Debt collectors cop $500k fine over ‘harassment’
They're the multi-millionaire twins who have built up a finance and debt collection empire in Brisbane over the past 10 years.
But Toowong-based Panthera Finance, launched by brothers Jamie and Mathew Hough, has been ordered to pay a $500,000 penalty for "unduly harassing three consumers over debts they did not owe,'' according to the competition regulator.
The ACCC, which launched legal action in Federal Court last July, welcomed the ruling yesterday as part of its continuing efforts to prosecute unconscionable conduct in the sector.
"All three consumers were subjected to repeated and intrusive calls from Panthera, and had to take multiple steps to prove they did not owe the alleged debt,'' ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.
"Harassing consumers is unacceptable under any circumstances.''
Court documents reveal that one consumer was pursued over a $2413 bill from AGL over a four-year period even though they had never had an account with the energy retailer.
Similarly, two other consumers were chased over less than $1000 in bills supposedly owing to Telstra and Origin Energy even though they were not customers of either company.
Making matters worse, the court ruled that Panthera placed an incorrect default listing on each of their credit rating files and then misled one of the consumers by saying they needed to pay $100 to have it removed.
Panthera, which admitted to the contraventions, was ordered to pay an additional $100,000 to offset the ACCC's legal costs.
The regulator took legal action against the company after receiving about 100 complaints over its debt collection activities in the past two years.
ACTING WITH INTEGRITY
Neither of the Hough brothers, who are the sole directors of Panthera Finance, returned our call seeking comment yesterday.
But a spin doctor for the company, which claims on its website that "customers are always dealt with fairly and with integrity,'' expressed remorse over the matter.
"We have apologised to the three customers impacted and taken further steps to strengthen compliance and ensure these issues do not happen again,'' he said.
"The judgment recognises that the conduct was isolated, and neither deliberate nor systemic. The judgment also found that there was no evidence to suggest that senior management was involved or even aware of the conduct of several low-level employees who failed to follow Panthera's policies and procedures.''
The most recently available data shows Panthera Finance generated nearly $20 million in net profit over the 2018 financial year based on more than $63 million in revenue.
Parent company PF Group, which includes arms for personal loans and mortgage broking, amassed $81.5 million in turnover that same year, resulting in a $19.3 million net profit.
More recently, there's been speculation the group is aiming to raise up to $180 million from investors this year, although the wildcard of the coronavirus pandemic is seeing plenty of business plans thrown out the window.
Property records show both gents have tipped quite a few million dollars of their fortune into real estate.
Each of them owns palatial acreage homes in Pullenvale, as well as investment properties listed in the names of their wives.
The ACCC case is not the first time Panthera has managed to raise a few eyebrows.
The company was sued in Brisbane Supreme Court last November by a gent aiming to have a caveat removed over a Gold Coast property. No defence has been filed as yet.
Last August three of the business in the Panthera group made three separate $5500 donations to the Queensland ALP at its state conference.