Being an Educated Consumer and How to Protect Your Identity
A large part of consumer protection is educating residents on how to be prepared and do their research to ensure they aren’t buying a product or service they may not be satisfied with. Personal responsibility is just as important as knowing your rights as a consumer. Below are some quick tips on different areas that consumers need to be aware of.
“As Is” Purchases: Be Aware
A product that’s sold “as is” doesn’t have a warranty. You are buying what you see, whatever its condition.
Used goods are generally sold “as is.” Check these goods carefully to make sure that they will work and don’t require potentially costly repairs. “As is” statements may cancel any implied warranty given by provincial or territorial legislation. However, if the salesperson knew the product was defective when he or she sold it to you, you may have some rights under consumer protection legislation.
Co-signing: be sure you know the details and risks.
If you co-sign a debt, such as a loan or a joint credit card, you are equally responsible for the whole debt. If the other person can’t pay, the creditor will demand that you pay.
When creditors ask for a co-signer, they are looking for someone else to share the risk. The person you co-signed for may not have a credit history or may have a bad credit history.
As a co-signer, you will be responsible for paying the debt. If someone asks you to co-sign or if you get someone to co-sign for you, think carefully about how this could affect your financial situation as well as theirs.
Contracts: Know the details of your agreement
Contract law is a territorial responsibility. The NWT may have legislation that gives you more rights when you buy specific products or services. For example, all jurisdictions in Canada give consumers 10 days to cancel most contracts made with a door-to-door salesperson.
Identity Theft: a real threat, protect yourself.
Identity (ID) theft is serious. It occurs when someone steals your personal information to commit a crime. While you can’t entirely control whether you will become a victim there are ways to minimize the risk.
Guard Your Personal Information
- Never give personal information by phone, Internet or mail unless you initiate the contact.
- Be careful about sharing personal information and don’t give out more than you need to.
- Shield your PIN, and never lend cards.
- Immediately report missing credit or debit cards.
- Carry only the ID you need.
- Put other ID documents (SIN, birth certificate, passport) in a safe place.
- Shred documents with personal information.
- SIN is only for employment and tax reporting.
- Ask about the security of your information at work, with businesses and charities.
Guard your Computer and its Information
- Select a complex password of letters, numbers and symbols.
- Install firewall, anti-virus, anti-spyware and security software – update often.
- Don’t try, don’t buy and don’t reply to spam or emails that ask for banking information.
For online transactions, look for "https://", a closed lock or an unbroken key icon which denotes a site which uses encryption to protect your personal information.
Making Deposits on Items or Services
A deposit is usually a lump sum of money required to reserve or hold a product or service. Whether it’s a deposit on a vehicle, a hall rental, a grad outfit or for a photographer’s service, be sure that you want the product or service. If you change your mind, you are not, by law, entitled to get your money back. Be sure to ask what the conditions are before you put down a deposit, and only put down the minimum amount required.
A private sale is between individuals, not between a consumer and a business. Most consumer legislation does not cover private sales. If something goes wrong, your consumer affairs office may not be able to get involved. You will need to deal with the seller. If the seller isn’t willing, your next step is court action. If the amount of money you want from the seller is under the limit established by your province or territory for small claims court, you could file a claim with it.
Returns and Refunds
Don’t count on always being able to return a product you’ve bought, whether it’s from a store or the Internet. There is no law that says all sellers must take back an item. It may not matter that you don’t like it, decided you can’t afford it or found it cheaper somewhere else.
Every seller has a different return policy. Find out what the seller’s policy is before you buy. The return policy is often stated on the back of the receipt and/or posted near the cash register; if not, get it in writing on the receipt. Note that these policies may change during promotions and for items that are on sale or special offers.
Some stores will allow you to bring goods back but will set conditions. Examples are:
- No returns or exchanges allowed on personal goods such as pierced earrings or swimsuits
- Products may be exchanged but not returned for cash back
- Goods must be returned within a set number of days
- A credit note will be given instead of money returned
- Goods must be unused and still have all tags, packaging, etc
- You must have your sales receipt (although this is almost always required, some stores will refund or exchange without a receipt)
- A restocking fee may be charged
Warranties: Know the Details
A warranty is a written guarantee to the purchaser of an article, promising to replace or repair the article, if necessary, within a specified period. All warranties are not the same — read them carefully to find out what is and isn’t covered and for how long. Watch for phrases such as “lifetime warranty.” Whose lifetime — yours, the product’s or the company’s? Also, where do you have to send the product for service? Will the item be replaced or repaired, and who makes that decision? Who is the warrantor — the manufacturer, the seller, or someone else? Do you have to register the warranty when you buy the item? Do you pay for shipping and handling when returning an item?
Some provincial and territorial legislation states that implied warranties apply to every sales contract (unless the seller and buyer both lawfully agree that the warranty does not apply). The implied warranty normally states that the goods be of “merchantable quality” and fit for the purpose for which they were sold. Misleading warranty promises could fall under your jurisdiction’s legislation on misleading advertising.