Where’s the truth in labelling?

I often take guided tours in places where I’ve never been. It’s annoying when you’re taken to a souvenir store and forced to wait for everyone in your group to finish shopping.

It’s an unspoken truth that tour guides get a commission on everything sold in shops where they direct customers. But the truth is getting out. I saw a sign in a market warning that guides earned 30 to 35 per cent of the price paid in some stores. “Shop on your own,” it said.

How would truth in labelling work for companies I write about in this blog? Let’s think about what Enbridge, for example, would say about its budget billing plan.

* We can set your monthly instalment payments too low and send you a large bill after almost a year has passed, without doing any mid-term reviews.

* We can charge you 1.5 per cent a month in late fees if you can’t pay this large bill within a few weeks, even though we made the error.

* We can ask you to call us if you’re in financial difficulty, but we can make it hard for you to reach our call centres.

* We can sign you up for this budget billing plan automatically if you’re a new customer without giving you a choice.

* We urge you to check the budget billing plan data each month, knowing that we can make large errors, and to ask for an increase in your instalment payments if you haven’t been billed enough.

If such messages were in bold print, in large type, on all monthly statements, I’d agree that Enbridge customers were truly warned about the billing problems they could face.

Aeroplan also needs to beef up its truth in labelling. I’d like to see warnings everywhere that your points will be zapped in one year unless you stay active and that buying anything at a partner retailer (such as Esso) will ensure you won’t lose your points.

Any other examples of proper disclosure that readers want to share would be welcome.

Author: Ellen Roseman

Consumer advocate and personal finance author and instructor.

13 thoughts on “Where’s the truth in labelling?”

  1. Here’s my “Rogers Wireless Top 11 List of Truth-in-Labelling” (because 10 just isn’t enough)

    – 1) If you see an error in your bill that hurts you, you have 90 days to bring it to our attention and get remedied or you’re SOL. However, if we see an error in your bill that hurts us, we have 180 days to back-charge you.

    Rogers Wireless, Terms of Service: http://your.rogers.com/about/legaldisclaimer/TOS_Eng.pdf

    – 2) We make so many billing errors we’ve created a whole department to protect us from our own staff’s errors. However, we’ve created no such department to protect you, the customer, from all our billing errors.

    Rogers Wireless, about their “Revenue Assurance” department

    – 3) If you want to port your number to another carrier and don’t give us advance notice of that, we’ll charge you for 30 days of dead-air service that you can’t use when you effect the port. But if you give us 30 days advance notice of cancellation, we’ll put a “freeze” on your account which TOTALLY BLOCKS your ability to port (UNLESS you KNOW to tell us you’re going to port your number away when you give us advance notice of cancellation, even though it’s none of our business why you’re cancelling).

    Rogers Wireless, Terms of Service + an unpublished, hidden policy; confirmed via talking with reps

    – 4) If you ask about what places are a local cell call to one another in Canada, we’ll refuse to tell you that information in a one-stop webpage or database. We will, however, give you laughably low-quality maps (but only a few!), buried deep on our website, that have a disclaimer saying the maps might be wrong or might not apply to your call anyway.

    Rogers Wireless, regarding multiple attempts to have them give this information to a customer

    – 5) We’ll create a Twitter feed to tell you about all the wonderful things we’re doing for you, but we will refuse to similarly broadcast when your rates are going up, the service is being reduced or we’re now charging extra or restricting things that you used to be able to do for free (e.g. local-calling-area shrinkage, tethering restrictions and ?coming Aug 15? … UMA lockdown, aka WiFi-calling lockdown).

    Rogers Wireless; about their @RogersBuzz twitter feed – (contrast with ‘the other side of the story’: the @RogersRectum twitter feed 🙂

    – 6) We’ll employ caps & maximums to your discounts & credits, but won’t properly and thoroughly train our reps in it, so that when you have credits mysteriously not appearing on your bill nobody will know why or be able to properly fix it when you call in every month, for months on end.

    Rogers Wireless; about their ‘secret’ and arcane ‘maximum-credits ceiling’

    – 7) We’ll brag in LARGE FONT about the 5/10/15% discount you can get when bundling, but won’t be quite so forthcoming about the 8,243 exceptions, qualifications and oh yeah, there’s yet an *additional* ECF fee if you are on bundling (max $200 there, even if you only saved $19.23 with your bundling).

    Rogers Wireless, about their so-called “Better Choice Bundles”; the “GOTCHA’s” can be sussed out via this little-known shortcut:


    Click on “Terms & Conditions” in the fine print at page bottom (have your lawyer tell you what it actually means – it’s really dense reading)

    – 8) We’ll raise the “911 Emergency Access Fee” from 50c to 75c/mo, even though we pay only 6c/mo to terminate those 911 calls.

    Rogers Wireless, regarding 911 fee hike in March 2010 and page 7 of this CRTC document:


    – 9) We’ll charge you a fee called “Government Regulatory Recovery Fee” even though charging you this fee isn’t isn’t mandated by the government, and we won’t break out the math to explain our regulatory-compliance costs; our lawyers will make us put, in the fine print, “Not a government mandated fee” to protect us from class action lawsuits from people like you that were deceived by our deceptive use of the words Government, Regulatory and Recovery in this fee’s name.

    Rogers Wireless, about their reviled GRRF fee (which is not charged by Bell, Telus, Wind, Mobilicity, etc.)

    – 10) We’re a multi-billion dollar company with thousands of employees, but if you ask us for a tally of how many airtime minutes you’ve used mid-billing-cycle we’ll not give you a binding answer because we don’t even know ourselves, and can’t even figure it out until we ‘process’ your billing at the cycle’s end. This might be because our back-end and billing systems really, really suck and we don’t care enough to to fix it.

    Rogers Wireless, about their “unbilled usage” policy

    – 11) In some cases, we’ll charge you (no kidding here, folks) a rate of $31,000/GB for data usage on your cellphone, but we’ll disguise this as 3c/KB so that it doesn’t look like we’re raping you quite so badly on data roaming fees … and besides, nobody can do this kind math in their head anyway.

    Rogers Wireless, about their international data roaming rates;

    See: http://rogers.com/Data and (as usual) click on Legal Disclaimer fine print at the bottom of the page

    Eleven points on Rogers Wireless is enough for one post, eh Ellen? I could probably do 11 more off the top of my head … but I’m sure that reader’s get the picture : (

  2. If I am not mistaken, if you don’t spend your Aeroplan points in a year, they are gone.

    I got an email awhile back saying that if I didn’t spend them by August 4th, they would be gone. I had 3,400 points.

    Their site had nothing I could get/want /need for those points. How fair is that? Not fair.

    I will stick with Air Miles. I just cashed several hundred and got $80 in GC for Metro. I shop there every week, so I can use them very easily.

  3. Great work on that post. One could probably do a cut and paste of those some complaints and apply it to Bell Canada.

  4. Pet food may contain melamine, urea, etc…

    We are not responsible for the veterinary fees that may arise from consumption of this pet food.

  5. TD Visa has got my goat these days. They closed my card 3 days before my vacation because they thought it might be compromised, in spite of the fact it is a new “chip” protected card, is in my possession, and it has had no fraudulent purchases in the month since they sent it to me!


    1- Card may be cancelled at any time without notice.

    2- Card may be deemed compromised for reasons we can neither explain nor would we share if we did know.

    3- Our urgent voice message to call us promptly will be channelled to a call centre without sufficient staff. After 17 minutes, we will provide an alternate number that we will not answer for up to 30 minutes.

    4- When you’re requesting quick delivery of a replacement card, we will say whatever it takes to make you go away but we will not actually deliver the card.

    5- When you’re requesting the name of a senior executive, we will block all avenues for you to talk to anybody in authority. We will offer small marginal credits if you will just go away.

    6- If you approach a TD Canada Trust branch staff member for assistance, they will inform you they are a different company and they cannot assist you….although they did sell you the card and it has their name on it.

    Whew….now I feel better!

  6. ING Direct’s new THRiVE Chequing account.

    Claim #1: “No-Fee Daily Chequing.”

    Reality: “THRiVE Chequing – Fees Overview” fine print says “First Cheque Book (20 Cheques) FREE, Additional Cheque Book (20 Cheques) $10.”

    That’s 50¢ per cheque — hardly “free.”

    Claim #2: “Pays Interest”

    Reality: Some truth, however, they only pay 0.25% on the first $50k balance. Their savings account pays 1.5% so you’re forgoing 1.25% on your money in order to get “no fee” services.

    That’s hardly free. (Losing 1.25% on $10,000 is $125/year. On $50,000, it’s $625 per year.)

    So much for ING’s advice to “Save your money â„¢”

  7. bylo…. compared to other examples that’s hardly a fair criticism.

    20 cheques seems reasonable and paying ANY interest on their chequing makes their statement true; also most chequing accounts don’t pay any. Its not fair to compare a chequing acct to a savings acct from a banks perspective.

  8. A label that could go for Ellen is:

    1. Company = BAD, customer = GOOD. No matter what. In fact, I think there are definitely as many dishonest customers as companies. More, actually.

  9. “its not fair to compare a chequing acct to a savings acct from a banks perspective.”

    I’m not making that comparison. I’m comparing to President’s Choice Financial where both the cheques and the chequing transactions are fee-free. Granted PCF pays even lower interest rates but for someone who writes say 5 cheques a month, the 50¢ per blank cheque represents $2.50/month and more than offsets the lower interest rates for most people.

    “20 cheques seems reasonable”

    The first 20 are free but after that you’re paying 50¢ per blank cheque even if the transaction itself may be “free.” So regardless of where you charge it, the customer still pays 50¢ for each cheque. That’s not “No-Fee.”

    The topic is “Where’s the truth in labelling?” ING claims “No-Fee Chequing.” That’s not the truth since you have to pay for blank cheques. Their THRiVE account may be low cost or lower cost than the competition but it’s not, as they claim, “No-Fee Chequing.”

    BTW, as for the big-5 banks, TD offers a totally free package (free chequing, free blank cheques, free ATM transactions including overseas, free safe deposit box, free premium credit card, free US$ account with free chequing, etc. etc. with a minimum balance of $5,000 on which they pay no interest). ING pays ~$1/month interest on $5,000 so TD’s package costs about $1/month compared to ING. That’s a far better deal for anyone who can keep $5,000 in their account.

  10. Bylo’s:

    You’re right, ING’s description of their new product being a “free” chequing is a bit misleading. But if one can live without writing more than 20 cheques in a given year (I wrote only one in the last two years), the account is indeed free and an extremely attractive offering, considering that other major banks charge you a monthly fee *and* put limits on how much you can use the account without incurring additional basic banking fees.

    Moreover, the fact their account pays almost no interest is nothing new — no chequing account does. That’s not what they’re for. Their account does pay interest, but it’s peanuts.

    While your comparison to TD’s account is certainly valid, ING provides better value for the dollar for those who can’t keep a hefty sum in their chequing account.

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