SEATTLE -- The Attorney General filed a lawsuit against a Seattle athletic club for allegedly failing to provide services promised in their advertisements including free trial memberships, child care, personal trainers, and special services for the elderly.
“Consumers were promised anything to overcome their objections to joining this club,” said Attorney General Christine Gregoire. “If child care was a problem, it was available. If the facility was too small, an expansion was planned.”
The lawsuit claimed Pro Fitness Center, Inc. used high pressure sales tactics and deceptive billing practices including requiring consumers to sign blank authorization forms and electronically withdrawing funds without consumers' consent. In addition, the company used deceptive tactics to delay and obstruct consumers from canceling membership contracts.
Consumers were lured into the club by newspaper advertisements or telemarketing calls offering free 30-day trial memberships. On their first visit to the facility and throughout the free trial period consumers were pressured to sign up for a long term contract.
“These trials weren't free at all,” said Gregoire. “Consumers were tricked. The form they filled out and signed wasn't for the free trial. It was a membership contract that was then processed without the knowledge of the consumer. ”
Once the company had the signed contract, authorizations to debit the consumers bank account were processed. Some consumers found out they were being charged membership fees when they received overdraft notices from their bank.
According to the lawsuit, the company also made it difficult to cancel contracts. The company cancellation policy required consumers to notify them in writing by certified mail 30 days prior to the expiration date of their one year membership. Cancellation notices that were hand delivered or sent by regular mail were not accepted.
“This business made it a nightmare to cancel a contract,” said Gregoire. “Consumers found out their contracts weren't canceled when collection agencies came after them for months of unpaid membership fees.”
Pro Fitness Center, Inc., which is located at 14635 9th Ave. South West in Seattle, is owned by Donald Smolich, who is also named in the lawsuit filed last week in King County Superior Court.
Forty-eight consumers have complained about Pro Fitness to the Attorney General's Office.
The AG's lawsuit seeks restitution of membership fees for consumers and reimbursement of legal costs. Consumers with complaints against Pro Fitness should contact the AG's office at 1-800-551-4636 (hearing impaired 800-833-6384).