Monday, January 2, 2012

YMCA, fraud and why you should read the contract

Last year some of my little buddies ask me to join the YMCA and come work out with her. It was winter time and I was still on my three hour per day workout routine at home which was get tedious.

As a potential member of the Witham YMCA I was taken on a tour of the recently opened facility and shown all the amenities. The rate for me was $40 per month plus a one time fee of $60 to join. One of the features that I found very attractive was that my membership could remain active while my account could be suspended for up to three months. I assume this is for the purpose of accommodating summer travel schedules or just for those who will exercise outdoors instead of using the indoor facility. I was told it wouldn't cost me anything for those months that my account was suspended. I knew I would take full advantage of that as I would be doing so much traveling and outdoor work over the Summer that I wouldn't have time to make it to the Y anyway.

So one day in the Spring while I was there working out I told one of the attendants that I would be gone during the Summer months and wanted to suspend my account. She pulled out a form and entered my information and asked when I would like to start the hold on my account. I went with the first of May since I generally live at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during that month and ride my bicycle to and fro. When asked when I would be returning I shrugged my shoulders and said "not sure". I didn't have the schedule of when my son would be in Indiana for Summer parenting time with me so I didn't know when I would be around. She asked for at least an approximate date. All I knew for sure is that we would be traveling in June and return home on 05 July. So I said I know I won't be home until 05 July so it will be after that. She said, "I'll put down July first then." I was thinking put down whatever you want if you are trying to do a population estimate for the facility or something. I was then asked to pay $35 and told to sign at the bottom "so it will get stopped." That fee idea was new to me. No one had told me that one of the benefits of my membership was going to cost an additional fee to use.

So as it turns out the schedule has us returning home on 05 July and then my son would go to his mother's for a few weeks. Through early August I get inundated with outdoor work for myself and others until he returns at that time. I then am busy with some of my own projects plus quite a few 100 mile or so trips around central-Indiana on my bicycle.

It seemed that it wouldn't be until September before I would have the time and energy to start working out at the Y again. Before that time came though I was trying to make an on-line purchase with my debit card which got rejected for insufficient funds. As I knew I had plenty of money there being that it is only used to pay for my cell phone and on-line purchases, of which I had made none recently, I logged into my account to see what the issue was. The YMCA had already charged my card $120.

I immediately made a call to get those charges reversed. The director of the Witham YMCA returned a call to me the next day. He flat out told me that they already had my money and would not be returning any of it. I explained the situation in detail as I have done here. I told him that the gal put down an earlier date than what I had told her, that she told me the purpose of signing it was to get the account suspended so my card wouldn't be charged, she made no mention of resuming the billing, and that I had not received so much as a courtesy "welcome back" e-mail or something to notify me that my account was active again but that I was still getting e-mails asking for donations.

He explained that the form I signed was a consent for them to resume billing my debit card on the date indicated as my return date and that he would make a copy of that contract for me. He further stated that under Indiana law I had signed a valid contract and that regardless of what I was told verbally that a written contract is supreme under the law. I informed him that I was quite familiar with contract law and had been a litigator and advisor to attorneys for a few years now. I also informed him that I had been an entrepreneur and business owner throughout most of my life and that I also knew what good customer relations are. His response was that he was not returning any money they had already gotten from me because they had a right to take it pursuant to Indiana contract law.

He did concede that because I contend that I had not been told that there was a $35 fee to suspend the account that he would credit that towards my next monthly bill. However, it is important to know that he only verbally stated that to me and didn't put it in writing.

So, when the next month comes around for my debit card to be billed I go on-line to check my account activity. Sure enough I was charged $40 for the month not $5 as I was told would be charged. So, now I am no longer a YMCA member and will never be a member of that lying, fraudulent organization again.

There is a particular type of fraud which is called an "omission". Anyone who is familiar with being a courtroom witness knows the oath -- to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It is that "whole truth" that some people don't understand or try to avoid. My ex-wife was a master of it. After being gone for hours to do something like "go to the bank" I would query her about where she had gone. She would add in that she also went to the library or some other innocuous place like stopping to get lunch. What she left out was "and I stopped off to have sex with some guy I met." Not quite the whole truth.

Similarly when the Witham YMCA is touting the membership benefits and monthly fee but not disclosing that some of those benefits are not included in the regular monthly membership fee that is an omission. It basically comes down to enticing someone to purchase a benefits package without disclosing that there are additional charges to use all the benefits. Think of it like a salesman showing you the loaded version of a car but then delivering only the stripped down model that you purchased, per the fine print buried in the contract.

So, if you are thinking about joining the YMCA my initial suggestion is DON'T. But if you are steadfast on doing so anyway then read EVERYTHING and specifically ask what particular benefits have an additional fee and what the dollar amount is.

Before signing any contact make sure you read every word of the terms and conditions and understand what they mean. If it takes a half hour while a line of people stand behind you waiting to be served then so be it. You will have no excuse later if you don't.

For full disclosure the above statements about my YMCA experience are the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

If you would like assistance with weight management or well-being please visit my website and contact my scheduler to make an appointment to meet with me.

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©2012 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

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