Overview

The Consumer Protection Act protects consumers from unfair business practices before, during or after a consumer transaction.

Service Alberta can investigate an alleged unfair practice if:

  • the consumer or supplier lives in Alberta
  • the offer or acceptance is made in or sent from Alberta
  • the unfair practice is made or received in Alberta
  • the unfair practice involves an Alberta supplier or their representative

An unfair practice may occur even if you do not start or finish a consumer transaction.

You cannot waive your rights under the Consumer Protection Act. If a consumer contract is vague, the terms of the contract are interpreted in favour of the consumer.

Preventing and resolving problems

Preventing problems

You can prevent unfair practices from occurring if you:

  • make sure you understand what is being offered in any advertising and what a salesperson tells you about a product or service
  • get answers to your questions before you buy
  • never sign a contract unless you have read it to make sure it includes all the terms and conditions to which you agreed
  • never sign a blank contract that a salesperson says will be filled in later
  • make sure all verbal claims that a salesperson makes about the goods or services are listed in the contract
  • write into the sales agreement any statement the supplier says that encourages you to buy the product (for example, the car has never been in an accident)
  • always keep your bills of sale, contracts, warranties, instructions and cancelled cheques

Resolving problems

The first step to resolving a problem is to talk to the business or supplier.

If that is not successful, you may be able to file a complaint with the Consumer Investigations Unit.

As an alternative, if you are otherwise unsuccessful in resolving the problem and have suffered a loss because of an unfair practice, you can start an action against the supplier in the Court of Queen’s Bench.

If the claim is less than $50,000, it can be heard before the Provincial Court of Alberta, Civil Division. This level of court can only award damages for losses suffered.

Examples of unfair trade practices

Abuse

  • Intensively pressuring or influencing a consumer to buy.
    • Example: A salesperson spends 4 hours in a consumer’s home trying to sell a vacuum cleaner.
  • Taking advantage of a consumer who does not understand a transaction
    • Example: A seller convinces a consumer who cannot speak or read English to sign a multi-page contract.

Misrepresentation

Quality

  • Representing that goods or services are of a particular quality, style or model if that representation is untrue.
    • Example: A furniture dealer says a coffee table is solid wood when it’s actually particleboard.
  • Making false or misleading statements about the condition of used goods.
    • Example: The seller tells a consumer that a car has 100,000 kilometers on it and the true mileage is 200,000 kilometers.
  • Representing goods as new when they are used, deteriorated, altered or reconditioned.
    • Example: A computer is sold as new, but the seller has reconditioned it.

Pricing

  • Stating that a specific price benefit exists if it does not.
    • Example: A business advertises that an item is on sale or the price is ‘20% off’ if the item has never been sold at the regular price.
  • Representing the price of goods or services in a manner that leads consumers to reasonably believe the price refers to a larger package of goods or services.
    • Example: A company advertises it will build a complete fence for a home for $2,000 when the fence project is for the rear of the house only. Adding 2 more sides would cost $1,500 more.

Availability

  • Misrepresenting the reason why or how goods or services are available.
    • Example: The seller says the goods were bought at an estate auction to convince potential buyers they are looking at great deals when they were actually purchased as regular inventory.

Services

  • Stating that a part, replacement, repair or adjustment is needed or desirable when it is not.
    • Example: A shop replaces a dryer motor when only the belt needed replacing.
  • Implying that the supplier is asking for information, conducting a survey or soliciting when that is not true.
    • Example: A door-to-door salesperson asks a consumer to fill out a home care survey when the salesperson actually wants to sell a vacuum cleaner.

Overcharging

  • Charging a price that grossly exceeds the price of similar goods that are readily available without informing the consumer of the difference and the reason for the difference.
    • Example: A contractor charges a homeowner $7,500 for roof repairs that would have been be done by competitors for $2,500.
  • Charging a price for goods or services that is more than 10%, to a maximum of $100, higher than the estimate given unless the consumer has specifically agreed to the increase.
    • Example: A repair shop says it will cost $150 to fix an item, but the final bill is $400.

Lying

Quality

  • Making an untrue statement about a good’s prior history or use.
    • Example: The seller tells the consumer a car was only driven by the owner of a dealership, when it was a lease-back from a rental company.
  • Making claims about a product’s performance, capability or length of life without proper testing to prove it.
    • Example: a business states that a device installed in your vehicle will reduce gas consumption, without basing their claim on proper independent testing.

Pricing

  • Giving an estimated price for goods or services if they cannot be provided for that price.
    • Example: A renovation company tells a homeowner that it can replace the garage door for $500 when it knows the price for parts alone is $700.

Availability

  • Claiming that a particular number of goods are available if they are not.
    • Example: A store advertises it has 35 stereos for sale when in fact it has one stereo in stock.

Services

  • Claiming that a voucher from one supplier can be used at a different business for goods or services when the first supplier knows (or ought to know) the voucher won’t be accepted.
    • Example: A company sells a coupon book knowing that some of the businesses will not honour the coupons.
  • Telling a customer that goods or services will be available at a stated time if the supplier knows (or ought to know) they will not.
    • Example: A hot tub company promises a tub will be installed on Christmas Eve when it knows the installation staff will not be available.
  • Telling a consumer they will be rewarded for finding other customers even though they won’t get any reward.
    • Example: A marketer agrees to give you a reduced price on your next order when you refer a friend to the company, but it never gives you a reduction.

Definitions

Consumer transaction
Any sale, lease or other transfer of goods or services for payment. This includes a contest prize and goods or services given to someone else.
Consumer
An individual who:
  • is given or pays for goods or services
  • does not intend to sell goods after receiving them
Goods
Goods generally refer to:
  • material items used primarily for personal, family or household purposes
  • a new residential dwelling, whether or not it's attached to land
  • a voucher that promises goods or services in the future
Services
Include, but are not limited to, any of the following when they are used primarily for personal, family or household purposes:
  • maintenance, improvement or repairs to goods or private homes
  • membership in a club or organization if the club or organization is in business to make a profit for its owners
  • the right to use property under a time-share contract
Payday loan
A loan of $1,500 or less for a term of 62 days or less.
Credit agreement
An agreement under which credit is extended, including:
  • a loan of money
  • the extension of credit
  • a sale on credit
  • an agreement under which a loan or credit sale may occur in the future
Supplier
A person who:
  • provides goods or services to consumers
  • manufactures, assembles, or produces goods,
  • promotes the use of goods or services, or
  • receives or is entitled to receive money or other consideration as a result of the provision of goods or services to consumers
This includes any salesperson, employee, representative or agent of the supplier.

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 Red Deer)

Email: ciu.north@gov.ab

Southern Alberta (Red Deer and south)

Email: ciu.south@gov.ab