Showing posts with label ACCC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ACCC. Show all posts

Friday, 27 September 2019

Debt collector used by DHS-Centrelink to chase unproven robodebts being sued by Australia’s consumer watchdog for a raft of coercive and unconscionable practices

IT News, 24 September 2019: 

A debt collector recently awarded a $3.3 million contract by the Department of Human Services (DHS) to chase money for Centrelink is wholly owned by a company being sued by Australia’s consumer watchdog for a raft of coercive and unconscionable practices. 

In an embarrassing twist to the ongoing Robodebt controversy, iTnews can reveal ARL Collect (Pty Ltd), which is wholly owned by Queensland based Panthera Finance, snared a plum debt recovery deal from DHS just weeks before its parent company was hit by landmark legal action from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. 

The ACCC’s case against Panthera accuses the firm of coercing payments from people – including identity fraud victims – for bills they did not actually owe. 

The direct ownership link between the two companies, which technically are separate legal and financial entities, raises fresh questions around the adequacy of vetting and due diligence surrounding government outsourcing deals, especially those dealing with vulnerable people. 

The ACCC’s action against Panthera, lodged in the Federal Court on 24th July this year, sets out an appalling litany of allegations related to undue harassment and coercion, unconscionable conduct and false and misleading representation to consumers. 

They include forcing money from identity fraud victims by using credit default listings as leverage and follow consumer complaints made about Panthera. 

According to Department of Finance records, DHS published notification of the $3.3 million ARL Collect contract on 29th July; however the contract period is listed as running from 1st July 2019 to 30th June 2020, indicating the tender was let prior to commencement of action by the ACCC. 

The ACCC’s allegations against Panthera, ARL Collects’s owner, all stem from commercial recovery actions, namely attempts to collect on contested bills issued by utilities AGL, Origin Energy and Telstra, raising serious questions of governance and corporate culture. 

A particularly embarrassing coincidence for the government and DHS is that all the examples put forward to the court by the ACCC in its allegations arise from payment demands made by Panthera for bills that were not actually owed and actively disputed by those hit by recovery actions. 

The revelations that the ultimate owner of DHS’s contracted debt collector is a current target of regulatory action is another headache for the government as it vigorously defends its data matching-reliant enforcement regime. 

A class action now in the works against Robodebt being mounted by Gordon Legal also broadly makes its case along the lines of an unreasonable burden of proof being foisted on people labelled debtors, while organisations claiming to be creditors get away with questionable claims. 

The Department of Human Services, its minister Stuart Robert and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have steadfastly maintained welfare overpayment recovery mechanisms are subject to due administrative process, a stance that has done little to quell criticism of Robodebt, which has now become a political weapon. 

Irrespective of the politics, the ACCC’s case against Panthera is highly significant because it spotlights the poor conduct of some collection agencies. 

It also reveals how receivables ledgers of questionable data accuracy are on-sold and the way legitimately disputed debt is treated. 

And it goes deep into the hardball culture and often high pressure tactics of the darker corners of the collections industry, a sector that has been struggling to reform its image......

In one of the examples, a Queensland woman anonymised as “Witness A” disputed a $378 debt for an Origin electricity bill racked up under her name for an address in New South Wales where the woman had never lived. 

She had also never been a customer of Origin. After filing a complaint with the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) and supplying Panthera with the case reference number the debt collector still pursued her. 

“Witness A again informed them that she had never lived in NSW, she had provided an ACORN reference number and stated that she had never received Centrelink payments in her life, referring to the Centrelink deductions recorded on the Origin bills provided to her,” the ACCC court documents state. 

“Witness A provided Panthera with the details of the person the police had informed her was responsible for the Origin Debt, including that the person still resided at the NSW premises to which the electricity was supplied, and also with the relevant police officer’s contact information,” the ACCC’s court documents continue. 

Despite this, Panthera continued asking her for information she just did not have, the ACCC alleges.....

In another case a man dubbed "Witness B" told Panthera that he believed a Telstra mobile broadband account created in his name had been fraudulently obtained. 

Despite a police officer telling Panthera that she was “looking into fraud” in relation to the account “the man still had a credit default listed against his name.” What came next borders on extortion. 

“On 4 April 2017, a Panthera representative called Witness B’s financial advisor and stated that Panthera was aware of Witness B’s dispute and was investigating it, offered to negotiate a payment in order to secure the removal of the default listing and represented that Witness B would need to make a payment of $100 to Panthera in order for the default listing to be removed,” the ACCC’s court documents state. 

“This was in circumstances where the Panthera representative knew that Witness B’s account was in the process of being ‘written off’ by Panthera, but also knew that Witness B needed the default listing removed quickly because he was trying to obtain finance.” 

Even after paying the $100 and Panthera telling the man the default listing had been removed “as at September 2018 Witness B’s credit file still contained a default listing with respect to the Telstra Debt”.......

Read the full article here.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Alleged data theft by HealthEngine leaves hundreds of thousands of Australians vulnerable

Perhaps now is the time for readers to check who owns the company they might use to make medical appointment online.

ABC News, 8 August 2019: 

Australia's biggest medical appointment booking app HealthEngine is facing multi-million-dollar penalties after an ABC investigation exposed its practice of funnelling patient information to law firms. 

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has launched legal action against the Perth-based company in the Federal Court, accusing it of misleading and deceptive conduct. 

In June last year, the ABC revealed HealthEngine was passing on users' personal information to law firms seeking clients for personal injury claims. 

The details of the deal were contained in secret internal Slater and Gordon documents that revealed HealthEngine was sending the firm a daily list of prospective clients at part of a pilot program in 2017.

The ACCC has also accused the company of passing the personal information of approximately 135,000 patients to insurance brokers in exchange for payments.

"Patients were misled into thinking their information would stay with HealthEngine but, instead, their information was sold off to insurance brokers," ACCC chairman Rod Sims said in a statement.

The information sold included names, phone numbers, dates of birth and email addresses.

The ACCC has not said how much money the company earned form the arrangement.

The ABC revealed last year that HealthEngine had also boasted to advertisers that it could target users based on their symptoms and medical conditions. 

HealthEngine has also been accused of misleading consumers by manipulating users' reviews of medical practices. 

"We allege that HealthEngine refused to publish negative reviews and altered feedback to remove negative aspects, or to embellish it, before publishing the reviews," Mr Sims said. 

Among a range of examples, the ACCC alleges that one patient review was initially submitted as: "The practice is good just disappointed with health engine. I will call the clinic next time instead of booking online." 

But when that review was made public, it was allegedly changed to simply read: "The practice is good." 

HealthEngine is facing a fine of $1.1 million for each breach of the law, but the ACCC has yet to determine how many breaches it will allege....

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Q. If Telstra steals est. $60 million, repays $5 million in compensation and is fined $10 million, leaving a profit of $45 million - how big are the telco’s performance bonuses this year?

Readers with a Telstra mobile phone account need to check that their phone was not set to ‘Premium Direct Billing’ before 3 March 2018.

Because although Telstra put out a media release there was no promise to proactively contact all mobile customers with this news below and, the telco will be be deciding which individual account holders (who have been overcharged for a service they did not consent to) will be contacted concerning compensation.

It is possible it will not manage to contact every customer who had been improperly charged. So if you suspect that you may have been then phone Telstra.

New Matilda, 27 April 2018: 
Ordinarily, when you get caught stealing, you have to pay the money back, and the punishment you receive is meant to dissuade you from stealing again.

Unless you’re a major Australian corporation. In which case, you can steal tens of millions of dollars from your ‘valued clients’, pay a fine that represents a tiny proportion of what you pinched, issue a few million in refunds… and then keep the rest.

Introducing Telstra and its third-party ‘Premium Direct Billing’ scam, which netted Australia’s biggest Telco a cool $45 million profit, after fines and refunds.

Yesterday, the Federal Court fined Telstra $10 million for the rip-off after it found that Telstra “did not adequately inform customers it had set the Premium Direct Billing service as a default on their mobile accounts. If customers accessed content through this service, even unintentionally, they were billed directly by Telstra”.

“Thousands of Telstra mobile phone customers unwittingly signed up to subscriptions without being required to enter payment details or verify their identity.

By introducing and operating the Premium Direct Billing service, Telstra generated substantial profits by exposing customers to unauthorised charges,” Chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Rod Sims announced in a media statement.

The prosecution was launched by the ACCC with powers delegated from the Australian Securities & Investments Commission. You might remember that sleepy Australian corporate watchdog from such scandals as the banking royal commission....

“Telstra estimates it has provided refunds of at least $5 million, and it will review any future complaints in light of this action and deal with those customers in good faith. The ACCC estimates further refunds may be in the order of several million dollars.”

Monday, 26 September 2016

ACCC to rule on News Corp's planned purchase of APN News & Media regional print and online newspapers by 29 September 2016

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is currently  investigating the proposed acquisition of APN News & Media Limited (APN)'s Australian Regional Media division (ARM) by News Corporation (News) – with the aim of establishing what if any the impact of the proposed acquisition will have on on competition, and whether it will: lower the quality of content, especially local news content; reduce the choices available to readers for local news content; increase newspaper prices and/or increase the price of advertising, especially in newspapers in Queensland and northern New South Wales.

As to lowering the quality of content, especially local news content or reducing the choices available to readers for local news content – well that horse was out the stable door in a flash once Murdoch had acquired the largest single shareholding in APN News & Media.

This will be the extent of News Corp’s print and online stable once the ACCC signs off on this $36.6 million sale:

The acquirer – News Corporation
News Corporation (News) is a global diversified media and information services company with businesses in news and information services, digital real estate services, book publishing, digital education and, through its investment in Foxtel Management Pty Limited, subscription television.
 In Australia, News, through various indirect, wholly owned subsidiaries, publishes a number of state, regional and community newspapers as well as The Australian.
It also publishes various websites associated with its newspapers as well as News publishes the following paid print newspapers in Queensland and northern NSW:
· The Courier Mail, published daily Monday to Saturday, while the Sunday Mail is published on Sunday
· Gold Coast Bulletin, published daily Monday to Saturday
· Townsville Bulletin, published daily Monday to Saturday
· Cairns Post, published daily Monday to Saturday (published as the Weekend Post on Saturdays)

News also publishes the following community newspapers:
· through Quest Community Newspapers, 13 free community newspapers circulating in various parts of greater Brisbane as well as Brisbane News, a glossy free magazine distributed to inner city Brisbane. The 13 free community newspapers are:
o Albert and Logan News o Caboolture Herald o Pine Rivers Press/North Lakes Times
o Redcliffe & Bayside Herald
o City North News o North-West News
o Northside Chronicle
o Westside News
o South-West News/Springfield News
o City South News
o South East Advertiser o Southern Star
o Wynnum Herald

· through Sun Community Newspapers, the free newspaper The Gold Coast Sun, in four localised editions:
o Gold Coast Sun Upper North
o Gold Coast Sun North o Gold Coast Sun Central
o Gold Coast Sun Tweed / Southern 4

· a number of small community publications circulating in Cairns and surrounds including The Tablelands Advertiser, The Tablelander, Innisfail Advocate and the Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette
· the Bowen Independent, a paid newspaper published twice a week, and a number of other small community publications in Townsville and surrounds including The Herbert River Express, The Northern Miner and The Burdekin Advocate. News also publishes the Weekly Times, a paid newspaper distributed predominantly in rural Victoria and the Riverina region. A small number of copies are also distributed in Queensland and NSW.
News also publishes or has an interest in a range of online publications including the following:
· (48.95% interest)
· (majority interest)
· (25% interest)

News, through a wholly-owned subsidiary, also has a 14.99% interest in APN......

The target business – ARM
The target business – ARM The ARM business comprises:
· 12 paid daily, 14 paid non-daily and 32 free non-daily, community newspapers circulating in various parts of south-east and regional Queensland and northern NSW
· 14 specialist print newspapers including 'seniors', 'agriculture' and 'big rigs' titles · 4 specialist business-to-business magazines for the education and health care sectors
· 60 websites including masthead websites, websites for the specialist print newspaper titles, other websites not linked to a print title and classifieds website
· printing facilities located in Yandina, Warwick and Rockhampton in Queensland. A full list of ARM’s print publications is set out below:
North Queensland (Mackay region)
· Daily Mercury
· The Midweek 5
· Whitsunday Times
· Whitsunday Coast Guardian Central Queensland
· The Morning Bulletin
· The Observer
· Capricorn Coast Mirror
· Central Telegraph
· Central Queensland News Wide Bay Burnett
· NewsMail
· Fraser Coast Chronicle
· The Gympie Times
· Guardian
· Isis Town & Country
· Central & North Burnett Times
· Hervey Bay Observer
· The Maryborough Herald
· Cooloola Advertiser
· Hervey Bay Independent

South-East Queensland - Sunshine Coast
· Sunshine Coast Daily
· Sunshine Coast Sunday
· Noosa News
· Coolum & North Shore News
· Maroochy Weekly
· Kawana Weekly
· Caloundra Weekly
· Nambour Weekly
· Buderim Chronicle South-East Queensland (Greater Brisbane and Ipswich)
· Caboolture News
· Bribie Weekly
· The Logan Reporter
· The Satellite
· Bayside Northern Suburbs Star
· The Queensland Times
· The Ipswich Advertiser South-West Queensland
· Warwick Daily News
· The Chronicle
· Stanthorpe Border Post
· Dalby Herald
· Gatton, Lockyer and Brisbane Valley Star
· Laidley Plainland Leader
· South Burnett Times
· Southern Downs Weekly 6
· Balonne Beacon
· The Western Star
· Western Times
· Chinchilla News and Murilla Advertiser

Northern NSW (Gold Coast, Tweed and northern NSW)
· Tweed Daily News
· Tweed Daily News – Community Edition
· The Northern Star
· The Daily Examiner
· The Woolgoolga Advertiser
· Byron Shire News
· Ballina Shire Advocate
· Lismore Echo
· The Richmond River Express Examiner
· Coastal Views
· The Coffs Coast Advocate

Specialist publications
· Surat Basin News
· Rural Weekly (five editions, including a Northern Territory edition)
· Big Rigs
· CQ Industry
· Style Magazine
· Seniors Newspaper (eight different editions distributed in South-East Queensland and NSW)
· APN Educational Media publications (business-to-business publisher of Education Review, Nursing Review, Aged Care Insite and Campus Review

Friday, 29 January 2016

Nationals MP for Page Kevin Hogan makes a bit of a dill of himself over NSW North Coast petrol prices

On 23 January 2016 Nationals MP for Page Kevin Hogan was in The Northern Star newspaper crying foul with regard to a 20 cent difference in unleaded petrol prices between Ballina and Casino on the NSW Far North Coast.

He also complained that: while crude oil prices had fallen 20% this year to about $28 a barrel and were almost at a 15-year low, the cost wasn't being passed on to consumers.

Hinting at local collusion Hogan stated he had written to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) seeking an official inquiry.

The first point to remember is that by June 2015 there were only an est. 6,000 service stations across Australia, down from 20,000 in 1970, and the average customer base per service station is around 2,000 people in regional areas (and well below in many towns) whereas metro/city sites have a customer base of around 4,000 to 5,000.

The second point to remember about the oil industry in Australia is that between 2014-2015 three of the nation’s seven refineries have closed or are in the process of doing so, creating Asia’s biggest fuel-import market in this country.

In its December 2015 petrol report the ACCC tells us that:

Price movements in regional locations generally lag behind movements in the five largest cities. 
This is due in part to a lower volume of sales in these locations, and hence slower replenishment of fuel stocks by wholesalers and retailers....
Retail petrol prices in the five largest cities in Australia move in cycles. These price cycles generally do not occur in Canberra, Hobart and Darwin, or in most regional locations....
As in the five largest cities, movements in retail petrol prices in regional locations are largely driven by changes in international refined petrol prices and the AUD–USD exchange rate.
However, prices are generally higher in regional locations.
A number of factors may contribute to these higher prices: a lower level of local competition; lower volumes of fuel sold; distance/ location factors; and lower convenience store sales.
The influence of these factors varies significantly from location to location.
This means that there may be substantial differences in prices between specific regional locations...... 

On Friday 22 January 2016 the crude oil price closed at US$32.19 a barrel.

However, given that Australia is now a significant importer of refined petrol it is the Singapore MOGAS 95 price of unleaded petrol per barrel (volume approx. 159 litres as the unit of measurement) which directly influences local unleaded retail prices not the price of crude oil. 

On Thursday 21 January 2016 the market price of unleaded petrol was est. A$68 per barrel (US$47.77) and, the distribution (terminal) cost per litre (inclusive of GST) was 102.4c (Sydney & Brisbane) and 101.9c (Melbourne) on Friday 22 January.

On Saturday 23 January the retail price per litre price of unleaded petrol at the bowser (based on 7 day rolling averages) was:

Casino – 108.6c
Tweed Heads South  114.7c
Grafton – 119.9c
Lismore – 121.6c
Murrwillumbah  128.5c
Ballina – 129.4c

One other thing to remember about retail petrol prices is that unleaded petrol (regular or premium grades) and diesel the price you pay includes Australian Government excise of 38.60 cents per litre (effective10 November 2014) as well as a consumption tax (GST) of 10 per cent.

Which results in this price breakdown per litre of unleaded petrol on 23 January 2016:

Casino – $1.08 (includes 49.46c in federal government taxes)
Tweed Heads South  $1.14 (includes 50.07c in federal government taxes)
Grafton – $1.19 (includes 50.59c in federal government taxes)
Lismore – $1.21 (includes 50.76c in federal government taxes)
Murrwillumbah  $1.28 (includes 51.45c in federal government taxes)
Ballina – $1.29 (includes 51.54c in federal government taxes).

So on 23 January as Kevin Hogan looked for a service station conspiracy this was the actual situation:

* up to 45.45% of the price of a litre of unleaded petrol in these six regional centres was
made up of federal taxes, probably making tax the biggest single individual component of
the bowser price;
* both taxes and refined petrol market price are beyond the control of the retailer; and 
* as only 5% on average of the retail price per litre is allowed to cover road freight costs, 
admin and marketing costs, and service station running costs like wages, rent and utilities and a retail profit margin it is unlikely that even a Ballina service station owner/operator or franchisee will die inordinately wealthy.

As for Kevin Hogan's request for an ACCC inquiry into petrol pricing on the NSW Far North Coast - he appears to have forgotten that Ballina, Murwillumbah, Lismore, Grafton, Tweed Heads South and Casino are six of the 190 Australian regional centres that it already monitors regularly, with price observations on at least 75 per cent of days in the month/year in 2014-2015 [ACCC, Quarterly report on the Australian petroleum industry—December 2015, pp.25-26]

When ACCC staff read Mr. Hogan's letter I suspect that they are going to have to stifle an urge to laugh out loud.

Monday, 23 June 2014

The ACCC had addressed Coles misleading advertising about its in-house baked bread and rolls - now it's time for someone to look into product quality

AdNews 18 Jun 2014:

Coles has been cooked by the Federal Court and found guilty of misleading consumers with claims its bread and rolls were baked in-house despite being shipped frozen from overseas.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission launched action against the supermarket giant last year after consumers – led by former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett – began to question the veracity of the claims.
Coles had claimed that because the baking process had been completed in ovens in store, the promotions of being baked fresh in store were acceptable.
The bread and roll ranges were promoted at Coles’ supermarkets with in-house bakeries as ‘Baked Today, Sold Today’ and in some cases ‘Freshly Baked In-Store’.
Federal Court Chief Justice James Allsop handed down his judgement this afternoon and the retailer now faces potential substantial fines for each of the breaches of the Trade Practices Act.
In his judgment, Chief Justice Allsop said “It is not the place of the court to provide an advice … as to how Coles might sell bread that has been par-baked from frozen product … A start would, however, be to make it tolerably clear to the public that the recent baking was the completion of a baking process that had taken place sometime before, off site, and that 'freshly baked' actually meant the completion of the baking process of frozen product prepared and frozen off site by suppliers.”
ACCC chairman Rob Sims said that Coles behaviour not only mislead consumers placed smaller businesses that baked their bread on the premises at a competitive disadvantage.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Coles stores in the Northern Rivers may not brush off customer concerns so quickly after this ACCC media release

A rather satisfying media release, given the attitude of certain Coles staff when customers' concerns over this advertising pictured below were dismissed with version of; ‘But people will know that the vegetables under the sign are imported. Head office makes us put up these signs – we are doing nothing wrong!’

Graphic from WA Today

Coles pays infringement notices for alleged misleading country of origin claims

1 July 2013

Coles Supermarkets Australia Pty Ltd (Coles) has paid six infringement notices totaling $61,200 for alleged misleading representations about the country of origin of fresh produce made in five of its stores between March 2013 and May 2013. The stores were located across Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission took action following a complaint that Coles had displayed some imported navel oranges and kiwi fruit underneath price boards reading ‘Helping Australia Grow’ with the triangular ‘Australian Grown’ symbol. The ACCC surveyed a number of Coles stores and found that the signage was also being used in other stores to advertise imported asparagus and almonds.
The ACCC alleges that this signage gave the overall impression that the imported produce was Australian grown, when it was not. The overseas country of origin was correctly identified either by stickers on the produce itself, on its packaging or under the display bin.  However, the ACCC considered that the relatively small sized stickers or statements were not sufficient to correct the overwhelming impression of the ‘Helping Australia Grow’ campaign imagery that was associated with the sale of the product.
“Consumers should be able to rely on the accuracy of claims about food, particularly when they are prepared to pay a premium for products made in Australia. Misleading country of origin claims can also have a significant impact on the competitive process and hurt the local economy,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.
“While this does not appear to be a case of widespread or systemic conduct, ‘Helping Australia Grow’ is a significant national campaign driven hard by Coles to advertise its fresh produce. This is a lesson to all retailers that they need to take care when undertaking significant advertising campaigns to ensure consumers are not misled by those campaigns,” Mr Sims said.
The ACCC is prioritising its work in relation to credence claims, particularly those in the food industry with the potential to have a significant impact on consumers and competitors.
Coles advised the ACCC that the conduct arose out of the relocation of stock within stores without updating the promotional imagery on the price boards. The ACCC nevertheless considered action was necessary given the importance consumers place on representations of this kind, and the importance of strong compliance processes when choosing to make such claims in the context of a widespread campaign.
The payment of infringement notice penalties is not an admission of a contravention of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. The ACCC can issue an infringement notice where it has reasonable grounds to believe a trader has contravened certain consumer protection laws.
Release number: 
Media enquiries: 
Mr Duncan Harrod - (02) 6243 1108 or 0408 995 408

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Northern Rivers businesses on notice regarding future carbon tax claims made to consumers

The ACCC has published online a guide for business when making any claim that the carbon tax to be introduced in mid-2012 will increase costs to consumers.

Hopefully the Northern Rivers business community will read this document as there will be local people watching out for any false or misleading claims.