Door-to-Door Scams and Consumers’ Rights under the Consumer Protection Act

Contrary to what most of us would like to believe, door-to-door scammers are still active in our communities. Door-to-door scams are often targeted at elderly and vulnerable people, who can be easily pressured into signing sales agreements. Common scams include false claims about the quality of municipal drinking water and next-day installation of various water treatment systems under the guise of a government program. These water treatment scams also falsely promise consumers rebates for their water bills or that the government will pay for the installation of new equipment. Victims instead face increasing hydro bills and liens registered against their property for non-payment.

As of March 1, 2018, the Ontario government has banned the door-to-door sales of certain products, such as various HVAC and water treatment systems. The ban’s purpose is to protect consumers from aggressive and misleading door-to-door sales practices. Businesses selling HVAC and water treatment systems can no longer sell products at consumers’ homes unless the consumer contacts the business ahead of time. Consumers are also entitled to a 10-day “cooling-off” period to rescind a written contract without penalty. If there is no written contract, consumers can cancel within one year without repercussions. Businesses are also required to add a mandatory cover page informing consumers of their rights with every written contract.

Nonetheless, since the ban has come into effect, door-to-door scammers still operate. Despite the mandatory “cooling-off” period, some companies have made the process of rescinding a sales contract very difficult, leaving consumers stuck with products that they shouldn’t be paying for. One company is currently facing 112 charges under the Ontario Consumer Protection Act. A conviction under the CPA carries a fine of up to $50,000 for individuals and $250,000 for corporations.

Consumers who have fallen victim to a door-to-door scam can take the following steps:

  1. Write a complaint directly to the business (either by mail, registered mail, email, or fax) outlining what happened, a proposed resolution, and a response deadline. Copies of supporting documents should be attached, if available. Keep records of any correspondence with the business.
  2. If the business has not responded to the complainant in a timely manner, or if the issue is not resolved satisfactorily, consider submitting a formal complaint to the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. There is no charge for submitting a formal complaint.
  3. Consult a lawyer. Depending the situation, consumers may be entitled to a damages award under the Consumer Protection Act.

Many people, especially seniors, have been targeted by door-to-door scams. Although the Ontario government has passed stricter laws in an attempt to regulate the practice, scammers are still operating within our communities. Consumers should be aware of these scams and remember that there are laws and processes in place to protect against deceptive, high-pressure sales tactics.