25 October 2016
Fitness chains in Hong Kong have faced growing complaints about strong-arm sales tactics of their employees. Photo: Google Map
Fitness chains in Hong Kong have faced growing complaints about strong-arm sales tactics of their employees. Photo: Google Map

Fitness chain accused of forcing mentally disabled man into debt

California Fitness, which operates a chain of gyms and fitness centers in Hong Kong, has come under fire again for its aggressive sales tactics related to the enrollment of new members.

In the latest revelation, company staff had been accused of putting undue pressure on a mentally challenged person to force him into signing up for some classes.

As the man was cajoled and threatened, he was forced to take out loans that left him saddled with debts of around HK$300,000, according to a Ming Pao Daily report. 

The man’s sister alleged that her mentally disabled brother was invited by California Fitness staff for a free muscle test when he was walking by the fitness center’s Mong Kok facility in 2013.

The man, who worked as a cleaner, had a monthly salary of HK$10,000. But that didn’t deter an employee of the fitness chain to badger him to buy a membership.

The employee inspected the debit card of the mentally challenged man and is said to have taken him to a bank to apply for a credit card.

After the man received the credit card, he was “persuaded” to take up a series of classes.

Between July 2014 and August this year, the mentally challenged person was said to have paid for as many as 200 personal training sessions costing HK$210,000.

He managed to pay back some money to the bank but was still left with huge arrears.

In September, he was asked to borrow HK$290,000 from four financial intermediaries recommended by the fitness chain worker in order to pay back the debts.

That has left him deep in debt.

Following a query from an i-Cable news reporter, California Fitness said it received a complaint from a mentally disabled client and that it is conducting an internal investigation.

In another case, an 18-year-old girl is said to have fallen victim to aggressive sales staff of the same fitness chain.

The teenager was lured for a free session in the gym when she was walking past the California Fitness outlet in Grand Tower Mong Kok.

The fitness center staff is said to have taken away the girl’s identity card for three hours as they conducted some checks.

The staff then pressured her to sign up for a contract, saying that it will cost her only HK$1,400. But the credit card was apparently swiped several times, leaving her with a total bill of HK$18,000.

Lawmaker Tang Ka-piu said he has received nine cases over the past year from people seeking help on cases related to fitness centers.

He called for a 7-day cooling period after contract signing to allow fitness center customers to cancel or amend terms if they feel they were forced into making hasty decisions.

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