BBB Complaint Gets LA Fitness To Refund $5620 They Stole From You 3 Years Ago

I don’t know why so many gyms decide to run themselves like giant fitness scams, jacking people’s money from their bank account and never letting them leave a contract, but after hearing a bunch of horror stories, this is probably the worst. It definitely is in terms of dollar amounts. Here’s her story, and how she fought back and won:

I was ripped off to the tune of $5620. They refused for 3 years to refund my money. Then they told me I have I have no recourse. It was electronic funds transfer for personal training that I never authorized. The people who did it were fired shortly after. It had happened to several other members, and most of the cases were settled. Except mine.

They proceeded to string me along and ignore my letters and phone calls for a few years until they could rest on statute of limitations.

An online complaint filed with the BBB resulted in me being contacted personally by one of the company’s VPs via phone the very next day. A month later, after a few faxes and verifications, I was FedExed a check for the full amount.

Since I’m sure I’m not the only one this happened to, if people are out of options, the BBB complaint, a bit of tenacity, and valid paperwork might be a viable option.

Score another one for the BBB. Like I said before, filing a complaint with the BBB can actually work, as long as the company is concerned about maintaining a good reputation.

This is also a good time to review some Consumerist guidelines for getting a gym membership:

  • Read the contract carefully.
  • Get a month-to-month membership.
  • Pay by credit card. That way you can do a chargeback if they try anything sneaky.
  • Don’t give them your bank account info.

Have you ever had trouble getting out of a gym membership? What did you do about it?

(Photo: mrflip)

Comments

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  1. IphtashuFitz says:

    Why did it take years for him to file a complaint with the BBB?

  2. badgeman46 says:

    Gyms are a scam. Period.

  3. billbillbillbill says:

    We have had a membership to 24 hour fitness for a few years and have loved the freedom that their membership gives. We signed up during a no starting fees sale and the membership is month to month. They will put the membership on hold for 3-9 months if you are gone for the summer or pregnancy. So unlike Golds Gym, where it is high pressure sales to hook you into a 2 year contract.

  4. svandals says:

    @badgeman46:

    I disagree. I belong to a gym that had no up-front fee and I pay $35 per month, and the membership is on a month-to-month basis. It’s a lot less expensive than trying to outfit my home with a gym.

  5. I was a gym rat for almost 10 years until I finally had some basement space to put my own setup together. Excluding the treadmill, it was only a few hundred dollars and the environment is 10x better than going to a big gym covered in other people’s sweat (plus, much less scheduling and NO driving!).

    YMMV depending on how motivated you are by the sight of other people’s sweaty butts in front of you. I’m more a fan of being able to crank the fans on, take my shirt off when needed, and never wonder who was using the equipment before me.

  6. Dobernala says:

    For that much money, you should have just sued them.

  7. LosersHaveCreditCardDebt says:

    Why didn’t you close that bank account or credit card. Done. No money for the scammer.

  8. exkon says:

    @billbillbillbill: I have to agree my most enjoyable experience has been with 24 fitness. My mom was a member before me and I asked if she could sign me up. She was able to deal with and get me in a something like $16 a month, full access to club (only that location, but not a big deal).

    When she decided to quit, I asked them if I was able to move my membership to me and keep the same price, they said no problem and I’ve been paying $16 a month ever since!!

  9. bdgbill says:

    Consumerists advice not to give gyms your bank account info should apply to any business.

    I will not authorize automatic withdrawls from my checking account under any circumstances. We have seen enough stories here on The Consumerist about $30,000 cell phone bills to make that obvious.

    Disputing an outrageous and erronious charge on a bill is one thing. Trying to get the entire contents of your checking account back in time to pay your rent is quite another.

  10. mythago says:

    billbillbill, depends on the Gold’s Gym – I believe some of them are owned as franchises. In a highly competitive market, most gyms will offer you month-to-month or some other way to get out of a contract, just to stay competitive.

  11. mike says:

    Gyms is one of many business models that rely on people NOT using its services.

    I hate my gym with the intensity of a thousand suns.

  12. yaos says:

    Huh, I don’t recall them ever taking money from me.

  13. humphrmi says:

    Our park district has a fitness center that’s on par with the major fitness clubs. They charge just as much too. The difference is, it’s run by the park district, who’s board has monthly public meetings and reports to city elected officials. If they try to scam anyone, they get taken to task publicly and risk losing an election. It may not be a bargain, but at least it’s less risky.

  14. Uriel says:

    that is theft pure and simple. She should have filed a police report, and a lawsuit right off the back. That would have gotten their asses in gear. $5620 isn’t a small amount of money to most people either. It kind of baffles me why she waited so long, and still didn’t sue them, not that it’s her fault though.

  15. Okiedog says:

    And don’t forget, even the month to month gyms usually have a 40 day cancellation period NOT 30 days. Reason being, you get dinged for 2 months that way. It’s another good reason to stay home eating cheetos.

  16. Carl3000 says:

    Is it possible to get a month-to-month gym membership? The shortest commitment I found when shopping around was 12 months, which is the one I ended up joining. Any longer than that seemed a little ridiculous anyway.

  17. jpx72x says:

    @Carl3000: Day passes ($5-$10) can be more economical if you don’t go every day.

  18. bananaballs says:

    I have been pretty happy with NYSC, and I let them take the money right out of my bank account every month. In fact, it is the only bill where I have set up automatic payments. They have never taken more than my monthly membership fee. Don’t really get the gym hate I see here. I go to the gym for the classes, though, so a home gym (and a tiny NYC apartment) isn’t really in the cards. Although, we do have a bowflex, but I like getting yelled at in spin and strength classes, so it depends on the person, I guess.

  19. dmolavi says:

    @Carl3000: yeah, it’s called taking a walk around the block :)

  20. @Carl3000:

    Is it possible to get a month-to-month gym membership? The shortest commitment I found when shopping around was 12 months, which is the one I ended up joining. Any longer than that seemed a little ridiculous anyway.

    One of the worst experiences of my consumer life was making the mistake of asking how much a membership cost at Gold’s Gym.

    Thirty minutes later I walked out – I wasn’t trying to buy a car, I was trying to work out. I joined the YMCA and pay less for my wife and I than I would have alone for Gold’s – and it’s month to month.

  21. donopolis says:

    This is what happened to us.

    We signed up with a Gym, and were fairly happy with them although we probably did not use them as often as we should have to make it economically feasible.

    They then sold the property (and apparently our contracts)to 24 hour fitness. A gym which in our market aims for a younger more fit(and scantily clad) clientelle than us. We explained to them that we were not interested in a 24hr fitness membership as it entailed several policy changes that we were not interested in keeping our membership. My contract was with the previous owners..they however continued to ding my account and offered me no alternative.

    When I asked my bank about it, they said they could do nothing not even just close and reopen a different account…so I closed my account with them and moved on.

    Happily ever after.

    Don

  22. SadSam says:

    @Carl3000:

    Yes, I paid cash (in advance) and in full for a 6 mos. gym membership. Worked perfect for me.

  23. LoveNoelG says:

    @Carl3000: I think the smaller, locally owned gyms are much more amenable to month-to-months then the corporate giant chains.

    I was a member at Results in DC and all it took was 30 days notice.

  24. NotATool says:

    OK, they take $5,620 and the OP waits patiently for 3 years? Seriously, that’s a lot of money and they admitted they had theiving employees. Step 1 should have been asking for a full refund immediately. When Step 1 failed, the next course of action is filing a theft report with the police dept. The OP was WAY, WAY to nice and patient with these crooks.

  25. It would have helped if we had been given the name of the gym. That way we could avoid it.

  26. plasticredtophat says:

    My husband works for the state, so our health insurance pays for our YMCA membership, if I got at least 8 times a month… easy.

  27. Tiber says:

    My mom went to Curves several years ago, but decided to cancel her membership. About a year later, she gets an overdraft notice when she shouldn’t have. She checks her statement, and notices a charge from Curves. She goes to the gym to ask about it. Apparently she needed to cancel her membership in writing, yet the worker she told she was canceling never mentioned it. The manager refused to reverse the charges, or even be given a credit so she could use those 12 months she paid for. The manager even insisted that she was “a good businesswoman” while she was being rude.

    Of course, my mom made about every financial mistake she could make (auto-payments, not checking statements, etc.), it still seems like the written cancellation was designed for this sort of thing. I suppose getting bitten is the best way to learn. That’s why I never use auto-payments.

  28. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    Another vote for 24 Hour Fitness. Years ago, I signed up for the pre-paid plan for $700-something. A week later, I happened to be at a different location and the price of the pre-pain plan dropped.

    All new memberships have a 14-day back out clause.. or maybe it was 30 days, I don’t remember. Anyways, I sent my written notice to the corporate office, canceling my membership. The following week, I got a full refund on my credit card. Then I went back in and signed up under the newer and cheaper pre-paid plan.

    Honestly, I was shocked at how easy it was.

  29. startertan says:

    I used to belong to Bally’s (stupid I know but I had just gotten out of college and was young and brash). I signed up for their mega-super-ultra-dooper plan at like $60/month. A few months later a Gold’s (not much better but they didn’t screw me) opened up at was offering $20/month. I had my doc write me a fake note saying that I couldn’t work out anymore. It took 6 months of faxes and calls before I got my “$360″ back. I put the money in quotes since they took out for processing fees and all this other cr@p I only got about $150. I consider myself lucky.

    I now belong to Planet Fitness. $60 to join, $10/month on a month-to-month, and only billed $20 once a year (instead of $10 that month) for upkeep fees. It’s a bargain.

  30. BytheSea says:

    I belong to LA Fitness. They don’t have contracts, you pay month to month.

  31. sourrob says:

    Just to avoid bad associations, that is a picture of Hyde Park Gym in Austin. My friends swear by it. I swear at it. Gyms and I just don’t get along.

  32. Melsky says:

    I go to the ymca, it’s inexpensive, equipment is in good repair and they have great classes. They tell you very clearly how to cancel and exactly what date you have to cancel by to not have to pay for the next month.

    Before I was at the Y I went to a small gym in my neighborhood where I paid 20 dollars cash for 30 days. I would have kept going there but it was a total bodybuilder gym and just not my scene.

  33. Triterion says:

    Golds Gym is the only company that’s ever sent a bill of mine to collections, and it will be the only one. The guy that signed me up flat out lied to me and told me I could put my Membership on hold for as many months I want while I went away to College. I thought maybe he had the ability to override it. NOPE! don’t ever take someone’s word in these days- always read that fine print even if they make you feel awkward staring at you reading the whole thing!

  34. ironchef says:

    I paid $700 for 3 years up front at 24hr fitness with a $20 a YEAR renewal afterwards.

    If you can afford it…it’s totally worth it. It’s been 3 years later and they honored their contract. $20 bucks annual renewal. Killer deal.

  35. jonworld says:

    hmm…gym scams could be be a contributing factor to our nation’s obesity problem…just throwing that out there.

  36. Charred says:

    they still owe the OP interest.

  37. theczardictates says:

    Given that gyms maximize their profits if they can get as many people as possible to sign up, as few as possible to show up, and make it as difficult as possible to stop paying… why is anybody surprised at the horror stories? Is there any other business with such a fundamentally flawed model?

  38. purplegrog says:

    @sourrob: Yep. An old picture at that. The wall from which the arm extends has since been painted orange: [www.hydeparkgym.com]

  39. tobenomics says:

    I learned the Y offers a college student discount. Around this time the semester was starting, so I went to a local university and tried to sign up for a class, get an ID, then drop it just to save like 10-12 bucks a month. However the school was more complicated than that. I went to a class and I had the syllabus (piece of paper with course schedule, test dates, and class requirements)and showed it to them. Easiest discount I ever got. Its still 42 bucks a month, but money off is money off

  40. SayAhh says:

    @LosersHaveCreditCardDebt: Two words: collection agency. Or worse yet: Bank of America overdraft fees, even on closed account! OMG! hahahahahaha

  41. pileofmonkeycrap says:

    Congrats!

  42. thebaron says:

    They should give you interest on that amount!

  43. fuzzycuffs says:

    Wow, the BBB did something for a consumer? That’s surprising.

    Remember, who pays BBB dues? Consumers or businesses? Once you answer that, then ask the question “Who is the BBB looking out for?”

    I’m actually pretty shocked that a BBB notice did anything.

  44. trujunglist says:

    When you decide to get a gym membership, just play hardball with the rep. They really want you to join, so much so that they’ll definitely go lower than what they initially ask if you’re having reservations about it. Why? Because like others have said, they make money when you don’t come in. If you’re less enthusiastic about it, want to pay a lower price, and clearly aren’t going to commit to coming in every day, there is virtually no reason not to offer you a lower price. $.25 a day may be a lot less than $1, but its all profit if no one is coming in anyway…

  45. Kenneth says:

    @sourrob: @sourrob:

    Yup, that’s Hyde Park Gym in Austin, TX.

  46. freedomfirst says:

    I’ve been at LA fitness for a year. Honestly I’ve enjoyed it as it is a very nice facility. Originally I paid an extra $400 which I was supposed to get 12 sessions. Anyway I only used about six. I decided to cancel after looking at the $900 I spent last year (and hearing people talk who only spent about $25 a month). Anyway we had some bad weather here and it took me some time to get to a club to get the cancelation form. The contract originally collects the first and last months payments. Well anyway I stopped the payment a few days ago because I had officially already paid for the last month and was really not using any of it. The employee at LA fitness has obviously been informed how to collect because he basically said I was hostile and couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to pay another $49 dollars for the next month. He defended them vehemently. Wow! Well anyway they aren’t getting it and I’m interested to see if they will stop trying to access my bank account, because in my opinion they should have to pay me something back for the days not used for the last month I prepaid. And mailing these cancelation forms to California for a company that is owned by some private equity firm that no one knows about. Get a fax LA fitness!