— -- If your goal of becoming a gym rat in 2015 isn’t quite becoming a reality, be aware that canceling that membership may take more than a little effort.
At one gym – a Gold’s Gym franchise in Oxnard, California – members found it so hard to cancel that the Ventura County district attorney’s office compared that location to the popular Eagles song “Hotel California,” where, according to the lyrics, guests can check out anytime but can never leave.
Prosecutors opened an investigation and even sent in an agent undercover.
In an audio recording, the investigator can be heard saying: “I’m doing exactly what the contract says and you’re not letting me cancel.”
The gym’s representative replied: “So would you like to leave your phone number?”
The case resulted in a $6 million judgment against that particular gym, which has since gone out of business.
Gold’s Gym International, the parent company, told “Good Morning America” that the case was only against that particular franchise. It said it ended the franchise relationship, saying in a statement: “Gold’s Gym maintains the highest level of standards … no other Gold’s Gym locations around the country were involved or impacted by this in any way.”
The Better Business Bureau told “GMA” Investigates that it received more than 6,000 complaints of all kinds about gyms last year. Some of those complaints were from people who were trying to cancel their gym memberships.
How can you avoid being one of them?
If your first instinct is to pick up the phone, or cancel in person, Mandy Walker of Consumer Reports magazine says you could be wasting your time.
“First thing you should do is take out the contract … and see what the cancellation policy is because you want to make sure you follow it,” Walker said.
Here are a few tips to help ease the process:
- Put it in writing. For many gyms, it’s not only a smart idea, but a requirement. “You may have to send a notarized letter to cancel your membership,” Walker said.
- Pay with your credit card. That way, if there’s a dispute, you can call up the credit card company and explain your position. You can say “This is not what I agreed to and they will actually check into it and hold your payment and they may reverse the charges if they agree with you,” Walker said.
- Buyer beware. When you sign up, health clubs may tell you their cancellation policies are simple, but Consumer Reports says that when it comes to gym memberships, pay attention to the cancellation policies in the contract.
- Ask for help. If the gym is not responding, Walker says to turn to your state's consumer protection agency. "Ask them what their rules are for gyms and see how they can help you," she said.