Bally Total Fitness Scams College Student By Swapping Contracts

Chanda signed up for a month-to-month membership at a Bally Total Fitness in Montclair, California, but when things went wrong—as they frequently do with this company—Chanda found himself signed up for a 3-year agreement. Their proof? An unsigned contract that doesn’t look like the one he was given.

This summer, I joined Bally in what I was told was a month-to-month membership. I let the membership run out, and just discovered that not only have they been automatically renewing my membership, they put me in a 36-month contract that can’t be cancelled. I felt incredibly stupid – had I not read the contract carefully enough? Etc. etc.

The copy of the contract that they gave me does indeed say that it is for 36 months, but this contract is not the same as the one I signed, and it is blank.

One of the places I would have signed, had this been the same contract, is immediately preceded by “The length of the term of this contract is 36 months…by signing below, you acknowledge [this]” in a large bold font. Even if I hadn’t read the contract at all, I would have noticed that. But because memory can always fail, and I am astounded by the stupid things I do sometimes, I checked online, and apparently this is standard business practice for them.

Bally sucks. I’m pissed. In true college-student style, I’ve handed it off to my father, who will hopefully get this mess fixed, because if not, I, along with many other people who apparently have been similarly scammed, will be out a few thousand bucks.

Chanda, if they can’t provide the contract you signed, they won’t be able to hold you to that 36-month agreement. It will be awesome if your father can resolve this for you, but it will be awesomer if you handle it yourself, because you’ll help teach this Bally Total Fitness to not assume college students are easy marks. You might want to try cheryls50′s suggestions on this Bally post from April—she recommends you send a certified letter to Bally’s corporate office and copy your state’s Attorney General on it as well. Bringing the AG into the situation should help put some weight behind your demands that Bally cancel this fraudulent 36 month membership. Be sure you make it clear that Bally must agree in writing to not report anything negative on your credit history, too.

Here’s some contact info we were able to find for mailing a letter. If you need help drafting a good letter to these guys, check out our tips on this post. (It’s for email letters, but will work for snail mail too.)

Bally Total Fitness
Don R. Kornstein, Interim Chairman
John H. Wildman, SVP Sales and Interim Chief Marketing Officer
8700 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.
Chicago, IL 60631
773-380-3000 (Phone)
773-693-2982 (Fax)

And remember to always make a copy of any contract you sign, so that in the future you can put an end to this sort of con as soon as someone tries to pull it on you.

Comments

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  1. qcgallus says:

    Is there no way to actually see a signed copy of this contract? I mean who the hell does an unsigned contract bind?

  2. Parting says:

    I always had 1 year contracts… I never heard of a gym, besides Bally, that offers 36 months contracts.

    • ironchef says:

      @Victo: 24 hr fitness has 36 month contracts. I paid 3 years upfront. (the 3 year contract was about $350 total out of pocket) Renewals are a bargain at $20 a YEAR.

      It was one of the best deals ever. It was 4 years ago. Now my gym membership is only $20 a year.

      It’s a great deal.

      • junip says:

        @ironchef: You must have a really old family plan of some type, because now 24HR is $30 or more per month.

        When I worked as a banker, there were always people coming in and complaining that their fitness club had either debited them twice for one month’s membership or kept charging them after they had cancelled. Never let your gym membership auto debit your bank account. Always put auto-charges on your credit card so you can more easily dispute them later.

        • ironchef says:

          @junip: No old family account. It’s a normal contract. I just walked in and negotiated it with them. I knew I can usually work them down if I have a larger cash incentive upfront.

          The sales people will definitely bite for a 3 year contract provided you ask for the big discounts. The downside is, the prorated refunds evaporates in a year. I was in it for the long term.

        • bravo369 says:

          Does the submitter have her copy of the contract? i signed up for bally’s and They gave me the yellow carbon copy of the contract with my signatures.

          @junip: my gf has one of those $20/year plans too. she’s been a member for over 3 years and then the cost dropped to something insanely cheap.

        • ellastar says:

          @junip: Now they have some type of upfront fee of about $600 and then $10 a year for life. You get you money’s worth after about the 3 year mark.

        • slickfinstranger says:

          @junip: I bought a 24 hour membership at the club in March. It was a 3 year membership with national priveledges. Normally it was $700, I got it on sale for $550. After 36 months, I can renew at $12/year gaurunteed for 3 years, after that, the rate can adjust. That works out to $100/year. My old gym in New Jersey (Spa 2) was charging me close to $700/year before they closed their doors. They were selling memberships up to the very day before they went out of business.

          My wife was once scammed into a 3 year loan/membership by Ballys after going for a 1 week trial with her girl friends. They were pressured into each buying membeships on the first day of their trial and I don’t think either of the 3 girls ever returned to the gym. The Bally “loan” still shows up on my wife’s credit report. It really burns me up to this day. She was a recent immigrant and student, working her ass off full time for 8 years to pay her own way through college after her father died and left her mother destitute.

          Years before that, I had once gone to work out with a girlfriend who was a member at Bally’s. They took my license and locked me in a room with a big brute of a guy who wouldn’t give me my license until I’d signed for a membership/loan. At that point in time, I was 3 months away from moving to Japan for 12 months and told him there was absolutely no remote reason on the planet that I should consider committing to membership at that time. He wasn’t disuaded and kept telling me the great price I could get if I committed that day and that they had a partnership with a gym in Tokyo that I could use (I lived in Gifu). I got up and walked out. He followed me to the door and threw (literally) my license at me without a word.

          My wife just bought a 3 year membership for 24 Hour through Costco. $249 for a 36 month non-renewable membership. Her Bally’s membership all told including 20% interest (yes, they charge you interest on the future dues you have not yet paid)cost her about $3000. Unlike the Bally’s membership, she uses the 24 hour membership too. The club is clean, the staff are very nice and friendly.

  3. bones11 says:

    I did this with TMobile a few years back. I was getting any service at my apt and everytime I called to find out why they projected they would be installing new antennas in the area in 2009, this was ’07. I found the corporate number off the BBB website and requested the signed copy of my contract, which they couldn’t provide because it was 5 states away locked in a storage unit. Because they couldn’t provide it I was allowed to leave my contract with no penalties.

  4. MyPetFly says:

    Interim Chairman… makes me wonder what jail the former chairman is in.

  5. MonstrousCosmos says:

    In true college-student style, I’ve handed it off to my father, who will hopefully get this mess fixed…

    OMG – this is one of my students, isn’t it?

    C’mon! Learned helplessness gets old after 18 years. Plus, you will get much more satisfaction out of handing Bally its ass yourself, rather than having someone else do it for you.

    • JulesWinnfield says:

      Why hand it off to your dad?

      Is it because he, and not you, will be out a few thousand bucks?

      Don’t make your dad do it. Make your elected Attorney General do it.

    • mythago says:

      @MonstrousCosmos: I would assume that her dad is a lawyer.

    • coolkiwilivin says:

      @MonstrousCosmos: Exactly, take responsibility. You can do it! Seriously, when my parents bought me a car for graduating from College they totally tried to screw us over. Since my parents were handling it I let them and consequently me, get less of a car than I could have gotten if I had been assertive. You might not win this one BUT the lessons you learn in dealing with crappy companies and how to stick up for yourself will be well worth the money you spend at Bally’s. In addition, that payment you make everyone month will be a good reminder NOT to let your self be suckered again. Seriously you can handle this one!

  6. ordendelfai says:

    I can’t BELIEVE bally’s is still doing this. They did this crap to me over 5 years ago. Except back then, their many pages 6 point font didn’t make it clear it was a 36 mo contract. The guy selling me told me over and over it was month to month, smiling while stickin it to me the whole time.

    8 months later when I checked my credit report, the “loan” for the gym was on it. Chanda might want to check her report for something similar.

    I remember calling and doing everything I could but to no avail. I was told I was lying and no Bally’s rep would ever do such a thing. I ended up having to “move out of their coverage area” for a bit…(knowing anyone you can switch the gas to your name for a month will do it).

    A doctor note for an injury will also suffice.

    But if you truly didn’t sign the contract, then you should be able to get out of it. But it will be a fight for sure because Bally’s already received their blood money in full for the entire 36 months and will be loathe to give it up.

  7. DePaulBlueDemon says:

    I’ve heard so many Bally Total Fitness horror stories I’ve promised myself I will NEVER use their services.

    Keep calling or writing the chairman until you get an acceptable response. If that fails contact the state’s Attorney General/BB/local media/anyone that will listen.

  8. searonson says:

    Don’t almost all colleges and universities have free or extremely cheap gym facilities for their students?

  9. SinisterMatt says:

    So, wait a sec. Bally switched contracts on him? Did they copy his signature to the other contract? Or did he sign one and they gave him a different contract for his copy?

    If they did switch his signature, isn’t that considered forgery? Hello jail, if that is true.

    I agree. Chanda should fight this one himself. He’s a legal adult. He signed the contract, and he should be the one to fight it out with him. By all means involve your father (in a consultant role), but take care of it yourself.

    Cheers!

  10. It seems that every fitness club ever in existence is a scam?

  11. Mauvaise says:

    I had a membership with Bally’s once. I finally paid it off and then they tried to hit me with a renewal invoice by stating that since I used their gym on X date it constituted an automatic renewal.

    Funny thing was I was out of town (and had ticket stubs to a out of town tourist attraction to prove it) on the date they said I used their gym. I faxed those over and that was the end of it. I don’t know what would have happened had I not had proof I was over 100 miles away at the exact time they said I checked into their gym.

  12. jpdanzig says:

    Bally has had the WORST reputation of any fitness chain for years and years.

    Other commenters here have plenty of reason to say, “run — don’t walk away — from Bally”.

    Don’t even walk in the door at one of their gyms!

    I recommend the Sports Club chain (NYSC) — they’re ethical, affordable, and they run a decent shop in terms of providing sufficient equipment in good condition to handle demand.

  13. bobert says:

    A lawyer friend of mine once told me about contracts, including leases and so on:
    1. There should always be two originals, one for you and one for them.
    2. Use a blue ball-point pen.
    3. Sign both copies where it says sign, and initial every page you don’t sign. If they’re smart, they’ll do the same thing.
    4. They get one original, blue-ink-signed copy, you keep the other.
    5. If they don’t want to do it that way, skip it, they’re crooks or amateurs.

    Doing this has kept me out of trouble more than once.

    • Micromegas says:

      @bobert: As a lawyer myself, I’d add one fundamental thing: Be sure you actually understand the contract! It’s unbelievable how many people I’ve encountered who thought that they wouldn’t have to abide by certain parts of a contract if they claim they didn’t understand what it meant when they signed. Sorry, but that’s not so. Even an illiterate man is bound to a contract he willingly makes his mark on.

      So yeah, be sure you know what you’re signing, including the fine print.

    • Difdi says:

      @bobert:

      Use a blue ball-point pen.

      That’s a bit of an anachronism these days. The reason for signing in blue ink is that in the days of black & white copies, it made it obvious at a glance which was the original and which was the copy.

      Nowadays, color copiers are so good, it may not be possible to tell the difference between a copy and an original, depending on the type of ink in your pen.

      Also, any color of ink other than black works in place of blue ink for this purpose. I use green for most documents, myself.

      • Paperclippe says:

        @Difdi: If you really take this to the higher authorities, they will be able to tell through forensics if the copy is from a pen or a machine, regardless of the type of the ink. Pens and printers use two totally different kinds of in, no matter how good the quality is, so it’s always a safe bet to, as you said, use a different coloured pen, should it come to such desperate measures.

  14. athmsVT says:

    I did not have trouble getting out of a contract with Ballys, but I was able to use the fact I was moving out of area. It was easy for me because I was an intern while working one summer and already had proof of residency back at school. I did make sure I sent the letter certified mail with all the information that was required. I believe the contract contained the details. Though I have heard horror stories.

    As for the facilities, Ballys are the worst of the major chains I have seen especially considering their price.

    In the DC metro area, Gold’s had much better facilities with better equipment, cheaper month-to-month memberships, and I was able to get on a month-to-month membership with no initiation fees. I have friends that go to Washington Sports Clubs and are happy with them.

  15. TechnoDestructo says:

    It will never cease to amaze me how businesses with flammable buildings and expensive merchandise or equipment can go on for years deliberately and habitually screwing people over without having bad things happen.

  16. Marshfield says:

    Also some contracts have “evergreen” or “self renewing” clauses. You could sign up for a 12 month ‘month-to-month’ and if you didn’t follow the cancellation terms to the letter, it could renew into a 36 month contract.

    We had a copier lease that did that, and got stuck for another year lease on an old copier because the person who’s job it was to cancel the lease dropped the ball. Cost us nearly $5000 more than we would have paid on a newer machine.

    But like everyone says, “Read and understand the agreement”

  17. LightLeigh says:

    Wow. I’ve been hearing this sort of thing about Bally’s for something like ten years. It’s amazing that people even sign up with them anymore.

    I’m going to join the bandwagon encouraging Chanda to handle this matter himself. Fighting and winning against this sort of injustice is very satisfying.

    The next time you want to join a gym, take a look at your local community facilities. In my area, some of the recreation center fitness rooms are very nice. And, all you pay is $5 for your rec card, then $3 each time you use the gym, which ends up being way less than almost any gym membership (except for that $20/year deal).

  18. azntg says:

    God, I hate those gym memberships. Full of loopholes and full of sharp knives in every clause.

    At least the local independent neighborhood gym I went to weren’t jerks about that.

    Chanda, check if your college provides gym facilities. Most do without additional charge (ostensibly because it is usually included in the cost of tuition and other fees)

  19. pixiegirl1 says:

    Why was I not surprised that it was in illinois?! I signed up at the ballys in vernon hills eons ago. I was hounded by the sales rep for the 3 year deal I only wanted the 1 year deal. After 10-15 minutes of dickering around he finally realized I wasn’t going to go for the 3 year deal and had one foot out the door at that point he finally got a one year contract. I ended up only going there like 10-15 times. Any who I obviously didn’t renew my contract and nearly 10 years later they are still sending me crap to “rejoin”.

  20. SacraBos says:

    Bally’s tried to screw me, too. When a gym I signed up at closed, they “transfered” my membership to the FARTHEST gym within the contracted 50 mile limit. When I complained that my membership was supposed to transfer to the new gym 1 block from me, the sales guy actually told me to just upgrade my membership and quit bothering them.

    Fortunately, my copy of the contract had the nearby location specifically mentioned (nice salesperson knew their location was closing, and the new one by me was opening), so they had to transfer it there. Still, I spend several hours on hold with their customer “service” line and faxing my copy of the contract to get it fixed. My grandpa had cows he got serviced, too. Now I know why they call it that.

    1) Read the contract, don’t let them tell you what’s in it.
    2) Keep a copy of all contracts you sign.
    3) Fight the battle yourself, it’s good experience. Then call Dad as a last resort.
    4) Don’t do business with Bally’s.
    5) Really. Don’t do business with Bally’s.

  21. NotATool says:

    Many colleges also offer students free legal services. The OP could also turn there for some help with this.

  22. fisherstudios says:

    In this case, the easiest solution would be to chargeback

  23. elaineous says:

    Bally tried to pull this same thing with me last year!

    I told them I wanted month-to-month, they say “ok” and hand me a three year contract to sign. I’m older, and experiences like this have made me suspicious, so I read the contract then got up and left.

    They also tried to confuse me with many many different plans and options (I made them give me a pen and paper to draw a chart.) They also told me the two week free pass I’d printed from their website was not valid.

  24. superhumanben says:

    Sounds a lot like an issue I had back several years ago. They had 2 contracts that they were trying to hold me to even though I had only signed one. They went as far as sending it to a collection agency before I threatened to sue them.

  25. Ben Popken says:

    SMALL CLAIMS COURT.

  26. startertan says:

    Bally’s TF = Satan’s Evil Older brother.

    Rot in hell Bally’s…please.

  27. temporaryerror says:

    Does no one go to the YMCA anymore? The new ones that they are building in my area are REALLY nice, and they have income based memberships available.

  28. I was thinking the same thing that Ben mentioned, and wondering why nobody was suggesting it…

  29. blackmage439 says:

    Step 1: Buy a Bowflex. (I have one, and use it. Trust me, it works.) Or hell, just get off your fat butt and jog!

    Step 2: Lower your calorie intake.

    Step 3: ?????

    Step 4: Lose weight, gain muscle!

    Sure, a Bowflex costs way more than a single year’s gym membership, but be realistic. How many people in this hectic day and age have the time and willpower to waste time at a gym, covered in other people’s sweat and stench? I absolutely love my Bowflex.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Wow! Bally’s did this to me 17 years ago when I got out of college and moved to Dallas! They still send me collection notes. I just wonder why they are still in business. Only other company that crooked was Windoor World… and they are out of sight now.

  31. Anonymous says:

    I signed up for a 3-year contract (which was stupid in itself), but after my contract expired, they extended it automatically without my authorization and charged my debit card $19. When I called to complain, I was told just paying off my financial obligation (which was listed as an installment loan on my credit report) wasn’t enough and that I had to give them formal notice of my intention to cancel before they’d cancel, otherwise they’d just keep billing me every month forever. They’ve finally canceled my account, but refuse to refund that $19. I’ve filed a claim with my bank and with the local BBB. Bally’s sucks!

  32. smarternow says:

    Bally Fitness in Ann Arbor MI did the exact same thing to me. The sales rep, Jessica, had me sign a month-to-month contract. I only signed the last page which had no financial information on it. She then brought me my copy which I just stuck in my bag without looking at. I thought nothing of it. I later missplaced my copy, but I’m sure it was the same bogus copy she had switched anyway. I have since gotten a new credit card and haven’t allowed Bally’s access to it. I probably should have cancelled the card months ago, but I had convinced myself that I just didn’t read the contract right. Once I got a copy from them, however, I realized that the contract I signed had been switched with another one obligating me for a 36-month contract. Now that I know what happened, I will not pay them another penny.