British Columbia·Go Public

'I was tricked': Loblaws shopper says she was secretly signed up for credit card

A Toronto woman says she was told she was getting loyalty points for being a valued customer, but was actually registered to receive a PC Financial MasterCard.

Expert calls ‘plastic pitchmen’ tactics unethical

Credit card sign-up trickery


5 years ago
'I was tricked': Loblaws shopper says she was secretly signed up for credit card. Expert calls ‘plastic pitchmen’ tactics unethical 2:38

Luna Khirfan says she's deeply troubled after a man posing as a Loblaws employee told her she'd been picked to receive rewards points for being a frequent customer — when in fact, he was signing her up for a store credit card.

"He said, 'This is customer appreciation day,'" Khirfan said. "And that they were picking customers at random to be given 20,000 PC [President's Choice] points."

Khirfan says the man identified himself as a Loblaws employee and asked to see her driver's licence, which he then scanned using a tablet.

"He never told me he was going to scan," Khirfan said. "He just said, 'Can I look at your driver's licence to verify you are the person receiving the points?'"

Khirfan received a PC Financial Mastercard in the mail three days later.

"I was flabbergasted," she said. "This is really deception … I was tricked."

Go Public has learned the man who signed her up actually worked for SDI Marketing, a national company hired by PC Financial — a banking company owned by Loblaw Cos. Ltd.    

This is really deception ... I was tricked.- Luna Khirfan

In online job postings, SDI Marketing says it's hiring people to "acquire new credit card customers" for President's Choice Financial MasterCard.

Sales representatives are offered $13 an hour plus commission for signing up new customers.

Khirfan says the man who signed her up never uttered the words "credit card."

"None of the questions they asked indicated in any way that this was going to be a credit card application."

SDI Marketing declined to comment for this story.

Luna Khirfan says she was secretly signed up for a PC Financial MasterCard. (CBC)

Kevin Groh, Loblaw's vice-president of communications, told Go Public that Khirfan's experience is "unacceptable and very uncommon."

"At the same time, our expectation is that any rep in our stores will follow industry and Loblaw standards."

In a statement, PC Financial spokeswoman Lana Gogas said, "The activities you highlight are disappointing and we take them seriously."

The activities you highlight are disappointing and we take them seriously.- Lana Gogas, PC Financial

She said PC Financial would use this example for further training of representatives across the country and remind them "that they do not benefit by signing up unwilling customers."

She also said the representative who signed up Khirfan for a MasterCard is no longer working in the company's stores, and that PC Financial gets few complaints about its in-store salespeople.

'I asked several times'

Erin Arnold of Vancouver didn't complain to the company, but she told Go Public she had a very similar experience to Khirfan's.

She says she was approached inside a Loblaw's City Market — owned by Loblaw Cos. Ltd. — about two months ago.

"[The worker] said it was a point card, not a credit card," she said. "I asked several times. A few weeks later a credit card arrived."

Arnold says she cut up the card, and won't go back to that store.

Hidden camera

Go Public took a hidden camera into a Loblaw-owned Superstore in Vancouver. Two young men offered a chance to win free groceries for a year in exchange for answering a few questions on a tablet.

There was no mention of obtaining a credit card.

The survey asked about things like annual income, household income and amount spent on home insurance.

When asked if a credit card was going to be sent in the mail, one worker initially said no, and then said, "Basically, the whole point of the draw is to introduce people to PC Financial products."

When asked what that means, one of them replied, "So like the bank ... points card ... and the credit cards that they have."

At that point, Go Public declined to finish completing the survey.

Both men admitted, when asked, that they work for SDI Marketing — a company with a contract to sign up new PC Financial MasterCard customers.

'It's not right'

David Silver, a professor of business ethics at the University of British Columbia, says he's disturbed to hear the sales tactics being used in some stores.

"You don't need a professor of ethics, you can go to preschool to learn ... that it's not right," he said.

All Luna Khirfan had to do to activate the credit card she says she never asked for was dial a toll free number. (CBC)

Silver says it's not a problem for companies to outsource work, but "the thing you cannot do is outsource your ethics."

"If you hire a firm to do something for you ... it's your responsibility that they act in an ethical manner."

Referring to Khirfan's experience, Silver says it was "clearly unethical" to say her driver's licence was needed to give PC reward points, when it wasn't.

Federal laws

In fact, federal laws prohibit retail companies and other organizations from signing people up for credit cards without their consent.

Natasha Nystrom, a spokeswoman for the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, says the Competition Act "contains provisions prohibiting false or misleading representations and deceptive marketing practices."

"The representative taking the application needs to ensure that the consumer has provided their expressed consent for the credit card."

When asked whether PC Financial violated those federal regulations, spokeswoman Lana Gogas wrote, "We are very aware of the guidelines and we design our protocols to match."

'Plastic pitchmen'

Personal finance expert Kerry Taylor says besides being unethical, signing people up for credit cards without their knowledge can be financially dangerous.

"We need to stop the plastic pitchmen from peddling us debt products," she said.

David Silver, a professor of business ethics at the University of British Columbia, says some of the tactics allegedly used to sell PC Financial MasterCards are 'clearly unethical.' (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

"I think it's a little predatory that these businesses and even third parties are coming in and canvassing people to sign up for credit cards on the spot."

"People are unwittingly shopping in the frozen foods section and all of a sudden they're approached to get a card with the bonus of all these points."

It must be working well, she says, because companies keep doing it.

Credit affected

Simply applying for a credit card can affect someone's credit rating, according to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.

A "hard credit inquiry" occurs when a financial institution checks a person's credit to determine whether they qualify for a credit card.

We need to stop the plastic pitchmen from peddling us debt products.- Kerry Taylor, personal finance expert 

One hard inquiry could affect a person's credit rating by a few points. Multiple hard inquiries can suggest a person is in financial trouble because they appear to be desperate for credit.

And that can be a problem if someone is already struggling financially, Taylor says.

Wrong person to 'trick'

Luna Khirfan is an associate professor at the University of Waterloo's School of Planning, and she also serves on the university's ethics committee.

"I have knowledge of the history of deception in research," she said. "And I guess that's why I felt doubly bad. I am aware of deception, and to be deceived in that way was not pleasant."

PC Financial called Khirfan after she complained and offered her 50,000 PC Points, which she reluctantly accepted and has not yet used.

She has shredded the MasterCard sent to her, and says the experience has affected how she interacts with store employees.

"In the future, I'm sorry to say, I might be less friendly," she said. "And be more upfront, 'Is this a credit card application?' So next time, I'm prepared."

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Erica Johnson

Investigative reporter

Erica Johnson is an award-winning investigative journalist. She hosted CBC's consumer program Marketplace for 15 years, investigating everything from dirty hospitals to fraudulent financial advisors. As co-host of the CBC news segment Go Public, Erica continues to expose wrongdoing and hold corporations and governments to account.

With files from James Roberts


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