ORLANDO – Calling it an effort to boost confidence in Central Florida’s critical timeshare industry, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law legislation designed to crack down on timeshare resale fraud.
“As visitors enjoy their vacation and business travel to Florida, it is only natural for them to want to figure out ways to keep coming back, and timeshares can be a way for vacationers to keep returning to our state,” the governor said during a visit to the University of Central Florida Rosen College of Hospitality Management in Orlando.
That was where Gov. Scott signed House Bill 1001, a top priority of state Attorney General Pam Bondi, and a measure designed to crack down on companies that target and scam people trying to sell their timeshares.
“Unfortunately, several scams involving timeshare marketers eroded investors’ confidence in the timeshare system,” Scott said as he signed the bill, which goes into effect on July 1.
Bondi filed the legislation in October 2011, after her office received nearly 7,000 complaints during a nine-month period, more than all other consumer-related complaints combined.
The most common complaints were about false claims made to sellers that the resale firm had a specific buyer ready to purchase or rent their timeshare, or that the property would be rented within a certain period of time – if the seller first agreed to pay an up-front fee, often in the range of several thousand dollars. Once that fee got paid, the seller typically never heard from the firm again.
They were also numerous complaints that resale firms failed or refused to honor cancellation policies.
The new law gives timeshare sellers seven days to cancel an agreement with a resale company, while also making it illegal to require brokerage fees. It also requires greater disclosure on the resale agreement in a clear 12-point font, and makes it a crime to mislead a timeshare owner about the firm’s ability to find a buyer. The measure imposes penalties of up to $15,000 per violation. Before a client’s credit card can be charged, the law establishes a time frame for any client to cancel services for a full refund.
“This legislation will cut down on timeshare fraud and protect owners from unscrupulous resale companies,” Scott said. “As we fight this fraud, integrity will come back into the system, and people can feel more confident investing in Florida, and in the timeshare market.”
The governor also used the bill signing ceremony to applaud state lawmakers for increasing funding for VISIT Florida, the state’s official tourism marketing agency, by 55 percent, a boost that the governor said would help promote Florida’s tourism industry.
Funding for VISIT Florida will rise to $54 million during the fiscal year that starts on July 1, compared to the current budget of $34.9 million.
Tourism remains Florida’s No. 1 industry, generates 23 percent of the state’s sales tax revenue and employs more than one million Floridians, the governor’s office noted.
In 2011, the state’s tourism industry brought 86.5 million visitors to Florida and generated $67.2 billion in direct economic impact.
More importantly, the governor noted, the agency’s Web site, www.VISITFLORIDA.com, remains the No. 1 trafficked state destination marketing organization website in the nation.
Every 85 visitors who come to the Sunshine State, Scott added, supports one Florida job.
“To keep Florida in the front of travelers’ minds, VISIT Florida is constantly fine-tuning our tourism marketing to attract business travelers and vacationers from around the world,” he said. “This investment is good for Florida taxpayers because for every dollar spent on tourism marketing, VISIT Florida generates $177 in tourism spending and $11 in new sales tax collections.”
The measure to increase the agency’s budget was a top priority of state Rep. Mike Horner, R-St. Cloud, who leads the House Transportation & Economic Development Appropriations Committee.
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The timeshare industry has been into the lion’s mouth for the last couple of years, and it has generated lots of controversy and discussions in many forums and blogs on the web. However, since we’re living an economic downturn, anyone would expect that the timeshare sales collapse, but instead of that the sales seem to be increasing… but this comes with a trap: timeshare scams are increasing too. That leads us to the question: then, why keep people investing on timeshares?