By DOTTY NIST
What services does the state Division of Consumer Services provide to the public? Speaking last week in Walton County, Alexander Warmka filled local residents in on how the agency could be of help to them.
Warmka, regulatory consultant for the division, was featured speaker at the March 19 monthly meeting of Walton Republican Women Federated (WRWF). This was the club’s first meeting at a new venue, Cuvee Catering in Miramar Beach.
The Division of Consumer Services is part of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Also part of the department is the Division of Fruits and Vegetables, which inspects and certifies shipments of vegetables, fruits and nuts.
Warmka told the club members that reasons to call the Division of Consumer Services would include wanting to know who is licensed to provide a particular service or product, what agency handles a particular issue, or to check up on a business. Citizens can also file complaints against a business or individual through the division, he added.
Warmka revealed that “do not call” complaints are the top reason for the public contacting the Division of Consumer Services, followed by complaints related to fraud, telemarketing, communications, and landlord/tenant problems.
Warmka noted that Florida maintains a Do Not Call registry, separate from the federal one, that is overseen by the Division of Consumer Services. Florida residents who do not want to receive sales calls may have their home and cell phones registered on the state list, with text messaging also covered.
Warmka said that registration is free of charge, with the service currently funded through fines collected from violators. He added that citizens can file complaints for violations of the Florida Do Not Call statute and that a case worker is assigned to handle each complaint filed.
Warmka commented that, in response to problems with gyms/health clubs collecting membership fees and then closing without refunding members’ money, the Division of Consumer Services now regulates these businesses. They are required to register with the division. Citizens may contact the division to see if the gym is registered and if there have been any complaints filed against it. If a gym closes, it is required to designate an alternate facility for members within five miles of the original location.
All charities soliciting in Florida are required to register with the Division of Consumer Services, with the exclusion of religious, educational and governmental entities. Citizens can contact the division to see whether a particular charity is registered and how a charity spends contributions, i.e. how much money goes to program expenses and how much to the purpose the charity is set up for.
Warmka spoke of several scams that unsuspecting citizens may fall victim to, one involving a scammer sending a check in excess of the amount for an item purchased and with the check later being found to be counterfeit. A person may also be hired to be a “secret shopper,” and a check sent to them in payment by a scammer proves to be worthless. He also warned attendees to beware of people going door-to-door and offering to do home repairs, emphasizing that it is important to verify if the repair person is licensed in order to avoid losing money.
“Always do your research…if the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Warmka remarked.
A wealth of information on these and other important topics is available on the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services web site, www.800helpfla.com or by calling the toll free number 1-800-HELP-FLA.
By DOTTY NIST