2011–12 Research Project Summaries: Option consommateurs

2120 Sherbrooke Street East, Suite 303
Montreal, QC  H2K 1C3
Tel.: 514-598-7288
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1. Bloggers or sponsors: The true identity of undercover advertisers

The growing importance of social media sites is attracting marketers. Unfortunately, some questionable practices have also developed at the same time; in particular, there is the "flog" (fake blog) and "sock puppeting" (using a pseudonym and false identity to interact in social media). These practices consist of campaigning for a company or organization as a regular citizen, though social media. Flogs and sock puppeting can influence consumers through dishonest means.

This research will allow federal and provincial legislators to better protect consumers.

Expected results

This research project will identify the issue of flogs and sock puppeting from the consumer's point of view, and explore protect consumers from these commercial practices.

2. Class action forms: Forms for legal officers who work in the field of class action lawsuits

In many cases, each member must complete a form to obtain compensation. But the current class action forms are complex and difficult to understand. Practitioners are not always able to draft forms in a language consumers can understand or choose a design that facilitates the transmission of information.

Through this research, OC hopes to develop forms that are written with clear language and with content that is presented in a manner that will facilitate understanding.

Expected results

This research will allow OC to provide practitioners with samples of class action forms that consumers will find easy to understand and complete. OC also hopes to inform practitioners of the consumers' concerns. This work will help practitioners modernize their forms and will improve access to justice.

3. Bait and switch selling - Collecting information in the electronics market and a survey on consumers' knowledge of and experiences with misleading business practices

Consumers are drawn to sales. This is why merchants regularly advertise reduced prices on their products. However, there are times when a consumer will go to a store only to find out that the sale product is no longer offered on the shelves. Some merchants may deliberately order an insufficient quantity of the advertised sale products because their goal is to sell the consumer other, more expensive, products. This business technique, called the bait and switch, is illegal and documented; there is a case law on the subject. Complaints received by OC indicate that certain merchants still use the technique today.

This research will be used to create an overall picture of the phenomenon in Canada. The legislation, rules and standards that surround this practice in Canada and in the United Kingdom will be studied. Finally, a field study will allow OC to make note of and verify the current situation.

Expected results

This research is expected to help OC improve monitoring of this practice in the country to better protect consumers.

4. Issues related to penny auction Internet sites

Penny auction Internet sites are multiplying. This phenomenon is growing and OC has serious concerns about monitoring it. Many Internet users complain about the practices on some of these sites: use of web robots (bots), misrepresentations, hidden fees, fraud, and non-delivery of the goods ordered. Many Internet users ask whether this type of auction is a lottery or a game. The research questions will be: What are the issues related to this new type of auction? Is this industry monitored? What are the risks for Canadian consumers?

OC will conduct research to better understand this new type of trade, measure the impacts on consumers and make recommendations to monitor this budding industry.

Expected results

OC hopes that this research will allow stakeholders to better understand the issues related to penny auction sites. If appropriate, it would give decision-makers the opportunity to quickly react and properly protect Canadian consumers.

5. Umbrella mortgages: Advantages and disadvantages of the real estate warranty deed

Since the early 2000s, financial institutions have been offering a new type of mortgage called the real estate warranty deed. This contract allows the person who takes out a mortgage to also obtain other loans (home-equity line of credit, car loan, credit card, 'etc.) guaranteed by the mortgage without going back to see the notary. The real estate warranty deed does however raise some questions: What are the advantages and disadvantages of this product for consumers? Does this format allow the consumer to save interest fees? Does the real estate warranty deed make access to credit easier?

This research aims to understand the issues related to the real estate warranty deed.

Expected results

The results of this research will allow OC to make effective representations with the government departments and agencies involved. It will allow OC to understand real estate warranties and better inform consumers. The research will allow OC to make representations with financial institutions to lead them to provide clearer explanations about the real estate warranty deed.

6. The most effective methods for transferring knowledge about energy efficiency to low-income consumers

In the context of globally increasing energy costs, energy efficiency (EE) is a preferred choice to reduce consumption. This is even more beneficial for low-income households (LIH), who spend a more significant portion of their income on the energy bill than the overall public.

OC wishes to analyze the awareness tools on efficiency offered to Canadian low-income households. OC suggests cataloguing the Canadian EE information transfer efforts made to date with LIH, then testing the various approaches with the target public and education experts. OC also suggests consulting with stakeholders working in EE with LIH. The recommendations will aim to inform the authorities in charge of developing and implementing EE programs such as energy distributors and public utility tribunals.

Expected results

This research is expected to allow stakeholders, such as OC, organizations that work with low-income households and EE stakeholders (including federal and provincial government agencies and energy distributors) to increase their abilities to intervene with low-income consumers regarding energy efficiency.