Failed plastic surgery: Be wary of guarantees

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Q. A couple of months ago I went to a plastic surgery spa and asked them about their new procedure for cellulite. I was told that the procedure is guaranteed to work and all of their clients have seen great results. After 10 sessions, I still didn't see any improvements. The office manager said the reason I didn't see any result is that I have a bad diet. How would she even know if I have a bad diet? I don't have a bad diet and I'm not overweight. Is there any way that I can get my money back legally? Or should I just forget about it?
Pembroke Pines, Fla.

A. You may be able to get your money back. At the very least, it's worth a try. Have you asked to speak to a supervisor at the office, or to talk to the doctor who performed the procedures? The office manager may field a lot of complaints, and it's possible she has a canned answer for them. My rule of thumb when it comes to customer service is if I'm not getting anywhere with the first person I speak to, I always ask to talk to someone one or two levels up.

If you're able to speak to a supervisor or doctor, do so in private and be polite. He or she may offer you a partial refund – if they do, I'd take it. If they decline to help, make a second request, in writing, says Bob Aicher, legal counsel for the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. "Address the letter to the spa owner, and be sure to mention the office manager's response. The Florida Department of State or the local Chamber of Commerce can help you figure out who owns the spa."

If that fails, you might want to try small claims court. Aicher says they accept claims of up to $5,000 in Florida (the amount varies by state). NOLO, a great legal resource, has some information about what you need to know to prepare your case here.

Finally, I want to share some buyer beware advice for next time. Aicher says you should always be wary of guarantees, especially if you're buying a medical product but no one takes your medical history or asks about your lifestyle. Before you write a check or hand over your credit card, dig up some information about the service you're paying for. Ask to see the product box, and read it to find out if the label matches what you're being told. Ask about the credentials of the people who work in the spa. "If the sign on the door says it's a plastic surgery spa, confirm that the doctor is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and is a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons or the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery," explains Aicher.

It also never hurts to do some research online – I'm a big fan of researching any big purchase beforehand.

Consumer Ally problem solver Jean Chatzky is the Today Show financial advisor, a longtime financial journalist and best-selling author.
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