing field for telemarketing businesses that abide by the rules.”
The Department regulates the telemarketing industry and requires businesses and their sales agents to register. The Department’s registration process does not permit individuals with criminal histories involving fraud to get a license for telemarketing.
Consumer complaints about telemarketing top the list of consumer complaints filed with the Department’s Division of Consumer Services during 2010. 8,599 or roughly 22 percent of the complaints received were related to telemarketing.
Overall, consumer complaints in 2010 increased by seven percent to just over 40,000. More than 88 percent of those complaints were successfully closed or resolved.
The top ten consumer complaints received by the Department in 2010 are:
1. Telemarketing, 8,599
2. Do not Call, 7,632
3. Credit/ Banking, 2,528
4. Communications, 2,248
5. Travel/ Vacation Plans, 1,977
6. Motor Vehicle Repair, 1,902
7. Real Estate/ Broker, 1,627
8. Motor Vehicle Sale, 1,492
9. Landlord/ Tenant, 1,415
10. Medical, 1,046
Consumers who believe fraud has taken place, can contact the Department’s consumer protection and information hotline at 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or for Spanish speakers 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832). Consumers can also check registration status or the complaint history of a telemarketer by logging on to www.800helpfla.com.
Commissioner Putnam and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services are committed to protecting consumers from unlawful and deceptive business practices, especially as National Consumer Protection Week begins. The week, which began March 6 and goes through March 13, encourages consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions. In recognition of National Consumer Protection Week, Commissioner Putnam will announce a resolution at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting.
For more information about the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit www.FreshFromFlorida.com or follow Commissioner Putnam on Facebook, www.Facebook.com/adamputnam, or Twitter, @adamputnam.