A Winnipeg company is trying to entice people with discount travel, first by asking them questions about their health, then by selling them pricey vacuum cleaners.
Paul Panchyshyn said he got a phone call just before Christmas from "Winnipeg Health," with the person on the other line offering him a chance to get a $500 travel voucher if he took part in a phone survey about allergies and air quality.
"I thought it was a legitimate survey. At no time did they reveal that it's a vacuum sales ploy," Panchyshyn told CBC News in an interview.
"You know, it just didn't dawn on me that it was sort of a preliminary sales pitch."
Two weeks later, Panchyshyn got another call from "Winnipeg Health," saying a representative would have to come by his house to drop off the travel voucher.
As it turned out, the calls were from a telemarketer for Winnipeg Health Systems, a company that bills itself as a distributor of air purifiers and vacuum cleaners.
2½-hour sales pitch
When the representative showed up, "he had a large bag with him on rollers. So at that time, I knew there was some kind of a sales pitch coming," Panchyshyn recalled.
"I kept telling him that I don't need this high-powered vacuum, and he said, 'Oh, that's fine. For you to qualify for the travel voucher, I just have to complete this demonstration,'" he added.
Following a 2½-hour-long demonstration, in which the salesman pitched air purifiers and vacuums worth thousands of dollars, Panchyshyn did not get his travel voucher.
Instead, he was given a brochure for another company, telling him to pay another $50 and provide his credit card information.
"By the end I thought, well, yeah, it was a total waste of my time," Panchyshyn said.
At least three other Winnipeg residents told CBC News they had similar experiences with Winnipeg Health Services, which they initially thought was a health-care agency based on the name that appears on their call-display units: "Winnipeg Health."
WRHA not connected to surveys
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says it has received half a dozen calls from people asking if it was behind the phone surveys.
'They think they're talking to a legitimate government agency, and it turns out they're talking to these folks.'—Amaro Silva
"We assured the callers that we had no connection with the company or with the survey," WRHA spokesperson Heidi Graham told CBC News.
"We only conduct professional public research. We don't provide any prizes or rewards for participating in a survey."
The Better Business Bureau says it has also received several calls in the past two weeks about Winnipeg Health Systems. The bureau received its first written complaint about the company on Monday.
"We started receiving calls from consumers late last week and [we] did a little bit of background," said Amaro Silva, the bureau's executive director for Manitoba and northwestern Ontario.
"Our first check, of course, was within the bureau system, and [we] discovered that this company — or variations of it — [is] operating all across North America."
Company promises 100% satisfaction
A representative for Winnipeg Health Systems told CBC News the company will make sure all of its customers are 100 per cent satisfied.
Its Canadian parent company, B.C.-based Health Tek, says Winnipeg Health Systems has been running for about six months and has not been the subject of any complaints to date.
Under the federal Competition Act, telemarketers must identify themselves immediately to the people they call, along with the company they represent and what they want to sell.
The federal Competition Bureau would not say if it is investigating Winnipeg Health Systems.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) says it received its first formal complaint about the company this week.
Silva said the complaints the Better Business Bureau has received about Winnipeg Health Systems are from people who generally feel they were misled.
"People are led to believe … that they're talking to Manitoba Health in some fashion, or Winnipeg Regional Health," Silva said.
"People are told that it's simply a questionnaire that they take part in, and as a result of the questionnaire they'll win a prize," he added.
"Of course, human nature being what it is, people participate and they think they're talking to a legitimate government agency, and it turns out they're talking to these folks."