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The Florida Statutes

The 2019 Florida Statutes

Title XLVI
CRIMES
Chapter 817
FRAUDULENT PRACTICES
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F.S. 817.417
817.417 Government Impostor and Deceptive Advertisements Act.
(1) SHORT TITLE.This act may be cited as the “Government Impostor and Deceptive Advertisements Act.”
(2) DEFINITIONS.As used in this section:
(a) “Advertisement” means any representation disseminated in any manner or by any means, other than by a label, for the purpose of inducing, or which is reasonably likely to induce, directly or indirectly, a purchase.
(b) “Department” means the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
(c) “Governmental entity” means a political subdivision or agency of any state, possession, or territory of the United States, or the Federal Government, including, but not limited to, a board, a department, an office, an agency, a military veteran entity, or a military or veteran service organization by whatever name known.
(3) DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES.The department has the duty and responsibility to:
(a) Investigate potential violations of this section.
(b) Request and obtain information regarding potential violations of this section.
(c) Seek compliance with this section.
(d) Enforce this section.
(e) Adopt rules necessary to administer this section.
(4) VIOLATIONS.Each occurrence of the following acts or practices constitute a violation of this section:
(a) Disseminating an advertisement that:
1. Simulates a summons, complaint, jury notice, or other court, judicial, or administrative process of any kind.
2. Represents, implies, or otherwise engages in an action that may reasonably cause confusion that the person using or employing the advertisement is a part of or associated with a governmental entity, when such is not true.
(b) Representing, implying, or otherwise reasonably causing confusion that goods, services, an advertisement, or an offer was disseminated by or has been approved, authorized, or endorsed, in whole or in part, by a governmental entity, when such is not true.
(c) Using or employing language, symbols, logos, representations, statements, titles, names, seals, emblems, insignia, trade or brand names, business or control tracking numbers, website or e-mail addresses, or any other term, symbol, or other content that represents or implies or otherwise reasonably causes confusion that goods, services, an advertisement, or an offer is from a governmental entity, when such is not true.
(d) Failing to provide the disclosures as required in subsection (5) or subsection (6).
(e) Failing to timely submit to the department written responses and answers to its inquiries concerning alleged practices inconsistent with, or in violation of, this section. Responses or answers may include, but are not limited to, copies of customer lists, invoices, receipts, or other business records.
(5) NOTICE REGARDING DOCUMENT AVAILABILITY.
(a) Any person offering documents that are available free of charge or at a lesser price from a governmental entity must provide the notice specified in paragraph (b) on advertisements as follows:
1. For printed or written advertisements, notice must be in the same font size, color, style, and visibility as primarily used elsewhere on the page or envelope and displayed as follows:
a. On the outside front of any mailing envelope used in disseminating the advertisement.
b. At the top of each printed or written page used in the advertisement.
2. For electronic advertisements, notice must be in the same font size, color, style, and visibility as the body text primarily used in the e-mail or web page and displayed as follows:
a. At the beginning of each e-mail message, before any offer or other substantive information.
b. In a prominent location on each web page, such as the top of each page or immediately following the offer or other substantive information on the page.
(b) Advertisements specified in paragraph (a) must include the following disclosure:

“IMPORTANT NOTICE:

The documents offered by this advertisement are available to Florida consumers free of charge or for a lesser price from   (insert name, telephone number, and mailing address of the applicable governmental entity)  . You are NOT required to purchase anything from this company and the company is NOT affiliated, endorsed, or approved by any governmental entity. The item offered in this advertisement has NOT been approved or endorsed by any governmental agency, and this offer is NOT being made by an agency of the government.”

(6) NOTICE REGARDING CLAIM OF LEGAL COMPLIANCE.
(a) Any person disseminating an advertisement that includes a form or template to be completed by the consumer with the claim that such form or template will assist the consumer in complying with a legal filing or record retention requirement must provide the notice specified in paragraph (b) on advertisements as follows:
1. For printed or written advertisements, the notice must be in the same font size, color, style, and visibility as primarily used elsewhere on the page or envelope and displayed as follows:
a. On the outside front of any mailing envelope used in disseminating the advertisement.
b. At the top of each printed or written page used in the advertisement.
2. For electronic advertisements, the notice must be in the same font size, color, style, and visibility as the body text primarily used in the e-mail or web page and displayed as follows:
a. At the beginning of each e-mail message, before any offer or other substantive information.
b. In a prominent location on each web page, such as the top of each page or immediately following the offer or other substantive information on the page.
(b) Advertisements specified in paragraph (a) must include the following disclosure:

“IMPORTANT NOTICE:

You are NOT required to purchase anything from this company and the company is NOT affiliated, endorsed, or approved by any governmental entity. The item offered in this advertisement has NOT been approved or endorsed by any governmental agency, and this offer is NOT being made by an agency of the government.”

(7) PENALTIES.
(a) Any person substantially affected by a violation of this section may bring an action in a court of proper jurisdiction to enforce the provisions of this section. A person prevailing in a civil action for a violation of this section shall be awarded costs, including reasonable attorney fees, and may be awarded punitive damages in addition to actual damages proven. This provision is in addition to any other remedies prescribed by law.
(b) The department may bring one or more of the following for a violation of this section:
1. A civil action in circuit court for:
a. Temporary or permanent injunctive relief to enforce this section.
b. For printed advertisements and e-mail, a fine of up to $1,000 for each separately addressed advertisement or message containing content in violation of paragraphs (4)(a)-(d) received by or addressed to a state resident.
c. For websites, a fine of up to $5,000 for each day a website, with content in violation of paragraphs (4)(a)-(d), is published and made available to the general public.
d. For violations of paragraph (4)(e), a fine of up to $5,000 for each violation.
e. Recovery of restitution and damages on behalf of persons substantially affected by a violation of this section.
f. The recovery of court costs and reasonable attorney fees.
2. An action for an administrative fine in the Class III category pursuant to s. 570.971 for each act or omission which constitutes a violation under this section.
(c) The department may terminate any investigation or action upon agreement by the alleged offender to pay a stipulated fine, make restitution, pay damages to customers, or satisfy any other relief authorized by this section.
(d) In addition to any remedies or penalties set forth in this section, any person who violates paragraphs (4)(a)-(d) also commits an unfair or deceptive trade practice in violation of part II of chapter 501 and is subject to the penalties and remedies imposed for such violation.
History.s. 56, ch. 2018-84.