Post Your Problems / Lawrence Walsh: Do your homework before working out

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If one of your New Year's resolutions is to get in shape by joining a health club or fitness center, take the time to do your homework before signing on the dotted line.

Ask your more athletically inclined family members and friends for their recommendations, do some research online, visit the facilities, talk to employees and members and, if available, take advantage of introductory offers to use the club or center for a limited period of time.

And, before you sign on the dotted line, read the contract and then read it again. Every word.

That's the advice of a retired suburban resident on a fixed income who signed a two-year contract to use a fitness center near her home.

She fell and injured her right leg and knee. An orthopedic physician took X-rays, said the fall had bruised a bone and knocked her kneecap out of place. He recommended physical therapy.

Because she also had problems with arthritis and fibromyalgia, she thought joining a gym would help her get stronger and ease the stiffness and pain she was experiencing.

But, when her physical therapist told her the following week not to use any weight machines or stationary bicycles that might aggravate her condition, she returned to the gym and said she wanted to cancel her membership. She was told her doctor would have to sign a form to confirm her injury.

The form offers two options -- canceling a membership for medical reasons or placing it on hold for a period of time until a member recovers from an injury.

Unfortunately, her doctor signed both options. That raised a red flag at the gym. A manager wondered if one of the doctor's employees had signed the form instead of the doctor.

He sent another form to the doctor. The doctor signed the option that said the membership be canceled for medical reasons. The manager then told the woman she had to pay a $50 cancellation fee and $48 for the period of time -- one month -- that she was a member. The woman agreed to pay the cancellation fee, but refused to pay the $48 because she never had used the facilities.

When the club insisted she pay the $48, she complained to the Better Business Bureau and the state Consumer Protection Bureau.

In a retailed response to the BBB, the manager pointed out that members who wish to cancel must give 30 days notice and are responsible for any payments that fall within that time period. It's in the contract.

The woman then contacted me. I called the facility last week, spoke to an employee and left a message for the manager. He didn't return my call.

I'll keep you posted.

Store customer

Your personal data can cost you, including the information you provide when you sign up for loyalty cards at supermarkets and pharmacies.

Yes, you'll get a discount on some items, but your purchases are recorded for marketing purposes. That information is being sold to life and health insurance companies that use it to evaluate your rates based on your food and nonprescription drug purchases, says BOTTOM LINE/Personal.

"You may be buying stuff for a friend or relative, but the database still logs you as the end user," the publication reports in its special winter edition.

"Avoid giving your full name when you sign up for a card," it advised. Many stores let you sign up anonymously as 'Store Customer.' "


A wish for Make-A-Wish

I recently received a lengthy form letter from Make-A-Wish of Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia asking me to make a donation to help it "grant the wish of every boy and girl in our area."

The letter, signed by Judith Stone, president and CEO, said the average cost of granting one wish is $3,900 "and we have more than 600 kids waiting right now."

I have donated to Make-A-Wish before and I will again. But I, and I'm sure others, wish the organization would make it easier for us to do so by putting its phone number somewhere -- anywhere -- on its solicitation letters.

When I pointed out this shortcoming during a telephone conversation with a woman in the Pittsburgh office in 2012, she assured me future letters would include the office phone number -- 412-471-WISH (9474).

Yes, it's possible to donate online at or send a check to Make-A-Wish at 707 Grant St., 37th Floor, Pittsburgh, PA 15219, but I prefer to speak to someone, tell them I'm donating on behalf of my late nephew and give them my credit card number.

The local office of Make-A-Wish is justifiably proud of granting the wishes of more than 15,000 children with life-threatening medical conditions in 57 counties in Pennsylvania and West Virginia in its 30-year history. A phone number on its solicitation letters will make its work easier.

Lawrence Walsh can be reached at and 412-263-1895. Please include your day, evening and/or cell phone number(s). Due to volume he cannot respond to every email and phone call.

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