Area of Law: Consumer Law
Answer # 813
Making consumer complaintsRegion: Ontario Answer # 813
If you have been the victim of a consumer scam or bad business practice, you have rights and remedies under the law. Ontario’s Consumer Protection Act, 2002 sets out a detailed list of activities that are regarded as improper business behaviour toward consumers called “unfair practices.” Unfair practices are divided into two categories: “false, misleading or deceptive representation”; and “unconscionable representation.”
False, misleading or deceptive representation
False, misleading or deceptive representation covers misrepresentations made to a consumer by a business to get the consumer to buy a product or service. These misrepresentations may include:
- saying that used goods are new or unused
- saying that goods or services are sponsored or approved when they are not
- saying there is a price advantage when there is not
- saying that a service or repair is needed that isn’t
- failing to state important facts about the goods or services
- promising that an item can be returned or a refund obtained when it can’t be
An unconscionable representation happens when a business takes advantage of a consumer because of the consumer’s weaker position. For example, if a seller knows that a buyer cannot read English, and has them sign an English language contract that says something different from what was promised, this would be an unconscionable representation.
Other examples include:
- if the seller knows that the goods or services will not be of any use to the consumer
- the seller knows that the consumer will not be able to pay
- the seller uses undue pressure to get the consumer to sign an agreement or to purchase goods
- the seller takes advantage of a consumer’s disability, illiteracy or ignorance to make the sale
Rights and remedies
If you have been the victim of an unfair business practice, you have several options.
1. Cancel the contract: The Consumer Protection Act gives you the right to cancel your contract within one year of signing it, and to receive back any money you paid. Initially, you may try speaking with your salesperson and cancelling the contract verbally. If this doesn’t work, it is best to write a letter confirming that you have cancelled the contract. State the reasons why you cancelled it and give the company a date by which you expect to receive payment. It is advisable to keep a copy of the letter in case the business does not refund your money and you need to take further action.
2. If you do not get a satisfactory response to your letter, or no response at all, you can then file a complaint against the business with the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. You cannot make a formal complaint by phone or e-mail, you must complete a Ministry complaint form available online at ontario.ca. The Ministry will help you try and get your money back.
3. Another option is to sue the business in Small Claims Court. In Ontario, the Small Claims Court can hear cases for amounts up-to and including $25,000. Even if more than one year has passed, you may still be entitled to go to court and sue the business for your money on the basis that they took money from you under an invalid or improper contract.
4. You can also make a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) by completing their form online at bbb.org. The BBB does not get involved with:
- cases already in the courts
- complaints being dealt with by another agency
- situations regarding employment
- debt collection
More information on business practices and your rights as a consumer can be found from the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. For information on making a consumer complaint, visit Consumer Protection Ontario.
For legal assistance, contact a lawyer.
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