The ACCC has instituted proceedings against debt collection agency Panthera Finance Pty Ltd alleging it unduly harassed three consumers over debts they did not owe.
The ACCC alleges that Panthera repeatedly contacted the three consumers for the payment of the disputed debts despite being advised that they were not liable for the debts, and in two cases placed an incorrect default listing on the consumers’ credit rating files. It also allegedly imposed onerous requirements on these consumers to “prove” they didn’t owe the debts which Panthera was trying to collect.
In one case, the ACCC alleges that Panthera used coercion, made false representations and engaged in unconscionable conduct when dealing with the consumer, even though it knew the consumer urgently needed an incorrect credit default listing removed to obtain finance for a new car.
“We were very concerned about complaints of Panthera’s behaviour, which we allege breaches the Australian Consumer Law and caused extreme distress to the three consumers involved,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.
“Harassment of consumers about debts is always unacceptable. In this case, we allege Panthera’s conduct was particularly egregious as we understand they continued to harass these three consumers after they became aware that they didn’t owe any money. We are extremely disappointed that parts of the debt collection industry continue to disrespect consumers.”
The ACCC is seeking pecuniary penalties, declarations, injunctions, orders for a compliance program, publication orders and costs.
It is also claimed in the alternative that Panthera breached the Australian Securities and Investment Commission Act by engaging in the same conduct. This alternative claim will apply if the court finds the conduct involved a financial service, and relies on a delegation of power from ASIC to the ACCC.
Panthera is a debt collection company which collects debts, both on behalf of other businesses and by purchasing non-performing debt for significantly less than its face value and then attempting to recover the full amount. Over the last two years around 100 people have complained to the ACCC about Panthera’s debt collection activities.
In December 2018, the Federal Court ordered one of Australia’s largest debt collection firms, ACM Group Ltd, to pay $750,000 in penalties for ACM’s misleading, harassing, coercive and unconscionable pursuit of underpaid debts from two vulnerable consumers.
In October 2018, the Federal Court ordered Equifax Australia Information Services and Solutions Pty Ltd to pay $3.5m in penalties for misleading and deceptive conduct, and unconscionable conduct in relation to credit report services.