Lawsuit Targets Tae Bo Creator, MemberWorks

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A Cleveland attorney has filed a class-action lawsuit against Billy Blanks, creator of the exercise video series Tae Bo, infomercial producer NCP Marketing Group and MemberWorks, a teleservices firm that sells memberships in discount clubs.


The lawsuit alleges that some consumers who ordered the Tae Bo videos received an unauthorized charge on their credit cards for membership in a MemberWorks discount club, Essentials. Jack Landskroner, the attorney who filed the lawsuit in Cuyahoga County court in Cleveland, accused Blanks, NCP Marketing Group, Canton, OH, and MemberWorks, Stamford, CT, of engaging in a "civil conspiracy."


According to the lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by DM News, an unknown number of consumers were charged $70 to $90 for an annual, self-renewing membership fee. In the one specific case cited in the lawsuit, plaintiff Brandy L. Ritt, a Lakewood, OH, resident, bought a Tae Bo tape Dec. 15, 1998, and several weeks later was assessed an undisclosed $72 charge to her credit card.


A year later, Ritt received an $84 charge and inquired about it to MemberWorks, which told her that the charge was a membership fee, according to the lawsuit. That was the first time Ritt had learned of the fee, the lawsuit alleges.


Consumers who could be eligible for the class-action lawsuit number in the "tens of thousands to hundreds of thousand," according to the lawsuit.


Landskroner, who represents Ritt, declined to comment for this story. A spokeswoman for NCP Marketing Group, which owns and markets the Tae Bo series, did not return phone calls seeking comment. A Cleveland-area television station, NewsChannel5, reported that NCP had terminated its relationship with MemberWorks.


A MemberWorks spokeswoman said the company was not responsible for marketing the Essentials program to buyers of the Tae Bo videos. NCP Group and its telemarketer agents did the marketing and were required to comply with applicable laws, she said.


"In short, the allegations of the complaint are baseless as a matter of fact, meritless as a matter of law and have no application whatsoever to MemberWorks," the spokeswoman said.


MemberWorks has encountered legal conflicts in the past. In July 1999, Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch sued MemberWorks, alleging the company "used confidential information obtained from banks and other institutions to charge consumers for services and products that consumers did not believe they had ordered."


The lawsuit claimed that MemberWorks solicited consumers with free 30-day trial memberships but did not affirmatively disclose to consumers that the company already had their credit card information. At the end of the trial period, the company used the account information to charge consumers a membership fee.


MemberWorks later agreed to settle the lawsuit without admitting guilt by agreeing to change its telemarketing sales scripts, to provide advance notice of any upcoming membership renewal charges and to give double refunds to consumers whom the company failed to tape-record accepting the membership.


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