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California Fitness

Top gym chain California Fitness in trouble again after customer allegedly tricked into HK$140,000 payment

Firm’s workers – already censured over intimidating sales pitches – arrested after allegedly charging credit card without consent

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 May, 2016, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 July, 2016, 7:17pm

Two staff members at California Fitness were arrested by customs officers on Wednesday afternoon over an allegation that a customer was offered a free trial before being tricked into making a HK$140,000 credit card payment for private training classes without her consent.

The two sales workers – a man, 25, and woman, 29 – were accused of violating the unfair trade practice provision under the Trade Descriptions Ordinance, according to the Customs Department.

The pair were picked up from the Causeway Bay branch of the fitness centre in Elizabeth House on Percival Street at about 2pm.

A source with knowledge of the investigation said the two suspects were likely to be released on bail pending further investigation.

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Customs officers investigated after the victim complained.

The alleged malpractice happened when the victim was having a free workout in the Causeway Bay fitness centre last month.

“Staff took turns to persuade the victim to pay for membership and expensive private training classes,” the source said. “It was alleged she was persuaded into handing over her credit card and later she realised the credit card transaction completed without her consent.”

The source said the HK$140,000 was for more than 100 private classes.

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Violating the unfair trade practice provision carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and a HK$500,000 fine.

Without releasing the name of California Fitness, the Customs and Excise Department only confirmed that customs officers arrested the man and woman at a Causeway Bay fitness centre for using coercion to sell a client HK$140,000 of private training.

It said the investigation was continuing .

Its spokesman said the two suspects were being held for questioning in the evening and had not been charged.

The arrests came about three weeks after the Consumer Council named and shamed California Fitness for its intimidating sales tactics, the first time a fitness chain had been officially identified and censured in public for malpractice in the city.

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The Asia-based firm, which operates nine centres in Hong Kong, is the second largest player in the city.

The council publicly named the firm because complaints against it showed no sign of decline after a meeting with the management in January to express dissatisfaction with their continued undesirable sales tactics. Instead, the sales practices became more aggressive.

In 2015, the number of complaints lodged against the firm increased 30 per cent to 296, making up 51 per cent of all the complaints the council received.

The cases against California Fitness involved HK$8.5 million – a 20 per cent increase compared with the previous year.

The council has urged the government to consider legislation introducing a cooling-off period on gym memberships to protect consumers.

By 6pm on Wednesday, California Fitness was not available for comment.