Door-to-door sales: Don't get fooled

We hope any tricks you fell for this April Fool's Day were harmless and fun. Unfortunately, for some businesses, tricking and fooling people is a year-round pursuit. Salespeople coming to your door pose a particular risk of being pressured or misled into getting something you don't need, you can't afford, or isn't what it's claimed to be.

This month's On the Radar is about using the Consumer Protection Act to help your clients with these and other problems related to door-to-door sales.

What kinds of sales are we talking about?

If you buy goods or services for $50 or more, in person, anywhere that is not the seller's place of business or an auction, market, exhibition, or fair, the Consumer Protection Act calls this a "direct agreement", and special rules apply. The most common type of direct agreement is door-to-door sales.

First line of defence: Don't sign!

Although hard for some people to do, this is the simplest way to protect yourself. Instead of signing anything or paying money on the spot, ask the seller to leave printed information and a copy of the proposed contract for you to think about it. If the seller is pressuring you to sign right away, that's usually a warning sign that something is wrong.

Second line of defence: Cancelling the agreement

Even if you signed the contract, there are three ways you may be able to cancel the agreement:
  1. You can cancel it within 10 days after being given a copy. You don't need a reason. You are allowed to simply change your mind within this "cooling off" period.
  2. You can cancel the agreement any time within one year of signing if you have not been given a copy of the contract with all the required information in it. Visit e-laws to see what must be included.
  3. You can cancel the agreement if more than 30 days have passed since the date for delivering the goods or starting to perform the services, and the seller still has not done so.
To cancel the agreement, it is best to give the seller written notice with the date on it, and keep a copy for yourself. The seller then must give you a refund within 15 days and is responsible for picking up the product or paying the cost for you to send it back.

Third line of defence: Getting out of an unfair agreement

The Act also gives you the right to get out of a contract if the seller used any "unfair business practice". (This applies to most types of consumer contracts, not just door-to-door sales.)

Generally, it is an unfair business practice if the seller deceives the customer in any way, or takes unfair advantage of a customer who is vulnerable because of a lack of knowledge, language difficulties, age, disability, or other factors. The Act lists over two dozen types of unfair practices in sections 14, 15, and 16.

If the seller used any unfair business practice, you have the right to get out of the contract by "rescinding" it within one year of signing. You should give written notice to the seller and give your reason for rescinding. The seller has 30 days to respond to your rescission letter.

If you are not satisfied

If the seller does not respond or give you a refund within the time allowed, or if you are not satisfied with their response, you can complain to the Ministry of Consumer Services. There are complaint forms on the Ministry's website.

The Ministry can investigate the complaint and try to mediate a resolution. It can also order the seller to comply with the Act and can lay charges in Provincial Offences Court. The judge can fine the seller or even send them to jail, and can also order them to pay "restitution" – repaying all or some of your money.

You can also sue the seller in civil court. It is best to get legal help with this.
This email alert gives general legal information. It is not a substitute for getting legal advice about a particular situation.
April 2013

On the Radar is a monthly email alert from CLEO that highlights timely legal information.

Related Resources:

Consumer Protection Toolkit: Door-to-Door Sales (Community Law School (Sarnia-Lambton) Inc.)
Door-to-Door Sales (Ministry of Consumer Services)
Sample cancellation or rescission letters (Ministry of Consumer Services)
Watch for CLEO's new series on a variety of consumer law topics, coming later this year.

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