Consumer protection laws are different from country to country, and province to province within Canada. If you have a legal issue, it is really important to speak to a lawyer in your area. The following information is not legal advice and does not take the place of speaking with a licensed lawyer who is familiar with the laws where you live.
WHAT IS CONSUMER PROTECTION?
Consumer protection laws exist to help people when they are buying things in certain cases. They often target situations where a buyer could be taken advantage of, and they do things like allow a buyer to change their mind during a cooling-off period or to get out of a contract that they otherwise would not be able to get out of. Consumer protection laws can be really helpful, and there are other things we can all do as well to make sure we always get what we bargain for.
One story that has been making headlines recently is the airline passenger who agreed to be bumped from a full flight in exchange for an $800 airline voucher. He never received the voucher and went to the media with his story. Companies shouldn’t be making promises and then breaking them. If their employee makes you an offer in exchange for giving up your seat on the plane and you perform your end of the agreement, you should get the compensation they offered. This is a verbal contract made with someone who speaks for the company, and the company needs to hold up their end of the deal.
There are proposed new regulations that could come into force as early as this summer that deal with the airline industry. There are countless stories of people getting stuck on the tarmac for hours, getting delayed because of overbooked flights, having their bags lost, and there is no real clarity as to what these people should have the right to get as compensation. These rules will seek to clarify what we can expect. Until then, it’s always a good idea to get an offer in writing (generally by email,) that will avoid any questions of misunderstandings or who said what at the gate. If you have an offer in writing and you held up your end of the agreement, you can expect the airline to hold up theirs. If they don’t, you can take your complaint up the chain at the airline and the email proof will help you.
PROTECT YOUR ONLINE PURCHASES
Another area of consumer protection relates to online shopping. There is so much more being done online these days, and unlike in a store where you can ask a sales associate the return policy, it is not always clear online. Most provinces have consumer protection laws that apply if you make a purchase online of over $50. The difficulty is that, for the rules to apply, you have to be shopping with a company based in your province, and this is often not the case. The rules say that you have to get a clear breakdown of what you are buying, the taxes, the currency, the terms and conditions, etc. But a lot of the time we are buying from other provinces and other countries, and that means these rules don’t apply.
If you’re shopping with a big department store in another country, you should be able to access information about returns fairly easily. You should also inquire about shipping costs and taxes/duties you might have to pay. But with smaller companies, you may not be able to find this information. They also might not accept returns. So before you click “buy” make sure you’re clarifying whatever you need to know, because otherwise you may be stuck with whatever you buy.
If you shop with online auction sites, a lot of them have mechanisms in place for in case you get your item and it is counterfeit or not as described. You should definitely use the dispute resolution of these companies if this happens to you, because they have the power to take back the money you have paid and return it to you if they take your side in the dispute. As another resort, assuming you have paid by credit card, you will sometimes have coverage through your card in the event that you don’t receive what you were promised. Be very careful if you are sending cash by money transfer. Often this money will be gone once it leaves your account, without any way of retrieving it.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
Consumer protection laws also for the most part give you a cooling-off period for when you buy a membership, to a gym for example. So in Ontario you have the right to cancel within 10 days. There are similar provisions for entering a cell phone contract. Each province has clear information on their website, and it is a good idea to know what your rights are before you agree to a membership or contract of any kind.
Remember that with any kind of shopping, things that seem too good to be true often are! Make sure you are looking into companies before you deal with them to see if other people have had issues with them. Try to use your credit card for some added protection when you shop. And don’t be afraid to call a store before you buy online to clarify any issues to do with return policies, shipping, etc. And when a promise is made to you, it is always a good idea to get it in writing. Happy shopping!