Changes due to COVID-19

As a result of COVID-19, Service Alberta has noted an increase in consumer protection concerns such as:

  • an increase in the price of a product or services
  • delays or discontinuing of services
  • scams to donate to COVID-19 victims, charities, or capitalize on alleged cures or treatments

Consumers may also be impacted by conditions relating to refund or cancellation for products or services already booked and paid for in advance.

Price increases

The impact of pricing may vary from no increase, a moderate increase or circumstances that may be described as price gouging. When impacted by these concerns there are many factors to consider.

Price-gouging or price-fixing above normal levels (with specific considerations) would only be considered illegal if a provincial state of emergency has been declared. We are currently under a Public Health Emergency.

  • Hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and other items are currently in high demand because of COVID-19
  • The Consumer Protection Act prevents suppliers from grossly raising prices with no explanation beyond what is reasonable for goods that are readily available.

Considerations

Albertans have the right to a fair marketplace, particularly in times of uncertainty.

However, it is possible that many businesses will suffer legitimate increases in the cost of delivering a product or service. Businesses may be impacted by circumstances that were previously not within the operator’s original consideration such as:

  • supply chain costs
  • supply issues
  • delivery issues
  • staffing shortages
  • occupational health and safety concerns

Other unforeseen issues can cause a decrease in service, or an unexpected increase in business cost or business losses.

Some businesses may suffer a significant financial impact and may adjust their prices in an effort to reduce their losses.

Terms and conditions

Not all agreements obligate a business to allow cancellation or provide a refund. While many businesses may choose to take a balanced approach, others may strictly maintain the terms and conditions presented at the time of purchase. For circumstances where no representation regarding refund or cancellation was made (prior to or at the time of transaction), the determination in most cases is left to the discretion of the supplier.

  • It is recommended consumers review any terms and conditions associated to the transaction.

Each circumstance will vary depending on the representations provided prior to or at the time of purchase. Where no representation was made (prior to or at the time of transaction) a consumer may seek civil remedy for monies they feel they are owed.

Independent of the information discussed above; there may be circumstances where a business may attempt to capitalize on the opportunity to increase the price of a product or service contrary to relevant consumer protection legislation.

Businesses also may act outside of the terms of contract originally represented. The Service Alberta Consumer Investigations Unit takes these matters seriously and considers all factors when reviewing complaints about the price of a product or service.

Submitting complaints

As a result of an anticipated volume in these types of concerns and specific to COVID-19, consumers are encouraged (as an alternative to a formal complaint) to provide information to the Service Alberta – Report a Rip off tip line by phoning 1-877-427-4088 and follow the prompts to Report a Rip-Off.

Information provided to the tip line will be evaluated by Consumer Protection Staff. Not all complaints will be investigated. Should the circumstances presented warrant additional contact, you will be contacted directly. As an alternative, online complaints may be submitted via a Report-a Rip-Off online submission form.

Note, in most cases, the CIU does not deal with business-to-business transactions or personal transactions between individuals.

We urge all Albertans to act with consideration and caution and to find ways to help support each other in this time.

Emails

Be aware of the possibility of emails claiming to be from experts or government departments. Health information and health advice can be found by visiting Alberta Health Services Health Advice.

Charity research

Find information on charity, fundraising and solicitation responsibilities or phone the Consumer Contact Centre toll-free at 1-877-427-4088, or the Canada Revenue Agency toll-free at 1-800-267-2384, to ensure charities are legitimate.

Search for a licensed business, charity or fundraiser.

For more information, visit COVID-19 info for Albertans

Overview

The Consumer Investigations Unit (CIU) investigates complaints from Albertans about consumer transactions where a business has breached Alberta’s consumer protection or tenancy laws.

Most business to business transactions are not subject to consumer protection legislation.

Protecting your rights

The Consumer Investigations Unit accepts and reviews consumer complaints, and investigates potential violations of consumer protection and tenancy laws.

Every complaint is unique. When the CIU receives your complaint, you can expect a thorough assessment of the issue to determine if a violation of any consumer protection or tenancy laws has occurred. If so, an investigation may be warranted.

You also have the option to Report a Rip-Off as an anonymous tip. This is an alternative to a formal complaint. Call 1-877-427-4088 and follow the prompts to Report a Rip-Off.

Tenancy complaints

For tenancy complaints, the CIU can investigate offences under the law, and can take enforcement action if a violation is proven. The CIU does not have the power to mediate disputes over money owed or deductions to security deposits.

If you are trying to get money from your landlord or tenant, and if your claim is up to $50,000, you might be able to file your claim through the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service.

Areas covered by the CIU

The CIU can investigate complaints and transactions related to:

  • auctions
  • cemeteries
  • charitable fundraising
  • collection agencies
  • condominium developments
  • credit reports
  • door-to-door sales
  • employment agencies
  • energy marketing
  • gift cards
  • home inspections
  • landlords and tenants (mobile home sites and residential tenancies)
  • payday loans
  • prepaid contracting
  • time shares & travel clubs
  • unfair trade practices

Considerations for complaints

Every complaint is reviewed to see if an offence has occurred and if an investigation is needed. We consider several factors when reviewing a complaint, including but not limited to:

  • whether the issue falls under legislation we can handle
  • available evidence to support the complaint
  • if a business has prior complaint history
  • the number of people affected
  • the vulnerability of the consumers

Enforcement

If an investigator determines that consumer protection violations need to be enforced, the CIU can:

  • issue a warning to the business or individual
  • lay charges in provincial courts.

CIU can also make recommendations for Service Alberta’s administrative actions. When a supplier or regulated entity has been found to contravene relevant legislation, Service Alberta can:

  • suspend, cancel or impose conditions on a licence
  • issue an administrative penalty
  • issue a Director's Order
  • enter into an Undertaking.

Use this search tool to find out if an individual or business was not following consumer protection laws.

Before you submit a complaint

Before submitting a complaint, it is recommended you try to resolve the problem first.

Consumer issues span a vast variety of unique problems. Some can be solved almost instantly, and some involve extensive investigations. Regardless of the circumstances, you have the right to protect your interests and take action if you have been treated unfairly.

When you are faced with a problem, here are the steps you can take:

  1. Go back to the business
    • Discuss the issue with the business that provided the goods or services. Be specific about your request, and make sure to get clear explanations as to how your request will be handled. It is best to start this process privately, and give business an opportunity to address the problem.
  2. Contact your local Better Business Bureau
    • If a business you are dealing with has Better Business Bureau accreditation, you can file a complaint with Better Business Bureau. This organization may then mediate to get an action from the business to address your problem.
  3. Contact a professional or industry association
    • If a business is part of a regulated profession (such as veterinarians, real estate agents, electrical contractors, and so on), business or industry association, contact the relevant organization and ask about options to resolve the matter.
  4. File a complaint with Consumer Investigations Unit
    • If the business has committed an unfair practice or unlawful activity as defined in the Consumer Protection Act and there is no remedy from dealing with the business, you can submit an official consumer complaint. All complaints are assessed on a case by case basis to determine an appropriate course of action to address the issue. Anonymous complaints are accepted through the Report a Rip-Off tip line, but anonymous complaints cannot proceed to enforcement action.
  5. Pursue a civil action
    • If you have a claim that is under $50,000, you can file a civil action at the provincial court.

How to submit a complaint

Incomplete submissions will not be reviewed and you will not receive any correspondence from our office. One of the complaint forms listed in Step 1 (below) is required and every field on the form must be filled in.

Step 1. Choose a complaint form.

Choose the complaint form that best matches your area of concern.  Complaint forms include the following topics:

Step 2. Fill out the complaint form

Once you have chosen your area of concern complete the associated complaint form. If the complaint form is not filled out entirely, your submission will be considered incomplete and no action will be taken by the CIU.

The PDF editable form allows you to open the form with Adobe Reader and enter your details. Once completed the form can be saved on your computer.

Trouble opening or completing PDF forms?

Fillable forms do not open properly on some mobile devices and web browsers. To fill in and save this form:

  1. Click on the PDF link to save it on your computer.
  2. Launch Adobe Reader.
  3. Open the PDF from within Adobe Reader. You can now fill and save your form.

Step 3: Gather your documents

You will also need to provide copies of all the documents you have related to the incident, including:

  • estimates, contracts or rental agreements including all attachments
  • copies of any terms and conditions relevant to the transaction
  • receipts, invoices, proof of payments
  • cancellation or dispute letters
  • e-mails and letters
  • statements of account
  • audio or video recordings
  • all communication to and from the business

Ensure you have provided all of the details of the incident, including:

  • dates and times
  • addresses (identify all locations you met at)
  • names of people involved
  • witnesses
  • your full contact information
  • all known contact information for the business

Step 4. Submit the complaint form

You can email (email is preferred), mail or fax your complaint form along with your documents to the Consumer Investigations Unit office. You can also drop it off in person.

Northern Alberta (north of Ponoka)

Email (north of Ponoka): ciu.north@gov.ab.ca

Fax: 780-422-9106

Mail or drop off:

Service Alberta
Consumer Investigations Unit
3rd Floor, Commerce Place
10155 102 Street
Edmonton, Alberta  T5J 4L4

Southern Alberta (south of Ponoka)

Email (Ponoka and south): ciu.south@gov.ab.ca

Fax: 403-297-4270

Mail:

Service Alberta
Consumer Investigations Unit
301, 7015 MacLeod Trail SW
Calgary, Alberta  T2H 2K6

After you submit your complaint

Due to high volumes of complaints, the Consumer Investigation Unit does not process incomplete submissions or matters that fall outside of Service Alberta’s consumer protection mandate. In those instances you will not receive confirmation of your submission.

If, upon review, your complaint is validated and merits further assessment or potential investigation, you will receive a notice within 30 days of receipt of your complaint.

Role of the CIU

When a complete complaint submission is received, the first step is a thorough review to ensure it is within the CIU’s legal jurisdiction and all of the necessary documentation is included. Upon review, the CIU will inform you of a recommended action. If a complaint is opened by the CIU for investigation, it is assigned to an Investigator.

The Investigator:

  • reviews the issue to determine the scope of a potential consumer protection offence or unfair practice
  • establishes an investigation plan which is necessary to coordinate evidence to a court standard
  • establishes appropriate channels of communication with all parties related to the complaint and maintains open communication throughout the investigation process
  • gathers evidence
    • the Investigator will likely ask you numerous questions and request an interview to understand the issue and ask you to present any relevant documents for the purposes of the investigation; this may include receipts, contracts, correspondences and other proofs of purchase
    • the Investigator will also speak with the business to provide an opportunity for the business to respond to your allegations
  • recommends an enforcement action or information resolution / disposition as necessary based on the facts and findings of the case.
    • while the Investigator may recommend a specific enforcement action, based on sustained allegations, the final decision regarding any administrative sanctions or the prosecution of the case rests with the Director of Fair Trading or the Crown.

The CIU is not responsible for, nor does it have jurisdiction over:

  • recovering financial losses
  • enforcing court orders
  • mediating between consumers and businesses outside of the investigative process
  • renegotiating contracts
  • assisting with civil court process
  • investigations normally conducted by police

Contact

Hours: 8:15 am to 4:30 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)

Toll free: 1-877-427-4088

Northern Alberta (north of Ponoka)

Email: ciu.north@gov.ab.ca

Southern Alberta (south of Ponoka)

Email: ciu.south@gov.ab.ca