Flabby abs, sure, but $50 richer

The ads made it all seem so simple: Use the Ab Circle Pro for a measly three minutes a day and you'll lose 10 pounds in two weeks. "You can either do 30 minutes of abs and cardio or just three minutes a day. The choice is yours," the infomercial claimed.

If that were only the case. Like many other weight-loss products, the equipment delivered much less than it promised. But the pitch was compelling enough to get nearly 200,000 people to buy the Ab Circle Pro, which is still being marketed as the "#1 Fitness Product in America."

A couple of years after those hoping to lose weight found out the hard way that it wasn't so easy, they're going to be getting a check from a company administering a settlement claims fund on behalf of the Federal Trade Commission, the agency said on Wednesday.

Federal Trade Commission

The FTC said nearly 197,000 checks averaging $47.51 will be mailed as partial refunds to consumers who bought the Ab Circle Pro, which sold for between $200 and $250.

At the time of the settlement between the marketers of the product and the FTC in 2012, the commission said up to $25 million could end up back in consumers' hands depending on how many people filed claims. In the end, the FTC said, $9.3 million will be returned. The FTC notes the checks are valid for only 60 days after they're issued.

Ab Circle Pro is just another example of consumers being seduced by idea that a difficult task can be made quick and simple.

"There's no such thing as a no-work, no-sweat way to a fit, healthy body," the FTC said in its guide to fitness equipment. Here is some guidance from the agency if you're considering buying exercise tools:

  • Be leery of before- and after-pictures showing miraculous change, and apply similar skepticism to celebrity endorsements.
  • Do research about a specific piece of equipment you're considering and try it out before you buy it, whether at a friend's home, a gym or at a retailer. Be sure to read consumer reviews, too.
  • If you settle on a particular device and believe you are likely to actually use it, compare prices before making your purchase. Don't forget to factor in delivery charges if you buy online, and make sure you understand the final price you'll be paying.
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    Mitch Lipka is an award-winning consumer columnist. He was in charge of consumer news for AOL's personal finance site and was a senior editor at Consumer Reports. He was also a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, among other publications.