You quit, but they didn’t: Gym memberships that keep billing long after you’ve left

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by Courtney Zubowski / KHOU 11 News I-Team

khou.com

Posted on November 8, 2013 at 7:36 AM

Updated Friday, Nov 8 at 7:40 AM

HOUSTON -- No pain, no gain.

It’s a saying Kimberly Cole lives by, but this businesswoman also knows some things can be a pain in the neck.

“Just very frustrated,” Cole told the KHOU 11 News I-Team.

She says she’s frustrated because of her experience trying to cancel her gym membership at Fitness Connection.  

The gym’s advertisements boast state of the art facilities and all at the low, low price of just $9.95 a month and no contract.

“I fell for all the bells and whistles, yes I did,” said Cole.

And so like a lot of other people, Cole signed up and things were fine until one day she decided to close her membership.

“I called my local gym,” she said.

But the gym’s staff told her to talk to their corporate office so she made another call.

“They said I had to mail in an official letter of cancellation,” recalled Cole.

KHOU 11 News: “So you did that?”

Cole: “I did that.”

And Cole said once again she opened up her bill and saw that the gym was still charging her.

“It was like a second job having to deal with them,” she said.

And the KHOU 11 News I-Team has found Cole isn’t alone. In fact, the health club industry is rife with tales of customers having to run a gauntlet of conditions to get out of their memberships. One of the heavyweights for these sorts of complaints:  Fitness Connection.

The Houston Better Business Bureau is familiar with the company.

“Consumers are alleging that the company offers a no contract, month to month option, but when it comes time to cancel, they have to go through a lot of hoops to do it,” said Monica Russo with the BBB.

Just ask Kelly Shalifoe.

“It was like pulling teeth out to cancel,” Shalifoe told the KHOU 11 News I-Team.

After having a baby, she joined the club.

“I tried it. It’s not a bad idea, it’s a good idea,” she said.

But when a hurt back sidelined her, she tried to resign her membership and couldn’t.

She sent a letter to the company, but that didn’t work. She was eventually told it had to be sent certified.

KHOU 11 News: “Did they ever go over that?”

Shalifoe: “No, no, no, no. That was never mentioned.”

But, remember Kimberly Cole?  She ‘did’ send her resignation letter by certified mail, but says even then the charges kept coming. So in the end, she canceled the bank card the gym was using.

“I had to switch banks because they kept charging,” said Cole.

But that act also came back to haunt her: Cole says negative reporting from the gym showed up on her credit report.

“I really cannot explain the frustration because it was overwhelming at times,” described Cole.

The I-Team took Cole’s, Shalifoe’s and others’ complaints all the way to the top at Fitness Connection.

“It hurts. It hurts,” said Fitness Connection Vice President of Sales Phil Howard. “We are human, we make mistakes, we have made mistakes.”

Howard admits that Fitness Connection has an unpopular cancellation process, but he also says what happened to consumers wasn’t deliberate.

He says the gym’s cancellation policy is stated on the back of the paperwork that customers sign when they decide to work out there.  

It reads “…you may cancel this contract by mailing to Fitness by midnight of the third business day after the day you sign this Contract a notice stating your desire to cancel this contract. The written notice must be mailed by certified mail to the following address...”

But the term ‘contract’ contradicts the gym’s promise of ‘no contract’ and the customers we spoke with for this story say they were never verbally told about the cancellation policy.

“I think we do a phenomenal job with the frequency that we are telling people to cancel, that it’s month to month and it must be done in writing,” explained Howard. “There are two sides to every story, so I think they believe in their hearts what they’re saying is true. I would say that some of the information that we have and the records, they show another side of that story.”

Howard says the chain isn’t trying to make it difficult to cancel.

Howard: “It’s not a practice we are putting into play.”

KHOU 11 News: “Meaning trying to make money by making it hard to cancel?

Howard: “Absolutely. Making it hard to cancel, intentionally not canceling so we can continue to bill—absolutely not.”

In fact, Howard says they have been customer testing a new website that lets consumers go on-line and close their memberships on their own. But we wanted to know what happened to the consumers we spoke with?

“I’m not running. I’m not hiding,” said Howard. “If they think that something is owed to them, let’s talk.
Now, consumer Kelly Shalifoe says recently, Fitness Connection fixed the problems with her account.
And Kimberly Cole says the gym also finally fixed the negative reporting on her credit report.

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