Overthinking of a Door to Door Scam

December 14, 2019 9 minutes

Recently we got the visit of a door to door salesperson. We don’t get much of those usually. But this time we did, and it was very different. Curious as we are, we asked tons of questions and ultimately were able to figure that it was a con. For total disclosure, we think it was as we don’t have formal proof.

This post summarizes how it played out, the research I did on the company, and a bit on the different tactics that were used on us.

I will not be naming any person or company by name. All information that could be used to identify the company is anonymized. I wanted to put pictures in this post, but it felt weird having to anonymize everything/everyone included people that were potential victims of the scam. So this is text only.

How it played out, the script

Salesperson knocks at the door, sees our massive dog barking

My partner: “Hi, what can I do for you?”

Salesperson: “Wow, you don’t need an alarm system with this dog around.”

I arrive at the front door to take care of excited dog

Salesperson: “Hi, I am with <xyz>energy. We are here to check why you are using so much electricity and to lower your electricity bill. Can I go see your electricity counter?”

(Commentary: Very official tone. It is making us think it might be a government agency or that we might be in trouble.)

My partner: “hmmm, well, it is outside, so yeah … I guess”

Salesperson walks to go see the Electricity counter

Me talking to my partner: “Hey, who are they? Why are you letting them see our things? Why are we talking to them?”

(Commentary: I always feel weird letting people in even if only in our backyard where our electrical counter is. Because of that, I always give a hard time to my partner. Probably some form of anxiety. You’ll see next that I won’t do better … :))

Salesperson, after coming back: “Oh wow, you must be paying so much. You are way over what our neighbors are paying. I think you might satisfy with the program.”

Me and my partner just wondering what is happening now …

Salesperson: “So I saw that you are consuming X Mwh. Do you know what a megawatt is?”

Salesperson continuing because we did not react as well as they would have liked: “A megawatt is […], you must be paying around X$ per month, right? Who between the two of you is your house’s ministry of energy?”

Me: “Hmm, no one… And yes, we pay around that amount per month for electricity.”

Salesperson: “Wow, that is a lot of money. Other people from your neighborhood are paying […X]$ less. Ok, I’ll have to go see your electrical panel to see if you are eligible for the program. If you are, we’ll get somebody tomorrow to install [… stuff / not super eligible at that time but something to save money, I guess] and you’ll save so much.”

Me: “Ok … But … Who are you? Why are you here? Who do you work for? I have no idea why you are here and what you want…”

Salesperson: “Ohh. Sorry. Did you not get our call or our email or our pamphlet? Ohh well, I am sorry about that. Now I understand why you are wondering what I am doing here. I am here because we have noticed that your neighborhood is in the red in terms of electricity consumption. We are here to redress the situation. So I need to check your heating sources and see if you qualify for the government credit. If you are eligible, we’ll come tomorrow to help you make great savings. Also, I am backed by lots of scientific research on the subject. We make changes that are backed by experts on how best to save money in terms of heating.”

(Commentary: Notice the use of the call to expert/authority fallacy. There are also some plain lies here. How would they know our emails or phone numbers.)

All of us walking to the basement

Salesperson, passing by my home office setup: “Ohh wow, are you a gamer or something? Ohh, do you record stuff in here?”

Me: “I work from home.”

(Commentary: I was trying to say: “I am here all the time…")

Salesperson, counting stuff on the board: “Oh yeah, you are definitely eligible, 1, 2, 3, 4 … wow yeah, definitely.”

(Commentary: I wonder if they were just looking at an available 20 amp to plug a heat pump in.)

Salesperson: “Ohh, you only have electric baseboards… but that is SURELY only your emergency heating units, right? Oh and you must have an air filter, oh you must have a ….”

Me: “hmm, no… only baseboards.”

Salesperson: “What do you use for humidifying surely you mush be using something, right?”

Me: “No.”

Salesperson: “Do you have frequent nosebleeds, do you have trouble sleeping, do you have a dry throat? Because all of this is explained by electric baseboards.”

All of us walking towards our AC unit

Salesperson: “Oh, this is a good one … Humm, I’ll need to see your hydro (electric utility) bill to see if you are eligible…”

Me, not willing to give more information and to start to feel like it was very fishy: “Hmm, I don’t remember my password.” Also, I had really forgotten it…

Salesperson: “Oh, without information on your bill, I won’t be able to tell you if you are eligible… We’ll have to come back, and maybe it will be too late for you to have access to the program.”

All of us going back to the front door

Me: “So let me just try to understand a bit. You work for a company that tries to convince people to pay for the installation of some heating things by using some government ecological tax credit. Is that how it works?”

Salesperson: “No, not at all. We want you to save money and are only giving you ways to save money on your electricity bills. We have worked with lots of people from this area. Do you know John Doe from street X close to here? If you look on our Facebook page, you can see them… Look, do you know this guy? They saved $50 a month off their electricity bill.”

(Commentary: Use of the bandwagon fallacy: “Lots of people from your neighborhood trust us”)

(Commentary: Appeal to accomplishment or emotion: “We have installed this for several other people close to here.” “They are so happy, look at their face on Facebook, probably before seeing the bill.")

(Commentary: What you take pictures of your customers/installations as marketing material? I would not agree with this. This is a privacy problem.)

Me: “Great. Do you anything for us to get to know you better. Any data on your company or something?”

Salesperson: “We are an ecological company, so we don’t give papers.”

(Commentary: Well, that is practical…)

Salesperson, after doing something that looked like marking our house as red on their App: “So we’ll come back to see if you eligible another time good luck bye.”

Some after the fact research

Their Facebook

Three pictures of seemingly happy customers pointing to their new Heat Pump shaking the hand of the same salesperson that visited us. Apparently, trying to build confidence in future customers. These three pictures/posts are all that is posted on their Facebook page, which is 2 months old.

Another example of our efficacity. After the visit from our agent, they had the chance to receive an installation the next morning. Do not hesitate to contact us through our website <xyz>energy.ca or by sending us a message through our website.

Red flag again to me. The fact that the time between the contract being signed and the installation is so short. Usually, the Quebec Province law allows contract cancellation within 10 days. A short installation delay does not give consumers the chance to realize that it could be a scam.

<xyz>energy.ca:

Which looks like the Parent company. The salesperson’s hat, paper clip, badge, and sweater all had that website’s logo.

  • Built using Webflow.
  • Most images were created (last updated at) in April 2019.
  • > whois <xyz>energy.ca
    Creation Date: 2019-04-17T18:37:21Z
    Updated Date: 2019-06-16T18:42:25Z
    Registry Expiry Date: 2020-04-17T18:37:21Z
    

<xyz>distribution.ca

This website is linked from the Facebook page even though messages and the link all point to <xyz>energie.ca. Supposedly the company doing the installations based on the salesperson.

  • Built on Wordpress.
  • Most images from Unsplash.
  • Images are last updated around September 2019.
  • Images seem to have been uploaded around January 2019 (.../wp-content/uploads/2019/01/...).
  • > whois <xyz>distribution.ca
    Creation Date: 2019-09-12T19:08:29Z
    Updated Date: 2019-11-11T19:08:46Z
    Registry Expiry Date: 2020-09-12T19:08:29Z
    

Conclusion

We should have realized earlier that it was weird and magical. I felt terrible about letting the salesperson in our house once I realized that maybe it was a scam.

But we still have some open questions: where is the fraud itself, and how do they make money?. Those are good questions. In all honesty, it may not have been a fraud. It is possible that it is legal. All the red flags we saw may have just been caused by us being overly sensitive to sales reps and their pushiness.

By doing lots of research, I saw so many complaints out there about those same types of products and those same tactics. People were ending up having to pay $20K for entry-level heat pumps that should cost $3K. I think we have been lucky to have realized earlier that something was up.

Writing about this was actually fun. It made me reflect on the tactics and on how to make sure we are never triggered/disarmed anymore by future salespersons.

Some resources that can be useful:

  • Door-to-door sales and home service contracts

    Certain products and services can no longer be offered or sold at your home unless you initiate the transaction […] These restricted products and services include: furnaces, air conditioners, …

    if you ask a salesperson to leave, they must leave right away. If you feel unsafe, call the local police.

    Once you have a written copy of the contract, you still have a 10-day cooling-off period to cancel a contract, for the restricted products or services, for any reason.

  • (In French) Ventes de porte-à-porte: ne vous faites pas avoir!

    Le vendeur qui trompait énormément

    […] Il vous vante les mérites de son produit et les généreuses économies que vous ferez à long terme si vous l’achetez […]

    […] vous pourriez profiter d’un avantageux programme de subvention et d’un nouveau crédit d’impôt du gouvernement

    […] Il sous-entend son affiliation avec Hydro-Québec.

    Deux jours plus tard, vous communiquez avec Hydro-Québec pour obtenir plus d’information sur le programme d’aide financière. Vérifications faites, la préposée au service à la clientèle vous annonce qu’il n’existe aucun programme de subvention.