Better Business Bureau: Don't forget to use gift cards, do your homework on weight-loss plans

Jan. 7, 2012 at midnight
Updated Jan. 6, 2012 at 7:07 p.m.

By Alan Bligh

Did you get a fist full of gift cards at Christmas? They certainly were popular. Each year, shoppers forget about using those $3 billion worth of gift cards, money that retailers eventually can pocket. It's estimated $100 billion in gift cards were purchased this year. However, consumer advocates say that about 2-5 percent of them are never redeemed. Consumers say "They're great to receive because you can get whatever you want, but then you forget you have them or you lose them." If you get a card for a store or restaurant you don't patronize, you can sell them for a fee at a number of websites. You can also donate the value of the card to charity. The best tip is not to forget using them, carry them with you when shopping. Not using the cards is the same as throwing money away.

Gumdrops, chocolates and candy canes are devoured, and the battle of the bulge is on, and the weight loss gimmicks, fads and remedies are crawling out of their trenches and preparing their assault. The Better Business Bureau cautions you to research weight loss products and companies carefully and understand contracts completely including terms of cancellation before giving any personal information or making any purchases. Last year, the bureau received more than 920 complaints nationwide against weight control services, more than 600 complaints against gyms and more than 3,150 complaints against health and diet food stores. Consumers have complained about deceptive advertising, ineffective products and confusing contracts. Always check promotions and businesses out at

As the winter months set in and the air is cold, nothing sounds better than a relaxing cruise. Yes, indeed, sounds great to me. Winter and spring are prime cruising months. The bureau says; don't be a victim. Oftentimes, vacation scammers will use high pressure sales tactics and make you feel coerced to buy the limited-time deal on the spot. Always check out the business first at Pay with a credit card. It is your best protection against a dishonest seller of travel, always pay for your cruise fare - both the initial deposit and the final payment - with a major credit card. If problems arise, you may be able to dispute the charges with your credit card company. Important note: This protection may not apply to those using debit or check cards. Best bet - deal locally.

Securities regulators and prosecutors are battling what they say is a nationwide surge in investment fraud against baby boomers. In many cases, the victims pursued risky bets to overcome losses suffered during the financial crisis - a trend that regulators say is worsening. Last year, there were 1,241 criminal complaints, cease-and-desist orders and other regulatory actions launched at the state level involving investors age 50 or older, twice the number from 2009. Despite a steep rebound since March 2009, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 15 percent from its peak in October 2007, causing many baby boomers on the verge of retirement to stretch for higher returns. That makes those investors especially vulnerable to fraud.

Alan Bligh is the executive director of the Better Business Bureau in Corpus Christi. Contact him by email at



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