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Make smart resolutions: Improve your health and your pocketbook

Avoid common consumer complaints over fitness clubs, miracle cures

These goals always top the list of the most popular New Year’s resolutions: Lose weight. Reduce stress. Get in shape.

But don’t let these resolutions clash with another common one: Manage your money better.

Scammers will take advantage of your desire to improve your health. Don’t fall for phony claims peddled online or a “free trial” of a miracle cure.

Here are some of the most common issues related to consumer health complaints:

Fitness clubs

Know your rights before you sign a membership contract for a health club, yoga studio, martial-arts center or other facility. Don’t pay up front for a year’s membership; if you quit after the three-day trial period, the club isn’t obligated to refund your full amount.

Under Iowa’s “Physical Exercise Clubs” law:

  • A membership contract cannot exceed three years. If the contract exceeds one year, the club must also offer a one-year option.
  • A membership contract cannot automatically renew.
  • The health club must provide a written list of all membership plans and prices.
  • The health club must provide the terms of its contract in writing, including complete rules and hours of operation. The contract must also include a statement of the buyer’s rights, as established by state law. The buyer must sign the contract for it to be valid.
  • Consumers have the right to cancel the contract within three business days. A consumer who cancels within three business days is entitled to a full refund, though the health club is allowed to withhold up to $20 from the refund. To cancel, the consumer must send or deliver by certified or registered mail a written cancellation notice.
  • A health club that offers membership contracts, upon request from a consumer, must provide a written list of the kind and quantity of available equipment, and services available to members.
  • A health club that offers membership contracts is not considered to be fully open for business until all of the listed equipment and services are available for use.
  • If a health club violates the Physical Exercise Clubs law, a consumer can cancel the contract. A consumer also has the right to file a lawsuit to recover the amount of the contract.
  • A health club that has not yet opened for business must deposit prepaid membership funds into an insured escrow account, or post a $150,000 bond with the Attorney General’s office.

Establishments are exempted from the law if they charge membership fees that don’t extend beyond 30 days, nonprofit organizations, private clubs, and facilities established primarily for physical rehabilitation.

Health buying clubs/memberships

The Consumer Protection Division regularly receives complaints from Iowans who order a beauty cream or nutritional supplement online, and then they discover they’re getting billed monthly. Or they sign up for a running event or other activity and discover they’ve inadvertently joined a membership program. Some tips:

  • Be wary of trial and membership offers.  Read the terms and conditions. Get the details and ask questions.  Will you be billed automatically if you don’t cancel?  By when must you cancel?  How do you cancel?  Will you receive a mail notice?  Remember, they already may have your bank or credit card number to charge you.
  • Examine your credit card bills every month, your checking account and debit card statements, other financial accounts, and phone bills.  Watch for unauthorized charges, and dispute them at once, in writing.
  • Watch your mail and email for notices that you will be billed unless you cancel.  These mailings may look like junk mail or spam.
  • Beware of cashing a check that comes in the mail with a “free trial offer.”  The fine print may obligate you to future payments.

‘Smart pills’ and other too-good-to-be-true claims

Beware of health claims, particularly for products sold online. Be aware that dietary supplements can go on the shelves without proof that they are safe or effective, unlike prescription drugs that must be scientifically tested before going public. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, even if it comes from what appears to be a legitimate source.

In April, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller reached settlements with marketers of deceptive online advertisements and fake news stories featuring Stephen Hawking, Ashton Kutcher, Bill Gates and other celebrities supposedly promoting “smart pills.”  The marketers sold Intellux, a dietary supplement claimed to enhance mental abilities and reverse the cognitive decline sometimes associated with advanced age or disease.  At least 183 Iowans spent $23,200 on Intellux, with some buyers spending as much as $300 for the grossly over-hyped pills.

Other marketers are still using the fake ads to sell “smart pills” from other manufacturers.   

When claims relate to your health, get advice from trusted professionals who know you and are well-situated to evaluate the best treatments for you.  They are typically the most reliable source of help in dealing with health challenges.

If you spot a scam or are taken advantage of, file a complaint with the Iowa Attorney General. Call 515-281-5926 or 888-777-4590 (outside of the Des Moines metro area) or email

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