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Diet Patch dispute is reminder of weight-loss realities

In the spring of 2003, I ordered a few sample weight-loss patches and, before I knew it, I got months' worth of patches mailed to me. When I realized the cost, I returned all of them and got credit for every one except the "Original Diet Patch." I returned the patches and received an e-mail response from the company in June that I would receive a refund. That was the last time I heard from it. Could you please help me get my $169.95 back?

_ Karen Koontz

Unfortunately, we have not been able to get a response from Original Diet Patch in Orland Park, Ill., also doing business as My Diet Patch in Tinley Park, Ill. We have the signed receipt for the second letter we sent to it by certified mail Nov. 3, but no response. We're not surprised. The Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and northern Illinois gives the company an unsatisfactory rating because of a pattern of complaints. Most complainants alleged that it canceled their orders after accepting the "one-week free trial" but were nevertheless charged on their credit cards the following month. The company did not respond to most of the complaints.

At this point, getting a refund does not look promising. We doubt this will console you, but your situation does offer opportunities for consumer education.

First, it's a pity you did not contact your credit card company when the refund did not appear. At that point, the problem of the missing $169.95 credit could have been easily resolved. It is now past the 60-day time period for your credit card bank to be able to help you. Nevertheless, we suggest you give it a try.

Second, you have given us the opportunity to dust off the annual weight-loss column. Folks, pay attention. Losing weight is not rocket science: calories expended must exceed calories consumed. In simple terms: eat less, exercise more. Unhealthful weight gain has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. Hardly a week goes by without a reminder that our health risks are increasing along with our weight. Many of us packed on extra pounds over the holidays and are now resolved to lose weight. This must surely be the No. 1 New Year's resolution. Wouldn't it be great if there were a quick and easy way to lose weight?

If you can relate to this yearning for a quick fix, read on.

The Federal Trade Commission has identified a number of claims made by over-the-counter products, including nonprescription drugs, dietary supplements, creams, wraps, devices and patches, that should raise suspicion. The claims are: rapid weight loss; no need for dietary restrictions or exercise; permanent weight loss; weight loss despite previous failures; scientifically proven or doctor-endorsed; money-back guarantees; safety.

Folks, according to the findings of a 2002 FTC workshop that included scientists, weight-loss industry members and media representatives, most claims made by weight-loss products are exaggerated or downright false. They are not supported by science.

We wish that losing weight were as easy as popping a pill or wearing a gel patch. But it's not, and any promise of quick and easy weight loss should be treated with healthy skepticism. The following claims are red flags:

"Lose 30 pounds in just 30 days." In general, the more rapidly you lose weight, the more likely you are to put it back on. In addition, quick weight loss carries a potential health risk. Check with your doctor for an appropriate weight-loss timetable for you.

"Lose all the weight you want for just $39.99." Some programs have hidden costs, such as buying their prepackaged meals. Read the fine print before you sign up for any weight-loss program.

"Lose Weight While You Sleep." Any claims that you can lose weight without any effort are phony.

"Lose weight and keep it off for good." Promises of long-term or permanent weight loss should make you suspicious. Losing weight and keeping it off require a permanent change in eating and exercise habits.

"John Doe lost 84 pounds in six weeks." Don't let claims of someone else's weight loss mislead you. Even if John Doe did lose 84 pounds in six weeks, this doesn't mean you can.

"Scientific breakthrough . . . medical miracle." Again, there are no miracle weight-loss products.

For more information about weight-loss products, go to the FTC's Web site at www.ftc.gov and click on the Consumer Information link, or call toll-free 1-877-382-4357.

You can file a complaint with the FTC if you are having a problem with a weight-loss product or a company's business practices. The FTC does not become involved in individual disputes, but it does look for patterns of possible violations of the law, and information from consumers is vital to its law enforcement efforts.

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, e-mail actionsptimes.com, or call your Action number, (727) 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request.

We will not be responsible for personal documents, so please send only photocopies. If your complaint concerns merchandise ordered by mail, we need copies of both sides of your canceled check.

We may require additional information or prefer to reply by mail; therefore, readers must provide a full mailing address, including ZIP code. Names of letter writers will not be omitted except in unusual circumstances. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

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