Jul. 19--Beth Reed wonders just how much money clients of LA Weight Loss Centers are out after the clinic abruptly shut its doors.
     She knows in her case, it's $1,100.
     "If it was just a few hundred dollars, it would still be upsetting ... but we're talking over a thousand dollars," she said. "Even if they only had 10 clients, we're still talking tens of thousands of dollars that they owe people, and I know they had more clients than that."
     Reed had originally recommended the clinic to her daughter, Abby Reed, after a good experience with a franchise location in Pennsylvania.
     Abby Reed signed a year contract in April, but when she went to the clinic on Monday it was closed and there was a for rent sign on the side of the road.
     LA Weight Loss Franchise Company publicist Jackie Zima said they were also "surprised and shocked" when they heard of the closing of the Jacksonville and Wilmington centers, which were owned by the same franchisee.
     "We regret that the owners have decided to abruptly close without notice and in no way approve of or support their actions," Zima said in a statement she e-mailed to The Daily News Thursday afternoon.
     Calls to the owner of the Wilmington and Jacksonville LA Weight Loss Centers franchise locations were not returned.
     Beth Reed also had trouble getting in touch with a representative.
     "I called the number down there and it just rang, and rang and rang. So I called the national office and it said there were no centers in the area," Reed said. "That showed me that the national office knew they had closed already."
     Reed, who pays for her daughter to attend LA Weight Loss, then e-mailed the company and received a response from a customer service representative that read "I am sorry for the inconvenience to you for the sudden and unexpected closing of the Jacksonville, N.C. center. The franchise owner of the Jacksonville, N.C. center made a decision to close."
     The apology, however, was not enough, Reed said.
     "They owe us about $1,100," she said. "I'd like all my money back but I'd be happy just for the time they had closed up."
     Reed said she's learned that if she is going to pay in advance, to do so with a credit card.
     "The contract I paid by check. The merchandise I paid by credit card, so I contacted my credit card company and hopefully they can do something about that. But now I could just kick myself for not putting the whole thing on my credit card," she said.
     That's a lesson Jennifer Canada, spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Justice, hopes others take to heart.
     "We recommend they pay by credit card, that way if you don't receive the merchandise you paid for, you can always contact your credit card company and attempt to get a refund that way," she said.
     Canada also encourages any customers who are out money or merchandise to file a complaint with the consumer protection department by visiting www.ncdoj.gov or calling 1-877-5NOSCAM.
     That is exactly what Reed plans to do.
     Contact Jacksonville/Onslow County reporter Amanda Hickey at ahickey@freedomenc.com or 910-219-8463. Visit www.jdnews.com to comment on this report.

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