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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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