Scams target people as New Year begins

As the new year begins, a consumer watchdog group is warning people to be on the look out for bad gym contracts, false diet promises and gift card scams.

While its not a traditional “scam,” John North, CEO of the Miami Valley Better Business Bureau, said one of the things his organization commonly hears about this time of year is problems with gym memberships.

“As people make their New Year’s resolutions we just want to make sure they understand the contract that they are signing,” North said.

If you sign up for a free trial at a gym, make sure you watch the calendar and so that you can cancel if you need to. Read the fine print of contracts and see what happens if a gym closes. Sometimes there is a provision to get your money back but sometimes the business transfers your membership to another gym that might not be as convenient to you.

Jason Harrison, strength coach at Present Tense Fitness in Dayton, said many gyms’ business models count on only a low percent of members actually using the gym, which explains why some gym chains make it hard to cancel your membership.

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“When that’s the business model, then the problems that people have make a lot of sense,” he said.

When a gym gives them two free personal training sessions, that’s a sales pitch, and Harrison said some signs of a legitimate initial training session is the trainer will take notes, watch you move, teach you a few things and ask about any past injuries. An unnecessarily exhausting first training session could be a sales technique to make you think you urgently need a trainer.

“It should be diagnostic in nature if its real,” Harrison said.

Harrison, who has previously worked at commercial gyms, said some gyms have quotas for selling supplements to clients. Most of the general gym population doesn’t need these supplements and should first focus on the basics like getting enough consistent sleep and eating more vegetables.

“It would make me question the efficacy of a trainer if they tried to push supplement on a new person,” he said.

North said consumers also encounter a lot of information this time of year about fad diets. He said people should be careful, do their research and consult with their doctor before making changes.

“There’s so many gimmicks out there,” said Diana Weathers registered dietitian with Premier Weight Loss Solutions. “When they are looking at a program or product, what is it promising? Is it ‘you can eat whatever you want and still lose weight’? ‘Take this pill and see the fat melt off?’”

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Weathers said its a red flag if people are asked to put a lot of money up front for a diet product and people should not believe products that promise some type of specific number or overnight result. Even if a diet product says that it is research proven or doctor approved, “that’s not always the truth,” she said.

Weathers said she encourages patients to talk with their primary care provider when they have diet or weight loss questions. She said it is common for her to meet with patients and talk through a fad diet or a product that they’ve approached her with.

“A lot of time it’s because people want that instant result and it’s understanding it’s a diet and lifestyle change. It doesn’t happen over night,” Weathers said.

It’s common for people to find themselves tricked by scams this time of year, with consumers reporting more than $1.48 billion lost to fraud in 2018. That’s an increase of 38% over 2017, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

North said another frequent scam that pops up this time of year includes stealing gift card balances. Someone can record the numbers associated with that card, including the activation PIN, and put the card back on the shelf.

Before purchasing a gift card, look carefully at the packaging for any tears and see if the PIN is exposed. As soon as that gift card gets swiped at the checkout line, the scammer has access to that money. In addition to making sure the card hasn’t been tampered with, North said you should use the gift card quickly.

“When you put money on the card, they wipe out the account,” North said.

How to report a scam

Ohio Attorney General

To file a consumer complaint about a scam to the Ohio AG, you can call 1-800-282-0515; or you can file a complaint online at; or you can download the complaint form from their website and mail it to Consumer Protection Section 30 E. Broad St., 14th floor Columbus, OH 43215-3400.

Better Business Bureau

For disputes that relate to marketplace issues experienced with the services or products a business provides, you can submit your complaint at

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