The tapes are so aggressive and show such confronting tactics that a Federal Court judge has made the rare decision to release them for the public to hear for themselves.
The recordings show debt collectors playing hardball as they play with people's lives.
They certainly aren't mincing their words, with one staff member recorded threatening to tell a woman's husband about her $22,000 credit card debt. In fact the collector was lying - legal papers weren't about to be served on the woman at all and it was part of the cruel tactics to scare her into paying up.More stories from Today Tonight
- Debt collectors target seven year old
- Know your rights when dealing with debt collectors
- Bank's debt collector 'prevents shooting'
The tapes are from the call logs of debt collection agency ACM Group who chase debts racked up by customers of some of our big banks, including the Commonwealth Bank, Westpac and NAB, as well as Telstra.
The Australian Securities and Investment Commission recently took ACM to court over allegations it "unduly harassed" eight debtors between November 2008 and June 2010.
96 phone calls, eleven hours of audio, were analysed by Federal Court Judge Nye Perram, and his report was scathing. It found staff were deceptive and misleading, abusing people and even blackmailing them into paying up.
"Debt collectors can't threaten to contact friends and family, they can't mislead you about the type of action that they can take, and they can't constantly harangue you for payment when you can't pay," Consumer Action Law Centre's Carolyn Bond explained.
On Friday, management at the Sydney headquarters of ACM Group declined to be interviewed, instead issuing a statement, saying: "all staff who were involved in these incidents have since left the employ of ACM Group Ltd. ACM has strongly condemned their actions and taken a number of steps to ensure that these are isolated events."
While that may be the case, the management team in charge at the time is still in place today. In fact, as part of the Federal Court's investigation, it was discovered that ACM even provided its staff with suggested scripts.
Mary McMahon, who was contacted by ACM, knows how it feels to be the target of a ruthless debt collector.
"The way they spoke to me was like I wasn't a human," the mother of three said.
For more than a year, she was pursued over $400.
"They wanted it all up front and I can't do that. I said look I can do $20 a fortnight because I'm only on Centrelink - they said 'no, $50 a fortnight and go get a job'," McMahonsaid.
With the debt collection industry worth almost $1.8 billion dollars, competition is fierce. Companies like ACM Group purchase debts from businesses for a large discount, and then attempt to collect the full amount. A credit card debt of $20,000 may be bought for $10,000 or $15,000 - and the debt collection agency then stands to make a potential profit of $10,000.
Contacting relatives and neighbours is a typical tactic. Leisa Musham was called relentlessly by a finance company for twelve months, and she didn't even owe a cent. Turns out the company was chasing Musham's neighbour.
"They're just rogues, they treated me like they were recovering the debt off me, treated me like I was the bad guy," Musham said.
Justice Perram hopes by naming and shaming ACM the industry will clean up its act.
"This case is really important for consumers because it actually shows when debt collectors mislead you and threaten to talk to your neighbours they are breaking the law," he said.
OUR SOCIAL SITES
Follow us on Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest