Calgary Legal Guidance

Unfair Trade Practices

The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide only general information on legal issues within the province of Alberta. This service is provided by Calgary Legal Guidance funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation. The purpose is to make you aware of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.

This topic discusses protection against unfair trading practices under the Fair Trading Act.

Unfair trading practices are prohibited when you purchase goods for yourself, your family or your home. You are protected when you purchase a vehicle for your personal needs or purchase a water heater for your home. You are protected when you hire someone to paint your home or fix your television set. You may also purchase a family membership in a social, or gym club and be protected against unfair trading practices.

The Fair Trading Act does not apply to goods used for business purposes. Other type of purchases such as a house and land or stocks and bonds are dealt with differently and you should consult a lawyer if you have any concerns regarding your purchase.

The kinds of unfair trading practices that are prohibited under the Act include the following:

  • Undue pressure to make a purchase.
  • Taking advantage when a buyer does not understand the purchase.  For example, you may not speak English well enough to understand all the complexities of the purchase and the seller may take advantage of this situation.
  • Unfair pricing where a price is much higher than other similar goods or services available and no reasons are given as to why the price is significantly higher.
  • Charging more money than the estimate costs you were given.  Your authorization is required for costs charged over the estimate before the goods or services are supplied to you.
  • Misleading statements about the purchase.

Misleading statements about the purchase are the most common unfair trading practice. The seller cannot tell you anything about goods or services that may deceive you. The following list includes examples of misleading statements:

  1. The goods or services have certain qualities when they have not. For example, the seller may suggest that the goods have the performance, characteristics, accessories, ingredients, quantities, components, uses, or other such benefits when they do not.
  2. The seller has sponsorship, approval, status, qualification, affiliation or connection with another when they do not.
  3. The goods or services are of a particular standard, quality, grade, style or model when they are not.
  4. The goods have been used for a different purpose other than what they were meant for.
  5. The goods are new when the goods are actually used, deteriorated, altered or reconditioned.
  6. The goods are available for a purpose when they are not.
  7. A voucher is given and you are told that someone else will provide goods or a service at a price when the seller knows it is not true.
  8. The goods or services can be supplied through the seller if the seller knows that they are unable to provide those goods or services.
  9. A part, replacement, repair or adjustment is needed or desirable if it is not.
  10. You are asked for your information for a survey when that is not true.
  11. You are told that they have complete authority to negotiate a deal when that seller does not   have the authority.
  12. You are given a total price of goods or services when actually the price quoted is only for part of the goods or services.
  13. You are given an estimate for work or repairs that cannot be completed at that price.
  14. Use of editorial, documentary or scientific reports to advertise goods but not telling you the representations are only advertising or promotions.

Negative option practices are also prohibited by the Fair Trading Act. A negative option practice is where a seller sends you goods or services without your consent and then demands that you pay for it.  For example, someone cannot offer you a free subscription of magazines for 3 months and then charge you after the 3 months without your consent to continue the subscription.

You may take legal action against someone who sells you goods if you have suffered a loss or damage(s). Look at your contract to see if you agreed to arbitration to settle any disputes. If not, you may bring your action in the Civil Court Division of the Provincial Court of Alberta, or the Court of Queen’s Bench. The Small Claims Division of the Provincial Court will hear your matter where the dispute is $50,000 or less. You should consult a lawyer if you want to bring your action in the Court of Queen’s Bench. You will also have to serve the Director of Fair Trading if you use the Court of Queen’s Bench. The Director may decide to take your matter to Court for you, or start a Court action if it is in the public interest to do so.

You should also file a complaint with the Consumer Investigations Unit through the Consumer Contact Centre in Edmonton at 780- 427-4088, or toll-free from anywhere in Alberta at 1-877-427-4088. The Consumer Investigations Unit, or CIU, may choose to investigate the matter at no cost to you. They may fine the seller, however, they will not award you personally with any remedy.

Dial‑A‑Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.

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