“No merchant, manufacturer or advertiser may, by any means whatever, make false or misleading representations to a consumer. “- Consumer Protection Act, RSQ, c P-40.1, section 219

Despite being fined $10 Million by the federal Competition Bureau for false advertising at the end of June, Bell Canada seems not to have learned their lesson. An exclusive investigation by Forget the Box has revealed that while the false prices which led to the fine have been removed from their website, other misleading and false claims persist.

A visitor to the “bundle” section of the Bell website yesterday was met with the text “Bundle and save: A free HD PVR for three years. Another reason to switch from cable”. After clicking on this graphic they were led to a page which explains that you can bundle between two and four services and receive a discount. One could then choose which services they want to buy and proceed to checkout without another word being said about that HD PVR they’re getting for three years.

Except they’re not getting it for three years. Hidden in a microscopic link titled “See how you can save with the Bell bundle” (which no one would click, since that information is clearly explained on the main page) is the caveat that bundling two services will only get you the PVR for two years. The hidden cost to an unsuspecting consumer of this misleading advertising? $243.60 (The rental cost of the PVR for one year).

Now in the case referenced above, the Competition Bureau found that despite Bell having put an asterisk next to the false prices, which led directly to fine print explaining the hidden charges, the advertising was false and misleading. In this case there is no asterisk, no tricky wording (“up to three years” for example), just a false claim.

When I first reached a Bell representative their response (passed on from their supervisor and their team leader) was that since the actual terms were available somewhere on the website the advertising was both accurate and fair.

I followed up with Bell’s public relations department, where I spoke to Bell Spokesperson Jacqueline Michelis. She asked me to wait for a comment from Bell, and after a day called back to direct me to their site, which has now been changed to read “Another reason to switch from cable. Get a free HD PVR for up to three years”. When I asked her how the false ad copy had been approved in the first place, and whether Bell had any plans to compensate customers who were misled, she declined to comment.

While I am appreciative that Bell acted swiftly to remove the offending ad copy after a press inquiry from this website, and in so doing acknowledged that their original ad was misleading and potentially illegal, I know of several complaints from customers which were ignored. So the question is, was Bell deliberately misleading consumers and stopped because we caught them? Or was this an honest mistake attributable to an overzealous marketing department, which was rectified as soon as it was brought to the attention of management?

Now, if it were not for Bell’s rather atrocious record of fines and public condemnation for false advertising, illegal telemarketing practices, throttling the internet and trying to force Usage Based Billing on all Canadians I might be inclined to give them and their seemingly out of control marketing department the benefit of the doubt.

But it seems to me that if you acknowledge your original ad was false, and misleading enough to warrant removal, then its removal should come with an apology and compensation for those consumers who were misled.

In Quebec it is illegal to “by any means whatever, make false or misleading representations to a consumer”. That’s the law, they were heavily fined for breaking it, and less than a month later they decided that if the authorities didn’t like their use of an asterisk and fine print they’d just get rid of the asterisk.

If Bell truly wants to show us that they’ve learned their lesson, then they’ll issue an apology and offer a free third year to all customers who signed up since the offending ad was posted to their website. If they do so then I promise to write a whole article about how they’ve atoned for their mistakes and turned the corner to being a responsible corporate “citizen”.

In the meantime, Bell is still on my shit list.