A company that promised to pay customers for losing weight has posted personal information about clients, including their names, weights, weight loss goals and even facial photographs on its website.
Weight Loss Grants revealed the personal information without clients’ consent after news reports described how the organization failed to make payments to customers who qualified for the rebates.
Global News interviewed several customers who are owed as much as $1,900 by Weight Loss Grants, a scheme designed to attract people to register with an affiliated diet and weight loss company called Dalewood Health and Wellness. It has 32 locations across Canada.
Weight Loss Grants is owned and run by Darren Morgenstern, through Inventive Media Solutions Inc. Morgenstern previously founded the Ashley Madison spousal cheating site.
Clients who participated in the Weight Loss Grants program were promised to get back 80 per cent of the fees charged through the Dalewood clinics, provided they reached their weight loss target in the time allowed.
However, several clients told Global News that Weight Loss Grants refused to pay them even though they succeeded and followed the terms of the program.
“I did follow all the rules, jumped through all the hoops even when they changed the rules all the way along,” said Jennifer Pratt of Vancouver, who lost the required weight and is owed $1,920 by Weight Loss Grants — an amount the company refused to pay.
“They just feel they are above the law and can do what they want,” Pratt said.
In a series of online postings, Weight Loss Grants railed against what it called a “media pile-on”.
“We only posted our side of the story online to defend ourselves against the claims made by those people,” the company wrote on its website in answer to a question about why it revealed the clients’ clinical information.
The clients had not consented to the release of personal information.
“It’s a huge invasion of privacy,” said Ann Cavoukian, who served three terms as Ontario’s privacy commissioner and now leads the Privacy by Design Centre of Excellence at Ryerson University.
“It’s completely unacceptable. This is the most personal information. There was certainly no expectation that this would be posted publicly.”
After a follow-up report about Weight Loss Grants, the company continued to complain about Global News. It even singled out a student intern who was corresponding with the company to ask for an on-camera interview.
“At the end of the day, a scorpion can only behave like a scorpion,” the company posted.
Later, however, Weight Loss Grants changed its strategy entirely.
After a second broadcast story aired, Weight Loss Grants published a notice on its website, advising customers whose grants were rejected to request a review of their files.
WATCH: B.C. woman fights for weight loss grant money. Anne Drewa reports. (April 8)
The company said customers have until June 15 to request a review, and until June 30 to provide “missing documentation.”
Weight Loss Grants said if the review determines a customer should have been paid, they will “receive prompt payment.” If customers do not qualify after the review, “then we will give you a thorough explanation.”
While its website continues to mention the names of some customers disputing their files, the company has taken down other sensitive information including weight and weight loss targets. It is also giving an option to customers requesting a review to have their names not published.
Global News revealed that Morgenstern called himself by a different name, David Stein, when corresponding with customers in emails and on the telephone.
Angered by coverage of ongoing consumer complaints, Morgenstern’s company published false information about the conduct of Global News staff members. Weight Loss Grants removed that information from its website.
The company said it objected to “what we felt was an ambush” when Global News went to the company’s offices in midtown Toronto to seek answers.
“In response, we filed a trespassing complaint against Mr. (Seán) O’Shea. We did so out of frustration and anger at the time, but in no way do we wish to cause Mr. O’Shea any grief and will withdraw the complaint,” the company said.
Going forward, the company added, “Our objective is to process legitimate grant payments and to close those files.”
— With files by Alvin Yu