New Year fitness focus brings warning of gym scams - News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

New Year fitness focus brings warning of gym scams

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It's no secret that with the New Year comes a renewed focus on weight loss and fitness. 

But as consumers flock back to the gym to shed some holiday cookie induced flab, the Attorney Generals of Ohio and Pennsylvania are reaching out with a warning. 

Attorney General Mike DeWine of Ohio and A.G. Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania are doing some heavy lifting to protect would-be fitness gurus from potential gym scams. 

"This is a time when many people are thinking about joining a gym, and that can be a great way to get in shape. We just want consumers to understand what they're signing up for," Attorney General DeWine said. "A little bit of prevention can go a long way."

"New Year's is a time when many Pennsylvanians decide to join gyms or health clubs to get healthy," Attorney General Shapiro said. "I want consumers to know my office monitors these health clubs to make sure they're properly registered, and we're here to help them avoid scams. We don't want the 'ball to drop' on your New Year's plans to get healthy because of a bad gym choice." 

In Ohio in 2017,  DeWine's Office received about 140 complaints involving fitness or health club memberships. Top problem areas included cancellation and billing issues.

DeWine and Shapiro offer the following tips to avoid being scammed while pumping iron:

  • Research the gym. Look for complaints on file with the Attorney General's Office or Better Business Bureau, and check online reviews for feedback from current or past customers. Pay attention to how a business addresses customer complaints.
  • Compare several gyms in your area. Be certain the location, equipment, hours, staff and price best suit your needs.
  • Take advantage of tours and complimentary visits. Test out the equipment and experience the atmosphere before signing a contract.
  • Read contracts carefully. Make sure verbal agreements are put in writing. Otherwise, they are not guaranteed. Take as much time as you need. Don't give in to high-pressure sales tactics.
  • Watch out for extra fees. Determine the total cost of your membership. Find out if there are any extra fees for services like fitness classes or personal training. Also, find out if payments will be withdrawn automatically from your account.
  • Check the cancellation policy. Understand what you would need to do to cancel your contract and how far in advance cancellations must be made. Many contracts renew automatically, so be sure to check the total length of the contract. 
  • Ensure that any contract over three months in length is in writing and gives the consumer a right to cancel within three days.

Pennsylvania's AG Shapiro says consumers have the right to cancel health club contracts in certain circumstances, including:

  • Any club contract over three months can be canceled within three business days of signing it, allowing a "cooling off period" for consumers to decide if the gym best suits their needs.
  • If a club closes for more than 30 days and there is no alternate facility within 10 miles.
  • If the consumer moves more than 25 miles from the health club and there is no comparable club available within five miles of that person's new home.
  • If the consumer suffers an injury, verified in writing by a doctor, which prevents that person from using one-third or more of the club's equipment for six months or longer.

In Pennsylvania, consumers have specific protections under the state's Health Club Act. Gyms and health clubs are required to register with the Bureau of Consumer Protection if they sell membership contracts of more than three months. 

If you are considering a long-term contract with a gym in Pennsylvania, check to make sure the club has registered with the Attorney General's office by calling 1-800-441-2555. 

The Bureau entered into nine settlements with gyms in 2017 based on non-registration. 

Consumers in Ohio who want to learn more about their rights or those who need help solving a consumer problem should contact the Ohio Attorney General's Office at or 800-282-0515.

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