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South Australian mobile phone provider Excite Mobile was last month found to have engaged in “false and misleading conduct” in its provision of mobile phone services in Australia.
Two of the company’s directors, Obie Brown and David Samuel, were found to have been aware of the activity and the ACCC is now pursuing penalties against them, including fines and a potential ban on acting as a director.
The tip of the iceberg was the sales methods it had used to coerce its customers into a 24 month mobile phone contract plan, the terms of the mobile phone contracts, and its reliance on the enforcement of those terms.
The ACCC defines unconscionable conduct as “conduct which is so harsh that it goes against good conscience”. But “it is more than simply unfair or harsh – it must have an element of bad conscience.”
In this case, Excite Mobile created a fictional complaints handling organisation, called “Telecommunications Industry Complaints,” to trick customers into thinking complaints were being handled by a separate organisation.
It also sent coercive letters to over a thousand of its customers, purporting to be from a debt collector named Jerry Hastings – a man who doesn’t exist.
In these letters, which seem to have worked off a rough template and sent to multiple customers, “Jerry” warns customers about his “killer” lawyer, a woman with “no heart” who wants him to take customers’ “stereo, tvs, cars and games systems,” before extending the hand of friendship and offering them a way out in the form of payment plans.
Phone numbers attached to the letters were answered by Ms Smart and Mr Brown, who claimed to be workers in Jerry Hastings’ office.
ACCC chair Rod Sims said of the case: “The conduct of Excite Mobile was outrageous. Inventing a fictitious complaints handling body to deceive customers and creating a fictitious debt collector to coerce the customer to pay an alleged debt to Excite Mobile is unjustifiable and unacceptable.”
Business Insider has obtained some of the letters and one of them is published in full below.
Be warned: the writing is terrible.
Jerry Hastings – Times Are Bad
Letter Reference: 98680
Jerry Hastings 1800 xxx xxx
[Heading:] Ok times are bad and money is just not there
The job markets stink, people are getting fired everyday. Those bumbling idiots in Canberra have screwed us again. Now everybody is suffering.
Believe me, phone calls everyday keep coming in from people just like you saying their bills are hard to pay. Our customers just like everybody are struggling to pay bills.
On my desk, there is a huge amount of letters just like this. Just waiting and ready to go out. This downturn is the worse one in decades.
Trying to deal with these letters to customers is a nightmare. My lawyer is trying to convince me to start legal proceedings against people just like you. She is saying lets drag you into court and start repossessing your assets under Australian Law. You know things like your stereo, tvs, cars and games systems. Anything of value to you will become ours.
Damn lawyers their first idea is to hang people like you out to dry. She has no heart to help my customers. Doesn’t she know what people are going through right now. Its hard enough to put food on your table.
To be 100% honest while going into court would solve most of my problems. And it would also force people to pay me back. And going to court is in the cards if no response is given. This is not the answer for me or you just yet.
Trying something out by helping each would be better. Look you currently owe Excite Mobile $1,313.69. And while taking you to court to get this money would be easy for Excite Mobile instead you can make it easier on both of us by setting up a payment plan.
Ok what can Excite Mobile or I do to make this easier on you. How about getting rid of 25% saving you $328.42 of your debt. Just rip it up and forget about it. This should make things easier for you shouldn’t it?
Plus the remaining debt of $985.27 why dont you make a monthly easy payment plan. What can you afford each month right now? Working with you to come up with a plan.
$10 a month, $15 a month or $20 a month. This is a small amount to pay so you dont have to see us in court. And if you are having a bad month call us and we will hold the payment for that month.
This is with the full understanding, bad months happen from time to time.
Look to be truthful the law is on our side. Asking for the full amount and NOW is allowed by the law. But nobody wants to make lawyers and judges get richer. Lets do a deal right to get this debt wiped off your name.
With small payments you agree on you can solve any future problems. This helps you as you dont have to deal with lawyers yourself. And you pay something off that you know you agreed to.
To set up this fair payment system you must call us by the Thursday 28 January. This offer of is only valid to this date Thursday 28 January. Otherwise if you make no attempt to contact us, getting lawyers involved is the next step. Plus this will be at the full amount plus charges, you will get no discount.
My lawyer will even make you pay an additional 20% for not paying on time. Plus her additional fees and charges. So you would end up paying close to 1 & ½ times what you own now. It can and will cost you a mint!
Believe me there is no way you want to meet my lawyer in court. While she seems like a nice lady she is a killer in front of the judge. One case she even got the judge to order a young mother have her kids game machine repossessed. She has no feeling towards you at all. Her job is to be as mean as possible toward you. She can make your life extremely uncomfortable.
Lets make it easier on you. Lets do a deal now before you have to start worrying. Come on what’s $10, $15 or $20 a week. Its a small price to pay to stop people coming into your house ripping the tv out.
Getting things repossessed is not only devastating. But it is also embarrassing in front of your family, friends and co-workers.
Plus lets not forget by going this way you will rip up 25% of your debt NOW. A saving to you $328.42 right off the top.
Yes this letter is long winded. But truly nobody but our lawyer wants to go to court against yourself. You paying $10, $15, or $20 a week in your mind can save you alot of fear.
But you have to take the first step and call us. If you dont contact us, you name will be sent to our lawyers. Once this happens nothing can stop proceedings against you.
Dont wait a second longer. Dont tell yourself you will do it tomorrow. Call now as there are friendly people waiting for your call. They have dealt with this problem before and they understand your needs. Dont wait because you will forget. Call right now to get a deal that suits both of us.
Please call now as the next letter to you will be from our lawyers with a court date.
Other payment offers
Please consider the payment offer we have made in our letter. If you can afford to pay the debt in full or a higher amount per fortnight or monthly then we can even reduce your debt further.
Outstanding $1,1313.69 act now and save as much as $656.86 which is a 50% saving.
Your option 1 – 50% Discount: –
Payment within 21 days: – Full payment
50% deduction of your debt.
Saving you $656.85.
Reduced amount to pay $656.85
Your option 2 – 33% Discount
Fortnightly payments of $50 or more: – $100+ per month
33% deduction of your debt.
Saving you $437.85
Reduced amount to pay $875.71
Your Option 3 – 25% Discount
Fortnight payments of $20 or more: – $40+ per month
25% deduction of your debt.
Saving you $328.42.
Reduced amount to pay $985.27.
Your Option 4 – Personalized Saving Amount
Personalized payment plan: – Whatever you can afford
We will agree on an amount that we are both happy with.
We will try to save you as much as possible.
The amount to pay will be as per our personalized agreement with you.
No matter which payment offer you accept as long as you continue to make payments as per what we agree on no late payment fees will be charged or any additional costs added to your debt. Your debt will be frozen at the amount agreed and all payments you make will be deducted from your outstanding debt. Remember you must make all payments, if payments are not made we reserve the right to charge the full original debt plus 20% debt recovery fee and any associated costs.
So if you do not reply to this letter your debt will increase to over $1,576.43.
By agreeing to a payment plan you are saving a late payment fee of $16.50 per month, plus all the extra costs that would be associated with collection of the debt.
The most simple and easy way to move forward is to work out a payment plan that is affordably by you, we are open to any payment suggestions you may wish to offer us.
Please call us today on free call 1800 xxx xxx
P.S. Please, understand if you dont respond to this letter asap we will take leagal action against you. You need to make the first step and give us a call. We are willing to listen your issues. However if you dont make the first step we have no choice but to take full leagal action. Call today, not tommorrow.
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