Updates: Positive Changes folds... and more

This time last year, Positive Changes Hypnosis was collecting money from Charlottesville clients who were willing to pay as much as $1,500 for a year of hypnosis sessions. In return, they would get the benefits of "proven, scientific principles and transformational technologies" that would guide them on "a safe, enjoyable transition to thinness."

Instead, on November 1, 2002, they got a rude shock: Positive Changes had cleaned out its West Rio Road office and vamoosed.

I wrote two columns about former clients' battles to recover the money they were owed ["Disappearing Hypnotist," January 30, 2003, and "Fly Away," February 20], which came to $984 and almost $400, respectively. Neither woman saw a dime.

Now I've heard from a third unhappy client, Debbie Holt, who estimates that she lost "about $530" when the franchise's owners, David and Heidi Porter, left town.

When I tried last week to reach David's brother, Patrick Porter, who founded the company (which spawned roughly 80 franchises around the country), my call was returned by Keith Alessi.

According to Alessi, about a year and a half ago Patrick Porter hired a "professional manager" for the corporation, who was supposed to "take the business to the next level." Instead, he took it to bankruptcy court, where Alessi recently bought "certain aspects" of the defunct corporation, as well as three franchises (in Virginia Beach, Newport News, and Charleston, South Carolina).

Alessi was chagrined to hear that clients of the former Charlottesville franchise had not only lost money, but also failed in their attempts to get David or Patrick Porter to respond to their emails and phone calls. While Alessi emphasized that he could not be held responsible for any "trials and tribulations" that happened at a franchise he never owned, he did agree to talk to David, who continues to work as a hypnotist at the Newport News franchise– which Alessi does own.

Perhaps the conversation will begin like this: "David, I want you to relax and look into my eyes... look deep into my eyes..."


No More Bucking

 Last month I wrote about Henry Pritchard's attempt to get Brown Toyota to fix a "bucking sensation" that kicked in whenever his parents' 2003 Camry was driven at 38-40 mph and roughly 1200 RPMs ["Lemon Aid," May 1, 2003]. (Because he was extensively involved in the decision to buy and contributed one-quarter of the $23,000 purchase price, he played an active role in the family's dealings with Brown and recorded his version of events in a web log, users.firstva.com/heppnet/2003Camry.)

Briefly, Brown's master technician reprogrammed the Camry's computer, as directed in a Technical Service Bulletin released by Toyota, but, according to Pritchard, the problem remained.

That was March 14. On March 25, Pritchard claims that service department manager Tim Riley suggested that the driver "take the vehicle out of overdrive" when approaching the magic combination of mph and RPMs, but Pritchard rejected such an approach.

By the time he contacted me, Pritchard was getting ready to enter into arbitration with Toyota under the Virginia Lemon Law. Before taking that step, he claims that he spoke with three Brown employees, called and emailed Toyota's National Customer Assistance Center, and called and wrote the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and the Virginia Motor Dealer Board, all to no avail.

The arbitration was between Toyota and Pritchard; the dealer– Brown– is not considered a party. I said I'd report on the outcome, and now I can: The arbitrator's finding was of "no defect."

Ironically, just two days earlier, Steven Toyota in Harrisonburg had fixed the problem; Pritchard went there for a second opinion when Brown said it had run out of suggestions. Toyota had just released a Technical Service Bulletin that "updated the logic controlling the shift points of the transmission." When Steven Toyota applied it, the bucking sensation disappeared.

"Steven Toyota employees," Pritchard emailed me, "were friendly, very informative, and provided great service."

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.