TALLAHASSEE (CBS4) — Besieged with thousands of complaints about timeshare resellers, Attorney General Pam Bondi and two Florida lawmakers are pushing for a new law to crack down on fraud.

Bondi said the number of timeshare resales complaints her office has received has spiked in recent years, with nearly 7,000 received this year, more than all the other fraud areas combined.

A typical fraud involves a timeshare owner paying an up-front fee to a resale business in exchange for the promise that it will deliver a buyer. But often a buyer never materializes.

“We cannot allow unscrupulous individuals to mislead and defraud our consumers, many of whom have invested their life savings in a dream home,” Bondi said at a press conference Tuesday.

Bondi said the economy has led many desperate-to-sell timeshare owners to believe claims of a “guaranteed buyer” offered by the resell companies that take an up-front fee to deliver the promised buyer. An up-front fee can range from $750 to $3,000, leaving owners sometimes scammed out of thousands of dollars, said a spokeswoman for Bondi.

“If it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” Bondi said. She said timeshare owners should not believe claims that such resale companies can deliver a buyer and should take the time to investigate the company making this promise.

The proposed legislation, which has not been filed, would give time share sellers seven days to cancel an agreement with a timeshare resale company. It also makes it illegal to pay brokerage fees, requires greater disclosure in 12-point font, and makes it illegal to mislead a timeshare owner about the ability to find a buyer.

The penalty for violating the law would be up to $15,000 per violation.

“There will be no loopholes left in the law,” Bondi said.

The lawmakers who will file the bill are Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, and Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. An association that represents the timeshare industry and the AARP are also behind the bill.

“This bill makes sure we stop these bad actors from taking large amounts of money from folks and then just disappearing after making all kinds of promises that are simply not true,” Eisnaugle said.

Currently, Bondi is able to investigate time share scam artists through the state’s deceptive trade practices law. But she said the new legislation would better equip her office’s ability to prosecute time share resale fraud.

Florida is the epicenter of the problem, with more timeshare owners than any other state. Many are senior citizens who are particularly vulnerable to scams.

“Some of the scam artists really prey on our retirees,” Bondi said.

Jack McRay, Florida Advocacy Manager for the AARP, said seniors are susceptible to timeshare pitches and are targeted by scam artists. The proposed legislation is “essential to revitalize the tourism industry.”

A time share is a property jointly owned by several people. Each owner typically buys shares in the property and is permitted to occupy the property during certain times of the year.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.)

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