The Federal Court has ordered that online business directory service ABG Pages Pty Ltd (ABG) pay a $300,000 penalty for breaching the Australian Consumer Law. ABG admitted to engaging in systemic unconscionable conduct, undue harassment, and making false and misleading representations in relation to its online advertising services.
The Court also ordered ABG’s sole director, Ms Michele McCullough, pay a $40,000 penalty and be disqualified from managing corporations for 5 years for her role in the conduct.
ABG Pages and Ms McCullough admitted to breaching the ACL by falsely representing that large businesses purchased their directory services, misleading businesses into entering one or more contracts, refusing to cancel contracts which customers did not want and did not intend to enter into, and refusing to accept customers’ attempts to cancel contracts.
“ABG Pages took advantage of businesses, big and small, schools and local Indigenous land councils, with some organisations paying up to $9,000 each year for advertising in an online business directory they did not want and that had no value,” ACCC Deputy Chair Dr Michael Schaper said.
“ABG Pages used high pressure sales tactics to sell listings in its online business directory and harassed staff chasing debts that didn’t exist – one customer was called 993 times by ABG Pages over a nine month period.”
“The Court’s judgment sends a clear message that ABG’s tactics are not legitimate business strategies. This conduct is unacceptable and businesses and individuals risk significant penalties if they’re also caught breaching the Australian Consumer Law,” Dr Schaper said.
The Court also ordered ABG Pages and Ms McCullough jointly make a $25,000 contribution towards the ACCC’s costs and that Ms McCullough attend an ACL compliance program.
ABG operated from 2009 until it closed in 2016 following ACCC action.