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Thursday 24 May 2018

18-148MR Fox Symes pays $37,800 for misleading advertising

ASIC has issued three infringement notices to debt management firm Fox Symes and Associates Pty Ltd (Fox Symes) for making potentially misleading statements in its advertising. The company has paid a total of $37,800 in penalties.

ASIC took action against Fox Symes after it made a number of potentially misleading representations in banner advertisements, Google ads and on its website. These representations included Free Debt Assistance’,‘Reduce Debt in Minutes’ and 15sec Approval’.

ASIC was concerned that such statements misrepresented the cost and speed of Fox Symes’ debt management services.

ASIC Deputy Chair Peter Kell said ‘Debt management firms are often engaging with particularly vulnerable consumers who are seeking assistance with their debts. They should be careful not to misrepresent their services using high impact terms like ‘free’, ‘minutes’ and ‘seconds’ suggesting that debt assistance will be quick and at no cost.’

Read the infringement notices

Background

Free Debt Assistance’ appeared in a banner advertisement and on the Fox Symes website. Fox Symes did not disclose to consumers that there was a limit to the ‘free debt assistance’ and that charges apply for most of Fox Symes’ services. The ‘free’ component referred to the initial first phone consultation. 

Reduce debt in minutes appeared in banner advertisements. As Fox Symes’ services generally require engagement with third parties, a reduction in debt cannot feasibly be achieved in minutes, seconds or any other similar short period of time.

15sec approval appeared in Google paid Adword results. Where Fox Symes provides credit services, the responsible lending requirements under the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 (Cth) apply. Approval could not be provided within such short timeframes.

Fox Symes voluntarily amended its advertising once ASIC raised its initial concerns.

Fox Symes is the holder of Australian Credit Licence 393 280 which authorises it to engage in credit activities other than as a credit provider.

Fox Symes was issued with three infringement notices for the representations. Each infringement notice was for a penalty of $12,600.

ASIC's MoneySmart website has guidance for consumers about what debt management firms can and can't do, which includes information on how consumers can fix their own credit history.

The payment of an infringement notice is not an admission of a contravention. ASIC can issue an infringement notice where it has reasonable grounds to believe a person has contravened certain consumer protection laws.

Last updated: 24/05/2018 11:51