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This resource offers some basic consumer rights such as refund and exchange rules when purchase goods, signing a consumer contracts to purchase goods or services, cooling period and cancel of contract.  What is your right if you received goods that you did not ask for as well as some remedies to resolves complaints.

In some situation, consumer may received a letter from retailer’s lawyer demand for payment of money because they or their children were caught for shoplifting at the store.  In most case, the store has recovered the items stolen and therefore is not claiming the value of what was taken.   Letters are often sent in situations where there was no charge was laid by police.  This letter is call “civil recovery demand letters”.  In some situation, retailers use collection agency to contact the consumers to demand for money payment.

We have permission from the Justice for Children and Youth legal clinic to use their pamphlet on these subjects to give you basics information and remedies to deal with these situations.

By Topic List:

Consumer rights and protection

Civil Recovery Demand letter 

1.         PURCHASING GOODS

Refund and Exchange Policies

When you are about to make a purchase, you should ask the store about it’s exchange or refund policy.  There is no legal requirement for stores to offer refunds or exchanges to customers.  It is up to each store to set up their own refund or exchange policy.  You do however have a right to obtain this policy in writing.  You should also ask:

  • if the store gives full or partial refunds, exchanges or credit notes
  • if seasonal items can only be returned within a certain period of time
  • what personal items, such as jewelry or lingerie, are excluded from the store’s policy
  • what you need as proof of purchase – a sales slip, cancelled cheque, account bill and/or the original packaging
  • if only unopened or clearly unused merchandise can be returned
  • if there is a “restocking,” or similar fee, to return goods.

Product Dissatisfaction 

Legislation does not require consumer goods to last forever.  However, they should under normal use, last a reasonable length of time. If the product is defective you can ask that the product be repaired and if it cannot be repairedwhether it can be replaced and if the product cannot be repaired or replaced, a refund.

The first step when you are dissatisfied with a product or service is to contact the salesperson, retailer or business Legislation does not require consumer goods to last forever.  However, they should under normal use, last a reasonable length of time. If the product is defective you can ask that the product be repaired and if it cannot be repaired whether it can be (in person or by phone) regarding your dissatisfaction.If you contacted the business, ensure that you keep a record of who you talked to (person’s name or title – sales clerk, manager,), the date, which office, the nature of the problem and the response.

If you are not satisfied with the results, the next step is to write a letter to someone higher up such as a Manager, General Manager or Owner. Provide all of the details of the problem and your efforts to resolve it.  Ask for action.

Your letter should include your name, address, and telephone number; the name and type of product purchased, date you bought it and price you paid; an outline of the problems and your attempts to solve them; what you want the store to do about your problem and copies of receipts or other documents. Keep all original copies yourself.

2.         CONSUMER CONTRACTS

Signing a Contract to Purchase Goods or Services 

A contract to purchase goods or services is a legally binding document.  Any future disputes will be based on the contents of that contract.  Therefore before you sign a contract, you should make sure you understand what the contract says, read what the contract says and understand what you are agreeing to before you sign it.  Do not feel pressured to sign a contract.  It is better to take your time, to have someone you trust look it over for you instead of signing it and then trying to get out of it later.

You have the right to request that conditions relating to the cancellation of the contract or refund of a deposit be added to the contract if they are not already contained in the contract. If the purchase more than $50, you have the right to cancel within the cooling period which is 10 days. It’s best to cancel by registered mail or fax so that you have proof of the cancellation.

When you take advantage of your 10-day cooling-off period and notify the company (preferably in writing) that you have changed your mind, the company has 15 days to return your money. The business has the right to take back the goods provided under the agreement by either picking them up or paying for the cost of sending them back

Pre-paid goods or services

Written contracts are required for goods or services worth more than $50 where some part of the contract occurs in the future (e.g. a gym membership). The contract must contain complete details of the transaction and full disclosure of any credit terms.

Home Renovation Contracts

You should get several estimates from different contractors before you decide to choose a contractor for the job.  Under the law, the final price of the goods or services cannot be more than 10 per cent over the original estimate. If new work comes up, your contractor should discuss it with you and you should be asked to approve a “change order” that includes the new work and a revised estimate to cover new goods and services.

When you sign the contract make sure it clearly list out the any extras (additional items or services that would not be covered in a standard contract); The type and amount of work to be done, total cost, start date, date of completion and who is responsible for cleaning up after the job is finished.

Read the fine print to make sure all subtrades are covered and listed in the contract in order to avoid a nasty surprise when you are faced with a hefty bill from an electrician or plumber on top of the price you thought covered the entire job.

Check warranties and guarantees carefully. The contractor’s reputation and length of time in business are important. A “10-year” guarantee is worthless if the contractor goes out of business

The Consumer Services Bureau as well as the Better Business Bureau both have a list of companies they have received complaints about.  These lists are made available to the public and can be accessed through their web sites.  Details about these lists can be found at the end of this article.  It is best to also check these lists when looking for a contractor.

If a large amount of money is involved, it is best to have a lawyer go over the contract to advise you of your rights and how the contract operates. Do this before you sign.

Avoid paying any large up-front fees or deposits. Deposits should equal no more than 10 per cent of the total cost. Never pay in cash and always keep a record of payment.

Misrepresentation is illegal

All charges in a contract must be what they say they are. For example, a business may not add a $20 surcharge for a “tax” that is not really for tax. Make sure you understand what each charge is for and that it’s valid.

3.  OTHER CONSUMER ISSUES

Repossession

A seller cannot take back goods you have bought but not paid for fully, as long as you have paid two-thirds or more of the cost, except by court order. It is important to remember that if you miss a payment, the seller can take you to court to get full payment which could hurt your credit rating.

Unsolicited goods
If someone sends you goods you did not ask for, you do not have to accept or pay for them. In fact, you can use them or throw them out. You are not responsible for an unsolicited credit card either unless you use it to purchase something.

Deliveries must be made on time

If a delivery does not arrive within 30 days of the promised date, you can cancel the contract by sending a cancellation letter. However, you lose the right to cancel the agreement if you accept delivery after the 30 days.

4.   REMEDIES

1.  Ministry of Consumer Services

If you are having problems dealing with a company you have signed a contract with or purchased goods from and are unable to resolve the situation yourself, you can contact the Ontario Ministry of Consumer Services which is responsible for protecting the rights of consumers against violations of the Consumer Protection Act.  The Ministry  can assist with problems involving  collection agencies, credit repair, consumer reporting, loan broker fraud, car repairs, home renovations, door-to-door sales, health clubs, modelling and talent contracts, condominiums, work-at-home schemes and refunds and exchanges

Your complaint has to be filed in writing, either on-line or in writing.  The complaint form is available on-line or from one of their offices.  Once your complaint is filed, the Ministy will look into the matter and schedule a mediation between you and the company.  If the company does not respond after several attempts, the Ministy will put it’s name on the their “beware” list.  This list, which is updated daily, contains the names of companies which they have received complaints about and which have ignored mediation attempts, or which they have investigated and prosecuted.  This list is available at www.consumerbeware.mgs.gov.on.ca.  The Ministy will also consider, if the company continues to ignore mediation attempts, to proceed with investigation and prosecution of the company.

Ministry of Consumer Services can be reached within Toronto at 416-326-8555 or outside Toronto at toll-free 1-800-268-1142 or contact:

Ministry of Consumer Services
Consumer Protection Branch
5775 Yonge St. Suite 1500 Toronto, ON M7A 2E5
Fax: 416-326-8665
E-mail: consumer@ontario.ca :

 

Their web address is http://www.sse.gov.on.ca/mcs/en/Pages/default.aspx.  you can also find  a sample complaint, cancellation and rescission letters on this site.

2.         The Better Business Bureau

The Better Business Bureau’s goal is to successfully resolve complaints involving buyers and sellers in a fair and timely fashion. This includes complaints involving consumer-to-business and business-to-business transactions that involve the advertisement and/or sale of a product or service. The Better Business Bureau, which has 6 locations in Ontario, will contact the business regarding your complaint on your behalf.  In some cases, Better Business Bureau mediation or arbitration may be offered to assist in resolution.  The Better Business Bureau also provides consumers with information pertaining to past complaints they have received regarding the same company and whether those complaints were resolved.  The Better Business Bureau’s toll free number is 1-800-459-8875.  Their web site address is www.bbbmwo.ca.

3.        Other Agencies

There are also other government agencies which can assist with specific consumer problems.

Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC)

Phone: 416-226-4500
Toll-Free: 1-800-943-6002

Web site:  www.omvic.on.ca

The OMVIC handles questions, concerns and complaints about new and used car dealerships. They also handle claims for the Motor Vehicle Compensation Fund which compensates consumers who suffer a financial loss arising out of a transaction with a registered motor vehicle dealer.

Financial Services Commission of Ontario

Phone: (416) 250-7250
Toll free: 1-800-668-0128

Web site:  www.fsco.gov.on.ca

The Financial Services Commission of Ontario handles inquiries and complaints about insurance, pension plans, credit unions, mortgage brokers and loan and trust companies.

Ontario Energy Board (OEB)

Toll Free:  1-877-632-2727

Web site:  www.oeb.gov.on.ca

The Ontario Energy Board handles inquiries and complaints about utilities, electricity retailers, electricity and natural gas rates and natural gas marketers.

Phonebusters

Toll Free:1-888-495-8501

Web site:  www.phonebusters.com

Phonebusters is a national anti-fraud call centre jointly operated by the Ontario Provincial Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They deal with inquiries and complaints dealing with telemarketing and internet fraud.          

Sample of a cancellation letter

Today date  (May 1, 20xx)

Name and full mailing address of the Company that you deal with

Dear Sir/Madam:

I signed a contract in my home to buy a new water filter system, model 123, at a price of $3,000 on April 26, 20xx. Today, I want to cancel that agreement.

I hereby exercise my right to cancel the agreement under the 10-day cooling off provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 2002 and ask that my $500 deposit be returned to me within 15 days, as required by law.

I look forward to your prompt reply. You can contact me, if necessary, at my home telephone number at XXX-XXX-XXXX or my daytime number of XXX-XXX-XXXX.

 

 

Yours truly,

Your signature

You name and full mailing address

City/Town, Ontario Postal Code

From time to time, our Clinic receives inquires from clients about these civil recovery demand letters and so we have provided an excerpt of a pamphlet produced by Justice for Children and Youth on this subject which we are using with their permission.

What is a trespassing letter or notice?

If you are caught shoplifting at a store, the security guards of that store will detain you for questioning.  The police may also be called if criminal charges have to be laid.  The security guards and police may also issue a trespassing notice to you prohibiting you from entering the store for a specified period of time.  You mayl be asked to sign the notice to acknowledge that you received it but you do not have to sign the notice if you do not want to.  The notice will still be issued to you even if you do not sign and it  is valid.  If you come back to the store within the trespassing period without permission, the store can call police for an arrest and you can face a fine of up to $2,000.

What is a civil recovery demand  letter ?

Some retail companies, such as Shoppers Drug Mart and Wal-mart, send demand letters to people who have been caught shoplifting in their stores, or to parents of young people who have also been caught shoplifting.

The letters are often signed by a lawyer and demand payment of amounts in the range of $300 to $800 for what they claim to be civil recovery costs.

In most cases, the store has recovered the items stolen and therefore, is not claiming the value of the item(s) taken.  Instead they are claiming money to cover the cost of detecting shoplifters in their stores.

Lawyers call these “civil recovery demand letters”.

The letters sometimes suggest that if you do not pay by a certain date, the amounts will increase or threaten for lawsuit.

The letters themselves are not the same as a court order.  You can choose to pay the amount or not.  If you do not pay, the store can start a lawsuit.  It has been our experience that it is rare for the lawyer or company to follow up with a court action if someone refuses to pay.  So, you can choose to ignore the letter but do not ignore a Statement of Claim – you should consult a lawyer if you receive one.

What is a Statement of Claim ?

This document starts a court action against you.  If you are served with a Statement of Claim from the Small Claims Court of the Superior Court of Justice, you will be required to respond with a Defence.  If you do nothing, the Court can make an order against you for the full amount that the store is claiming.

Can they force you to sign a document before you leave the store ?

Some store security guards try to have you sign a document before allowing you to leave the store.  You do not have to sign this document. Even if you signed the document, you are not required to make the payment claimed.

It is not legal for someone to threaten to have you charged by the police if you do not sign a document or agree to pay them money.  It is not legal for someone, other than a police officer, to refuse to let you leave if you do not sign a document.  It is legal for the security guard to keep you at the store until the police arrive.  They must call the police within a reasonable time.  It is legal for someone to use reasonable force to arrest or detain you if they have caught you shoplifting and you try to run away.

Will I have to pay the amount they are asking for ?

According to Ontario law, you are responsible to pay people to compensate them if you caused them harm by stealing things that belong to them or by trespassing on their property.  However, in most cases of shoplifting, the items are recovered and the store has not lost money.  The letters claim money for their security costs.

In one case in Ontario (Hudson’s Bay Co. v. White), the court ordered that the person pay a total of $500.00 for what is called punitive damages (as a form of punishment).  The problem with this decision is that that person ordered to pay the amount never defended the case at the appeal level.  Also, no criminal charges were laid against the shoplifter.  Both of these facts might mean that if another case were to be argued in court with a different situation, it might be decided differently.  For example, if you were charged criminally for theft, the court might not order punitive damages or order that you pay a lower amount, depending upon what happened in criminal court.

If you are sued and go to court, a judge might order that you pay something to the retailer.  However, without a court order, it is your decision whether you feel morally obligated to pay any money to the store without a court order.

What if I received a letter from a Colletion Agency?

You  should not ignore a letter from a Collection Agency.  You should take these letters seriously because a Collection Agency has the power to affect your credit rating. Our position is that these types of demand letters are not legal and prohibited under the Collection Agencies Act.

How do I respond to a letter from a Collection Agency?

You, or your legal representative, should contact the Collection Agency and say that you dispute the debt that they are claiming against you. Once you have done this they must stop contacting you and the store must decide whether or not to start a lawsuit against you. You should also get a copy of your credit report to make sure this does not show up on it.

You can also file a complaint to the Ministry of Consumer Services. In similar circumstances, the Ministry has taken the position that this is an illegal collection activity and gets the Collection Agency to stop. For more information and a complaint form: www.sse.gov.on.ca/mcs/en

My child was caught shoplifting but the letter is addressed to me.  Do I have to pay ?

No, parents are only legally responsible for harm caused by their children if parents are negligent in the way they supervised them or directed their children to cause the harm.

The letters refer to the Parental Responsibility Act as the basis for the store’s claim against you.  This Act only states that a parent might have to prove they were not negligent.  This does not mean that a parent is always legally responsible for their children’s actions.

It is unlikely that a court would find parents negligent for allowing their teenager to go shopping with friends at the mall.

In one court case in Manitoba (D>C>B> v. Zellers Inc.), the court ordered that Zellers Inc. pay back the money that a parent paid in response to a civil recovery demand letter.  The court said that the parent was not required to pay the money and that the store had no right to keep it.

If the letter is addressed to someone under 18, does he or she have to pay ?

The responsibility to pay is the same whether the person who shoplifted is an adult or a person under 18 years of age.  A young person might not have the same ability to pay though.

Reproduce with permission from: 

Justice for Children and Youth – ww.jfcy.org 

This pamphlet gives information about demands for money from a store after a shoplifting incident occurs. Speak to a lawyer or legal worker about specific questions.

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