BOSTON — Closures, lawsuits, and bankruptcy. 2020 was a rocky year for the Boston Sports Clubs (BSC).
Now, 25 Investigates has learned the fitness chain is facing new billing complaints and the state Attorney General’s Office is looking into the matter.
Investigative reporter Ted Daniel spoke with three former members of the Boston Sports Club on Wells Avenue in Newton, which closed permanently over the summer. Walter Heeger, Mark Sieczkowski and Jeff Engle say they didn’t expect to see any new charges after that.
According to a blog post, the health club announced that it would be shutting down in June, just months before its parent company, Town Sports International, filed for bankruptcy to restructure during the pandemic.
“I assumed that my membership was done; that, you know, when the club I joined closes their doors, I don’t have to worry about any more charges,” said Heeger.
But BSC Wells Avenue Newton had other plans for them. Their memberships were transferred to a different BSC location more than five miles away.
The men tell 25 Investigates that their monthly credit card charges stopped but they restarted in September. This time the charges were from BSC Wellesley.
“In March, I put a stop payment on any payments going out to BSC in Newton. However, this was coming from a different location. So these charges were able to slip through the cracks,” said Sieczkowski.
Engle, who had successfully canceled his membership at BSC Newton months before it closed, also started getting charged.
“In April of 2020, my membership at BSC Newton was finally canceled and to see that in September 2020. BSC Wellesley now is in on the action. I was just like, ‘Come on! Not this again,’” he said.
25 Investigates sent BSC Wellesley three emails and called twice. We wanted to understand the process BSC went through to notify members that their members would be moved to Wellesley.
We also asked for email, letters or correspondence BSC sent alerting Wells Avenue Newton members that BSC would begin charging their accounts again.
The company never responded.
“Just like Walt, I received no emails, I went back and I looked, and no, no emails that the location even closed,” said Sieczkowski
Edgar Dworsky, a former assistant attorney general and a full-time consumer advocate with ConsumerWorld.org, says BSC should have had members agree to the location change before billing them.
“This is explicit in the law. If the club closes permanently or substantially changes its operation, you don’t have to go along for the ride,” said Dworsky. “The club, in my view, had no right to move the consumer to another location without their agreement to that change.”
Attorney General Maura Healey filed a lawsuit against Town Sports, BSC’s parent company, in November. The suit alleges Towns Sports continued to charge members despite pandemic related closures and make it difficult for them to cancel memberships.
25 Investigates shared the three men’s complaints with the AG’s office. A spokesperson said in a statement:
“We are aware of this new issue involving former BSC members getting directly transferred to new gym locations without their knowledge or consent. This is deeply to concerning to our office and we are actively looking into this matter.”
Heeger, Sieczkowski and Engle report that BSC has refunded a portion of the money charged to their credit cards after the switch. But, they want all of it back.
“I tried to go further up the ladder,” said Sieczkowski. “I called location, I left messages for the general manager of location, and you know, got zero response at that level.”
Dworsky, the consumer advocate, said BSC consumers who find themselves in a similar situation should try to dispute the charges with their credit card company and should contact the AG’s Consumer Division.
The AG’s consumer hotline is 617-727-8400. Consumers can also file a complaint online.
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