The Investigators: Pumped Up Promises

(WMC TV) - A fitness center is under review by the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South for 'bait-and-switch' advertising, according to bureau officials.

"What they say in their ads and what they tell you when you get there just don't jive," said Mid-South BBB President Randy Hutchinson about Omni Health & Fitness, 3690 S. Houston Levee Rd.

Complaints to the bureau and to The Action News 5 Investigators centered on Omni Health & Fitness's advertised $10-a-month, month-to-month, no contract membership.

Along with the membership, the ads list a baker's dozen of amenities, from circuit training to group classes to child care.

"Most people would assume all of that's included," said Hutchinson.

That's not what was explained to Jerry Ehrlich when the ads convinced his wife and him to visit Omni Health & Fitness.

"We were told well, yes, it's $10 a month if each of you cough up another $200 a piece as a 'sign-up' fee," said Ehrlich. "So that would be $400."

The Action News 5 Investigators sent an undercover producer to the fitness center to inquire about the $10-a-month offer. A salesperson named "Eddie" explained the offer only covers access to the fitness floor.

"You don't get any of the other bells and whistles we'll show you," he said.

He added our producer would have to pay an enrollment fee on top of the advertised price.

"You got a $149 enrollment fee, a $49 processing fee, plus your first month at $10, which is $209 to sign up," he said.

Hutchinson said the bureau is also investigating Omni Health & Fitness's customer agreements.

"Where the ad says, 'No Contract,' they in fact are signed up for a contract," Hutchinson said.

The center reimbursed Joel Storck's credit card account after he said he filed a police report against Omni Health & Fitness. In an e-mail to The Action News 5 Investigators, Storck said he signed up for a 12-month membership, including a $49 sign-up fee, at $19.99 a month.

Storck said when he checked his e-mail and later his credit card statement, Omni Health & Fitness had charged his credit card $510 for a 24-month contract.

"I am sure there are other folks in Collierville who unknowingly signed their name to a contract they were unaware of," wrote Storck in his e-mail.

"We sent Omni Health & Fitness what we call an 'ad challenge,'" said Hutchinson, "saying we are concerned with the advertising, and the company hasn't responded to us to say what the real deal is."

Duke Sherman, Omni Health & Fitness's general manager, explained the center's advertising was designed " get people to inquire." He conceded that the advertising does not adequately disclose enrollment fees or the center's 2-tiered membership program, which includes additional costs.

"We would like to apologize for any and all misunderstandings," said Sherman in a written statement after declining an on-camera interview. "Our previous advertisement practices were not intended to act as a bait & switch, but only to highlight our unique selling points while emphasizing affordability.

"We...are willing to make the necessary adjustment to be more transparent in all of our advertisement practices going forward."

As to Storck's allegation of contract manipulation, Sherman said, "Once this was brought to my attention, I immediately requested his membership be canceled and Mr. Storck be issued a full refund."

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