Don't Let Crunch Gym Crunch Your Bank Account

The following is reader David’s consumerist report on how Crunch Gym stole from his bank account and how he made the bastards pay, a process akin to squeezing sweat from a stone.

    I was heartcrunched by Crunch Fitness after I joined the South Beach club. The company overcharged my bank account and then denied their mistake, running me through the wringer with all sorts of fabrications. I would have let the whole thing go, but I discovered I was not the only one who had my spirits lifted working out at Crunch only to suffer at the calloused hands of inept management. In fact I am writing this brief for all those who were kicked around and did not get so much as an apology when they complained, and for those who have not yet discovered the errors on their accounts…

I had let myself go to seed over the past ten years. I was mentally acute but physically obtuse. I was lazy, weak, misshapen, and ashamed of myself, yet as a matter of bad habit it took quite an effort for me to decide to do something about it and then have at it. I knew I would not get in shape at home alone, so I decided to join a gym. I got over my argument that I could not afford it – I told myself that I would give up movies and computer rentals at the Internet caf

to cover the membership fee.

On July 4, 2006, I visited the Crunch Fitness center at 13th and Washington Avenue in SOBE (Miami’s South Beach). Crunch Fitness Representative Lewis Tyree scratched out an offer on his official offering pad: “Crunch Fitness, take these offers… to go… option 2: annual initiation $4, monthly $54.”

On July 9, 2006, I returned to Crunch and accepted Mr. Tyree’s offer. He asked me for a credit or debit card, and I said I would rather not give Crunch access to my bank account, that I preferred to pay by check every month, and that someone had mentioned to me that it was not advisable to authorize automatic charges because accounts were getting overcharged – not that I believed Crunch would do such a thing on purpose. Mr. Tyree said checks would be acceptable provided that I prepaid ten days before the beginning of each month. However, he would still need a credit or debit card to sign me up. I gave him a Visa card for the first month’s charge, and told him it would be no good in the future because my bank was going to invalidate Visa in favor of MasterCard. “No problem,” he said. I paid $43.10 for the remaining 21 days of July, which included the $4.00 one-time initiation fee, and was given POS Transaction receipt 92282. The $43.10 also included Florida taxes, which were not split out and stated on the receipt.

On July 20, 2006, gladdened by my decision to get in shape and having enjoyed using the Crunch facilities one hour every day for 11 days, I prepaid $57.78 for August, and was given POS Transaction receipt 113598, marked “Prepays.” I did not understand how the amount was calculated, for no Florida tax was broken out. I spoke with Mr. Tyree and he assured me that I should not worry, that the initiation fee of $4.00 had been paid with my first month, and I would only have to pay a grand total of $57.78 every month.

On August 16, 2006, I retrieved from my mailbox a letter from Crunch Fitness, dated August 10, 2006, notifying me as follows: “The electronic draft of your monthly dues on 08/03/2006 in the amount of $48.43 was dishonored by your banking institution due to DECLINED. Based on the terms of your membership contract, a service fee may be added to your account….” I was instructed to make payment. “I knew it!” I said to myself. “It’s a good thing I did not give them a good card or I would have been overcharged and might not have noticed it on my bank statement!”

On August 16, 2006, I called Crunch Fitness in New York. I was put on hold for nearly one-half hour. The accounting department informed me that the record showed payments totaling $100.88, and that $ 48.43 due for June dues. I insisted I had not signed up until July, and wondered why that information was not on the ledger. “Well,” I was told, “the $ 48.43 was due for the initiation fee.” “No way,” I replied, “the initiation fee was only $4. I have all the receipts in front of me. Can’t you look these receipt numbers and comments up?” “No,” she countered, “you’ll have to talk to the representative at the club.” “But, I objected, “they told me the last time I was there that they do not have online access to the transaction record. And why should I have to call your representative to straighten out your mistake, which is very annoying to me, when you can pick up the phone and call him yourself?” “Okay, I will,” she conceded, and abruptly hung up.

On August 15, 2006, I went to see Mr. Tyree with all my receipts. He said he knew nothing about the issue. No, the accounting office had not called him. He photocopied the ‘RETURN NOTICE’. “There has obviously been a mistake,” he said, and he promised to fix it the next day.

On August 16, 2006, I asked Mr. Tyree if the problem was fixed. “No, we have an issue I want to discuss with you,” he said, and beckoned me to sit down at his desk. The accounting department had researched the matter, he claimed, and discovered that I did in fact owe more money, and that the reason it amounted to $48.43 was because a credit balance of $9 had been carried over from June. “But that is ridiculous and you know it,” I said. “The matter is very simple. I join in July and paid for July and August, and that’s it, period.” To which Mr. Tyree responded, “You will have to bring in your bank statements.” “No, Lewis, I am not going to give Crunch Fitness access to my banking information,” I replied, irritated to no end, “your own receipts should be sufficient. Somebody ought to be auditing the Crunch bank statements, not mine.” “Well, bring in the receipts,” he requested. “Good grief,” I complained, “I brought them in here yesterday and showed them to you, and you agreed this whole thing is a big mistake.” He said he would have to see them again. Fuming, I went all the way home, got the receipts and returned. He examined them once again and said, yet again, “There has obviously been a mistake.” He copied the receipts and said he would add my case to “the pile of others” on his desk. There were many such “issues” due to a change in accounting systems, he admitted. I asked him if the previous system had broken out the Florida taxes; he replied in the affirmative. I wondered out loud if Crunch was paying its state taxes since its accounting was so mixed up. I told him the whole matter was aggravating given the fact that the story kept changing, and that I had heard multiple complaints about the accounting system. “I must say that I am heartbroken by this hassle,” I confessed. “After resolving to get into shape, and having my spirits lifted, to be jerked around like this is a big letdown. I expected this thing to be fixed right away and I want an apology. Mind you, I have no beef with you, I like this gym, and I would not want your pile of New York mistakes on my desk for handling, but if I do not receive an apology for this mistreatment, I will be inclined to raise hell.”

On August 20, 2006, Mr. Tyree said the issue had been resolved. He did not apologize, however. He said he had suggested to New York that an apology be made directly to me via email or telephone call. He had been a gentleman throughout; it had not been his mistake, and he got it fixed: I supposed he felt he had no cause to apologize for the mismanagement of accounts. No apology was received from New York as of August 27, 2006. Later that afternoon, I brought up the issue with another Crunch representative who was aware of what was going on, and said I was very disappointed with the misconduct. “Crunch never does anything on purpose,” he said. “Obviously not,” I agreed, giving his organization the benefit of the doubt.

On August 25, 2006, during a casual conversation with a cashier whom I encountered in a shop near Lincoln Road Mall, the cashier mentioned that a friend of hers had joined Crunch Fitness. “They overcharged her bank account and gave her a bad time when she tried to straighten it out. She was angry and depressed by it,” she said. “Well, I’ve heard several complaints like that around the gym,” I said, “and the same thing just happened to me. I considered raising holy hell about it, but I decided not to go to the trouble of doing so as I had already had a couple of hours hassling with them and was heartbroken over having my positive attitude about exercising there nearly ruined.” “My friend is still very upset,” she said. “You’re a writer. I think you should write a report for the papers because a whole lot of people are probably getting overcharged and don’t even know it.” “Well,” I replied, “I can’t say that Crunch is deliberately overcharging people, because one lady said she had gotten seven months free due to some foul up.” “It doesn’t matter,” said the cashier, “their mistakes hurt everybody.”

Those are the facts. I know we all have our legitimate peeves as consumers but only a few of us bother to make federal cases out of them. We prefer to just let things slide rather than to get all wrought up and make a big fuss. Surely someone else will complain, we reason, so let someone else do the dirty work.

Tolerance might be good for our mental health in the short term, but if nobody gets in the ring things are going to get worse in the long run. Forget the fine phrases in the corporate mission-statement advertisements that wax eloquent about customer service and usually mention “integrity.” We have already gone from “the customer is always right” to “The customer is always wrong” to “We don’t really care whether the customer is right or wrong.”

Wherever there are transient crowds, the underlying attitude of bad management is “Take it or leave it, there’s another one right behind you, so why should we care?” That appears to be the Crunch Fitness attitude. I like the gym itself. My health and strength is improving; for one thing, I can unscrew stuck lids off jars now. Yet I think Crunch Fitness should be openly judged for its mismanagement of member accounts.

“No Judgment” reads a Crunch Fitness motto. That’s nice, but what would the world be without judgment? A Crunch instructor came up to me the other day as I was working out on one of the machines: “You do so many foolish things!” he exclaimed, and adjusted the machine for me. “He is quite right,” I admitted, “but that is a foolish way to put it!”

Crunch Fitness has a good gym in South Beach, but the current conduct of its management indicates that Crunch Fitness may get crunched by competitors who know that people who treat people rightly are righteous and shall live long and profitable lives. The righteous thing for Crunch Fitness to do at this time is to hand out flyers to new members and also post notices throughout its centers notifying all members that the accounting system was changed and their assistance in detecting any errors to their accounts will be deeply appreciated, to the tune of one month’s free membership for each error found.

I sent an invoice to Crunch CEO Jeff Feinberg this morning for breach of the adhesion contract, billing him for what it would cost (double-the-money plus large initiation fee) to finish out my Crunch membership term at EQUINOX, in lieu of which I said I would accept reinstatement of my Crunch membership. There was and still is a great deal of ill will towards Crunch, and you can see the flack on the Net, but as far as I’m concerned the cause of the harm was corporate mismanagement at the highest level – I was otherwise pleased with Crunch,

We asked if David had heard anything since sending the invoices. He said:

Yes, Sir, C.E.O. Jeff Feinberg reinstated my membership. I was seriously considering bringing an action pro se against the local Crunch LLC because of my intellectual interest in two points of contractual law – the complaint would not have been frivolous but my position was legally weak given case law. In fact the whole thing brought me a value of around $500 in good luck.

The membership billing fiasco hit the new management hard right off the bat, delaying the implementation of projects planned for the transition. Management places the blame for the fiasco on the faulty data migrated from the defective system of BALLY – now on the verge of bankruptcy. BALLY had long been the subject of billing-error complaints. The new management responded to the crisis, but I thought some aspects had been mishandled. I discussed those “hindsight” issues with Jeff Feinberg.

Despite the numerous bitter complaints, I could not get anyone to personally identify themselves AND give me factual information to check out and perhaps help resolve their issues.

The takeaway: only sign up for month-to-month plans with gyms. — BEN POPKEN

(Photo: JSonline)