28 October 2016
California Fitness is accused of forcing an austistic man to take out a loan for his membership and other fees. Photo: Google Maps
California Fitness is accused of forcing an austistic man to take out a loan for his membership and other fees. Photo: Google Maps

California Fitness accused of forcing autistic man into debt

After drawing criticisms for its aggressive sales tactics, gym chain operator California Fitness is back in the news.

This time it is being accused of forcing an autistic 18-year-old man to spend HK$90,000 for membership and training lessons, Apple Daily reports.

The man, surnamed Lam, has Asperger syndrome, which makes it difficult for him to communicate with other people, according to his father. He studies in a special school in Aberdeen.

In June last year, Lam reportedly came across sales staff of a California Fitness branch in Tai Koo Shing, and was convinced that he could learn Muay Thai at the center.

He paid HK$60,000 for a three-year membership and personal trainer lessons.

However, whenever Lam came to class, he was merely told to stand alone and do nothing for two hours. Just the same, the gym counted his presence as class attendance.

Three months later, a personal trainer at the gym told Lam that he could arrange for Lam to join a Muay Thai match, but he had to pay HK$30,000 in advance.

After a few days, the gym sent a car to fetch Lam from school and take him to a financial intermediary to arrange for a personal loan.

After the loan was arranged, Lam was driven back to school to continue his classes.

However, Lam was not able to join a fight match, and no money was returned.

His father came to learn of his California Fitness membership and the loan from the financial intermediary.

Police are now investigating the case to determine if fraud and deceit were involved.

The Consumer Council and lawmaker Tang Ka-piu of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions have intervened in the case, but so far Lam has only received HK$45,000 in compensation from the fitness center.

Tang said current laws, such as the Trade Descriptions Ordinance, are powerless to stop unfair and dirty sales practices.

He said he hopes the law will allow a longer cooling-off period for fitness center membership so that when a member decides not to pursue their membership within a certain period they can get back their membership payment.

In December last year, California Fitness was accused of forcing a mentally challenged man to take out loans amounting to HK$300,000 to pay for his membership fees at the gym.

The Consumer Council said it has talked to several gym centers and they agreed to allow mentally or physically disabled persons to terminate their membership unconditionally within a period of time.

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