Monday, June 18, 2018
Editorials

Put more effort into stopping timeshare scams

Florida's reputation as a paradise for petty thieves and fraud is being reinforced by timeshare resale companies preying on the elderly and the desperate. Thousands of complaints flood into the state attorney general every year, but most fall through the cracks. While Attorney General Pam Bondi commendably persuaded the Legislature to pass legislation that will give her office more authority to fight these scams, what's really needed is a coordinated statewide effort to put these companies out of business and the worst offenders in jail.

There are some legitimate timeshare resale companies, but a large segment of the industry exists just to take advantage of the vulnerable. These companies target the elderly or people in dire financial straits who are desperate to sell one or more timeshares to get out of the costly maintenance fees. Victims say they are told by the resale company that it has a buyer waiting if the seller pays advertising fees of a thousand dollars or more. Then no buyer materializes. Some victims are defrauded over and over, spending more on resale than their timeshares are worth.

A six-month investigation by Tampa Bay Times staff writers Will Hobson and Caryn Baird documented rampant abuse and little reaction by law enforcement. Since 2008 there has been an explosion of nearly 25,000 complaints of timeshare resale fraud filed with the Florida Attorney General's Office, the most common consumer fraud complaint in the state. Yet the office has brought only a handful of lawsuits against perpetrators, preferring to reach settlements where the company does not admit wrongdoing and may keep operating. Those agreements have recouped a fraction of the money victims have lost.

Similarly, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which licenses telemarketers such as timeshare resale companies, did not do essential background checks on most applications until last summer. By relying on the applicant's word that he had no prior disqualifying felony convictions, ex-felons were able to get into the phone solicitation business and renew their licenses year after year. Even today, the agency is falling down on the job by checking only for Florida convictions, letting felons with out-of-state criminal records obtain state licenses.

Every law enforcement agency seems to point the finger at another one. Timeshare resale operators work from local strip malls and office buildings, but local law enforcement largely refers victims, who are mostly out-of-state, to the agriculture department or the attorney general. Meanwhile, Bondi's office bats it back. Spokeswoman Jenn Meale says since the attorney general's economic crimes division can only file civil charges, criminal investigations are referred to local law enforcement.

This piecemeal approach is not getting the job done. Better investigation, tracking and coordination across jurisdictions is needed, either through the attorney general's office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement or a strike force established by the governor such as the one created last year to combat the state's pill mills. With more than 8,000 complaints to the attorney general's office in 2011, targeting fraudulent timeshare resale operations should be a higher priority.

Comments
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

The Florida Department of Children and Families has correctly set a quick deadline for Hillsborough County’s main child welfare provider to correct its foster care program. For too long the same story has played out, where troubled teens who need fos...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: Educate voters on Amendment 4 and restoring felons’ rights

Editorial: Educate voters on Amendment 4 and restoring felons’ rights

This fall voters will have 13 constitutional amendments to wade through on the ballot, but Amendment 4 should get special focus. It represents a rare opportunity to rectify a grievous provision in the Florida Constitution, which permanently revokes t...
Published: 06/13/18
Updated: 06/14/18