LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has ordered Family Fitness to stop collecting excessive cancellation fees after receiving 103 customer complaints since 2011.
Schuette announced the cease and desist order in a news release Wednesday. He said he’s told Family Fitness it must stop misleading members, making them think they must keep paying even after they’ve canceled their gym membership or personal training contract.
>>PDF: Cease and desist order
Schuette also warned the gym chain that his office would keep interviewing customers and either open a formal investigation or file a lawsuit against Family Fitness, which owns 14 centers in West Michigan.
“When consumers enter into contracts, the law requires that they be treated honestly and fairly,” Schuette said in the release. “Using the threat of enormous penalties as a way of keeping customers locked into membership agreements misleads consumers about their legal rights.”
The attorney general’s office said 48 of the 103 consumer complaints it received against Family Fitness were filed this year. Additional complaints can be filed with the attorney general’s office online or by calling 877.765.8388.
THREE YEARS OF CHARGES
In 2014, Grand Rapids resident Nicole Betterly signed up for a 30-day trial with the Family Fitness on Plainfield Avenue.
“I only went there a couple days. I canceled it right away, kind of had a verification, like, ‘Yup, you’re all good,'” Betterly said.
Fast forward to two months ago. When Betterly went to get a loan so she could buy a Jet Ski, she got a painful surprise.
“I went to my bank and they were kind of pulling my credit report and then all of sudden they discovered that I had like a $1,500 charge,” Betterly said.
She said Family Fitness has been charging her every month for the last three years. She said she was never sent a bill or any notice and no one ever called her. She didn’t have a credit or debit card on file, so those charges went to a collection agency.
When she reached out to Family Fitness to resolve the problem, she was given an email address to contact and says she never got a reply.
She acknowledged that she signed a document for the trial and didn’t read the fine print, but said she thinks there should be some responsibility on the company to let her know what she’s signing.
“Even if it was, ‘hey, you should’ve read the fine print, we don’t have to tell you that — even if that was the practice, it just seems like it would make for more sense to just tell people you’re contracting yourself to more than what we’re telling you right now, for one. And then for two, you know what, we’re going to try contact you to let you know all of a sudden there’s delinquent charges on your account,” Betterly said.
She did manage to get the problem resolved and her credit score is no longer in trouble.
COMPLAINTS TO BBB
The Better Business Bureau of West Michigan told 24 Hour News 8 that in the last three years, it has taken 137 complaints about Family Fitness.
“A few years ago, the Better Business Bureau issued a consumer alert about Family Fitness centers because there was a pattern of complaints we were getting from consumers that said that they were being told one thing by a salesperson and believing that to be true — about whether the contract would be upheld, how long they were responsible, how they could get out of their contract, those kinds of terms. And when it came down to it and they were ready to quit or they were moving or whatever it was, they were being held to the terms of a written agreement, and what the salesperson had reportedly said to them was nowhere in the contract they had signed,” BBB president and CEO Phil Catlett said.
“It is a violation of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act to willingly mislead as a representative of a business to a consumer and that’s what they consumers were claiming,” he added.
24 Hour News 8 first told you about similar problems with Family Fitness in 2012, when a woman contacted Target 8 saying Family Fitness illegally debited her bank account after she asked about a membership.
Catlett said at one point, Family Fitness had an F rating from the BBB, but it’s now up to a C because it hired an outside company to work with consumers and the BBB on its problems.
“An independent investigation really does need to be done to be handled appropriately, so I think it’s kind of early to talk about this place closing. I think it’s more of, let’s figure out what really happened and deal with it appropriately,” Catlett said.
RESPONSE FROM FAMILY FITNESS
24 Hour News 8 reached out to Family Fitness, which provided the following statement Wednesday:
“Family Fitness fully stands behind both the integrity and the validity of our contracts.
“Family Fitness Michigan will not mediate or share member information with broadcast or any social media organizations. We encourage any member who wishes to discuss their current agreement to reach out to our corporate office directly.
“We look forward to continuing to serve the tens of thousands of our customers who enjoy our fitness centers every day.”
The Jenison-based company also provided the following contact information for customers:
Family Fitness Corporate Office
Po Box 152 Jenison MI. 49429
WHAT TO DO BEFORE BUYING A GYM MEMBERSHIP
If you are considering joining a gym, the attorney general’s office has provided the following tips to protect yourself:
- Visit the location during times you would normally use the facility to evaluate the atmosphere.
- Carefully consider the cost of a membership and what it includes.
- Ask about the different membership contracts available. If a club closes, you may lose less money with a shorter contract.
- Examine any contract carefully before signing and make sure you understand the cancellation and refund policies.
- Keep a copy of any contract you sign.
- Shop around, ask friends and relatives for recommendations, check online reviews, and contact the Consumer Protection Division to find out if any complaints have been filed against the health club you are considering.
- Watch for red flags. If a club is advertising an unrealistically low price, be cautious.
***Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Family Fare instead of Family Fitness in the headline. We regret the error, which has been corrected.***