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Customer tells of 'smoke and mirror' tactics used by water treatment sales company

'[Seniors] don't understand what's happening and it's easy to put them in a corner. I'm lucky I had my sister,' says Kim Lyon. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)
'[Seniors] don't understand what's happening and it's easy to put them in a corner. I'm lucky I had my sister,' says Kim Lyon. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)

Prince Edward Islanders are speaking out about their experiences with a Nova Scotia-based water treatment sales company that has had its licence to operate on P.E.I. stripped by the provincial government.

Kim Lyon said she received a call about water quality just before Christmas 2022. The following spring, she was contacted and told that she had "won a prize" and that someone would be by to drop it off.

Lyon said a man came by her house with a first-aid kit as her prize — then stayed for roughly three hours and pushed her to sign a long-term contact for water equipment.

"He never stopped talking. He talked very fast and he was very pushy," Lyon said. "A lot of it was smoke and mirrors."

The salesperson worked for Maritime Home Services, also known as Atlantic Environmental Systems Inc. The company's salespeople promote what they refer to as "the Cadillac" of water treatment equipment, sales and services.

On Thursday, a P.E.I. regulator cancelled the licences of Maritime Home Services and its salespeople to sell products door to door on the Island, saying letting the business continue to operate here "would reduce public confidence, expose Island consumers to potential harm or exploitation… and not be in the public interest."

The Maritime Home Services location in Stratford, P.E.I.
The Maritime Home Services location in Stratford, P.E.I.

The Maritime Home Services location in Stratford, P.E.I. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Maritime Home Services has the right to appeal the decision. The company's Stratford location was closed when CBC News visited on Friday to seek comment.

The company still has a direct seller permit in Nova Scotia. In an email to CBC News on Friday, Service Nova Scotia said: "We received word of the decision to cancel the licence in P.E.I. We have not yet evaluated the situation in N.S."

Cancelled cheque to stop transaction

Lyon said she eventually signed a contract with the salesperson from Maritime Home Services where instead of paying monthly, she would pay a lump sum of roughly $4,000.

When you start targeting seniors and people who live alone, they don't have a chance... They don't understand what's happening and it's easy to put them in a corner. — Kim Lyon

After thinking about it overnight and talking with relatives, Lyon cancelled the cheque and saved her money.

The entire experience makes her feel disgusted for people who did end up handing over thousands of dollars.

"Especially when you start targeting seniors and people who live alone, they don't have a chance," she said. "They don't understand what's happening and it's easy to put them in a corner. I'm lucky I had my sister."

Lyon then got in touch with Eustace Reeves, who runs Reeves Water Treatment Systems in Charlottetown. He had been talking with a number of Island seniors who'd gotten sales pitches from Maritime Home Services.

"He was just livid," Lyon said.

'Preying' on seniors

Reeves has been operating his own water business for nearly five decades. He said he has been hearing complaints about this competitor for several years.

He told CBC News that seniors would contact him and describe how they'd been sold equipment for much higher prices than standard in the industry, by sales people who often used pushy sales tactics and stuck around people's homes for hours until they got their deal.

Eustace Reeves is the owner of Reeves Water Treatment Systems and he said he's glad the company lost its license, but would have liked it to have that happen sooner.
Eustace Reeves is the owner of Reeves Water Treatment Systems and he said he's glad the company lost its license, but would have liked it to have that happen sooner.

Eustace Reeves is the owner of Reeves Water Treatment Systems. He said he's glad the company lost its licence, but would have liked the province to have moved more quickly. (Laura Meader/CBC)

He eventually passed on that information to the province's Department of Justice and Public Safety. The ruling revoking Maritime Home Services' direct sales licence, released Thursday, cited his complaint as the impetus behind the provincial investigation, though it did not name him.

What Maritime Home Services did was a "horror story," Reeves said Friday.

I hope they disappear. They shouldn't be around. — Eustace Reeves

"They were preying on older people. You just don't want to see people taken advantage of and used, particularly older people."

Reeves said he's glad the company lost its licence to operate on P.E.I., but he wishes that had happened sooner.

"If there's so many complaints come in, probably they should be investigated more quickly," he said. "I hope they disappear. They shouldn't be around."