State Watchdog: Division of Consumer Services

Have you ever had a question, concern, problem or complaint that has gone unresolved because you could not figure out the proper agency or resource to contact?

As the state’s clearinghouse for consumer complaints, the Division of Consumer Services within the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services takes its role as a state watchdog very seriously. With over 40,000 complaints filed in 2010 – an increase of 7 percent from the previous year – the Division boasts an impressive resolution rate of over 88 percent as successfully closed or resolved.

Sometimes confused as having jurisdiction over only the citrus industry, the Division has regulatory authority over the following Florida industries: Business Opportunities, Charitable Organizations, Dance Studios, Do-Not-Call Program, Game Promotions/Sweepstakes, Health Studios (Gyms), Intrastate Movers, Motor Vehicle Repair Shops, Pawnshops, Professional Surveyors and Mappers, Sellers of Travel, Telemarketing, and administers the Florida Lemon Law program in conjunction with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Following a 138 percent increase in complaints against telemarketers last year, the Division’s Bureau of Investigations recently assisted law enforcement officials in central Florida on three separate enforcement actions.

“With emerging technologies, there will undoubtedly be emerging threats to Florida consumers. My office recently initiated a targeted inspection of 23 telemarketing businesses, which resulted in 153 violations and the collection of over $51,000 in fines,” said Commissioner Adam Putnam. “Through proactive, innovative efforts, we will continue to protect Floridians from harassing and intrusive telemarketing calls, while allowing those businesses who operate within the law to succeed.”

The next largest increase was Real Estate Broker/Salesperson complaints which rose by 36 percent followed by a 32 percent rise in Medical complaints. Motor Vehicle Repair and Do-No-Call complaints were each up by 17 percent while complaints involving Travel/Vacation Plans were down for the second year in a row, decreasing by 29 percent from 2009 to 2010 after a 22 percent reduction from 2008 to 2009.

Due diligence can protect a consumer. Before conducting business with a company, check their complaint history. Have they had complaints? If so, how were they resolved? This can be done by visiting and utilizing the “Business/Complaint Lookup” tab, or by calling 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) and allowing a member of the Consumer Assistance Center to retrieve the information. If the particular business is regulated by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, be sure to find out if they are properly registered.

Considered as a useful tool in the quest to inform, educate and protect consumers, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has developed the “A-Z Resource Guide,” an online directory of government-related information. Entering a keyword into the search function of the guide at will allow the database to locate needed services and assistance fast. Remember, an educated consumer is the best defense against fraud and deception.

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