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Consumer Fraud: Beware Monthly Dues

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Sacramento, CAThe way some businesses get ahead is by relying on consumer fraud, issuing bogus policies and false credit card charges. According to Ricardo Villan of California Consumer Affairs, 24 Hour Fitness is one company that fits that bill, "putting profits ahead of customer relations."

"It's clear to me that this company is waiting to burn people, knowing there is another sucker coming through the door," he says. "Sadly, this is a sign of the times; although there are some wonderful manufacturers and retailers out there, this company isn't one of them - they do something that is illegal.

"Last December I was working out at 24 Hour Fitness and thought I pulled a muscle on one of their machines but I was decent about it and didn't sue the company. Instead I went into their office and explained that I would have to cancel my membership because my doctor confirmed, after a MRI, that I had a herniated disc. I probably needed surgery and about six months recuperation.

They tried to talk me out of it but I was adamant. They said that I could 'freeze' my membership if I had a doctor's certificate - it was like being back in high school! They said that I couldn't cancel my membership. I didn't need to deal with them on this level and thought, 'To hell with you!'

So in February I canceled but had to pay one more month's dues. Which means that I couldn't use their facilities but had to pay another month. Wait, it gets even more ridiculous. When you first join, you have to pay first and last month dues. In other words, you have to pay for two months service that you cannot use.

Even then, I just walked away. After paying. This month, while researching an article on credit card fraud, I happened to check my credit card account and 24 Hour Fitness had charged me membership dues for the month of August!

So I called them again. They told me that I had never cancelled my card but merely froze the membership and it automatically starts up again, taking monthly dues, six months later.

Can you believe it? The story gets even better (or worse). Next, I call their HQ to dispute this charge because I never froze the account. 'In the Fair Trade Act, the burden of proof is on the seller to make the charge,' I told them. 'Do you have a contract with my signature saying that I froze my account?' Of course they replied in the negative, but they gave me an option. Did I want to terminate my account now and only pay for an additional month? Arrgghh!!!

This is like something out of Monty Python! Basically I told them that I already closed my account, but this guy on the phone kept asking if I wanted to close it. I said I would close it with a proviso that I already closed it!

So I told them that I would be dealing with the district attorney of California. What is very clear to me is that this company is playing the odds on the hassle factor - that it's more of a hassle for someone to dispute $30 or $60 than trying to get all of their money back. Companies like this get away with a flagrant violation of the law - it's like stealing a penny from everyone.

But they shouldn't have messed with me - they didn't realize that I work for consumer affairs. I know the law. It isn't about me, it is about thousands of consumers that I am supposed to protect and that is my job.

Nothing would give me more delight than to see these people who established these policies pumping iron behind bars, where the monthly dues aren't in cash."

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Please file your [Fraud] complaint with a lawyer for a free case evaluation.

For more information, visit [California Consumer Affairs ].

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