How Honesty Killed Pure Weight Loss

And old habits were reborn.

Just as certain retail addresses are cursed, certain businesses just seem to have bad mojo—including all attendant spin-offs and franchises. Such appears to be the case with the chain of LA Weight Loss Centers. Twice now, these purveyors of slimness have settled with Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna over charges of deceptive marketing practices. The company has since split apart and changed its name, but the new chain—known as Pure Weight Loss Centers, with a dozen locations in Washington—abruptly went out of business last month. Purity, it appears, just didn't pay. The company's business plan "was not sustainable" once the company began operating "consistent with the Consumer Protection Act," says Assistant Attorney General Jack Zurlini, who spearheaded the LA investigation. "Our investigation found [that LA] was a very sophisticated bait-and-switch, high-pressure sales" outfit, he says. Clients were talked into paying up front for lots of bars and supplements of dubious efficacy. (The company has not admitted to any wrongdoing.) But business didn't go as well, he suggests, "once they started disclosing things fairly and fully." If the centers were running aboveboard when open, now that they've shut down they seem to have reverted to their old ways. The AG's office has received numerous complaints from Pure Weight Loss customers who had weeks left of membership and unfulfilled product purchases. Mary Christine Brewer, who lives on Ft. Lewis, says she still has "close to 30 weeks" of counseling and nutrition bars owed to her. "I paid [up front] for two boxes [of the bars] per week," she says. On its Web site, Pure Weight Loss provides a handy form for customers to apply for a refund, and instructs them to send it to company headquarters in Pennsylvania by certified mail. Brewer did exactly that. But her envelope was returned by the postal service because there was no one on the receiving end to sign for it. Other customers have told the AG's office they had the same experience. A TV reporter in Miami recently reported finding "dozens of refund claim forms thrown out in a Dumpster behind [a] vacant Pure Weight Loss Center" in south Florida. Pennsylvania's attorney general has already filed a consumer protection lawsuit against the chain, alleging it sold long-term contracts late last year knowing that the business was about to close. And for the moment, McKenna's office is funneling Washington complaints to his Pennsylvania cohort. But Zurlini isn't ruling out additional action locally.

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