Gym Thinks New Member Isn't A Real Person; Drains Nearly $1,000 From Her Checking Account To 'Verify'

from the i'll-need-two-forms-of-ID...-and-all-of-your-cash dept

Any business that requires a.) the signing of a lengthy contract and b.) access to credit card or checking account information is setting up a system prone to abuse. AOL was particularly infamous for this, doing everything it could to retain users income as broadband coverage expanded, even if it meant charging people for services they had cancelled and were no longer using.

Gyms and fitness centers seem to be developing this reputation as well. A quick search will bring up dozens of complaints about these businesses charging customers long after they’ve cancelled their memberships. Once the information is on file, it seems it takes a lot of complaining to force some fitness centers to stop dipping into the account every 30 days or so.

Part of this can be chalked up to carelessness — all the steps needed to properly inactivate an account aren’t being taken. Part of this can be chalked up to greed — ding the customer’s account a few more times and turn a little extra profit. What happened to former Fitness 19 member Kathleen Tester is so inexplicable, it doesn’t even register on the usual chart of Handy Excuses.

Tester had signed up for a membership and authorized Fitness 19 to automatically withdraw her monthly fee of $6 from her checking account. On July 15th, Fitness 19 accessed her account and withdrew substantially more than that — $817.50 over two transactions ($165.00 and $652.50).

That same day, Tester noticed the withdrawals and spoke to someone at Fitness 19, who immediately referred her to someone else at a different branch. Tester called this branch and spoke to Fitness 19’s “financial manager,” who stunningly claimed that Fitness 19 had removed the money from Tester’s account because “it did not believe she was a real person.”

This “rationale” was repeated the next day when Tester visited the financial manager in person. By way of apology, the manager offered her three month’s free membership ($18 retail value!). Tester declined the generous insulting offer and cancelled her membership on the spot. The manager told Tester it would take 1-2 days for the money to show up in her account and tired to lure her back with a full year’s free membership ($72!). This too was declined and the withdrawn funds were deposited back in Tester’s account on July 18th.

At this point, Tester was understandably concerned that Fitness 19 might decide to dip into her account again. After all, it still had her info. These fears were confirmed slightly over a month later when Fitness 19 withdrew $165.00 from her account, which directly resulted in $105 in overdraft fees for Tester. No excuse was given for the most recent withdrawal but Tester’s money was returned the next day.

Whatever the fitness center’s actual rationale for repeatedly accessing Tester’s account, it had better be on much firmer legal ground then “we thought that was a fake name.” Tester is specifically asking for a trial by jury to determine damages. I doubt she’ll get it. There’s no way Fitness 19’s owners and management want to see this taken to trial, not if they can possibly settle for less than a few thousand dollars.

Verifying accounts electronically doesn’t require the withdrawal of several hundred dollars, or even ten bucks. If Fitness 19 thought the name was fake, it had many options it could have pursued before draining someone’s account of nearly $1,000. What this looks like is fraudulent abuse of its electronic transfer system, and wholesale abuse of its members’ trust.

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Companies: fitness 19

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Comments on “Gym Thinks New Member Isn't A Real Person; Drains Nearly $1,000 From Her Checking Account To 'Verify'”

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Ninja (profile) says:

[Lame pun ahead]

Silly, they were obviously TESTING Ms TESTER for authenticity.

[/lame pun]

Ahem. I had similar issues twice and that’s why I’m very wary of allowing automatic debts. I keep a very close eye on my account (I get sms notifications whenever there’s any activity) and I usually call my bank and block the party trying to mess with my account on sight. The second attempt was less damaging overall, they were able to withdraw only once (against 3 times in the first one). On both cases the bank returned the money and dealt with the offenders for me. With all the connectivity why not set up a system where you can review such activities before allowing them, especially for services?

silverscarcat (profile) says:

I stopped doing automatic withdrawls a few months ago. While it sounds nice, it never seems to happen until I have no money in my account. Even when it happens, I check my account “oh, I got money” and I buy stuff with it, then my bank says “you’re overdrawn” and I’m like “Huh?”

So, I’ve stopped doing that stuff. I’d rather pay upfront when I get paid, not when they schedule the money to be taken out.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I do automatic withdraws, but in a special way: I use a debit card that is specifically dedicated to them. I keep just enough money in that account to cover the withdrawals I’ve authorized. The rest of my money is handled in a different (my main) account. Keeping the two separate protects me in two ways: I am insulated from the impact of surprising timing of the automatic withdrawals, and the amount of pain and suffering I would get from having my card compromised is limited.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Oh, just be sure to have the card account with a different bank than your main accounts — some banks will raid your savings account to cover overdrafts and overdraft fees.

More than once someone at the bank (more than one bank) has “noticed” that I “forgot” to enable overdraft protection on my card and “fixed” it for me. The one time I didn’t notice coincided with a screwup with an automatic payment, I had to threaten to get the state AG involved for them to waive the multiple overdraft fees.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is why I use a CC for everything like this

1) Extra layer of protection between you and your money. Something like this? You tell the CC company, they stop the payment, your money is never actually touched.

2) Credit limit is higher than I will ever remotely touch, so instead of hitting a point where something takes too much money like this, they just hit my credit line a bit harder than they should. No real harm done.

3) Points for using the card. Hey, why not get free stuff when I can?

4) It’s free! I only spend what I need to, pay the card off every month, and there’s no charge for using it.

5) Only one big hit to my bank account per month. I don’t automatically pay the card, each month I look over all charges, manually schedule the money to be paid to the CC company, and at the same time, make sure there’s enough money in the account to cover it, so I never get hit on overdraft penalties.

Seems to me like my method would have saved her a LOT of trouble.

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Re: This is why I use a CC for everything like this

Low cost gyms like this generally require access to a checking account. I imagine they’re avoiding the CC processing fees, while ensuring they get their dues promptly each month. But it really creeped me out when I joined one that the only method of payment was to give them access to my routing numbers.

kitsune361 (profile) says:

Re: This is why I use a CC for everything like this

I agree with all of these points except #4.

It’s not free, they ding the merchant for somewhere around .20$ to .40$ + a percentage of the purchase service fee. They are typically not allowed to pass on to only credit card transactions. As a result they just work that tax from the credit card company into every price. So even the people who pay cash for everything have to pay a an invisible tax to the credit card companies.

That said, screw giving anyone direct access to my bank account. I can call a credit card companies up and rake them over the coals when someone pulls this garbage, the bank typically makes you pay for other people’s mistakes. (60$ fee to cancel a check vs. a the cost of long phone call to the credit card company?)

Anonymous Coward says:


Tester called this branch and spoke to Fitness 19’s “financial manager,” who stunningly claimed that Fitness 19 had removed the money from Tester’s account because “it did not believe she was a real person.”

Even if Ms. Tester was not ?a real person? ?even if she was not? what gave Fitness 19 any right to that money? Any right at all?



I think this should be criminal. If this account is accurate, I think Fitness 19 ought to get a jury. And then that gang ought to get some jail.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Silly me .....

if you have signed a contract with someone to take some money

If you authorize someone to take $6 and they take well over $600?

This isn’t a case where you authorized them to take $6 and they took $16. This isn’t even you authorized them to take $6 and they took $60. I mean someone could make a mistake between six and sixty, right? It’s just one little extra zero?

But this was well over six-hundred. Over six-hundred. And it wasn’t like they just slipped up and just carelessly added a couple extra zeros on the end. No, looks like the six got magically changed into an eight, too.

You think that’s an accident? Does that look like an accident to you?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Silly me .....

“We didn’t think it was a real account, so we tried charging $800 just to see what would happen.”

Suppose there had been a paper check involved?

?We didn’t think this check came from a real, live person, so we took a pen and changed the six into an eight ?and added two extra zeros onto the end? just to see what would happen.?

Suppose it was like that.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Silly me .....

Which is why taxation is theft.

False equivalence. You missed this part:

without any compensation,

you know, the part about providing public services. Now that sequestration is starting to bite, you can call it theft because the IRS is one of the few government departments that are still working and you’re not getting ROI via the services the sequestered ones usually provide.

But you’re still getting some services in the form of police, courts, national defense, etc. Otherwise you’d be living in a lawless wasteland where you’d have to defend yourself as best you can as there would be no police, courts, or anything like that.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re: Silly me .....

But until ALL public services have ceased and they’re still tapping you for tax, you can’t call it theft because you’re being compensated up to that point.

Whether or not you personally avail yourself of them is by-the-by. You’d certainly notice it if they were gone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Silly me .....

Anarchy would be the ultimate in personal responsibility. People would have to learn how to take resposibility for themselves and their own lives. Yes, you’d have to defend yourself as best you can. What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with people taking care of themselves and their kids instead of expecting the government to do it?
I didn’t ask the government to provide me with police, courts, and the like. I don’t want or need their “help”.
I didn’t “miss the part” at all. But why should you care, when you still haven’t answered a question I asked you months ago?

Anonymous Coward says:

Cop: I’m taking your purse to verify you aren’t an identity thief lady.
*Cop searches purse*
Lady: I can just show you my ID card.
Cop: Cool $652 dollars in your purse.
*Cop puts the money in their pocket and hands the lady’s purse back*
Cop: I guess that means you’re a real person, have a nice day.
Lady: Wait a minute, I want my money back!
Cop: I’ll give you a $10 off coupon at the local grocery store, we’ll call that even.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

That’s the way the opposition to GM is portrayed. The problem is… go look up “seed police” online, then you’ll see what the problem is.

Oh, and “super-weeds.”

And right here in TD you may find you need a license from the GM companies to test their products…

…and that’s why farmers all over the world are opposed to GM. GM companies and their apologists respond by accusing them of being superstitious Luddites, or something.

If we’re going to have a debate over it, let it be on the facts, not the myths. From either side.

Anonymous Coward says:

Had something similar with DirecTV because I done the automatic payment. I moved and put the service on hold for a couple months. 1 month later I have no money in the bank and see DTV withdrew $700 with no notice. I call them and they say I didn’t pay last months bill (which was on hold no payment due) so they charged me for the 2 receivers at around $300 each that I OWNED. Then they tell me it will take 4-6 weeks to resolve and put the money in my bank. I called the bank and filed a fraud charge against DTV immediately and the bank found in my favor. Never will I do auto payments again.

matejcik says:

never assume malice...

As pointed out in comment #25, “Kathleen Tester” sounds like a dummy account you would use for, y’know, testing.

What I think happened is some clueless admin-person was testing things and set up a recurrent charge of $ random_three_digits, plus a one-time charge of $ another_random_three_digits. Perhaps expecting that this will fail because of bad account number, or perhaps “the person who set up this testing account made sure this would work”.
Turns out it’s a real account – oops.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: never assume malice...

“Kathleen Tester” sounds like a dummy account

So, I guess United States Senator Jon Tester sounds like a dummy senator?

I guess that would some of his votes.


Cancel that. ? Sorry. ? I don’t want to offend the gentleman from the great state of Montana. Instead, let me proclaim that all all the U.S. senators are dummies! Every single one of ’em!

Forge says:

I worked with a guy named Mike Test. He carried cash and said his accounts everywhere would be ended without notice, the developers just sweep the database for “test” and bulk delete them all.

I would imagine something similar (but careless/negligent) was happening here. Someone was testing something in the CC billing code, and was used to searching for user last-named Test and firing off a charge. They probably didn’t notice that the returned value wasn’t Test anymore, for some reason, but Tester.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

the developers just sweep the database for “test” and bulk delete them all.

I am saddened to hear that there are so many incompetent developers working on financial systems.

1) You never run tests on a live system unless it’s absolutely unavoidable.

2) You never indicate a test account as such by using the name “Test” or any variety of that, for reasons your friend has found out. You use a special flag in the records, or if you really have to use a bogus name for some reason (legacy system, perhaps), you use one that absolutely could not be a real name. A GUID or random string of digits, for example.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I am saddened to hear that there are so many incompetent developers working on financial systems.

Me too.

Thirty-some, thirty-five-some odd years ago, I guess now?back then, as a beginning database administrator, I had that passed down to me as an ironclad rule from more senior DBAs.

Don’t mix test data onto the production databases. No. Do not do it. Don’t do it. No.

Copy the schema. And then run your tests on the test db.

Copy the schema, kid. I’m serious. You wanna get fired?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:


But, to be fair, there can be situations where a test db is impossible. A few months back, I had to investigate a problem in a customer’s production database. The database was so enormous that it it couldn’t be copied onto a test server. I had to work with the live production system.

Those situations are very, very rare, though, and we treat it like we’re handling nitroglycerine. Every action taken has to be reviewed and approved by the development team and the qa team prior to doing it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Don’t mix test data onto the production databases. No. Do not do it. Don’t do it. No.”

Maybe it was the other way around – production data in the test database, because they were having problems in production that they couldn’t duplicate with the normal test data. But they failed to realize that the “withdraw money” function actually worked in the test system – most likely that ordinarily just fails in the test system because nothing is hooked up to a real bank account.

Something similar happened to a company I worked for, except that was just emails being sent from the test system. Much less serious, yet still a bit annoying.

Anonymous Coward says:

Exactly the reason I use multiple prepaid cards.

It gives me 100 percent control of the maximum that someone could fuck me out of.
It sounds like a pain in the ass to setup and do every month but it’s not since you have to do it once. I auto fill my prepaid cards at the last Thursday every month.

I use them for-
I would use one for my GYM, but they take cash so there is no need.
Various game subscriptions

Better safe than sorry.

Anonymous Coward says:

Okay, I know this is a tangent, but whenever I read something like this

“These fears were confirmed slightly over a month later when Fitness 19 withdrew $165.00 from her account, which directly resulted in $105 in overdraft fees for Tester.”

I always wonder how come ppl don’t have more money sitting in their chequeing account… Does most ppl have their chequeing account sitting at $0 and only transfer money in when they have issued a cheque? That sounds like a system that would most likely benefits the bank since people ARE prone to forget and make mistakes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

uhh… I guess I am one of the luckier ones (or some would call a bastard) that have never carried a debt, the largest debt I ever had was $3000 for buying a macbook, just because I didn’t want to pay for it all at once, and that was on a credit line with 7% interest, not credit card (never had credit card debt, was taught by parenting when I was growing up that never, ever, ever have a credit card debt)

and usually my budget for the entire month is in my chequeing account, about $2000 and I usually have about 1000 sitting in there so I don’t have to pay bank fees.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I guess I am one of the luckier ones (or some would call a bastard) that have never carried a debt

It’s not about carrying debt. It’s about people who earn so little that they can’t carry a surplus in their checking accounts. Which is a large percentage of people in the US.

usually my budget for the entire month is in my chequeing account, about $2000

The people who can’t carry a surplus are the same people for whom being able to spend $2,000/mo would be considered luxurious.

Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Let’s say she had $150 in her account and made two purchases using her debit card for $20 total. The bank posts these at the end of the business day and runs the largest ($165) through first (because banks always do in order to maximize overdraft fees — as several class-action suits can attest to).

That one bounces ($35 overdraft fee). As do the next two ($70 in overdraft fees). $105 in overdraft fees for an account she would have been right to assume was standing at $130. That’s how that happens. It’s not like a person just tops off the account in order to cover outstanding checks. Plus, this was done electronically, so there’s no way she would have known that withdrawal was coming.

The system benefits the banks either way.

Anonymous Coward says:

I never use my checking account for automatic payments. I also never use my debit card — always credit.

As much as people hate them credit cards are extremely useful. If you pay a credit card off at the end of the month you pay nothing but you still get access to many perks including a very useful dispute system and extended warranty service plus no overage fees if an unexpected charge goes through.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yes, but that’s pretty easy to work around by having a separate card with a bare minimum balance. This limits your losses and someone who fraudulently charges your card cannot wipe you out.

The big win is that then you don’t have to use credit cards and get all the hassle that comes with them (including having to deal with credit card companies), and the people you use cards with don’t get quite as ripped off with usurious charges.

There are advantages to using credit cards, and I understand why people go that route. But there are disadvantages to using credit cards as well. Every person has to decide for themselves what they’re comfortable with.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

My bank account has overdraft protection on it.

I do not think that means what you think it means.

“Overdraft protection” is the PR term that banks invented when legislation was passed requiring them to inform their customers of their overdraft policy and requiring customers to opt-in for the “benefit” of paying overdraft fees.

They pushed “Overdraft protection” down our throats in order to keep the hefty fees that they were raking in.

Blue Adept (profile) says:


Many years ago, I had gotten AOL to be able to talk to my sister (back in the modem days). I had automatic payments. AOL raised their rates and I decided it was time to drop them. I called up and canceled my account. Next month, I got charged by them. I called them up and they assured me it was a mistake and they would refund my money. A couple days later, I got hit for over $350 from my account by AOL. It caused my rent check to bounce. When I called up AOL, I told them that not only didn’t I get the refund, but I also got hit for the $350. She put me on hold for about 10 minutes. When she came back on, she had an attitude. She said they back billed me for an old account that had never been paid for. I told them that I never had another account. They told me I did (with some bs user name) and that I hadn’t logged into it in 3 years. Since I authorized them with the account I closed, they were also authorized to debit for the other account that I supposedly had. She asked if I wanted to cancel that account now. I told her I wanted to talk to a supervisor.

The supervisor had a major attitude with me. I was told that they were AOL. I gave them permission to debit from my account any amount and at any time they want and if they wanted to continue to debit from my account, they will. I ended up having to cancel my checking account and then open up a new one to prevent them from debiting any more. I filed a complaint with the BBB and there was no resolution. AOL’s response said that if I want my money back, I would have to sue them and they had plenty of lawyers to handle people like me. I never did get my money back.

NEVER allow any company to debit directly from your checking account if you want to keep your money.

I HATE AOL after what they did to me. It is still a sore point to me. It is nice to find a place to vent after all these years.

AB (profile) says:

Why would they care?

I’m trying to comprehend why they would _care_ about a fake account. They still get the monthly fees and have that much less wear-and-tear on the equipment. An account by someone who doesn’t exist is pure win for them.

Also, wouldn’t it be safe to assume that the bank had already vetted the person behind the account?

This sounds more like fraud then anything else. I only wonder if the financial manager is doing this solo or if there is a group of them working together. In either case I suppose they could hire Prenda to handle their defense.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

credit not debit...

as others have alluded to: credit cards are set up so you lose nothing-to-minimal if you get screwed over; debit cards, the perp can clear out your account, and the bank doesn’t have to do squat, you are hosed for however much the perp took…

a long time ago, had a cell phone when they came in bags; after a year or so of dicking around with it, decided to cancel the account… went PERSONALLY into the office, and -thought- i had cancelled the account (they didn’t tell me otherwise)… kept on getting dinged for the phone, kept on insisting i had cancelled the account… when it all came out in the wash, turns out they don’t ‘accept’ a cancellation WHEN YOU DO IT IN PERSON (HOW much more ‘official’ can you get?), i had to jump through hoops and send letters, etc… fuckers…

a similar occurrence with an online payment processor happened, only complicated by the fact it was a slimy company ten levels deep that had been bought/sold a number of times in the interim… didn’t have to do *SHIT* to ‘sign up’ and create an account, etc; *BUT*, when i went to cancel said account, there were EXTREME hoops to jump through: had to provide a copy of my driver’s license, etc, etc, etc…
WTF ? didn’t have to provide ANY of that sort of info when i signed up, but to *cancel* i have to ? again, fuck those fuckers…
the safe and prudent course of action is to presume ALL companies are out to screw you (because they are), AND that virtually ALL the laws are slanted to their favor…
(hell, simply the one-sided arbitration requirements *SHOULD* be illegal in a moral universe… we are no longer in such a universe…)

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Anonymous Coward says:

Not surprising, really

Gym chains are run by meatheads, all the way up to the executive ranks. I did a lot of contracting work with a gym chain (I won’t tell you which one, but you might be able to figure it out with a little guesswork) and they literally did not have a way to easily and permanently cancel membership accounts.

There were multiple whole rooms dedicated to material filed in lawsuits over this.

thebearinboulder (profile) says:

$6 month?!

Where in the world do you get a gym membership for $6/month?

I mean, I feel like Dr. Who asking where Oswin gets the milk for her souffle but WHERE DOES A GYM MEMBERSHIP ONLY COST $6? That screams that you’re going to find a lot of surprise charges elsewhere.

The price I keep coming back to is the cost of a 24-hour membership at Costco. I would call this the lowest cost of a reputable membership and it’s only because of the bargaining power of Costco and the negotiating power of a guaranteed payment for two years. The last time I checked it’s around $300, or about $15/month.

And she walked in and got a $6/month membership? Does. Not. Compute.

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