Attorney General Pam Bondi is warning Floridians about the latest scams and highlighting some of her office’s more notable successes this Consumer Protection Week. Attorney General Bondi will also be reaching out to consumers directly through Twitter with tips to avoid becoming a victim of a scam. Since 2011, Attorney General Bondi’s Consumer Protection Division has conducted hundreds of investigations and recovered billions of dollars for Floridians.
“Whether it’s homeowners victimized by unfair mortgage servicing practices or people being exploited by price gougers during a state of emergency, we work tirelessly to protect all consumers,” said Attorney General Bondi. “This Consumer Protection Week, I want to thank the hard-working people in my Consumer Protection Division for their unwavering dedication to stopping deceptive and unfair business practices.”
The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division enforces Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act and, where possible, helps secure restitution for victims of consumer fraud and other prohibited acts under FDUPTA. Some of the office’s most significant cases include:
- The National Mortgage Settlement, providing more than $9 billion in relief to struggling Florida homeowners;
- Chase Bank Card Services, Inc., providing more than $19 million in relief to Florida consumers and non-profit programs and $1.6 million in penalties;
- Suntrust Bank, providing more than $6.3 million in relief to consumers who lost homes to foreclosure;
- Ocwen, providing nearly $16 million in relief to Florida borrowers, including debt forgiveness and other relief;
- Rome Finance, a multistate settlement resulting in more than $92 million in debt relief to US service members nationwide, with more than $4 million to Floridians;
- Volkswagen, a multistate settlement currently funding consumer restitution of more than $10 billion (up to $5,100 per car) nationally and providing car owners, including nearly 500,000 in Florida, the option to buy back the affected vehicle. Florida also obtained $32 million in civil penalties, fees and costs; and
- Western Sky Financial and Cash Call Inc., a joint settlement with OFR in coordination with a class action that will provide more than $11 million in refunds to Florida borrowers and debt forgiveness of more than $15 million.
Attorney General Bondi’s Consumer Protection Division continues to aggressively pursue consumer fraud and other consumer protection violations affecting Floridians. Most recently, the division has focused on tech support scams, debt relief schemes, robocalling, travel scams and, during the recent hurricanes, price gouging.
Tech Scams: With at least nine cases filed, Attorney General Bondi’s Office has pursued more actions against tech support scam operations than any other state or government agency. Tech scams target consumers, particularly our seniors, through deceptive internet pop-up windows disguised as security warnings claiming the consumer’s computer is infected with malware. The consumer is then given a number to call for immediate help. The number connects the user to sales agents who use scare tactics to sell protection software or other services the consumer does not need.
Debt Relief Schemes: The division has also aggressively pursued debt relief and credit card interest rate reduction schemes that target Floridians already struggling financially. Operators of these schemes often make false statements and collect illegal upfront fees, frequently leaving consumers in even worse financial condition than before. A number of these companies are now banned from the industry thanks to joint legal actions taken by the division and the Federal Trade Commission. For a few recent examples, click here.
Illegal Robocalling: In partnership with the FTC, the division is also working to shut down illegal robocalling. Robocalling occurs when a consumer answers the phone and hears a pre-recorded message, usually selling or attempting to sell a product or service. These calls are an integral component of many unscrupulous schemes and are often used to facilitate credit card interest rate reduction scams, among others. For the latest actions taken by this office against robocallers, click here.
Travel Scams: Florida’s visitors and residents alike are susceptible to these scams, which often start with enticing consumers to attend presentations with promises of free gifts—such as free cruises, airline tickets or gift cards—that are usually difficult or impossible to redeem. The high pressure sales pitches used in these presentations typically include offers of vacation club or travel club memberships, promising deep discounts. Often though, these alleged discounts are the same or even less than what consumers might find on their own. In the last year alone, the division filed four actions against travel clubs and promoters and reached settlements with three businesses securing more than $500,000 in consumer relief.
Price Gouging: When a state of emergency is declared, the Attorney General’s Office activates Florida’s Price Gouging Hotline. During a state of emergency, it is unlawful to sell or lease essential commodities at an amount grossly exceeding the average price for that commodity during the previous 30 days. In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, the division filed litigation against three hotels charging unconscionable room-rates, and other investigations are ongoing. For more information about this litigation, click here.
Anyone who suspects deceptive or unfair business practices can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office at MyFloridaLegal.com or call 1(866) 9-NO-SCAM.
Consumers can follow @AGPamBondi on Twitter for tips to safeguard against scams.