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Quebec’s consumer protection watchdog is warning consumers to look out for the dishonest and illegal schemes preferred by some online and door-to-door merchants.
Substantial energy savings, free inspections, competitions with attractive prizes and subsidies to finance the work are all part of the merchants’ arsenal, according to Quebec’s Office de la protection du consommateur.
Although the provincial Consumer Protection Act prohibits the use of false pretences to solicit a sale, “we see a lot of this kind of practice in the energy and decontamination fields,” said Charles Tanguay, spokesperson for the OPC.
“There seems to be a proliferation of ads on Facebook, specifically targeting homeowners with claims of energy savings, home insulation grants for example, energy efficient inspections, and it’s often presented under the guise of ecology,” Tanguay said in a phone interview. “You don’t know whether it’s a company, an association or the government. We play a lot on this ambiguity of not knowing who we are dealing with.”
Recent examples of dishonesty abound, according to the OPC. One merchant showed up at a residence offering to inspect or clean air ducts for free, with the hidden purpose of selling a new appliance. Another individual offered to inspect a property’s attic and suddenly discovered the presence of mould that would require urgent decontamination work, while the photos he showed the homeowner weren’t those of the inspected residence.
Online, an unidentified company organized a social media contest allowing participants to win a heat pump or save $5,000 on work. This forced the “winner” to do business with the company in question.
“You have to consider that many of these companies are selling heat pumps for two, three or even four times the price they’re worth,” Tanguay warns in an interview with The Canadian Press. For them, it’s then easy to say you’re getting $5,000 off when the price has already been inflated.”
Another strategy used by disreputable merchants is to suggest to potential customers they can sign up for large government grants that would significantly reduce their energy bills.
In some cases, Tanguay says, a door-to-door salesperson will ask the homeowner to sign a form to see if they qualify for financial assistance to do the work. At the next meeting, which turns out to be a sales session, no tactic will be spared to get the client to sign up quickly for “contracts that are generally very expensive and not very advantageous,” Tanguay said.
Although the law allows consumers who regret signing a contract to reverse their decision within 10 days, Tanguay recommends people simply refrain from signing any document under pressure and take time to weigh the merchant’s proposal before accepting it.
This gives the consumer time to do some research to ensure the validity of the offer — particularly on the OPC’s website, where a registry indicates whether a merchant is licensed to conduct itinerant sales or has been sued by consumers.
Grant programs and eligibility criteria are listed on the Transition Energétique Québec and Hydro-Québec websites, among others.
Consumers are invited by the OPC to check the merchant’s legitimacy on the Registre des entreprises or to consult the Registre des détenteurs de licence de la Régie du bâtiment du Québec if the company wishes to do work. Homeowners should also get several quotes before choosing a company, Tanguay recommends.
Beware of fraudulent door-to-door and online practices: consumer protection watchdog
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