By WBZ-TV Chief Correspondent Joe Shortsleeve

BOSTON (CBS) – We all hear we should exercise more, but for some people the benefits can be outweighed by the problems.

Health clubs are a common source of consumer complaints.

Maureen McGuiness of Easton just spent $199 to renew her membership at the Metro South Athletic Club in Brockton. Then the club abruptly shut its doors in June.

“It was very shady, because they had to have known,” said McGuiness.

Her son Jonathan is also out a couple of hundred bucks. He says he saw the owners renewing memberships, literally, the day before they locked the doors.

“It is stealing, that’s it exactly. It is stealing,” said Jonathan.

Obviously most clubs don’t shut down in the middle of the night the way Metro South Athletic Club did. But overall, health clubs are one of the biggest sources of consumer complaints.

WBZ found dozens and dozens of complaints filed with the Attorney General’s office, and with the Better Business Bureau.

Frustrated consumers wrote of withdrawals being made from their bank accounts long after they had quit a club.

Others said club employees were constantly unavailable and seemed to avoid processing the paperwork to end their membership.

In an email, a spokesperson for the health club industry wrote, “With over 51 million club members in the United States , the problems consumers have are not systemic to the industry, but come from a small minority.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley says health club agreements must be read closely because there are limits to what these contracts can require.

For example, a contract cannot exceed 36 months.

It is also wise to ask if the facility is properly bonded, as required by state law.

“It really acts like an insurance policy for the consumer,” explained Coakley. “You may pay for up to a year ahead to belong to a health club and find that in six months you show up and they have closed their doors.”

Only facilities in operation less than five years are required to have a bond, however. That means the law was no help to Maureen and Jonathan because Metro South had been in business longer.

Maureen thinks more should be done to protect consumers.


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