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Bally Fitness Locker Room Theft – Another Reason to Exercise at Home

Yesterday I went to Bally Fitness for my usual Saturday afternoon workout. I like to go when it isn’t so crowded so that I can do my exercises without having long waits for equipment. While I typically work out at home, Ballys has some equipment that I don’t have like an elliptical machine, a 45 degree hyperextension bench, a seated calf raise machine, etc.

After I finished my workout, all tired, hungry, and soaked with sweat, I went back to the locker room to get my stuff and go home.

Opening the locker I immediately noticed something was wrong. My wallet was out and sitting on top of all the other stuff. That didn’t make any sense. There’s no reason for me to take my wallet out when I get to the gym since I keep my membership card in my gym bag.

I checked my wallet and all my money was missing! As near as I can tell, nothing else was missing (which is good because I keep all my contact information for my doctors and medical appointments, personal stuff, bank cards, and drivers license and registration in it). But still, I was out about $100 that I had on hand so I could go food shopping later.

I checked my other stuff. As near as I can guess I still had everything. My car keys were still in my pants pocket (which is good, because I don’t have a spare set of keys). My biggest concern was that my watch wasn’t there. I typically don’t wear my watch to the gym since I don’t want it to get sweaty, but I might have worn it today since I was planning on shopping and the gym was just one stop in the middle of my day.

In shock I grabbed all my stuff and went up to the front desk to report the crime.

The guy working at the desk immediately went off on a rant “This happens all the time! You people have to all watch out for each other when you see suspicious things going on the the locker room!” And so on. So apparently this is something that happens all the time.

Then he called for “Roger” who I suppose has more managerial authority.

Roger basically treated me with a complete lack of respect and lack of concern. He kept insisting that I was “just imagining” that my wallet was removed from my pants. Yeah, right.

Roger then went into the locker room with me and pointed out that since I had a lock on the locker and since there was no physical damage to the locker, then it was “impossible” for anyone to have stolen anything. He kept insisting that I was “confused.”

(As you’ll see from the videos later in this post, it is trivial to pop open a combination lock without damaging the lock. That’s not proof that no crime occurred. This was just Roger trying to bullshit me.)

There’s nothing like having all you cash stolen and then being treated with complete disrespect.

There was no offer to call the police or do anything official to report the crime, take care of the issues, do anything to prevent this from happening in the future, or even write down my name and complaint. All Roger was concerned about was making sure that no one else was aware of the situation — so that more people could be potential victims (this is part of what makes me think Roger is actually personally associated with the thefts).

Bally Fitness says this about their locker room:

Lockers are available for daily use only by members and guests. We recommend that members and guests do not bring valuables into the club and that each member purchases a combination lock or padlock to secure their locker while using the club facilities. DO NOT LEAVE VALUABLES UNPROTECTED. WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR LOST OR STOLEN ARTICLES. Pursuant to your membership contract, you have waived any right to sue the club for lost or stolen articles. Due to the limited number of lockers available,we cannot allow locks to be left on overnight. When this occurs, the locks may be removed and any personal articles in the locker may be placed in the lost and found. We accept no responsibility for articles left behind. Club personnel are not allowed to accept responsibility for personal articles.

So what they’re saying is that they don’t care if there is any stealing going on in the locker rooms — except to the extent that they need to hush up any occurances of theft (otherwise customers would complain about this and demand a policy change).

It’s obvious that it’s nearly impossible need to use a locker and yet not put anything valuable in it. Even if I left my wallet in the car, I’d still need to bring the car keys with me. And my coat. And whatever clothes I was wearing before I changed into my gym clothes.

No personal effects such as jackets or gym bags are permitted in the exercise, aerobic, spa, pool, track, advanced training center or free weight areas.

So you’re not allowed to take your stuff where you can watch it — and Ballys sure isn’t going to watch it.

While it’s somewhat understandable that Bally Fitness doesn’t want to take responsibility for your posessions, it’s deplorable that they don’t make any efforts to protect them.

They hire lifeguards for the pool area — they could just as well hire security personnel for the locker area.

(Of course, if it’s the actual Bally’s employees committing the theft, then hiring more employees may not solve anything.)

Any complaints (other than those of an emergency nature or requiring immediate attention by the club’s personnel) shall be made directly to the manager, in private.

Of course they want the complaints to be made in private. If all the customers knew about the locker room thefts, they wouldn’t have any customers. Thefts need to be hushed up — and of course, Ballys isn’t going to consider contacting the police.

When I got home I started searching for information on breaking into lockers and how to contact the police to report a theft (since Ballys seems intent on making sure that I don’t).

I quickly found tons of videos and information on opening padlocks. I had no idea that they were that insecure. I’m sure that Roger knows how insecure they are (based on how the person at the front desk acted like there are locker rooms thefts all the time).

Watch these videos to get some idea of just how trivial it is to break into a Master Lock padlock. And not just get the lock open — but get it open undamaged so that you can lock it again and thus hide any evidence of your tampering.

That way the Ballys manager can tell you that “You’re confused” because it’s “impossible” for anyone to have broken into your locker.

First – this is just 17 seconds, but you’ll never think a lock is keeping anything safe ever again. It’s faster to open a lock with a shim than it is to dial the combination! In fact, if anyone was watching it would be necessary to fiddle with the lock a bit more just to make it look like a combination was dialed before the lock opened.

 

This explains how the shim works and how easy it is to make one.

Shims work on key locks too.

If you have the time (a few minutes), you can even calculate the combination of a Master Lock. Don’t worry about the math involved — as the iPod people say “We’ve got an app for that!” You can either use this to break into the lock directly, or just to get the combination of the lock after you’ve taken it by opening it with a shim.

Bally Fitness policy seems to be that anything you leave is your locker is available to be stolen and they’re not going to do anything about it.

The only way to actually protect items left in lockers would be to have security personnel stationed in both locker rooms at all times. That seems reasonable to me considering the high cost of gym membership.

See also this article:

Bally’s Total Fitness Bally’s aiding criminals in identity theft by allowing thieves to enter secured locker areas to steal from you!

and this is a great quote from this thread on locker room theft:

At our YMCA, there’s a very clever thief. He’s steals exactly
one credit card from someone’s wallet, never the one that’s in
the front of the pile, so the user doesn’t notice it’s missing
for a while. The thief then spends as he pleases until the
card gets reported stolen, buying things like stereo equipment
and jewelry that can easily be resold. Whoever it is, he’s
been at it, on and off, for months, and hasn’t gotten caught.

A final thought on this: As this person in the video below explains (while demonstrating how to make a shim from a beer can) criminals already know how to do this stuff, but legitimate people need to know about these things so that they understand where their security can be compromised.

It doesn’t take bolt cutters or anything else that would look out of place to break a combination lock — which has a lot of implications. For instance I used to bicycle down Wantagh Parkway to Jones Beach and then lock up my bicycle and walk on the beach — it would really suck to be about 12 miles from civilization and have my bicycle stolen. Even though the bicycle lockup area is fairly isolated, it still might be noticable if someone was walking around the area with a bolt cutter. But a shim can be carried in your pocket — or made on the spot.

I’m not sure what to make out of all of this. In case you’re concerned, I did smartly leave my watch at home so I still have it. That was a big relief for me — I don’t think I’d be able to replace the watch.

As far as going to Ballys — I’m not ever going to go back there until they implement some form of locker room security. So I’m not just out the stolen money, but also the cost of the gym membership.

As long as Ballys prevents the other gym members from knowing about the theft, the other gym members are still going there day after day as new potential victims. That seems to be just the way Ballys wants it.

And in case you don’t get the idea of how simple this is, how imprecise you can be and still get the shim to work, and how easily available this information is:

UPDATE: May 11, 2009
I called the Suffolk County First Precinct and was told that the best course of action would be to call 911 from the location where the theft occurred. That way they can send a police car to investigate. They said it would be okay to do this tomorrow, so now I have my day project for tomorrow.

I would have thought that 911 is supposed to be used only in the case of an actual emergency, but they said that they prioritize calls and that calling 911 would be the best way to report the crime.

Which is interesting in that the Ballys staff should have known this — since as the desk person said “this happens all the time” — and the police should have been called as soon as I mentioned the incident. But I guess it is really important to them to make sure the other members aren’t aware of what’s going on.

While I don’t want to waste my day on this, if I don’t step up then Ballys will get to continue letting this go on. Who knows how many people have had their cash stolen but since nothing else was taken the Ballys manager was able to convince them not to report it?

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Category: Business, Fitness, Health, Management, Personal

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9 Responses

  1. Chad Cloman says:

    It’s a bit late now, but reporting these types of things to The Consumerist will get action when normal channels fail. Companies have found that having their poor customer service posted on a major website is not good.

  2. Kathy says:

    The same thing happened at the YMCA – Lakeview Chicago, the staff DID NOTHING!!5 Lockers were broken into ALL of my sons things taken, car keys, cc, laptop, cell – everything and all they could say is, We close in 15 mins. NO ONE CARES AT THE YMCA – That should be their mantra – They closed and left him standing on the street corner w/ nothing. I’m down in Florida getting a locksmith to unlock his car for the valet key. The risk manager and operations manager spoke in direct conflict. This I FIND APPAULING !!! Oh, it was a combination lock that was opened and locked back up, so when he opened it it was empty. The LACK OF CARING by the YMCA to stop this is even more Disappointing!!

  3. Mike says:

    It seems that the same thing happened to me while at the Rockville Centre, NY Bally’s on the evening of 12/15/10. I went to the gym in the late evening, worked out for approximately one hour and returned to my locker which at first, appeared to be secured. Upon opening my master, combination lock, I found my cell phone (Iphone) and money ($40) missing from my wallet. I reported the incident to the sales associate and insisted on an incident report, which he completed but refused to furnish a copy of. He advised me to call the general manager in the morning but discouraged me from calling the police because it was closing time. I left the gym and reported the crime immediately to the Rockville Centre Police Department that same evening and was told that this was a recurrent problem at that gym but the likelihood of recovering my lost articles was very slim. I called the general manager in the morning and was advised of their “no liability” policy for member property. I demanded the corporate number and was referred to their claims division where I was again advised of their “no liability” policy. I advised them of my intention to consider legal action against the gym & Ballys at which point the claims representative offered to initiate a claims request on behalf of Bally.
    At this time, I am still awaiting an outcome decision from Bally’s claims division but may pursue legal action if not satisfied with the outcome.

    Bottom line……..do not allow yourself to be victimized because of Bally’s failure to ensure a safe and secure environment for its members. Just because you acknowledge their policy does not mean that you waive all your rights to a safe and secure setting as a consumer.

  4. Eric says:

    Fun to read this synopsis of bankruptcy, controversy, and investigations:

    link to en.wikipedia.org

  5. Steven says:

    I think it is really hard to catch the person unless the gym employ a cleaning staff who stays inside the locker room 24/7 because the locker room is the easiest place to happen with the crime sence as they cannot install camera there by law. i also expereince one time that i see poo in the shower 3 times that’s why we cannot blame the fitness club for doing nothing. indeed, they can’t do anything but sign saying that they are not responsible for any item missing. in this case, what are the good suggestion for loss prevention at the gym change room???

  6. Pat says:

    This just happened to me at L.A. Fitness (formerly Ballys) on Sun., 8/26/12. Universal City, CA. Came back to my locker and noticed the lock was missing (I had a Master combination lock). Opened the door but all of my items appeared to be intact, including my pocketbook. I gathered them up and went to the front desk to complain (I thought they cut my lock thinking I left my things overnight). Then I noticed my wallet/credit cards/cash/phone/camera were missing from my pocketbook. They told me this has happened before and really seemed a bit “cavalier” about this (like no big deal). I filled out an incident report and called the police to find out the nearest station to file a crime report. Then another girl came to the front desk with the same problem! We both ended up at the North Hollywood Police Station filing a report. I returned the next day to speak to the Operations Mgr. at L.A. Fitness who told me she was working with the police on this and I should use the “mini lockers” that are in the main workout area and visible to all. I suggested that L.A. Fitness – being a huge corporation – could certainly afford to place a security guard in each locker room, esp. since they have experienced this before.
    Today the police called and the other girl’s Ross credit card was compromised and they have surveillance footage. They asked me to check to see if my cancelled cards had the same and sure enough, four of them did. So we’ll see what happens. I will not let this rest – I will contact the corporate ofc. as Mike did above. I have also alerted our local consumer reporter on the news and will initiate Small Claims Court action if I have to.
    It seems as if the criminals get more protection than we do.

  7. Eric says:

    Hi Pat, sorry to hear that this happened to you too.
    Some thoughts I’ve had since I wrote this:

    1. I was a member of Planet Fitness for a short while. They are growing rapidly and building a lot of new locations. One thing I noticed that I don’t think is accidental is that their locker room was one huge room with lockers ONLY on the walls around the perimeter. That means that every person in the locker room can see every other person at all times — which makes it less likely I think for someone to attempt anything. Even if they are the only person in the locker room, at any moment if someone walked in they would immediately be seen. Psychology is a lot more powerful than a lock. I don’t know if this is Planet Fitness standard practice, but if it is then it’s real smart.

    2. I purchased a new Master Lock that VERY quietly mentioned on the package that it had better shim protection. Master Lock is very deceptive in their advertising boldly claiming “Hardened steel shackle for extra cut resistance” — even though if you watch the videos in my post above it’s clear that small children aren’t using all their muscle to try to break the shackles with bolt cutters, they’re using their brains and cheap shims cut from soda cans.
    Master Lock is a seriously scumbag company for hiding this info, but this is what you’re looking for:
    link to masterlock.com

    Note the difference:
    This is what they commonly sell: Combination Padlocks – No. 1500D
    Product Features:
    World’s best selling combination lock
    Hardened steel shackle for extra cut resistance
    Combination security for keyless convenience
    3-digit dialing
    1-7/8″ (48mm) wide durable metal body
    List Price: $6.96

    This is what you want to buy: Combination Padlocks – No. 1500
    Product Features:
    World’s best selling combination lock
    Patent Pending BlockGuard®Anti-Shim Technology withstands attempts to violate the latch mechanism
    1-7/8″ (48mm) wide double-reinforced stainless steel body
    3/4″ (19mm) tall, hardened steel shackle for extra cut resistance
    Easy 3-number dialing with automatic scrambling feature to prevent reopening of lock
    List Price: $6.97

    I tried searching on amazon.com and found a lot of 1500D but nothing that was sure to be a 1500. Best bet I’d think would be shopping in a retail store and carefully reading the package. Apparently the cost difference is a penny and they aren’t trying to make it clear what you’re buying (since that would set off a huge panic about how insecure their locks are).

    I don’t know if it makes a BIG difference, but I do know that my old padlock from when I was in high school in 1980 (yes, I was hoping to get through my whole life only memorizing ONE combination) doesn’t have whatever this new Anti-Shim protection is. It might not do much, but the point is to just make your lock enough of a pain to open that they get nervous about getting noticed and quit.

    Like I said, the hardened shackle is a decoy because they’ve spent decades convincing consumers that people are casually walking around with HUGE bolt cutters to snap off locks as if that wouldn’t be noticed. Seriously, stuff like this has been known FOREVER. For instance, spies in WWII were using bump keys to open key locks and yet even THAT was kept secret until recently. (Maybe it’s considered to have more potential for badness than how to make a nuclear bomb.)
    See
    link to en.wikipedia.org
    and then watch this 5 minute video and realize that even untrained people can easily just walk in your front door as if they had the key…
    link to video.google.com

    3. I now leave EVERYTHING valuable in my car and the only thing I bring in is my car key. That at least adds a whole ‘nother layer of complexity to them trying to steal from me since they’d have to find my car and then find where I hid stuff in my car. Or steal the car — but at least if they steal the car that gets serious police involvement right away. Nobody’s going to be able to say that I was confused and must have misplaced my car.

    And Pat – great news about the security footage. Getting credit card companies involved should also up the seriousness of this. The only place where it isn’t taken seriously is the fitness places themselves. Hope you get some justice.

    For Steven: Considering the lack of cleanliness in the locker room, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have someone in each locker room cleaning all the time. That would reduce crime AND help with other issues. The only real way to prevent this is with psychology and making people afraid to get caught — the technology is all to the advantage of the criminal.

  8. Pat says:

    Eric thank you for all of the information. I did purchase another Master lock…this one has an internal “spin the dial until you reach the numbers” lock. The guy in the lock shop told me nothing is virtually foolproof…this was before I read your reply to me. Again, thank you. Guess what? The North Hollywood Police caught the perpetrators – two women. They asked me to track down any unauthorized credit card attempts…the other girl (victim) too…between the two of us we had quite a few “hits”. The detective called me last Friday and said they were apprehended (they live together – don’t know if they are patrons of the gym but my guess is yes). Both charged with two counts each of Burglary and Theft. They had my license (which the NoHo PD says they need as evidence if this ever comes to trial). Everything else is lost. I am still going to pursue this w. L.A. Fitness in spite of their disclaimers all over the place. Had to replace license and registration..the police officer told me DMV would forgo the charge…NOT. I had to fork out $45. in spite of having the police report in my hand. Plus I am now paying for three months of Equifax monitoring on my credit cards. I have a HONDA CR-V…doesn’t really have a conventional “trunk” per se…you can look into the hatch window and see everything? What am I supposed to do in the future? I guess lock my wallet and keys in the glove compartment? What has this world come to? I am trying to track down the physical address of L.A. Fitness…finally got that but I can sympathize with Mike because they are like a “moving target” – it is hard to get info. I know that Louis Welch is the C.E.O. Don’t know who the claims guy is or the C.F.O. Will write to all…including the Chairman (if I can find out his name) and Board members as well (only have one name so far). Again, thanks for the feedback and sympathy! At least the police got ’em. Hooray!!

  9. Emely says:

    Ballys Kings Hwy and Coney Island, Brooklyn NY………Russian speaking manager knows who stealing all the time from locker……..there is a camera…….. We did police report……. We will do whatever will help people to be safe in this f…….g place

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