Bamboozled January 25, 2016:Gym member gets a workout trying to obtain his refund

Peter Stewart has been a member of New York Sports Club (NYSC) in West Caldwell for several years.

The former Caldwell mayor and retired attorney said he was always happy with his membership.

Last summer, he saw a poster for a promotion that offered eight weeks of one-hour private training sessions for $316.

Stewart said the manager and personal trainer explained how it would work.

“There was no written agreement,” Stewart said. “There was no automatic renewal provision. In fact, I was told I could cancel any time without penalty if I choose to do so for any reason.”

He gave it a try.

When each training session ended, Stewart said, the trainer would take Stewart to the computer and enter the date and time of the session, and Stewart would confirm the session by entering his NYSC password.

When the eight weeks were over, the $316 charge appeared on Stewart’s credit card.

But then on his August credit card statement, there was another $316 charge from NYSC.

He said he immediately asked management about the charge.

“They apologized and advised the charge would be removed and I would receive credit on my next credit card statement,” Stewart said. “When my next statement arrived, not only was the charge not removed but an additional charge of $316 was posted for 9/3/15 for services that I also never authorized.”

Stewart said he met with the NYSC manager about the charges, and he said she apologized again and said the charges would be removed.

To be sure there would be no more charges, Stewart also contacted his credit card to dispute the two charges, and he requested no future charges by NYSC be accepted.

That wasn’t much help.

“The dispute people at my credit card company contacted the NYSC home office and advised me that NYSC said that my attempt to cancel my contract was not valid therefore I would have to pay,” he said.

But Stewart wasn’t trying to cancel a contract. He never signed a contract for personal training sessions, he said.

“What I sought was to stop NYSC stealing money from my credit card by continuing charging fictitious charges to my credit card, which in this state is a criminal offense,” Stewart said.

Stewart said the employees at the West Caldwell gym were trying to help, but it was out of their hands.

If the local gym said the sessions never happened, why would the corporate office twice charge an additional $316 for services that were not rendered?

“I think the $64 question for NYSC is: On what dates where these so called PT sessions rendered and at what time and by which trainer? We know the answer. There were none,” Stewart said. “Who then entered the false data upon which the charges were predicated? Are they going to say I authorized these charges for months and I was a no show so I must pay? Hard to believe.”

And he asked Bamboozled for help.

THE REAL WORKOUT

We went through Stewart’s timeline of events and we asked Town Sports International (TSI), the parent company of NYSC, to review the case.

At first, spokeswoman Lisa Hufcut said Stewart was given a partial credit on his NYSC account, and that his future monthly membership dues would be taken from that amount. He was also given four free training sessions instead of an outright refund.

But that didn’t sound right. Stewart told us he continued to pay his monthly membership dues as a separate charge — he looked back on his credit card statements to be sure — and he said he was never told anything about a credit with his NYSC account.

We asked the company to look again, explaining that he didn’t want a credit for his monthly membership or for “free” training sessions — which wouldn’t really be free if he was twice charged $316. He simply wanted a refund.

The spokeswoman repeated that New York Sports Clubs had worked with Stewart to resolve the issues involving his personal training membership, applying a $316 credit to his NYSC account and four personal training sessions, with a total value of $632.

“However, we recently learned that he in fact he did not want the personal training sessions so, in good faith, we will be returning the $316 (value of the sessions to his credit card),” Hufcut said in an email. “The other $316 has already been applied to his NYSC account and that money will be applied to his membership dues until the credit is exhausted.”

Now we were getting somewhere — but not where we needed to be.

We explained again that Stewart never requested services for either of the two $316 charges, and we asked how he was charged if he didn’t authorize the charges.

And simply, why can’t NYSC give a full refund?

Hufcut then invoked the language of the contract, which essentially said that the personal training membership — which is different from the monthly membership — is for a minimum of six months and continues on a monthly basis until cancellation with 30 days written notice.

“Since TSI never received written notice of cancel, we had the right to bill him monthly until that notice was received,” Hufcut said. “He technically never provided written notice but through discussion we learned that he wanted to cancel (and at that point the agreement was cancelled).”

She said because the charges were valid per the agreement, nothing was owed to the member.

“However, out of good faith, NYSC reinstated the expired sessions so he could use what he had agreed to and paid for,” she said. “Above and beyond, NYSC extended a credit that is available for his monthly dues.”

Okay. But Stewart said he never agreed to anything, and that he never signed anything.

We asked if the company had a signed agreement from Stewart for the personal training membership.

The response was what we’d been waiting for.

“Upon further investigation, it appears that there was an oversight with the paperwork for Mr. Stewart’s account,” Hufcut said. “We apologize for the inconvenience this has caused him and are issuing a full refund of $632 to his credit card. We pride ourselves on ensuring that all members are satisfied.”

Additionally, NYSC is giving Stewart three months complimentary membership dues, she said.

Case closed.

Stewart was happy to hear the news, but he said it’s not really about the money.

“It’s impossible to deal with these people,” he said. “It’s what I’ve been saying all along. I never authorized the charges.”

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.

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