Edmonton

Door-to-door sales scams continue despite Alberta ban

Door-to-door salespeople are still trying to sell Albertans furnaces, water heaters and electricity contracts despite the government's move to ban the practice as of Jan. 1.

A new law prohibiting door-to-door sales of energy products hasn't stopped it from happening

In this January photo, Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean, left, meets with Ruth Zinck in her home. In 2015, a salesperson signed Zinck up for a five-year energy contract without her consent, using the name of her deceased husband. ((Evelyne Asselin/CBC))

Door-to-door salespeople are still trying to sell Albertans furnaces, water heaters and electricity contracts despite the government's move to ban the practice as of Jan. 1.

Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean said Tuesday her department has received 18 complaints about door-to-door energy sales since the beginning of January and is investigating 10 of them for using misleading methods.

Service Alberta is investigating salespeople for misrepresenting themselves as agents of a local utility or municipality.

Others have been selling light bulbs or furnace filters as a way to get inside a home to then sell a banned item.

Some have said they are conducting a survey or inspection so the customer can qualify for a rebate — which actually doesn't exist.

Effective Jan. 1, the government banned door-to-door sales of furnaces, water heaters, windows, air conditioners, energy audits and natural gas and electricity energy contracts.

Penalties for companies that don't comply include a fine of up to $300,000 or up to two years' imprisonment under the Fair Trading Act.

McLean said she is disappointed that after the government took a "strong stance" to protect consumers, some companies are still attempting to find "loopholes."

The salespeople come from outside Alberta and are "well trained and very experienced in what they do and they do it across the country," McLean said.

They are "Ontarians [who] are being shipped in by the busloads to conduct these scams and go door-to-door," the minister said.

One common method salespeople use is phoning to say they want to check the consumer's furnace.

"And then once they're in your home, they try to sell you something that is banned in our law," said McLean, adding sometimes the salespeople will just appear on a homeowner's doorstep.

Complaints more common in urban areas

Complaints are spread out across the province, but are more common in urban areas.

"We don't want to be playing a game of whack-a-mole," McLean said. "I am here to tell them they are violating our consumer protection laws, and they may be violating the Criminal Code as well."

McLean hasn't ruled out expanding the ban of products or services that can't be sold on doorsteps.

Customers are advised to check a company's record online to see if there are complaints or recommendations before going forward with any sale, said Ron Mycholuk, public relations manager with the Better Business Bureau of Central and Northern Alberta.

"Without people doing any research, they're going to spend money on something they don't need, and end up with bills they can't afford," Mycholuk said.

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