Reader Alleges “Theft Ring Targets Local Yoga Studios”

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

“Dear PoPville,

I went to Epic Yoga DC, a yoga studio near Dupont Circle, after work on Friday. I recently started going there and was trying (as most new year resolution-ers are) to go more frequently. The studio is nice, with locker rooms, showers, free mats, etc.- things that are not available at most yoga studios I’ve been to in the area. After enjoying my class, I headed back to the locker room to discover that while I was in class, my iphone, cash, and cards had all been stolen out of my LOCKED locker (the locks are built into the lockers and provided by the facility.) Upon discussing this with another woman in the locker room I was told that her wallet had been stolen the day before (admittedly out of a unlocked locker) and that there had been several break-ins/thefts at this yoga studio and others in the area recently. She also noted that this was why other students had kept their bags with them during our class.

When I reported the theft to the front desk employee (the only staff on duty besides the instructors) she appeared unsurprised and offered no assistance. Her first words were “not again.” She told me that she had seen two “suspicious-looking” women walk in during the time when I was in class and had immediately called the police, but that the police did not arrive in time to question them. When I asked if she had tried to prevent them from entering the studio/locker rooms I was told “there was nothing she could do to stop them.” I can think of a few things- how about ask them if they are members/have a reservation for a class? (Online reservations are required). Refuse to let them enter? Follow them into the studio? Stop a class to ask others for help? Obviously if they had been armed/tried to physically intimidate her this would have been a different situation, but according to our conversation this did not happen. Then, as soon as they left/classes ended, ask people to check that nothing is missing, rather than pretend that nothing happened and wait for someone to report it? Similarly, the management, which clearly knew that thefts were occurring, had 1. Failed to notify students that their personal belonging were not safe and should be kept by their person, 2. Failed to staff extra people so that someone could monitor the lockers rooms/provide support to the lone staff member on duty, 3. Failed to institute a check-in system that requires ID/ proof that persons entering the building are in fact members.

I was not offered the management’s contact information, nor have I been contacted by the management (I left my contact info for them to file a police report and also filed my own.)Nor have I been offered any apology or compensation. While I understand they may not be liable for stolen items, an offer of free classes or reimbursement for the cash that was stolen would’ve eased the pain of having my valuables stolen from a presumably secure locker. I hope my experience can serve as a note of caution to other yoga students at Epic Yoga or other studios in DC.”

24 Comment

  • I used to work in connection with a yoga studio – a couple of years ago – and this is not as uncommon as I would have thought. Like, it happened at more than a couple studios that eventually shared that information with others around the same time.

    To some extent yoga studios do not take the precautions they should, or perhaps cannot – sometimes the main door does not lock and there is no staff person, just the teacher checking people in, who then goes in to teach – or a staff person may be distracted by one “partner in crime” while the other steals. To some extent people are just more relaxed about leaving their stuff lying around unsupervised because it’s yoga. Not saying this was your case and you specify the locker was locked.

    It also does not help that yoga studios like to promote the “love and peace” vibe, yet often see other yoga studios as arch rivals and won’t communicate in cases like this (to warn others that this has happened to them). I am really, really cautious about leaving stuff out of my sight at yoga studios.

    Sorry this happened and it is probably helpful that you are publicizing it via PoP as the yoga studio probably would not.

  • What a bummer. I’m sorry to hear that happened to you, ugh. I know this was happening a few years ago at studios all over the city. In some cases, women would pose as prospective students, taking a tour to gain access. After I had my wallet stolen out of a (locked) gym locker years ago I ALWAYS take my valuables w/me. Yes, that makes me the annoying person w/a bag in the yoga studio, but at least I can see it.

  • I love a good public shaming. Sucks this happened to you. I wonder if any local businesses with cameras can get a still of the women during that time, since not many people tend to walk into yoga studios while classes are going on.

  • “…told me that she had seen two “suspicious-looking” women walk in during the time when I was in class and had immediately called the police, but that the police did not arrive in time to question them. When I asked if she had tried to prevent them from entering the studio/locker rooms I was told “there was nothing she could do to stop them.””
    The desk attendant doesn’t sound like the sharpest tool in the shed. How hard is it to run friendly “interference” on two girls entering the locker room while a class is in session? She basically admitted that she watched them walk in and walk out with patrons’ possessions. Dolt.

    • I’m a yoga practitioner myself and don’t mean to stereotype, but a lot of the girls at the front desk of yoga studios are spacey and non-confrontational. Presumably that’s why thieves are targeting yoga studios.

  • What is (and always has been and will be) a thing is crimes of opportunity at places where people leave their belongings unattended. Washington Sports Club, where I work out, has had signs in its locker rooms for the past couple of years warning people about locker breakins (and no, I am not just talking about the one in Columbia Heights; I rarely go there). The pools I swim at – Wilson and Tacoma – have signs posted in which swimmers are warned about reported thefts from lockers. It’s really not surprising that someone would see an opportunity at a yoga studio. What is surprising is that a front desk employee at any business would let anyone – “suspicious” looking or not – walk past the desk and roam around unattended.
    “Can I help you?” is all she had to say. If the people say they are there for a class, they get signed in. If they say they just want to look around, “Great! If you wait here for two seconds, I or another teacher would be happy to give you a tour.” Really no excuse for letting a stranger roam around your premises unsupervised. A lot worse things than property theft could have happened.

    • WSC does at least monitor that only members go in and out, but beyond that there is little active security. It’s not written anywhere that theives can’t maintain a gym membership, especially one that gives them fungible access to so many soft targets throughout the metro area. Lock boxes are great, and I’m amazed at how little they are actually used.

      • Absolutely right that you may be just as likely to get robbed by a fellow patron or an employee of the facility as you are likely to be robbed by a trespassing stranger.
        I’m definitely not slamming WSC. I am sure other gyms post the same warnings.

        • Yeah, especially the higher up you go on the fanciness spectrum, I think it’s tempting to rationalize that if people can afford a membership to X place, then they’re probably not hurting for money and therefore wouldn’t need to steal your stuff–not taking into account that a skilled thief could make quite a nice return on that monthly $X investment. Not to mention, as some busted celebrities have showed us, not everyone steals because they don’t have enough money to buy the things they want. Some people just like the rush of getting away with something. Or some people have money but still want even more money and even more expensive things.

  • A few tips to avoid this risk

    encourage (demand) that the studio install secure lockboxes in an area under persistent obvervation like the front desk. If they’re willing to install their own locks on locker room facilities, this is a minor accomodation and surprisingly effective. Most combo locks (dial in particular) can be removed in a matter of seconds by even unsophisticated theives – lookup on Youtube on using a sodacan tab to do this. With a lock box and a small user fee ($.25) you can leave valuables like devices, wallet, jewlery, etc and not worry about the relatively unsupervised lockerroom. You can clip the security locker keys to the clothes on your back and remove afterward the items post session. Alternately you could lighten yourself of valuables in another secure place like home or work and bring just the minimum basics like ID, a few bucks, etc.

    A more sophisticated approach that I discovered recently — some clubs are using video surveilance at the locker room entrance and recording every single person enterting and exiting. It’s brilliant because you can actually identify legitimate suspects if you can pin a theft to a specific time window. No surveilance inside, but it helps beat the serial cretins.

    Be thankful the stuff was taken outright. Some serial thieves will break in and grab enough personally identifying info to perpetrate identity fraud, leaving you none the wiser until the heavy consequences go down. Still sucks to be the victim and I’m sorry you had to go through this.

    • Every yoga class I’ve been to (except Bikram) required that everyone bring their belongings into the room with them. Even the instructor at a church yoga class said things will get stolen otherwise. You can’t do this in Bikram because stuff would be melting and overheating, so the studio I go to simply locks the doors.

      • I see people do this at the gym too. At least everyone in class is preoccupied. Personally I’d worry more about forgetting to be vigilent in the workout are and leaving it behind or otherwise losing track.

  • First they came for our yoga mats …

  • Sue them in small claims court for the loss of the stolen items. Their lock, their locker room, their lack of security = their liability when your stuff gets stolen.

    • It’s been a while since I signed up at a new yoga studio, but most require new students to sign a waiver–generally regarding injuries, although I wouldn’t be surprised if studios also include fine print about not being liable for theft/loss of property.

    • I wouldn’t be so sure about that. I think it’s pretty standard for places that provide lockers (with or without locks) to make you sign something agreeing that they are not liable for items stored in them.

  • That sounds kind of fishy. Yoga studios can get so militant about making noise or walking into a class late, I’d think most front desk people would stop them. Maybe she was a space cadet and didn’t think to ask why they were walking into the locker room when a class was in session or if they were signed up for a class, OR she had unsupervised access to the locker room and maybe even knows how to get the lockers open or has a master key. It seems awfully shady that management wasn’t informed and that she was so unapologetic, yet she claims to have been concerned enough to supposedly call the police.

    • Another possibility (besides the space cadet phenomenon, which I’ve observed as well), is that the front desk person is just not that invested in the job and doesn’t really care. Yes, there are front desk workers at these types of studios who are really passionate about yoga and about being part of the studio’s “community” of students and teachers. But for those who aren’t like that, I don’t think many studios pay much more than minimum wage–and a number of studios hire sign-in people on a work-study type arrangement, where they bank, say, one free class per two hours worked. (I’m just speaking generally from what I know of other studios–I’ve never been to Epic, so I don’t know how they’re run.) Not that that’s an excuse for being so lax, but some people just aren’t as on point if they don’t have much skin in the game.

      • Another possibility: people who aren’t specifically instructed, trained, and equipped to provide any kind of security service generally don’t do so. It’s easy to say that a receptionist should be alert and responsive to suspected petty thievery for example, but a) they’re probably not thinking about it and b) apart from notify the cops and management they probably can’t do anything about it.

        • True, but there is a difference between providing security and doing the basic function of a front desk job, which is to ascertain that the person is there for class, and sign them in; or if a class is already in progress, say something politely but firmly, like “I’m sorry, this class is already in session, but here, let me give you a copy of the schedule, and you’re welcome to come back 5-10 minutes prior to the start of another of our classes and join that one.” I completely agree with you that if the suspicious women had threatened, intimidated, or ignored the front desk person, it’s not her job to physically restrain them or stand in their way–nor is she trained to do that. Believe me, I don’t think anyone should be obligated to play the hero, especially when it’s just material possessions involved. Now, most of us weren’t there, and maybe the women did threaten after all, and the front desk person was too shaken up to fully articulate all that to the OP. Who knows. I’ve had similar situations in office suites where I’ve worked–someone stopped by under a vague and fishy-seeming pretense about an appointment with a (supposed) employee whose name they couldn’t quite remember (or similar ruses relating to deliveries, for example), and we got accustomed to saying courteously but very firmly that we couldn’t be of help and that person would need to go back to the lobby and ask the concierge search the building directory. We didn’t shrug it off and let them wander around. A lot of these types of thieves take advantage of the fact that some people are too distracted or apathetic to question them–they have no need to enter forcibly with either threats or a weapon, and more times than not, grifters don’t even want to do that because it risks a stronger criminal penalty if caught.

  • on a different note, this picture is AWESOME!

  • The simplest thing is to bring things in with you. Insist the studio install lockers and cameras? Most yoga studios just get by financially, which is why they have the teacher checking people in, or a volunteer/”intern” working the front desk in exchange for free yoga. It’s already $18 a class for a drop in at most studios. If you want this sort of service you will be stuck with big chains..

    I’ve worked this sort of job and aside from calling the police, there is not a lot that person can do to physically restrain someone intent on stealing. Should they chase after the person stealing and leave all the other bags unattended? If there are two theives working in a team – which is how I’ve heard of this before – these front desk attendants are unlikely to be able to clone themselves to be with both people.

    I think quite a lot of commenters have never worked a lower wage sort of job where these things come up. Very unrealistic expectations.

  • I had my wallet stolen about a month and a half ago at certain community yoga studio in Glover Park. The employee let a man, without a yoga mat or yoga clothes on, into the locked classroom about halfway through class. He walked out with my wallet, including cash and gift cards, and he was able to charge about $5k between a couple credit cards and my debit card within 45 minutes. When I spoke to the studio manager about the incident and suggested they be a little more vigilant about safety, she let me know that she prefers to be “vigilant about trusting all people”. Needless to say, this trust everyone that walks in the door, nobody’s here for the wrong reasons attitude is why yoga studios in the area are being targeted by criminals that are clearly efficient professionals.

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