How NOT to sell a car or get a free credit report

September 17 2013 by Ellen Roseman

In my job, I’m always hearing cautionary stories about consumers falling into traps they didn’t expect. It’s hard to do research about every pitfall that might exist.

John Pettitt, for example, ignored one vital step when selling his car privately. He didn’t insist on proof that the new owner had changed the ownership papers.

As a result, he was hit with towing and storage charges for the vehicle long after the sale. The bill he was asked to pay ($798) was equal to the sale proceeds.

I wrote about his dilemma and followed up with a second column after the towing company agreed to waive the bill.

Automotive writer Jil McIntosh covered this issue here. She added a warning about personal safety when selling a car privately.

Earlier this year, an Ontario man was murdered when he advertised his truck online and took it to a potential buyer.

If you agree to meet someone, make sure you’re going to a busy public place and never go alone. Ask for the person’s name and phone number beforehand and then call back to see if the number is accurate.

It’s not ideal to have a buyer come to your house, but if it must happen, don’t be on your own. Have a friend or family member there with you.

Close your garage door so no one can see inside, and if possible, find another place to park other cars you own.

Ask to see identification when you meet the person and look at his driver’s license, including the expiry date, if you’re going to let him test-drive the car. Honest buyers shouldn’t have any issues with proving they’re legitimate.

As for credit reports, readers often think they have to pay to get one. While Equifax and TransUnion sell instant online access to credit reports, mail delivery is always free.

Access to credit scores, however, is never free. The credit score is a profit centre for the reporting agencies, as is the sale of monthly credit monitoring services.

A reader named Ian signed up for Equifax’s Complete Advantage credit monitoring plan at $15 a month, since he could get his credit report and credit score included at no charge.

More than 18 months after trying to cancel, he’s still paying for the service and asked me for help getting rid of it. I’m sure that Equifax will release him shortly.

You can find Ian’s story below. It’s a compelling yarn about the company’s bureaucratic practices and disdain for personal privacy in a dispute.


  1. Ian

    Sep 17 2013

    There has been a lot of news about Canadians being overextended in their credit. One factor driving up the monthly credit card bill may be the prevalence of recurring preauthorized payments for services that are unneeded, or in my case, unwanted.

    The irony is the service that I subscribed to over two years ago — and have been unsuccessfully trying to cancel for about 18 months — is one that purports to protect me from financial fraud.

    In May 2011, I decided I wanted to get a copy of my free credit report. Like many other Canadians, I was familiar with Equifax as one of the top credit reporting agencies, so I went directly to their website.

    What you quickly learn is that it is a hassle to get the “free” credit report, which must be mailed by Canada Post.

    What is most convenient? Sign up for a free one-month trial of their Credit Watch service and you can get access to your report and score immediately. Sold.

    Now I didn’t really care about their Credit Watch service (now called the Equifax Complete Advantage Plan), which notifies you about any new activity on your credit report and gives you quarterly access to your report and score.

    My intention was to cancel it before the expiry of the free month, but life intervened and I procrastinated. Finally, after 12 months of paying $14.95 per month for a service I didn’t use, I decided to take action.

    In May 2012, I tried to cancel. I logged into my Equifax account and looked in vain through the account management page for a way to cancel their service.


    Finally, I tried the customer service phone number that is included in their email correspondence, but could not get through to anyone.

    So I wrote a brief email to the address provided, along with my Member ID and home address, requesting that they cancel the service once and for all.

    Nothing. Over the next few months, they continued to bill.

    In August 2012, I wrote a longer email explaining that I had been trying to cancel and including the original email sent in May.


    Things at work became extremely busy in the fall and winter that year. Since I was uncertain about what steps I could take with a company that seemed to make it impossible to cancel their service, I let it drop again until May of this year.

    I wrote one last email threatening action with VISA and the BBB. This time, I got a response!

    Unfortunately though, that response was just as unsatisfying, or maybe even more disheartening, than hearing nothing at all.

    I’d forwarded the email that I receive monthly, along with my Equifax Member ID. Their customer service department said I was not being billed for any products and my account had been inactive since 2007.

    I responded immediately with my User ID and password and invited them to log in to my Credit Watch online account. This would be proof that I was receiving this service.

    In turn, they replied that I was NOT receiving a service from them and was NOT being billed.

    If I wanted any further action, I would have to send them scans of my credit card statements, as well as a scan of my VISA card (front and back), by email.

    I have been working in online media for 20 years (yes, since the birth of the consumer Internet) and in that time I have seen a lot of questionable behaviour.

    But I cannot recall ever seeing a legitimate financial services company, let alone one that claims to be helping you avoid fraud, make a request for confidential financial information to be sent in such an unsecure manner.

    I wrote back saying as much and, once again, demanding that they look up and locate my account through their billing system and cancel it.


    Since my credit card was expiring in June 2013, I thought I’d finally be rid of them. After all, I got notifications from other vendors’ billing my card that I needed to update the expiry date or risk a lapse in service.

    My August and September VISA bills came in and, incredibly, they were still billing me monthly!

    Have I been diligent in following up on my threats to contact VISA and BBB? No. But a quick search online reveals there are many others who have found it almost impossible to cancel this service once registered.

    It is hard to believe I am dealing with one of the world’s top financial reporting companies, whose services the retail banks heavily utilize and whose information can make the difference in whether or not you get a mortgage or a loan, as well as how much interest you might pay.

    Here is a link to Epinions, where you can quickly see there is a common thread of complaint about the Equifax Service.

    I have now spent over $400 on a service I never wanted and over $250 since trying in vain to get rid of it.

  2. John Pettitt

    Sep 17 2013

    Here’s part of my submission to Glen R. Murray, Ontario Transportation Minister. If this does not result in the issuance of a warning to private car sellers, I plan to take this matter to the Ontario ombudsman.


    Just as highways sometimes have potholes, so do some laws and the regulations made pursuant to those laws. Since January, I’ve been languishing at the bottom of a pothole created by your ministry.

    It was impossible for me to avoid this pothole because no warning sign was erected. I, a law-abiding senior, dove headlong into the hole, all because of the lack of a simple warning sign.

    The $20 Used Vehicle Information Package (UVIP) crafted by your staff does not mention, as it could so easily do, that the seller is still considered the registered owner until the purchaser registers the vehicle in his/her name.

    This serious omission means the seller is at the mercy of the purchaser. Your staff has known about this issue for some time.

    I think a sentence like this one would suffice:

    How to Transfer Registration of a Used Vehicle

    • You are advised that legally you remain the registered owner until the buyer registers the vehicle. You have the right to retain the keys until you see proof of registration.

    The past 8 months have been a nightmare for me – an incredibly exhausting and stressful ordeal.

    Innocent citizens who follow the law should not have to suffer such indignities.

    Law-abiding towing companies and citizens do not need this aggravation caused by the omission of a simple warning.

    I am sure you will agree that my proposed simple addition to the UVIP will be much simpler than the arduous task of changing the law.

    Confirmation of your intent to plug this pothole would be much appreciated. It can so easily be done!

  3. cag

    Sep 25 2013

    here is a very informative site about protecting yourself from trouble

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