No, You Don’t Need to Inspect My Furnace!
If you live in a residence that is street-accessible, odds are that you have received a visit from a person who claims to be “from the energy company”, holding up some form of “identification” hanging around their neck and who says they “need to inspect your furnace”. Sounds harmless, right?
Except it’s a scam.
Here’s how it works: the “inspector” is actually from a company that takes advantage of the deregulation of electricity and gas supply that happened in the 1990s that was intended to allow consumers to purchase their energy from suppliers other than their local utility in a competitive market. The goal of the deregulation was to help consumers save money. Unfortunately, most of the companies that emerged offered “deals” to consumers that were not at all to customers’ advantage. When homeowners began realizing that they were paying more to the “alternative” companies than they were paying to their local utility before deregulation, these other companies started using aggressive sales tactics to try to trick the unaware into signing up for their services.
That’s where the fake “inspector” comes in. When a trusting homeowner allows this person into their home, what the scammer looks for is the identification number for the local utility account that is located on the furnace and/or water heater. They then ask the homeowner to sign a document that they claim is “confirmation that the inspection was done”. In reality, the document is a contract authorizing the shady company to switch the homeowner’s account over to them, often locking them in to a multi-year energy supply agreement.
The best defense against this scam is knowledge. The Ontario government is in the process of drafting new legislation to outlaw this practice. However, at present, nothing prevents these door-to-door visits. The employees are paid with commission for every homeowner they sign up, incentivizing them to ignore “no soliciting” signs and refuse to leave private property when asked. Unfortunately, legacy laws still on the books don’t clearly define “legitimate” business, so door-to-door soliciting is still permitted by default despite the frequent misrepresentation and ongoing shady practices.
I asked a helpful police officer from the 31 Division what local residents in the Downsview area can do to reduce the harm from this type of scam. He advised that condominiums and local homeowners’ associations hold meetings to inform their members about this type of scam. Until the new laws come into effect, education is the best way to avoid these scams. No matter what the person at your door promises, be it “savings programs”, “removing toxins from your water”, or “safety inspections”, don’t be swayed. No legitimate energy company will ever visit your house unscheduled. If you’re unsure about someone’s legitimacy, just say “No! You don’t need to inspect my furnace!” and close the door.