Audio of phone calls in which debt collection agency ACM Group attempted to blackmail people into repaying debts has been released by the Federal Court.
The calls released by the court include one particularly offensive call in which an ACM employee engaged in behaviour described by Justice Nye Perram as “rude, condescending and vicious”.
ACM, also known as Accounts Control Management Services, purchased the debts from Telstra and banks including the NAB and Commonwealth Bank for a few cents in the dollar.
In an October 26 judgment, Justice Perram found ACM “engaged in unduly harassing and coercive conduct” against debtors by “heaping personal abuse upon them” and “blackmailing them by threatening to reveal their positions as debtors to relatives, friends, employers or neighbours”.
Justice Perram took particular note of a May 15, 2009, call between a debtor who owed about $21,000 to the CBA and ACM supervisor “Connie”.
“It is worthwhile noting that the transcript does not capture the tone of Connie,” Justice Perram said.
“By turns rude, condescending and vicious, no description of this call (and some of her later efforts) can adequately capture the offensiveness involved.”
Audio released by the court shows Connie repeatedly belittled and interrupted the female debtor, who became audibly distraught as the call went on.
During the call, the debtor said she was “so scared”, to which Connie responded sharply: “Scared of what?”
She then proceeded to threaten to tell the debtor’s husband about the credit card debt, something the debtor was clearly keen to avoid.
“We’re going to be serving you with papers and we don’t necessarily have to serve you in person,” Connie said.
“We can then turn up to your family home and serve your husband with them, basically – and then he will find out.”
At the time, the debtor was staying with a friend rather than at her family home.
Connie also told the debtor she would “do some property searches on you, on your name” and interrogated her about a mortgage on the family home jointly held with her husband.
“We’ve been spending too much time on this file and if we don’t get any action before next Friday, and I mean solid action, I mean money action … we’re going to start legals and you’ll be served at [the family home],” Connie said.
“He’s not only going to find out about it, he’s going to lose his family home over it,” she said.
Connie also threatened to contact a family friend and tell her of the debt.
“I promise I will get back to you on Monday… please don’t tell anybody,” the debtor said.
“Promise? Do you know we’re recording these tapes now with you because we’ve had too many broken promises,” Connie said.
At the end of the call, Connie signed off with a cheery “Bye love.”
In a follow-up call a few days later, she threatened to bankrupt the debtor.
Justice Perram described Connie’s conduct as “misleading” because ACM was not in fact about to commence bankruptcy proceedings.
“I’m going to do it today, [you will get them] in the next couple of days, probably at the home address,” Connie said.
She berated the debtor, yelling at her that “we’re not having any more broken promises”.
The recording continued after the debtor hung up and Connie can be heard giggling.
“She has got money, she’s hiding it from husband, we need to do something about it,” Connie told a colleague.
In another call, recorded on November 27, 2009, ACM employee “Dorelle” told a debtor: “We’re ACM Group. We’re the number one debt collection agency in Australia, all right? We – we’re ruthless, mate.”
Dorelle told the debtor a “lot of people” regretted going to court against ACM.
“So I’m going to give you a final opportunity, mate, okay? You need to come up with a goodwill payment,” Dorelle said.