A company providing cell phone warranties to 50,000 Saskatchewan residents has effectively gone out of business, and many of the people who thought they were covered have been left in the dark.
“We’re paying nine dollars a month for insurance that doesn’t exist,” said customer Lewis Robin.
In 2012, Robin bought an iPhone for his daughter at the Prairie Mobile Communications store in Nipawin as a Christmas gift.
He also purchased the optional warranty issued by Global Warranty Group.
On July 29 of this year, his daughter made a claim and was promised a new cell phone from GWG.
Robin sent the company $700 to cover the cost of the new phone and a $180 deductible.
According to the warranty program, GWG was supposed to send Robin a new phone. Then he would send in the old phone and get the $700 refunded.
However, the new phone never arrived. And when he called to follow up no one answered GWG’s phone. So he was out $880.
Frustrating search for answers
Robin went to back to the store where he purchased the phone and warranty –Prairie Mobile– looking for answers.
“They were aware of the issue that people had claims and GWG was nowhere to be found,” Robin said.
Prairie Mobile is an authorized dealer for SaskTel.
According to the crown corporation, Prairie Mobile and all the other SaskTel dealers in the province knew there were problems with GWG’s service back in March 2014 and as a result those dealers severed relationships with the warranty provider.
Darcee MacFarlane, vice-president of corporate and government relations for SaskTel, says one way or another the warranties that customers have purchased will be honoured.
“Our dealers are honouring the claims from November 2013 to March 2014 when they stopped selling the [GWG] insurance,” MacFarlane told CBC’s iTeam.
For customers who purchased a warranty prior to Nov. 11, 2013, it will be honoured by Trisura, an insurance company which backed the GWG warranty until that date.
Trisura said it terminated GWG’s policy on Nov. 11 due to several unspecified concerns.
Robin says he has now filed a new warranty claim through this process.
And he says he filed a complaint through his credit card company and has received his $880 back.
GWG’s website has been shut down and no one has been answering the phone for weeks. Trisura has concluded in an online message to GWG customers that “for all intents and purposes GWG has gone out of business.”
Lack of communication about GWG problems
Robin is frustrated that SaskTel, Prairie Mobile and many other companies knew about the failure of GWG but he didn’t find out until he needed the company’s service.
“I think there’s a level of due diligence that’s required by any company if they are aware of something [like this],” Robin said.
“They have to notify their customers that there’s a problem and then recommend maybe a potential solution. That was never communicated to me.”
Prairie Mobile's President Kimberly Bishop told CBC’s iTeam her company first learned of troubles with GWG in August.
“We discovered it at the same time the customer discovered it,” Bishop said.
CBC's iTeam asked Bishop if she had any reason for concern about GWG prior to August.
“I would say no,” Bishop replied.
The iTeam pointed out to Bishop that MacFarlane told CBC that all companies, including Prairie Mobile, stopped selling GWG insurance in March.
At that point, Bishop acknowledged her company did have some discomfort with GWG prior to August.
“I would say that [GWG’s] level of customer service was not up to the standard of our customer service,” Bishop said. “And that would be why we stopped selling the product.”
Despite that concern, Bishop said, “GWG was continuing to deal with customers and was in touch with customers.”
'There’s no oversight. There’s no accountability built into the system.' - Lewis Robin
“We didn’t anticipate that the situation was going to turn out the way that it did.”
Bishop acknowledges that the company still hasn’t told all of its customers that GWG is now out of business.
She says they’re dealing with customers “when the need arises and when they have a claim. So they are being taken care of.”
When asked if Prairie Mobile would offer the same deal GWG offered Bishop said, “every situation is different and I can’t comment on the handling process.”
However, she said whatever Prairie does decide will “be the best possible solution for the customer.”
Cell phone warranties unregulated in Saskatchewan
The chair of Saskatchewan’s Financial and Consumer Affairs Authority says the GWG situation “raises concerns for us.”
Dave Wild told CBC’s iTeam that right now there are no regulations targeting the sale of cell phone warranties in the province.
“In the case of GWG there was no authorized person selling that [insurance] in terms of authorized by the insurance act. And there wasn’t an insurance underwriter behind the product,” Wild explained.
“It was very much a buyer beware situation.”
Robin said that’s not good enough. He believes consumers need protection and this industry needs rules.
“There’s no oversight. There’s no accountability built into the system. If they had to be accountable to somebody they I think you’d probably have a lot more due diligence in the system.”
Robin may be getting his wish.
Wild said the cell phone warranty field is an emerging issue in Saskatchewan and a “live debate” that will be getting the government’s attention soon.
Wild says the GWG situation gives the government a good opportunity to get regulation right.
The province is expected to introduce a new insurance act this fall.
“That’s going to give us an opportunity to look at the appropriate regulatory framework for products like this. It’s very timely.”
Wild says it will be a delicate and tricky balance to strike.
“These are not large policies. They’re not high value,” Wild explained.
“And the cost of regulation can be high. So we’re just looking for that right balance between consumers and not discouraging business to sell these sorts of products.”