How to Avoid.. Consumer Scams

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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

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