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How to Avoid Consumer Scams in Canada

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 providers and wanted all my personal information up front (yeah, right). For a real-life example, 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 salespeople 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, salespeople 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. Salespeople 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 Centre 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 to tell me I would look much better with straight hair. The next thing I knew, she was trying to sell me a hair straightener for the “small price of $500.” I wasn’t interested and said 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 classified 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 claims 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 fake. Advance-fee fraud is also quite popular on these websites. And on a lighter note, if you want a good laugh, read You Suck at Craigslist, a website with hilarious commentaries on the stupidest and most 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.

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French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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