Thursday, July 25, 2019/ SmartCompany,
Debt collector Panthera Finance will face Federal Court over claims it harassed customers for debts they never had.
In the latest case of allegedly unconscionable conduct to hit the debt collection industry, consumer watchdog the ACCC has alleged Panthera chased one consumer for almost four years over a $2,400 AGL electricity bill which wasn’t even theirs.
Meanwhile, two other customers were also allegedly harassed over Telstra and Origin Energy bills totalling less than $1,000, despite repeatedly telling the company they were never even customers of either retailer.
In one case, Panthera allegedly pursued a consumer over an electricity bill booked in a state they had never lived in. Debt collectors from the company allegedly continued to harass the consumer, despite being made aware of police advice the premise associated with the bill was still occupied by the same person.
“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,” commissioner Sarah Court said in a statement circulated Wednesday.
“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.”
Panthera makes its money collecting debts from consumers and businesses, either on behalf of other companies or by purchasing debt from others on the cheap.
The business, part of the broader Panthera Group which also includes mortgage broking, personal loans and other financial services companies, is yet to say whether it denies the allegations.
However, the claims are just the latest to rock the company; back in 2016, the Sydney Morning Herald published an interview with a consumer who alleged she was harassed.
In the case filed by the ACCC yesterday, it was alleged Panthera chased a consumer for $657 in debt it purchased from Telstra and was, again, informed they had the wrong person, the ACCC alleges.
Another case involved a bill for $2,413 Panthera bought from electricity retailer AGL. It chased a consumer over a period of almost four years, despite being told at the outset by the consumer they had never even held an account with AGL, the ACCC alleges.
In 2018, years after Panthera initially made contact with the ACCC’s witness, it offered them a 50% discount on the debt, despite having been informed on multiple occasions the consumer was never an AGL customer, the ACCC alleges.
Shady debt collection practices are nothing new in Australia. In December last year one of the country’s largest debt collection firms, ACM Group, was ordered to pay a $750,000 fine after the Federal Court found it misled, harassed and coerced two vulnerable consumers.
“We are extremely disappointed that parts of the debt collection industry continue to disrespect consumers,” Court said.
“We want to warn all debt collection agencies that the kind of conduct alleged in this case is not acceptable and will be the subject of further enforcement action against other businesses if necessary.”
SmartCompany contacted Panthera Finance for comment but did not receive a response before publication.