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Bondi going after fraudulent timeshare resale companies

Attorney General Pam Bondi unveiled on Tuesday her first legislative priority ahead of the January session: cracking down on fraudulent timeshare resale companies.

"Everyone's dream is to own a retirement home in Florida," she said. "And unfortunately many of our retirees who have succeeded in that dream and have purchased a timeshare are being defrauded by scam artists. And that has got to stop."

Bondi's target: Advertisers who lure timeshare owners with bold and unrealistic promises, including "Buyers are on standby!" and "For an up front fee we guarantee your timeshare sale!"

The recession has made people more vulnerable to these kinds of scams, she said. Complaints about timeshare resale fraud soared to about 12,000 in 2010, up from nearly 2,000 in 2009, according to figures provided by Bondi's office. The Attorney General's office has already received 6,800 complaints in 2011, she said.

The timeshare complaints outnumber the next four highest complaint categories combined.

The Timeshare Resale Accountability Act, sponsored by Central Florida legislators Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner and Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, would help attorneys prosecute these companies for unfair and deceptive marketing practices by specifically making a few practices illegal. Those practices include:

  • misrepresenting a pre-existing interest in the owner's timeshare
  • misleading a customer about the advertiser's success rate in sales
  • not honoring a cancellation request made within a week after a signed agreement
  • not providing a full refund by a timeshare owner within 20 days of a valid cancellation request

The bill has not yet been written but will include those requirements, among others, as outlined at a Tuesday press conference.

The legislation would show Florida's "good-faith effort" to protect retirees from exploitation, said Jack McRay, AARP Florida advocacy manager.

Even though the Attorney General's office receives thousands of complaints, that doesn't mean there are thousands of fraudulent companies. Most are tied to a few bad actors, she said. The coming legislation will better equip her office to prosecute them.