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Be leery of trial gym memberships; they can leave you on the hook

Posted by Mitch Lipka  September 11, 2012 11:49 AM

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Q. I recently moved to South Boston and got a trial membership at Gold’s Gym. I was told that if I did not like the facility, I could simply sign a cancellation form, and I would not be charged any money. I visited twice and found it too busy and told the girl working at the front desk that I did not wish to continue my trial membership. She took down my name and information and told me I was “all set.” A few weeks later, I noticed a charge for approximately $150. Gold’s charged me as a full member. I explained what happened several times and have since also been charged a monthly fee of $49.99. I have never experienced such awful customer service or complete lack of professional courtesy.

Colin McEvily, South Boston

A. This sort of dispute has soured a lot of consumers on the health club business. It is why consumer protection agencies produce brochures on the subject. Disputes over trial memberships and contractual obligations led some clubs to abandon the practice of the “we’ve got you” contract in favor of a month-to-month system.

Clearly, that’s not the case here. So, I appealed to the folks at Gold’s national offices. Corporate Vice President Dave Reiseman said it’s up to franchisees to handle these sorts of issues and offered no other insight.

The gym’s general manager, Lindsay Parker, explained that they have no record of a cancellation before the trial period expired and won’t honor your request. “We can’t just go by what someone says three weeks later,” she said. “I have policies the club owners put in place that I have to follow.”

This situation highlights the dangers of these sorts of arrangements. The “trial membership” comes with an obligation. You’re essentially taking a membership – and providing your financial information in the process – with the possibility of a cancellation during a one or two week “trial.” That’s if you follow their rules. Otherwise, you’re locked in for the contract period unless you meet specific criteria – like moving 25 or more miles away or being under doctor’s orders to stop exercising.

Given the cancellation confusion, you can also try to appeal to the Attorney General, state Consumer Affairs office, and Better Business Bureau to mediate the dispute.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at ConsumerNews@Aol.com

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