Tuesday, 02 October 2018 12:16

Equifax penalised $3.5m for consumer law breaches Featured

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Equifax penalised $3.5m for consumer law breaches Image courtesy of JanPietruszka at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Australia’s largest consumer credit reporting agency Equifax Information Services and Solutions is to pay penalties totalling $3.5 million for misleading and deceptive conduct and unconscionable conduct in relation to credit report services.

The Federal Court ordered payment of the penalty following joint submissions by Equifax and the competition watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Equifax — formerly Veda — admitted it breached Australian Consumer Law in 2016 and 2017, when its representatives made false or misleading representations to consumers during phone calls.

The company told consumers that its paid credit reports were more comprehensive than free reports it had to provide under the law, when in fact they contained the same information.

{loadoposition peter}“Equifax’s conduct caused people to buy credit reporting services in situations when they did not have to. Consumers have the legal right to obtain a free credit report under the law,” ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said.

Equifax also admitted it told consumers they would be charged a single "one-off" or "one-time" payment, but failed to disclose that payments for its paid credit report packages would automatically renew unless consumers opted out.

“We considered it unacceptable that consumers were denied the knowledge and proper opportunity to opt out of recurring charges from Equifax,” Court said.

Equifax also told consumers that the credit score provided in its paid credit reports was the same credit score used by credit providers when that was not always the case.

Court said that in respect of three vulnerable consumers, Equifax also admitted that it acted unconscionably by using unfair sales tactics and making misleading representations during telephone calls.

“It is appalling that Equifax used unfair sales tactics on consumers who were vulnerable,” she said.

“Consumers have a right to receive accurate information from credit reporting companies when they seek advice or services.

“This result sends a strong message to businesses that making misrepresentations and acting unconscionably against consumers will not be tolerated.”

The court also ordered, by consent, that Equifax establish a consumer redress scheme which would allow affected consumers to seek refunds for a 180-day period.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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