How to Avoid.. Consumer Scams


Lost Glove, Ottawa, Win­ter 2011

North Amer­ica is def­i­nitely the land of plenty. Shop­ping is still a national pas­time despite the recession—like I wrote in Unpleas­ant Real­i­ties of Amer­i­can Life, con­sum­ing and buy­ing are seen as some­thing very pos­i­tive that helps the econ­omy. The more, the bet­ter: not spend­ing money is almost a sin here.

Unlike in France, the cus­tomer is king in North Amer­ica. This means that busi­nesses take cus­tomer ser­vice seri­ously and every­thing is made to make your life eas­ier: long open­ing hours, gen­er­ous return poli­cies, cus­tomer help desk, toll-free num­bers… Unfor­tu­nately, there are also a few scams going around.

A lit­tle while ago I was free­lanc­ing. Because I was work­ing from home dur­ing the day, I got pretty famil­iar with door-to-door scams—every after­noon, the door­bell rang at least once or twice. I met some pretty inter­est­ing (and pushy) char­ac­ters, from the guy who claimed he was from the phone com­pany (but wouldn’t show any cre­den­tials) to the one who tried to trick me into switch­ing energy provider and wanted all my per­sonal infor­ma­tion up front (yeah, right). For a real-life exam­ples, read here how Mike Hol­man almost got scammed by an energy reseller or read this dad’s expe­ri­ence with the South­west­ern Company.

Door-to-door sales­per­sons may approach you out­side your home, for exam­ple when you go pick up the mail. Tricky tech­nique, since you can’t really close the door and ignore them! Gen­er­ally speak­ing, sales­per­sons try their best to have you make hasty deci­sions. The prod­ucts or the ser­vice sold may not be a scam per se (although the line can be blurred) but the sale tac­tics used are often questionable.

High-pressure sales tac­tics are a method used by a lot of sketchy busi­nesses. Sales­per­sons can be arro­gant, pushy, dis­re­gard your com­ments when you say you are not inter­ested and even mis­rep­re­sent the com­pany they work for or the true nature of the product/service. A while ago, I was walk­ing in the Rideau Cen­ter and head­ing to The Bay when I was stopped by a lady from Manna, a small “beauty prod­ucts” stand. She offered me a free con­di­tioner sam­ple and pro­ceeded on telling me I would look much bet­ter with straight hair. Next thing I knew, she was try­ing to sell me a hair straight­ener for the “small price of $500”. I wasn’t inter­ested and say it right away, but she was extremely pushy and it took me a good ten min­utes to get rid of her. Read these 14 Ways to Resist High-Pressure Sales Tac­tics to avoid falling into the trap.

Be care­ful when using free clas­si­fieds web­sites such as Craigslist and Kijiji. Scam artists absolutely love these web­sites because peo­ple are often too busy to look for a good deal to real­ize they are get­ting scammed. As a seller, be aware of the cheque fraud. Let’s say you are sell­ing a car. A buyer will con­tact you, say­ing he is inter­ested but he is cur­rently out-of-town. He will offer to send you a cheque rather than meet in per­son. You receive the cheque for a higher amount and the buyer claim this is an acci­dent. He asks you to wire the extra money back to him (and may even offer a “tip” for the incon­ve­nience). By the time you wire the “extra money”, you will get a call from your bank say­ing the seller’s cheque is a fake. Advance-fee fraud is also quite pop­u­lar on these web­sites. For more infor­ma­tion, read this very com­pre­hen­sive page on Kijiji scams with real exam­ples. And on a lighter note, if you want a good laugh, read You Suck On Craigslist, a web­site with hilar­i­ous com­men­taries on the most stu­pid and insane ads.

To build your buy­ing skills and avoid some typ­i­cal scams, check out the Cana­dian Con­sumer Hand­book. It’s avail­able online for free and it’s pro­duced by the fed­eral and provin­cial governments.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Can I take a week to think about it? No, I’m only here for the day.
    Typ­i­cal! How­ever, some would offer to come back in a cou­ple of hours so you have time to think the mat­ter through and get some information.

    As for the cheque scam; it has become very com­mon. My boss at the restau­rant once received an email ask­ing to book a party, I can’t remem­ber the exact details, but it was writ­ten all over it that it was that scam as the guy wanted to pay more than the usual deposit through some­one else and my boss would have to send back some money…

  2. @Em — The cheque scam seems to be very com­mon indeed, I read some many vari­ants on it! The “I’ll think about it” trick is a good one.

    @Neeraj — Amen to that!

  3. Yeah my girl­friend has some fairly scary sto­ries of an energy re-seller tak­ing advan­tage of her dur­ing a fairly vul­ner­a­ble time in her life, claimed to be from the energy company…asked to see her bill ect got her to sign on to a “fixed rate” for energy…luckily enough her con­tract ends in a cou­ple months

    though I did see a story on cbc about a woman who had been scammed, she had been told that her hus­band had signed a con­tract while she was away and she requested to see it, low and behold there was a sig­na­ture there in plain black ink how­ever her hus­band had DIED a month prior in a car accident

    I think some peo­ple are just sick is all

  4. Pingback: Canadian Shopping Carnival – 04/01 | Yours Faithfully

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