LET THE SWEATER BEWARE

A HEALTH-CLUB MEMBER GETS A WORKOUT CORRECTING QUESTIONABLE ELECTRONIC WITHDRAWALS FROM HER BANK ACCOUNT

ù If the date of the transaction is changed from the original agreement, notice must be sent to the consumer not less than seven days prior to the transaction.

Brown's experience with LA Fitness shows the company failed to meet any of the provisions outlined by Finch.

Brown's banking records show that on four occasions, LA Fitness attempted to withdraw funds prior to the agreed withdrawal date in her one-year contract. The unauthorized withdrawals triggered $60 in insufficient-fund charges against Brown's Bank of America account. After contacting LA Fitness, the company reimbursed Brown $30 for the charges and waived membership dues for one month.

But problems with the electronic withdrawals persisted. On November 1, LA Fitness successfully withdrew $55 from Brown's account, even though the monthly dues were only $20, Brown says. There was no notification from LA Fitness that it was about to withdraw more money than called for in the contract. And there is no provision in the LA Fitness authorization for variable debits.

On the same date, LA Fitness tried to withdraw another $75 for a second, $25-a-month membership Brown was paying for a friend. There was not enough money after the $55 withdrawal, triggering yet another insufficient-fund charge. Once again, there was no notice that an increased withdrawal was about to be made.

At this point, Brown says she lost all faith in LA Fitness' ability to withdraw agreed-to amounts on agreed-to dates.

Brown called Bank of America to dispute LA Fitness' $55 withdrawal from her account and ordered the bank to make no more electronic transfers to LA Fitness. She then deposited enough money in the account to pay the November dues, plus $15 for the insufficient-fund charge, and mailed two checks totaling $45 to LA Fitness by certified mail to cover her and her friend's membership dues.

LA Fitness responded with a November 21 letter, telling Brown that the company would not accept checks as payment for membership dues. Nevertheless, Brown's bank records indicate that LA Fitness cashed the checks.

Meanwhile, Bank of America investigated Brown's complaint and found in her favor. Bank of America credited Brown's account the $55 withdrawn by LA Fitness and charged LA Fitness' bank for the money.

Brown paid her December dues by check, sent by certified mail, and once again LA Fitness cashed the check but continued to inform her verbally and in writing that this arrangement was not acceptable.

LA Fitness stepped up the pressure in a December 5 letter to Brown, claiming she also owed the club $65, "which includes unpaid monthly fees and any associated service charge(s)." The company's letter then threatened to turn the alleged debt over to a collection company.

Brown responded January 2, informing the club that there was no outstanding monthly fee and that referring the bad debt to a collection agency "will constitute false representation of credit data."

During this time, Brown says she rarely used the club because she was so aggravated with the financial mess. But on January 3, she went to the Tempe facility and, before allowing her to enter, the receptionist gave Brown a form to sign that would allow LA Fitness to resume electronic withdrawals from her checking account.

Brown didn't sign the form.
The financial stand-off dragged on until January 5, when Yi told New Times he would resolve Brown's complaints. The company contacted Brown later that day and promised to rescind collection efforts and waive monthly dues for Brown's two memberships in February and March as compensation for her problems.

The company also agreed to do something it said it would never do. LA Fitness will allow Brown to pay dues by check, as long as it is done 21 days prior to the due date.

Yi says it is his company's policy to satisfy consumer complaints and that he has never before had a situation similar to Brown's.

"I just want you to understand I'm very sincere about solving the problem," Yi says. "We don't want to sit here and create any bad will with any members at all."

Brown is relieved but still apprehensive.
"I'm happy about this," she says. "I hope other people are not having problems with it. But I'm very skeptical, given how long it has taken to resolve this.

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