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 This too was declined and the withdrawn funds were deposited back in Tester's account on July 18th.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.