San Diego, the setting for several widely publicized fraud scandals in the past year, sponsored the fourth-annual "consumer assistance clinic" Friday, and, surprisingly, the 35 groups represented at the clinic heard complaints from only a handful of disgruntled consumers.
Officials who offered free advice at the clinic said that this year's affair lacked the rush of people seen in 1984, when J. David & Co. investors were desperately looking for a way to recover millions of dollars they had entrusted to jailed financier J. David (Jerry) Dominelli.
"Last year we had many people coming to ask us how they could recover their money from Dominelli," said Tim Fitzpatrick. "This year most of the consumers want information about how to put together a corporation."
The clinic, which is sponsored by the San Diego city attorney's office, was held outdoors at Mission Valley shopping center. Susan Huguenor, head of the city attorney's fraud unit, said the clinic offers consumers a free opportunity to find out which local, county, state or federal agency can best help them with a complaint about a product or business.
A host of governmental agencies, from the Securities and Exchange Commission to the Golden Hill Mediation Center, participated in the two-hour affair to offer assistance to consumers.
One young woman complained to several representatives that she had been victimized by a company that advertises a weight reduction belt in the National Enquirer.
The device, which is nothing more than a foam belt with a small ball in the middle, did not help her weight problem, she complained. The manufacturer claims the device reduces a person's weight by curbing the appetite. All the user has to do is tie the belt tightly around the waist with the ball pressing against the stomach, and one's appetite will be effectively curbed, the manufacturer said.
Americans are always looking for a quick and easy way to lose weight. U.S. Postal Inspector Steve Black said he agrees with medical experts who say the best way to lose weight is through exercise and sensible eating habits. In other words, "the hard way." None of the experts on consumer issues was able to help the woman.
Black was at the clinic warning people about a weight reduction device marketed by Mark Eden, which Black said is too good to be true. The device, which is manufactured in Haiti, is a pair of vinyl pants with a plastic hose sticking from one side and sells for $29. Mark Eden advertises the device in Good Housekeeping, Vogue and other magazines as a "Total Inch Reduction Program," said Black.
The clear plastic hose is supposed to hook up to a vacuum cleaner, and the pants are worn while exercising. Presumably, the vacuum cleaner helps suck away a person's fat, but Black said that all it does is dry some of the perspiration that a person builds up while exercising.
"It's been said before, but it's true: There's a sucker born every minute," said Black. "There's another company that advertises baby rattlers for $5. Wanna see what you get when you send away for baby snakes?"
He pulled out a noisy baby rattle that normally sells for less than a dollar.