BALTIMORE -- Maryland's attorney general and the state's new securities commissioner, reacting to consumer complaints after the Oct. 19 stock collapse, are planning to strengthen the Maryland Securities Commission, adding more lawyers and a new computer system.

"A strong, effective securities division benefits consumers and the securities industry," explained state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran.

"Consumers will be protected from fraudulent offers, and the reputations of brokers-dealers and the agents will be protected because the few bad apples among them will be weeded out," he said.

Commissioner Ellyn Brown told a group of brokers last week that her office is receiving five times the usual number of phone calls in the wake of the stock market collapse.

Brown said consumers are complaining about slow stock trades, unauthorized trades and margin agreements being ignored.

"We want to take action against those who deceive and defraud customers," the commissioner said.

The complaints, Brown said, show there are problems in the investment industry that were not present during the five-year bull market.

The commissioner said the securities office staff will be increased from 11 to 20 people during the next two years, and a new computer system will make record-keeping and tracking easier.

Brown, who worked in corporate securities for the Venable, Baetjer & Howard law firm, said the commission would also look at franchise opportunities in the state.

"No equivalent of the Securities and Exchange Commission exists to regulate franchises," she said.

"Franchises are expanding from fast food to dental clinics, airplane/car washes, business writing and original artwork sales," she went on to say.