Reader Jordan writes in to share a past due “bill” that he received from Bally Total Fitness, where he had previously been a member. It turns out that the letter, which specified the amount Jordan owed and threatened to report Jordan to a collection agency if he didn’t pay, was actually a sneaky solicitation to get him to renew his contract.
Writing to let you know about an interesting letter two friends and I received from Bally’s. Hope I’m not duplicating something you’ve seen, although I checked your site and didn’t see this.
Put simply: After quitting Bally’s and being assured by customer service that we were paid up and no longer obligated, all three of us received “bills” in the mail for $48 about a month later. The bill includes a CURRENT and PAST DUE amount. It includes a PLEASE RESPOND BY date, our Membership Numbers, and a bill voucher on the bottom to mail in.
On the back of the bill, there’s a paragraph that reads in part:
Past Due/Adverse Credit Reports: If your account is past due, we have included a message about that on the front of the statement. This is an attempt to collect a debt and any information will be used for that purpose. A negative credit report reflecting on your credit may be submitted to a credit reporting agency if you fail to fulfill the terms of your credit obligations.
Here’s the rub: we called and found out this was not a bill. Our account had been closed. Needless to say, any phone call to Bally’s is a 30 minute search for the truth. What we assumed was a bill was actually a way to reinstate our membership. I’m a careful reader. My job is to read peer-reviewed science journals for a major research university and turn them into press releases that make sense to the lay public. I don’t always succeed, but I always read every word and this Bally’s letter is, in my opinion, deliberately made to look like a bill that must be paid. I wonder how many folks, in this recession, are freaked out by any overdue bills and would just send in the money?
After contacting customer support, Jordan received this message:
The offer you received is another type of monthly statement for members who do wish to continue their membership. Therefore, the past due mentioned on this, reflects the amount the member must pay to continue their membership. This does not apply to you, as you don’t want to continue your membership.
Yeah, this is pretty sneaky. Jordan said he is sending this to his local representatives, and hopefully it will get their attention, but we’d suggest notifying the FTC and your state’s attorney general, too. Also, we’re not experts in mail fraud, but this seems like a pretty clear willful misrepresentation in an attempt to deceive Jordan and his friends.
Below are scans of the letter Jordan received. We especially like that Bally, after trying to trick ex-members into rejoining, would also sell their names to junk mailers in the process. Well done!