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Many consumers are like soft putty in the hands of a high-pressure salesman. Vicky Bowden of Bristol readily agrees she falls into that category.
Thankfully, Connecticut has a law that requires many businesses to give Vicky and other consumers the right to rescind some contracts, such as gym memberships and home improvement projects, within three days of signing.
Most companies comply and cancel a contract after a consumer presents her signed three-day cancellation form. In this case, Vicky needed the help of the state Consumer Protection Department.
Her tale begins last October when Vicky decided to shed some weight. She signed up for a membership at the LA Fitness in Bristol. As part of the membership, she received a free workout with a personal trainer. These "free" personal training sessions are designed to convince gym members to sign up as paying customers.
Before their session was over, the trainer had Vicky talked into a one-year contract to the tune of almost $2,000 at the rate of $74.45 every two weeks.
"At first he was very nice and personable," Vicky said, but he was also "very pushy."
"I should have been stronger," she said but had a hard time saying no. She put down a deposit and signed up.
She said she quickly realized she had made a mistake. As she started walking toward her car in the LA Fitness parking lot, Vicky said she made up her mind to cancel the contract.
The following day she mailed a registered letter to LA Fitness saying she wanted to keep her gym membership but she wanted to rescind the personal training contract. She received a confirmation from the post office that LA Fitness received her rescission letter.
"When she went to the gym a few days later, the trainer was very irate towards my wife," Kevin wrote CtWatchdog asking for help. "My wife apologized, but said she preferred not to have a trainer at that time."
Kevin said his wife talked with Michael Lewis, the fitness director, who assured her that he would cancel her contract.
"I will go through the necessary steps to cancel & refund the account," states a handwritten note from Lewis that Kevin sent me.
The couple believed everything was settled until a few weeks later when Kevin was balancing the family's checking account and saw several withdrawals from LA Fitness.
It was then that Kevin and Vicky said they learned that LA Fitness had failed to cancel the contract and had been taking out $74.45 every two weeks from their account.
I attempted to contact Lewis several times, but he did not return my messages. I finally talked with Eric Velasquez, the general manager, who said he didn't have knowledge of the issue because the contract was signed prior to him working at the club. There are very few complaints against LA Fitness clubs in Connecticut; consumer protection received five since 2011.
At that point I suggested to Kevin that I forward their complaint to the Department of Consumer Protection, which got involved immediately.
LA Fitness staff told consumer protection that they did not cancel the contract because Vicky later changed her mind and verbally agreed to keep it active. They told consumer protection that she had made an appointment for a training session for which she failed to show up.
Vicky insists that was untrue and that she had not told anyone that she has changed her mind.
Even if Vicky had a change of heart, consumer protection told LA Fitness that a new contract would then have had to been executed.
In the end LA Fitness in February agreed to refund all the money. And Vicky said she is making great progress working with a nutritionist and for the past few weeks working out six days a week at LA Fitness. She said she has lost 30 pounds.
"I have my mind made up that I don't need a trainer," she said. "Someday I might need one, but not now."