The family of an elderly London, Ont. woman wants a refund on a $3,390 air purifier that was sold during an allegedly intimidating sales job.
Loretta McRobert said her 82-year old mother was visited by a representative from Fresh Air and Water Exchange and only signed away her money after the salesperson filled out one of her cheques for her.
The experience prompted the family to file a complaint with London police. The company, which has more than a dozen complaints filed against it with the Better Business Bureau, has since promised to return the money, but no money has arrived yet.
"My mother said no, she did not want the device, but he kept insisting," McRobert said of the transaction that occurred in January.
Her mother never mentioned the air purifier to the family until someone spotted it in the basement weeks after the sale. That's when McRobert called the bank for a copy of the cheque.
"The salesman wrote the cheque out and she signed it, but I feel there was coercion and pressure," McRobert told CBC News.
'I can't police every sales person'
The elderly woman, who lives alone and has help paying bills and doing her banking, eventually told her family she first got a call from the company asking about duct cleaning.
She declined, but was called again about a scheduled appointment. She said she does not remember booking the service.
"My mom wouldn't argue at this point because she grew up being polite and welcoming when someone came to the door, even if they were trying to bamboozle her," McRobert said.
Fresh Air and Water Exchange owner Darcy Dell told CBC News he does not see any issues with a salesperson helping someone filling out a cheque.
"I can't police every single sales person," Dell said over the phone, "but, if a customer wants to buy and asks for help writing the cheque, there's nothing wrong with that."
Seventeen complaints against company
Police agree there is nothing illegal about getting help writing a financial document, but London's fraud unit questions whether the practice is ethical.
"If I were a business person, I wouldn't feel comfortable making that request," said Det. Paul Martin, who investigates financial fraud against seniors.
London police get a handful of complaints each week, more in the spring when representatives from roofing and asphalt companies start knocking on doors.
Cold calls are a good tactic for determining the age of the homeowner, Martin explained. Once in the home, it is not uncommon for a salesperson to uncover problems in hard-to-access areas like the basement.
Fresh Air and Water Exchange has 17 complaints against it through the Better Business Bureau, including at least one other that describes an elderly parent being a targeted with an unwanted sale.
"We know it's under reported because victims are often embarrassed and their ego is hurt," Martin said, stressing the importance of families coaching their aging parents about keeping the door closed to unsolicited sales people.
Full refund after CBC calls
The London family said they went to police after calling the company several times asking for a refund, only to be told the air purifier was now used and a service fee would apply for pickup.
McRobert said Dell's final offer Thursday was a refund of $2,500.
CBC News spoke to Dell on Monday. He was adamant a cheque was in the mail for the full amount and he had been trying for days to pick up the machine.
"I don't need the aggravation and I have never been charged with anything after 25 years in business," he said.
Senior scam prevention
Ontario's Consumer Protection Act has a 10-day "cooling off" period for returns and refunds, but if a sale was made unethically, a one-year return policy can apply.
London police recommend:
- Never buy on the spot
- Don't allow strangers inside
- Only deal with reputable companies
- Tell the neighbours to keep an eye out if a repair truck arrives
- Coach your aging parent about unsolicited calls or visits