If you want something done about something, you send an email directly to Ellen Roseman and consider it case closed. Ellen has been a consumer advocate since before “consumer advocacy” was a thing, standing up to corporate giants and getting answers.
Ellen Roseman is a Toronto Star Columnist, an author and educator. Her latest book Fight Back: 81 Ways To Save Money & Protect Yourself From Corporate Trickery is a “greatest hits” from her personal advice column and contains quick tips that all Canadians can use to help them spend sensibly, save money, and avoid costly consumer traps.
Ellen is currently teaching (and has been for the last 10 years) a personal finance basics course at University of Toronto’s school of continuing studies. This is rather fitting as she literally wrote the books Money 101 & Money 201.
We are very pleased to have Ellen join us on the Because Money Podcast:
Lots of moving parts in episode 22 of the Because Money Podcast. Special guest Ellen Roseman was fabulous to talk with, I bet we could have talked for hours about consumer protection and financial literacy.
You can either click play on the video above, sit back and relax and take in the show or you can read the transcript below if you are kinda nerdy like Sandy Martin.
Ellen: Ellen Roseman
Robb: Robb Engen
Sandi: Sandi Martin
Jackson: Jackson Middleton
Robb: Welcome to Because Money, this month. I’m Robb Engen, and I’m here with our other panelists, Sandi Martin and Jackson Middleton. And we are really happy to be joined this month by Ellen Roseman, contributor to the Toronto Star and author of “Fight Back: 81 Ways to Help You Save Money & Protect Yourself from Corporate Trickery“. So welcome Ellen. Really great to have you here.
Ellen: It’s fun to be here.
Robb: So you’re known as Canada’s Consumer Advocate and sticking up for Canadians as an advocate, for the past 35 years. So I wanted to ask how you got into that, or how that all started and then we’ll get into some of your most common complaints, and how consumers can fight back.
Ellen: Okay, well I never went to journalism school, but I worked on The McGill Daily more than I actually went to classes, and it was a time when students were very active on campus. So that was my first taste of protest and getting somewhere. We got kicked out for a while by the student council and then we got reinstated to run the paper again.
Then I wasn’t actually planning to go into journalism, but I wasn’t sure what else to do, so I got into business journalism, and I kind of liked it. And then consumer movements were hot. I got to interview Ralph Nader, and food prices were under review by Beryl Plumtree. It was a time when every province and the federal government was setting up their consumer affairs ministry.
And I found that it was a lot of fun and readers liked it, and it was growing. So that was the exciting part. Watching it grow and I kind of followed it for 10 or 12 years. And then it started plateauing and then it started going downhill because all those federal grants and all the money disappeared, and nobody could really function. And then all the ladies who used to volunteer for the Consumers Association were not there anymore and the younger women were all in the workforce, so the volunteers disappeared.
And then I thought okay maybe I’ll take the plunge and I’ll go work in the business section and I’ll write about investing and companies. So that was a learning curve for sure. But then I ran into mutual funds right at the end of the 80s, and there was the consumer movement again. You know, starting right then about the mutual fund companies won’t even talk to investors. They’re so busy talking to their sellers, you know the dealers. And the prices were high and securities commissions were going after them for all these great vacations that they took all their sellers to, and they had all this fun at the investors expense.
So that kept me going for another 10 years or so. And then when I went to The Star—I was at the Globe & Mail first—they said write a column, and so I went back into the consumer area again. And I found that yes there’s no consumer movement per se or very small one, but with email and the internet it was so easy to help people solve their problems. So The Star used to have this thing called “Star Probe” which was very famous in its day. But it had six or seven people all mailing letters back and forth, whereas one person—me—with a computer and a blackberry could get a whole lot done. And it’s so exciting and so rewarding, and the readers love it when their batting the head against the wall, trying to reach somebody in a company and getting absolutely nowhere, and feeling like they’re just shunned. And in an hour I can resolve it because I go to the higher level, and I don’t have any emotion, and the company’s read this stuff and they say, “How would this look on the pages of the Toronto Star? Not so good. We’d better get rid of this problem.”
And so once I got started without that it’s like adrenaline, and every day you know I help people and they all say “thank you” and “boy, I never believed this was possible”, and it’s so much fun that I just keep doing.
Robb: And it does resonate with readers, I find. And it can be kind of easy to pile on, especially to some of the worst offenders. I would imagine some of the telecom companies, and you know the Aeroplans and AirMiles. Do you find that readers tend to pile on and do you have to balance kind of trying to be fair to the company versus trying to solve an actual dispute?
Ellen: Well, what happens is that I never know what I’m going to write about, so I get these all resolved and then I try and figure out what to turn into a story. And I do you find that people will call and they say, “I have the most incredible story involving Rogers [or Bell]” And I’ll say, “Look, I’ve written so much about them. It takes a whole lot of newsworthiness to make me interested in writing another story.
So you know, and the CRTC got in with the wireless code and it’s calmed down a bit. And then airlines became a big deal and I’m still much more involved with travel and airlines these days. But there’s always something new. Appliances are a huge thing, and people are so upset that their appliances are all breaking down just after the warranty finishes. So there’s always things.
And what I really want to do is just novelty. I don’t want to feel that the readers are saying “Oh not another one of those.” So I’m always looking for new…
Robb: Sorry, we lost you there for a second.
Ellen: Yes, it said my network connection is experiencing difficulties.
Jackson: But you’re back now.
Robb: So is that you most common complaint, would you say is the Bells and Rogers, or does it vary?
Ellen: Probably yes, because they take so much of our spending and we’ve got so many services with them, and their billing systems tend to be somewhat in shambles because they have all these different platforms and they offer great deals and then don’t deliver. I even get complaints about the outside wiring that runs across someone’s house, or they messed up my lawn or their landscaping is really a mess. So I must get at least a handful those every day. Direct Energy, the furnace plans and all that stuff, they take up a lot of time too.
Robb: Right, so you get an email from a reader and they’re complaining about Bell or Rogers or Direct Energy or whatever that complaint is. What is your approach then with that company?
Ellen: Well I have a contact that I’ve setup. With that with the telcos it’s usually their media people. With a lot of them it’s their media people, their VP of Communications or just their Director of Communications or something. Sometimes it’s an outside PR agency. The Expedia and Travelocity use an outside PR agency. But I like dealing with these people because they know it’s all about trying to find a story. So they’re pretty good at rerouting it and they will reroute it you whoever will solve it. And I don’t even need to put a covering letter anymore. I just flip it right over and they read it and then they send it. And then they communicate with the customer directly.
And for a while there I was saying, you know, you gotta tell me what’s going on, but it would be so much work for them cuz I send so much over. So they’re waiting for the customer to get in touch with me, and if the customer doesn’t then I ask them, and sometimes they fall through the cracks so I send it back again. So there’s probably at least 25 or 30 of these every day. It really adds up, especially on Mondays, because I write twice, on Saturday and Mondays, so Mondays are crazy.
Robb: Oh yeah, so you get all the emails after the articles?
Ellen: Yeah, yeah.
Robb: Talking about their situation. So what can consumers do, short of contacting you? Can they go to the media or the VP of Communications themselves? Obviously if they’re not writer, that may not carry any weight. Or have you seen consumers maybe have success on Facebook or Twitter. How can consumers fight back themselves?
Ellen: Facebook and Twitter are good. In some cases, Rogers for example, is really good at Twitter, and if somebody writes to me and Rogers on Twitter, usually Rogers gets there before I do. They zoom right in and they try and intercept. Airlines are good at to Twitter too. Facebook pages, it depends if the company wants to keep the negative comments, because sometimes they’ll say we just don’t want to hear, and then it disappears.
YouTube, people often put videos together or they’ve got blogs. There’s a variety of social media at that work pretty well and then they often go to the mainstream media like me and say look at my blog and here’s an issue and you might want to see it. Petitions are good, change.org. There’s a bunch of stuff.
And I just find sometimes it’s just repetition; finding someone in the organization and just going back to them again and again and again, and saying look I’m trying to resolve it but if you don’t, then I’ll go to the media. And the key is always to be really calm and cool. And you know, never lose your cool, never lose your temper, never threaten, insult, confront, say they’re fraudulent, say they’re thieves. It’s amazing how many people really let their anger get the better of them. So you’re always sound like a really rational person.
Robb: That would help, for sure, in most business dealings.
Is calling customer service dead now, like calling the 1-800 number and getting someone at a call centre? Does that even work? Because that seems to be the cause of so many people’s frustration.
Ellen: Yes, and it’s just to be a way to spend a couple of hours being really angry.
Robb: Right. And then if only just to try and move it up the chain one or two levels. Do you recommend just kind of going around that and using those other channels, like the Twitter or contacting through their webpage?
Ellen: Yeah, and I’ve heard of people who just get so frustrated that they do call the media people and say, you know I know I’m in the wrong place but I can’t deal with the call centre. Can you find an executive for me to talk to? And often the media people will help connect them, because they do know that you can connect without a call centre, because call centres in my experience are run on a basis of just mass volume, scripted responses. They can deal with the ordinary stuff, but they can’t deal with anything that’s out of the ordinary. And for many people they have to really go beyond the supervisor to the next level, which is often back in Canada at the company headquarters.
Robb: So I don’t know if you, Jackson or Sandi, have had this issue, but I’m assuming you have. You call the 1-800 number or the call centre and it just seems like the whole exercise is just to keep you online as long as possible so that you just get frustrated and hang up. Do you guys find that at all?
Jackson: I don’t even phone anymore, seriously. If it’s possible for me to go down and talk to somebody face-to-face, then I typically get results. But if it’s a call, “Your call is important to us.” If it really was, you’d hire more people so you get to it and not give me an answering machine. It drives me crazy, and then I lose my cool and I start yelling and calling and insulting and saying they’re fraudulent and then I just become that idiot that nobody wants to talk to. So, no, keep your cool and go down and talk in person. That’s what I do.
Ellen: You know, but yeah you know companies that used to be known for service, McDonalds, if you go to the restaurant it’s good, but if you complain, they use the call centre too and they have that hoary old line, “We’re experiencing higher than average call volume.” The whole point of the call centre is to be able to work with the call volume and not blame it on that call volume.
Robb: Yeah, so that’s tough. So like who does a good job at consumer resolution? When you’re going there or maybe you get emails from readers that just say, “Well actually, I had a really good experience with so-and-so.”
Ellen: Costco, and I think they’ve been a good investment for that reason, because they do a pretty good job with customer service. Future Shop and Best Buy, once you get past the lower levels, they’re often pretty good about remedying things, I think because they’ve been burned a lot in the past and they’re getting good at it.
But a lot of companies aren’t that great. Sometimes I hear from the manufacturers, and people have gone to the manufacturer directly. Like someone said they had a Hoover vacuum cleaner and it was breaking down, and it took them a while to find the right people but often the manufacturer will say, “I’ll send you another one” without even asking for a receipt.
You know these companies that have been around forever and ever that have a good name and want to keep the customer buying again and again.
Robb: Well isn’t that just smart business? I mean, you mentioned Costco and they’re just known for that return policy where you can just take back anything and no questions asked. I don’t know, I was thinking as running a business, you know, you get that feeling like people are going to take advantage of this. So where’s that balance where you just say, you know what, it’s in our best interest to just do a “no questions asked” policy, or are people just going to take advantage of the whole entire situation?
Ellen: I was talking to somebody today about it. Oh, I had my roof done this summer, and it’s a big job and I had to shop around, and I was looking for endorsements, and I got that an endorsement for this company. And I think they did a good job. We’ll see in 10 or 12 years if it leaks, but I said to him “You know, you did my roof,” the job cost $13,000 and I said, “You didn’t even ask for a deposit.”
And he said, “I don’t do that. I never ask for a deposit. I just do the work and I bill later.” And I said, “Doesn’t that mean that some people will try and not pay the bill?” And he said, “I call that the 2%. So I might have some problems with some of them.” But he said he’d never gone to court and he’d never put a lien on a house. And he just managed to run his business with expecting people to behave well, and he’s behaving well toward his customers.
Robb: Yeah, kind of working on a handshake, and you don’t see a lot of that anymore. Everything’s contracts and fine print, right?
Ellen: That’s right. And the people who complain to me about evil contractors who disappear, they’ve often paid 50% or even 100% of the job in advance.
Robb: Right. So you mentioned Direct Energy. Can we talk a little bit about the door to door knockers? I just had one before we got on the air here.
Ellen: Yeah, apparently they’re going around. There’s this company called Summit Energy that was making a big splash in Toronto. And then somebody just wrote me from Vancouver, saying when they looked for complaints all the complaints were in Ontario, but I think they’re branching out all over the country.
So what happens I think is that for many of us, the furnace and the water heater are in the basement. We don’t know much about them. We don’t really care, as long as they work. And once in a while we think “Should we replace it?” but we don’t even remember when we bough it or how long we’ve had it. And we don’t really want it to start leaking water all over our floor or create this icy-cold house in the winter.
So it’s sort of like a low priority. And then there’s somebody at your door who says, “I’m here to help you with your furnace and your water heater.” And they act as if they are already with the company that you deal with anyways. And they ask to come in you basement, and so you say okay. Usually it’s freezing cold outside and you want to let them have a little bit of warmth in your house. And then all the sudden they fast-talk you into signing some papers and there you are with the 15-year contract for a water heater rental or for a furnace rental, which is horrible because renting a furnace you’ll end up paying double the cost, easily.
But people, I think are just too trusting. They don’t really pay much attention. They want to get it over with. They don’t want to shop around. So it’s the convenience of door-to-door.
Robb: Why can’t we outlaw this practice? I mean, the government went through this whole thing with that hassle with the email spam. I mean, email spam, who cares. I just hit delete and it’s gone. Someone’s coming to my door and misrepresenting who they are, and this is okay? I just don’t understand how this isn’t being dealt with.
Ellen: I know it’s very tricky. The Ontario government, I think, did consider outlawing door-to-door selling, but it seems like such a big leap that nobody could sell door-to-door, so they just went after the people who are selling the HVAC equipment, and they have a new law that’s going to go into effect. It hasn’t even gone yet, but it’s trying to at least control what they’re doing. So instead of a 10-day cooling-off period, it’ll be a 20-day cooling-off period for them. And if they put in that new equipment during that period, they’ll have to take it out without charging you to remove it.
Robb: Right, now that’s interesting.
Sandi: I noticed in my experience with my parents, any myself too. I think there’s been about four times, twice with my parents, when I actually was there with them, and twice by myself. And I think a very good test of whether these… I think probably in general, if it’s somebody that says that they’re coming to check your hot water heater, probably you don’t need to do anything with them at all. But if you’re in doubt, challenge them a little bit, and I found that the attitude—it’s such silly little thing—but the attitude and the way that they speak to you when they feel they’re challenging.
I know we talk about if you want good service you don’t challenge somebody and tell them that they’re fraudulent and yell at them. Even just calmly, the two times at my parents’ house where I said no, these are people that you’ve already decided you don’t want to deal with. He was quite rude, quite aggressive and quite rude. As soon as we got to that point when he felt like he wasn’t going to make the sale, he was aggressive. That’s a pretty good indication that you should cut this.
Ellen: So that’s a different thing. If you’re not doing business with them, you could be as rude as you like and see how they react. But if you’re already on the hook, you don’t want to insult them as a way of asking for a favour.
I have to tell you this thing that really annoys me. Because of my blog and because of the work I do, people are always writing and saying “I wish I’d read your article before I used this company and that company.” And then once they’re burned, then they find out all this negative stuff that’s all over the internet. Why didn’t they do it ahead of time? I just don’t know.
I think it’s maybe that, again, it’s convenient or trust or just laziness. I’ll do it, there they are, they’re popping up on my screen, they sound good, they look good, everything looks good. And it’s always buyer’s remorse afterward. And I wish more people would just do that checking ahead of time.
Robb: And that’s the problem though, when someone comes to your door, right?
Sandi: Yeah, it’s the intimidation thing too though. I think that’s quite a good segue to—if I may—to start talking about investing a little bit too, because if somebody’s at your door or if you’re in somebody’s office and they’re presenting themselves as “I know more about your hot water heater than you do. I know more about money than you do. I know more about your investments than you do.” I don’t want that it’s a Canadian thing, because I don’t think that’s what it is. I think we feel like if we ask too many questions, we’re going to seem sort of dumb and we’re going to maybe waste that nice guy’s time, and we don’t want that. So we just kind of say yeah, so we don’t ask the questions that we feel like we ought to you, and then later that’s why that becomes the kind of “now I’m gonna look into it.” I wish that yeah, I’m with you, I wish we could just not worry about sounding dumb and just ask them questions beforehand.
Ellen: Yeah, but I’m talking too about sometimes when they’ll do the online purchases. So they’ve decided that they’re going to deal with the company, and they don’t say, “Okay, maybe I’ll do this tomorrow. And I’ll do my research and then I’ll come back.” You know, like the online florist or the appliance repair firm that they book an appointment and then they find out that they can’t fix your appliance and they’re charging $500 and the thing’s still broken. So there’s a lot of that going on and people are just so willing to trust first and research later.
Robb: You teach in personal finance. Is it a personal finance and investing course at University of Toronto is it?
Ellen: It’s called “Investing for Beginners.” Because investing is a skill that many of us don’t feel that we really understand or feel good with, even if we’re doing it already, it gets really good attendance.
Robb: And what kind of attendance are we talking about?
Ellen: Well, this year I have 90 people signed up, which is really good. Last year there were 80. I was telling Sandi earlier that when the market goes down, the numbers go down too, but I still had about 50 during that period. And it’s fun to see because they’re young people, there’s middle-aged people, there’s older people. They all feel that they want to learn a bit more.
A lot of them don’t want to manage their own money, but they want to be able to have an intelligent conversation with their advisor, and switch their advisor if they feel that they can get better service somewhere else.
Robb: Do they know you or know of you? Are they coming to see Ellen?
Ellen: Oh yeah, they read The Star and they know that I have “On Your Side” and I try and state things clearly. And I think that’s one of the things that I work really hard at is trying to be as clear as possible, because the investment industry—as you know, Robb, and maybe the mortgage industry too—they like to make things more complicated, and they use the kind of language that nobody understands. And the investor has to be almost like a child and always say, “What did you mean by that?” and “Why is this the case?” and “Why is that the case?” and keep asking. And it does make you sound childish, but unless you keep asking you’re not going to get the right answers.
Robb: Do you find that because they know you or know what you’re all about, are they more inclined to ask those dumb questions, I guess?
Ellen: Oh yeah. Yeah, and I try and use email as well to just have conversations about things they don’t understand. Because sometimes it’s embarrassing to do it in a big class and there’s not always time. And since it’s in the evening, we end at 9:00 and they want to go home already. So we use a lot of email and email the class and I send them links. And just for those weeks they’re in a time where anything can be asked and I figure that if I give them enough information they won’t absorb it all, but they’ll take what they need. And I hope by the end of it they’re more motivated to do something. To at least get started or to change their advisor or to try a different kind of investment, and just get going.
Robb: And what kind of take-aways do you have for someone who’s just starting out, maybe a 20-something or a university student. What are you hoping to get out of that class?
Ellen: Well first of all, learning the language of investing. Next week we’re going to talk about the economy and interest rates and inflation, and what all that means, and what the central bank does. And how even if you have great investments they will often go down because the economy goes down, and you have to ride out these recessions and wait until that disappears.
So a lot it too is psychological, getting the right attitude that it’s not a quick win that you sit for a while with stuff that might be underwater, but eventually if you hold on and don’t pay too much attention to what it does every single hour, then it’s gonna come back again. And that if you keep your eye on the future and take a long-term approach, that you’re going to do better than if you put it into some safe 2% GIC.
Robb: Right. Are you talking about the housing market?
Ellen: Not too much, because this isn’t really about it investing in securities. And you know, I’ve been reading the same stories for years now about “The housing market is overvalued. It’s about to come down” and it never does. And then other people saying, “No-no-no, supply and demand are relatively balanced” and you know you could talk about it forever, but nothing much is going on.
And also, Rob Carrick at the Globe & Mail is so obsessed with housing. He’s doing a good job.
Robb: [laughs] So what would your advice be for someone starting out and looking to buy a house in Toronto?
Ellen: Don’t buy in Toronto. [laughs] Buy outside Toronto. Or find a place where you can rent the basement and maybe rent the top floor, and you can live in just one of the floors. But even those places tend to be over-valued.
It’s not an easy market to get into in Toronto. Maybe Hamilton, you know, be prepared to take a little bit of a drive or commute. I think it is good to get into the real estate market if you can afford it, if you have the incomes that are needed to support the mortgage and if you’re not too stretched. But then on the other hand, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to rent, and many people should be renting and feel that they have to get into the housing market. And for those folks, renting allows them the freedom to travel and to move and to take another job. You shouldn’t be feeling guilty because you’re not getting into the housing market at an early age, and you should just be putting your money into mutual funds and exchange-traded funds.
Jackson: If I can second that and just jump on that train for a second. I’m a mortgage broker. I make money by putting people in houses and helping them pay lower interest rates. However, I sold my house this spring and I moved to Edmonton, and I’ve rented a condo. I’m not kidding. There is freedom in renting. It’s not my problem. I am not a good homeowner, but I’ve always felt like “Man, I’ve got to own a home!” I might as well just light hundreds of fire for renting, and it’s really not like that.
Like I’ve just got freedom in my mind to say I can do anything I want. I’m not going to burn my condo down, but honestly, we just feel like we have to buy. And if you’re not buying, you’re just completely wasting your money. And I can say from first-hand experience that it’s not like that. Renting has been very freeing for the last year, for me.
I mean, am saving a downpayment for my next house? Yeah, yeah I am, but it’s not a bad situation to be in.
Ellen: That’s great. It’s like you know how John Templeton was the contrarian? You always buy when people are selling. So with the housing market, with everyone saying that renting is just burning your money or throwing your money in the garbage, you take the contrarian view as say there’s a lot of advantages for renting. As long as you save your money and you get into the housing market some other time. But right now, for you, renting was the right thing to do.
Robb: So I know Sandi wanted to jump in here on the FAIR Canada, and maybe you can describe about your involvement in that and what exactly it is.
Ellen: Okay, so investors in Canada, lobbyist, when the securities regulators say, “Well what do you think about mutual fund fees?” they’ll get 100 submissions from all the companies and they’ll get maybe five from the investor community, and often they’re from people who’ve had a bad experience. So five or six years ago, Ermanno Pascutto, who started FAIR, thought security commissions have many that is restricted because they’ve raised it through fees and they can’t use it for their operation, so wouldn’t it be nice if they used it to fund an investor advocacy group that was staffed by lawyers, that would be very professional and would go to all these different consultations and give good papers.
So he got some money from the industry associations and got FAIR started. And the securities regulators will say they really like what FAIR does. It’s very well written, it’s quite knowledgeable. And when that money was getting toward the end, we got some more money from the Ontario Securities Commission and from Stephen Jarislowsky, who is a billionaire money manager who also felt the small investor needed a voice.
So we’re on a path to sustainability and we’re trying to raise more money, even from corporations to keep going. Because you know everybody’s an investor now. They have to save for retirement, they have to save for a longer life, and their doing it in a market that is so stacked against them. So we’re trying to make sure that investors have a voice in securities regulation, to get a better environment for individual investors.
Robb: And there’s a lot going on in that environment right now. Why don’t you talk a little bit about that.
Ellen: Yes, the whole question of mutual fund fees and embedded trailer commissions for the sellers has attracted the attention of the securities regulators. You know, the approach is always disclosure, but you can disclose things to people and they still don’t get it, and if they talk to their advisor and they’re given bafflegab and they don’t really understand it either, the securities regulators are thinking well maybe we should look at you know how they’re paid and should we allow these commissions that come from a third party. Is that in the best interest of the investor? Maybe we should have a law that they have to put the best interests of the investor ahead of their own interests. So all these questions are on the table right now and it’s an exciting time because they’re actually looking at the retail investor and thinking we want to make life better for them, how are we going to do it?
The only problem is there’s no federal investment regulator. There’s 13 provincial ones, so things take a long time, but at least they’re talking.
Robb: And now how much time do you spend looking at other countries and how things have gone over there, say Australia or the UK, in terms of banning the embedded commissions or the trailer fees?
Ellen: We look at them to some extent. We’ll often put it into our submissions, but the industry’s doing that too. And they’re always saying that well it’s a failure in Britain. But in Britain it’s just a year or two and we don’t know yet. Maybe some of the people who are selling mutual funds have left. But you know, that doesn’t mean that it’s a failure and that customers can’t get anybody to help them. So I think that in many cases you can’t really judge what’s going on elsewhere, you just have to focus on what’s right for people here in Canada.
Sandi: Well, does the possibility exist that making changes to the structure of compensation, for instance, or the kinds of things that have to be disclosed and the way that they have to be disclosed. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to create a perfect system, and I don’t think anybody believes that it will, but it means that now some of the bigger problems have been fixed and now maybe they’re building a new, but hopefully smaller probems, right? Is that sort of the practical way of looking at things?
Ellen: That’s right. And we still work in the area of securities regulation, but on the insurance side things are even worse. A lot of those guys are selling investments of different kinds, without any suitability requirements, without any real complaint handling. It’s very hard to get your money back, under any conditions, out of the insurance side of things. And I feel really bad about that. I wish that FAIR would get more involved in that area, but we have so much on our hands just dealing with the securities people.
But I know that a lot of mainstream Canadians are dealing with insurance agents who are selling them horrible products. And they don’t really have anywhere to go once they find out that they’ve lost their money, because the big insurance companies will say, “They’re a contractor and we have no control over them, so go to court and sue that person,” and that’s really hard.
Robb: So I think we’re wrapping up here, Ellen, but do you want to make any kind of closing comments? You’re advocating for consumers, so what are some of the tips—short of emailing you—that you want consumers to take away and be smarter shoppers and smarter investors?
Ellen: Well I think it’s important to read the information that you get. You know, your monthly statements and everything else. There’s this big campaign now to stop billing people for the monthly statements. But even if you download them from your computer, print them out, read them, file them. If you have any questions at all, call the company.
If you have a bad transaction and the merchant will do nothing for you, call your credit card company and dispute it. Because a lot of people do get their money back, but they don’t think of it. Your VISA, MasterCard, American Express, they have this zero liability, especially when you’re going online or the company goes out of business. You can often get the money back from the credit card company.
So when something bothers you, stand your ground, try to complain, see how far you can get. Don’t just sit and say, “Oh, you know, consumers are always given the short end of the stick.” I’ve seen so many abuses in my career, but I always still feel that it’s worth fighting and it’s worth at least challenging the companies. And eventually, if enough people challenge, the companies start changing their mind.
Robb: Excellent. Good advice. Well Ellen, thank you so much for being on the Because Money podcast this month. We really appreciate your insights.
Ellen: Well thanks Robb.
Jackson: Thanks for joining us. And I think we’re out. Good-bye.