You’ve just sat down to dinner and the doorbell rings. You answer the door and an earnest young man is standing there holding a clipboard and wearing a jacket with a logo on it. The logo says Ontario Energy Group (OEG), or New Home Comfort (NHC) or any other equally innocuous semi-credible business title. He says he’s there to inspect your water heater, or your furnace and air conditioner to ensure they are compliant with current energy efficiency standards.
What do you do?
- Invite him in to take a look and write down all sorts of details about the interior set-up of your home and equipment;
- Leave him at the door but provide him with a copy of your hydro bill so he can “ensure you are getting the energy rebate owed to you by the province” or
- Politely tell him to get lost and close the door in his face. Do be polite – most of these salespeople are victims of their own employers.
Just remember – good businesses don’t go door-to-door. They don’t need to.
If you picked anything other than c) you are asking to become the victim of a door-to-door scam. Oh sure, they have all sorts of convincing lines. The most recent such representative to visit our home said, all in the course of a single pitch, that his company was working with home-owners in the area. Then they were doing inspections on behalf of the province. Then finally he said that energy efficiency standards had changed and based on the exterior pipes he could see protruding from the side of our house, he could tell we did not have energy-efficient equipment heating our home. When we told him he was representing a scam, he protested and claimed his business was accredited by the Better Business Bureau. I looked his company up on the BBB site – not only were they not accredited, they have been in existence for less than a year. The BBB listed the name of the CEO and indicated the company had only that single employee – which is how the listing remains the last time I checked it. By the way, an earlier version of this blog post provided a hyperlink to the Linkedin profile of the BBB-listed CEO showing that he’d gone from new university grad to Sales Executive to Director of Marketing to CEO of his own (scam) company in less than four years. Now that’s entrepreneurial! The CEO has since removed that level of detail from his public profile. Hmm, wonder why?
By the way, I don’t really endorse the BBB as a credible source. They will essentially ‘accredit’ any business that pays to join their organization. They will record complaints about businesses, but don’t have any teeth to enforce any sort of a resolution or to undertake mediation. And as long as the business owner provides a response, which the BBB then retransmits to the customer, the BBB marks that complaint as resolved and the case closed. The business response didn’t need to be useful or actually resolve the customer’s complaint mind you. In the worst circumstances, when sufficient complaints are received to cause a negative rating from the BBB, there is nothing stopping the business owner from shutting down his business and starting up again under a new name with a brand-spanking new BBB rating. What does the BBB care? They’re getting their membership fees! Don’t believe it? Check out this BBB is a useless institution article.
It isn’t even unusual that we’ve had two such scam visits in the period of two weeks. This is the time of year when our furnaces are working the hardest, and some of us may be noticing that they aren’t as efficient as we would like, or that they’re perhaps making some odd noises that could indicate they are approaching the end of life, or a potential breakdown. It seems like a prime period to send out the door-to-door scammers to see if they can convince home-owners to let them in. And who doesn’t feel sorry for the earnest young guy with the clipboard going door-to-door in cold winter weather? Do not let your sympathy blind you – this is a scam and he’s working with a script to get the info he needs to earn his commission by locking you into some scam deal with his company.
The Ontario Ministry of Consumer Services maintains a Beware List of shady businesses that have been reported to them. They have a list of over twenty names doing business in the water heater industry that are scams. Several of them have the same name located at different addresses. The same sort of result appears when you search for furnace scams. That’s great info when you’re looking up companies online that you may want to do business with – be sure to check them out first. But even if the company does not appear on the Beware List, don’t let them in your door or share any info with them. Note also that the Competition Bureau of Canada has gone after several door-to-door water heater sales companies for their anti-competitive policies and practices. Reliance and Enercare (formerly Direct Energy) have agreed to settle out of court for millions of dollars. Don’t worry, I’m sure they consider that the price of doing business.
My personal rule – one I adhere to without exception – is that if I didn’t call your company to my home for a consultation, then you are not crossing my threshold. Nor am I showing you any of my utility bills or providing you with equipment model numbers. It’s not going to happen. Just remember – good businesses don’t go door-to-door. They don’t need to.