A promotional offer for free Fitbits intended for University System of Georgia employees somehow reached Georgia Tech students who weren’t eligible but who got hundreds, if not thousands, of the devices anyway. 
Photo: AJC File
Photo: AJC File

Fit to be tied: Free Fitbit offer backfires on University System of Georgia

Offer made its way to Georgia Tech students who responded in droves and now must return or pay for devices

Somehow, an offer for free or near-free Fitbits intended for employees in a University System of Georgia health plan went far afield, leading to 8,000 of the step trackers being requested by and sent to students, including many at Georgia Tech.

Now, the University System of Georgia wants students to either pay for the Fitbits or return them, setting off a social media backlash by parents and students. (Fitbits measure number of steps walked and heart rate, as well as other fitness metrics.)

Complicating things further is that many students who got the “return-or-else” email are now saying the information isn’t correct, furthering the Fitbit fiasco. 

The fiasco and fallout are the talk of the campus and the inspiration for some funny memes on GT Memes For Buzzed Teens Facebook. With permission of Tech student Josh George, here is one of his contributions:

In a statement Monday, the University System of Georgia said, “As soon as we became aware that the link was being spread to unauthorized individuals, Fitbit immediately deactivated the link. Fitbit then provided notification to the unauthorized individuals requesting them to return the devices or pay for the unauthorized subsidy.”

In explaining how students managed to access the promotion, Executive Vice Chancellor for Operations Teresa MacCartney said, “Normal practice included a verification of eligibility prior to sending the link. The email notification states that the offer was only for USG employees who do not own a tracking device and that the employee not share the email or URL to other individuals. However, we did not account on employees forwarding the promotional code. Additionally, Fitbit did not have the correct internal controls on their website to limit the number of approved subsidies.”

Students learned of a promotion where anyone with a university system email could get two free Fitbits. The offer was meant for USG employees enrolled in a health plan, but verification of employment or insurance was apparently not done initially.

Many non-employees who took advantage of the offer just received a stern email demanding they must either return the Fitbits or pay $50 per device by July 8. Non-compliance would result in the debt going to a collection agency. 

News of the “free” offer spread to students through social media, including Reddit, which has become the public square for Fitbit debates about who is at fault. (There are several hundred comments.) 

Athens attorney Walden Housman, who has practiced consumer and bankruptcy law for nearly 50 years, says students who balk at being forced to pay may have the law on their side. “The students and parents should tell whoever is trying to collect money from them to pound sand — not a legal term. The first thing they all should do in response to any collection efforts is ask for a signed agreement where the students agreed to pay for the Fitbit,” he said.

Tech parents are discussing on Facebook, with some arguing their kids did nothing wrong and others saying they warned their children the offer was too good to be true. 

You can trace the origins of the free Fitbit frenzy through a Reddit thread two weeks ago that announced, “Free Fitbit through USG.” 

Some students expressed doubts from the start about the legitimacy of the offer and whether it applied to only USG employees. Others just went for it. 

Among the comments from students: 

-Do y'all think this is legit? It goes through Fitbit's official website.

-Maybe for employees of USG only?

-Nah works for literally anyone with a USG email.

-It was probably meant for USG employees lol.

-Worked for me. Great find, thanks!

-You can get two for free! Just change the quantity

-Are you sure?

-Just worked for me and another friend

A sports club at Tech is seizing the moment. The Rowing Club posted on Reddit:

Frustrated that your shiny new Fitbit are being taken away? Looking for something to satiate the gaping hole of being told when to work out and given easily quantifiable data? Well boy howdy, do I have the club for you!

Here is the letter University System of Georgia sent to those who received unauthorized Fitbits: 

Dear University System of Georgia Affiliate:

We recently became aware of unauthorized access to the University System of Georgia (USG) Well-being promotional link for free or discounted Fitbit devices. This Fitbit Health Solutions (FHS) promotion is part of USG’s Well-being program and is limited to USG employees enrolled in a USG healthcare plan and participating in the well-being program.

It has come to our attention that the promotional link was provided to nonapproved individuals and you are being notified because we have you on file as receiving an unapproved Fitbit.

Please complete one of the following two options by Monday, July 8:

Option 1. Remit payment of $50 for each Fitbit device you received. Payment should be mailed to USG at the following address:

Make check payable to: Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Attn: Accounts Receivable

270 Washington St, SW

Atlanta, GA 30334

Please include your name, mailing address, and copy or number of purchase order to validate your repayment.

Option 2. Return the Fitbit(s) by mail it to the following address:

Ingram Micro USA

2675 Reeves Rd #190 (Product Return Center)

Plainfield, IN 46168

Attn: Fitbit FHS – USG Promotion

In order to facilitate the return of these devices, please use the following link to create a return authorization, and in the note section, please denote: “Fitbit FHS-USG Promotion” (https://www.fitbit.com/legal/returns-and-warranty). This will generate a FedEx label and the device(s) will be returned to our distributor at no cost to you. If you paid a discounted rate for a Fitbit device(s) from this FHS promotion, you will be refunded once the device is received by the distributor.

If no action is taken by Monday, July 8, the amount due may be sent to collections. In addition, unauthorized access to a Fitbit without payment will result in the Fitbit being disabled and ineligible for warranty replacement. The unauthorized Fitbit devices will be disabled Friday, July 12, if not returned or no payment is received.

If you have any questions, please contact USG Well-being at usgwellbeing@usg.edu

Sincerely,

USG Well-being

Fitbit Legal – Brand Protection

About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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