COVID-19 Updates: Taking steps to return to normal.
Complaints related to 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.
Price-gouging or price-fixing above normal levels (with specific considerations) is only considered illegal when a provincial state of emergency has been declared – we are currently under a public health emergency. Find out more about COVID-19 for Albertans.
If you see prices for products or services impacted because of COVID-19, phone 1-877-427-4088 to Report a Rip-Off as an anonymous tip, if desired. This is an alternative to filing a formal complaint. 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.
Albertans have the right to a fair marketplace, particularly in times of uncertainty.
However, it is possible many businesses suffer legitimate increases in the cost of delivering a product or service. Businesses may be impacted by circumstances 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.
There may be circumstances where a business may attempt to capitalize on an opportunity to increase the price of a product or service contrary to relevant consumer protection legislation.
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.
Scammers utilize tragedy, fear, and emotion to victimize consumers. There has been an increase in fund-raising scams requesting donations for COVID-19 victims, charities or to capitalize on alleged cures, treatments and vaccines. Be cautious of any calls, emails or visits from individuals claiming to be collecting for these purposes.
Note: do not send money or give personal information if you are unsure of the requester’s legitimacy.
A consumer should request credentials, check with the organization, or both. Search for a business, charitable organization or fund-raising campaign that is provincially licensed or registered in Alberta.
Scammers may claim to represent experts or government departments and seem legitimate at first. Scams can be reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre online or via phone.
Refunds and cancellations
Many consumers have experienced cancellations, delays, modified dates or other concerns related to products and services already booked and paid for in advance.
Consumers sometimes request or need to receive a refund or to cancel services that they can no longer commit to due to the pandemic.
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 purchases where no representation regarding refunds or cancellation was made (prior to or at the time of transaction), the decision in most cases is left to the discretion of the supplier.
Note: review any terms and conditions associated to a transaction.
Each circumstance will vary depending on the terms 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 in the courts for monies they feel they are owed.
Businesses also may act outside of the terms of contract originally represented. If you believe that the business in failing to honour the terms of the contract, you may choose to submit a complaint for review.
Service Alberta’s Consumer Investigations Unit (CIU) accepts and reviews consumer complaints, and investigates potential violations of consumer protection and tenancy laws.
Investigations may be conducted when it appears that a breach of an Act under our authority may have occurred and that an investigation and enforcement action is warranted.
These investigations stem from complaints about consumer transactions where a business has allegedly breached Alberta’s consumer protection or tenancy laws. Most business-to-business transactions are not subject to consumer protection legislation.
Note: unlike commercial-consumer sales, the law does not explicitly cover private sales between individuals.
We urge all Albertans to act with consideration and caution and to find ways to help support each other in this time.
Submit a complaint
Contact Centre staff will review your concern and guide you toward the best method to submit your complaint for government review and consideration.
Note: the amount of time needed to review a complaint depends on the nature of the complaint, as well as the number and type of other complaints received at the time. It may take up to 30 days. The CIU will contact you if more information is needed
If a complaint submission is deemed appropriate, you will be required to provide your name, email address and a phone number. With this information, a Complainant ID will be created.
With a Complainant ID, you will be able to login into the CIU Consumer Complaint Portal and complete your complaint submission.
Note: in circumstances where email or computer access in unavailable, alternative submission options will be provided. Speak with the Contact Centre representative if this is required.
To complete a complaint submission, you will need to provide copies of all documents related to an incident including:
- estimates, contracts or rental agreements, including all attachments
- copies of any terms and conditions relevant to the transaction
- receipts, invoices, proof of payment
- cancellation or dispute letters
- emails and letters
- statements of account
- audio or video recordings
- all communication to and from the business
Ensure you have all details of an incident including:
- dates and times
- addresses – identify all locations you met at
- names of people involved
- all known contact information for the business
- your full contact information
Every complaint is unique. 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 is within legal jurisdiction
- available evidence to support the complaint
- if a business has a prior complaint history
- number of people affected
- vulnerability of the consumers
The CIU does not process incomplete submissions or matters that fall outside of Service Alberta’s consumer protection mandate. In those instances you may not receive confirmation of your submission.
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 faced with a problem, here are suggested steps to take:
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.
Contact 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.
If a business is part of a regulated profession such as veterinarians, real estate agents, electrical contractors, and so on, is a member of a business or industry association, contact the relevant organization and ask about options to resolve the matter.
If a 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, submit an official consumer complaint.
Pursue legal action
If you have a monetary claim under $50,000, you can file a civil action in provincial court.
Areas of jurisdiction
The CIU can investigate complaints and transactions related to:
- 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 and travel clubs
- unfair trade practices
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 authority to mediate disputes over money owed or deductions to security deposits. If you are trying to get money from a landlord or tenant, and if your claim is below the $50,000 limit, you may be able to file a claim with the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service.
If an investigator determines that consumer protections need to be enforced, the CIU can:
- issue a warning to the business or individual
- file charges in provincial courts
The 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 the Business Enforcement Search Tool to find out if an individual or business was not following consumer protection laws.
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.
- 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, or 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
Hours: 8:15 am to 4:30 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
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