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 www.800helpfla.com 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.
If you are solicited to contribute to a charitable organization, inquire whether the person contacting you is a paid solicitor/fundraiser. If the answer is yes, the vast majority of your contribution may be going to the fundraiser and not the charitable organization. If you are inclined to give, it might be prudent to contact the charitable organization itself and make your donation directly. Consumers can utilize the "Gift Givers Guide" at www.800helpfla.com or call the Florida Department of Agriculture at 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) to inquire about the registration status of a particular charity.
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 www.800helpfla.com will allow the database to locate needed services and assistance fast. Remember, an educated consumer is the best defense against fraud and deception.
The Division of Consumer Services has a monthly electronic newsletter for consumers. Within the Florida Consumer E-Newsletter, you will find tips on important consumer related issues and resources for additional information. Many of the previous editions have been dedicated to topics that focus on popular complaint categories. Consumers are encouraged to subscribe and peruse the archived editions by visiting www.800helpfla.com. They can be extremely useful when seeking advice on a particular subject area.
To review Bill Lewis' entire consumer protection series, visit www.williamlewis.us.
William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity. To learn more, tune into "The Credit Report with Bill Lewis," a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues on AM 740 WSBR.