Employee Sales Commission Agreement Template

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Australian debt management firm accused of threatening clients with prison for ‘pointless purchases’

Australia’s second-biggest debt management company made threats against clients, including telling them they could go to prison if they spent money at McDonald’s, the corporate regulator has alleged.

In documents filed with the federal court on Tuesday, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission accused A&M Group, which trades as Debt Negotiators and promotes itself as a “reputable debt help company who uses our knowledge and expertise to help you get out of debt”, of breaking the law by harassing or coercing customers.

This included contacting people’s relatives and workplaces “to embarrass or intimidate” clients as well as putting them under pressure with threats of bankruptcy or criminal prosecution over the phone, Asic alleged.

Debt management companies offer to help people struggling to repay personal debts including loans and credit cards, usually by consolidating what’s owed into one loan or by striking an agreement with creditors to pay back a reduced amount.

In return for reaching such an agreement the companies receive a percentage of what their clients pay to their creditors.

In its federal court filings, Asic said Debt Negotiators was “the second largest of 34 registered debt agreement administrators in Australia and administers approximately 5,060 debt agreements which represents approximately 14% of the market”.

Asic accuses the company of misleading and deceiving six customers through methods including telling them that creditors were investigating their accounts for non-payment “in order to look into proceeding with legal action ‘such as bankruptcy and fraud charges’”.

The statements were not true, but were instead based on templates used by the company, the regulator said.

Asic also claims four clients were told their debt agreements would be terminated unless they paid $1,000 that day.

The regulator alleges Debt Negotiators contacted one client, LH, and his relatives, by SMS and phone seven times between September and December 2018.

In a phone call with LH on 7 December, 2018, a Debt Negotiators employee is alleged to have said the debt agreement was about to be terminated and LH could be forced into bankruptcy, meaning “someone is literally going to go through your expenses with a fine tooth comb”.

“If they feel that you had the means to pay your debt agreement, if you made purchases at McDonald’s, if you made pointless purchases, you know things you don’t need, you can potentially be sent to prison,” the Debt Negotiators employee said, according to a transcript of the conversation filed with the court by Asic.

“That is a very real situation, that you need to take in, you have little kids, I feel this is not a joke situation,” the employee continued.

In some cases, according to Asic’s claims, clients were told Debt Negotiators “may need to contact friends, family, neighbours, workplaces or even landlords”.

“We do not like going to these lengths, however if that’s what it requires we will have to resort to that,” company staff allegedly told the clients.

Asic asked the court to fine the company and make declarations it broke the law.

Company and regulatory records show that the sole director of Debt Negotiators is Ahmed “Adam” Ibrahim, of Sydney suburb Oatley.

The company and Ibrahim have been contacted for comment in relation to Asic’s claims.

Asic first expressed concerns about the debt management sector in 2016, when research commissioned by the regulator found fees charged by companies were opaque and difficult to assess.

It also said fees were often front loaded by being charged before any services were provided and some companies used high-pressure sales techniques. Guardian Australia understands Debt Negotiators was not named in that research.

Up to 1.9 million Australians paid debt management firms for help in 2020, according to a report released by the Consumer Action Law Centre (Calc) in December that described the sector as “debt vultures”.

Calc chief executive Gerard Brody said it was “great to see Asic take this action”.

“People have also complained about this business to our centre,” he said.

He expressed concern about Asic’s allegations that Debt Negotiators threatened to contact relatives of clients. Quick Guide How to get the latest news from Guardian Australia Show Australian debt management firm accused of threatening clients with prison for ‘pointless purchases’

Australia’s second-biggest debt management company made threats against clients, including telling them they could go to prison if they spent money at McDonald’s, the corporate regulator has alleged.

In documents filed with the federal court on Tuesday, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission accused A&M Group, which trades as Debt Negotiators and promotes itself as a “reputable debt help company who uses our knowledge and expertise to help you get out of debt”, of breaking the law by harassing or coercing customers.

This included contacting people’s relatives and workplaces “to embarrass or intimidate” clients as well as putting them under pressure with threats of bankruptcy or criminal prosecution over the phone, Asic alleged.

Debt management companies offer to help people struggling to repay personal debts including loans and credit cards, usually by consolidating what’s owed into one loan or by striking an agreement with creditors to pay back a reduced amount.

In return for reaching such an agreement the companies receive a percentage of what their clients pay to their creditors.

In its federal court filings, Asic said Debt Negotiators was “the second largest of 34 registered debt agreement administrators in Australia and administers approximately 5,060 debt agreements which represents approximately 14% of the market”.

Asic accuses the company of misleading and deceiving six customers through methods including telling them that creditors were investigating their accounts for non-payment “in order to look into proceeding with legal action ‘such as bankruptcy and fraud charges’”.

The statements were not true, but were instead based on templates used by the company, the regulator said.

Asic also claims four clients were told their debt agreements would be terminated unless they paid $1,000 that day.

The regulator alleges Debt Negotiators contacted one client, LH, and his relatives, by SMS and phone seven times between September and December 2018.

In a phone call with LH on 7 December, 2018, a Debt Negotiators employee is alleged to have said the debt agreement was about to be terminated and LH could be forced into bankruptcy, meaning “someone is literally going to go through your expenses with a fine tooth comb”.

“If they feel that you had the means to pay your debt agreement, if you made purchases at McDonald’s, if you made pointless purchases, you know things you don’t need, you can potentially be sent to prison,” the Debt Negotiators employee said, according to a transcript of the conversation filed with the court by Asic.

“That is a very real situation, that you need to take in, you have little kids, I feel this is not a joke situation,” the employee continued.

In some cases, according to Asic’s claims, clients were told Debt Negotiators “may need to contact friends, family, neighbours, workplaces or even landlords”.

“We do not like going to these lengths, however if that’s what it requires we will have to resort to that,” company staff allegedly told the clients.

Asic asked the court to fine the company and make declarations it broke the law.

Company and regulatory records show that the sole director of Debt Negotiators is Ahmed “Adam” Ibrahim, of Sydney suburb Oatley.

The company and Ibrahim have been contacted for comment in relation to Asic’s claims.

Asic first expressed concerns about the debt management sector in 2016, when research commissioned by the regulator found fees charged by companies were opaque and difficult to assess.

It also said fees were often front loaded by being charged before any services were provided and some companies used high-pressure sales techniques. Guardian Australia understands Debt Negotiators was not named in that research.

Up to 1.9 million Australians paid debt management firms for help in 2020, according to a report released by the Consumer Action Law Centre (Calc) in December that described the sector as “debt vultures”.

Calc chief executive Gerard Brody said it was “great to see Asic take this action”.

“People have also complained about this business to our centre,” he said.

He expressed concern about Asic’s allegations that Debt Negotiators threatened to contact relatives of clients. Quick Guide How to get the latest news from Guardian Australia Show Thank you for your feedback.

“The conduct in the claim is horrific,” he said.

In its December report, Calc said the sector was largely unregulated and called for protections similar to those in the UK, where advice must be in the client’s best interests and tailored to their circumstances.

Fees charged in advance should also be banned, Calc said.

From 1 July this year debt management companies have been required to hold a credit license and be a member of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority scheme – changes Calc said did not go far enough.

Debt Negotiators meets both obligations, according to its website. Thank you for your feedback.

“The conduct in the claim is horrific,” he said.

In its December report, Calc said the sector was largely unregulated and called for protections similar to those in the UK, where advice must be in the client’s best interests and tailored to their circumstances.

Fees charged in advance should also be banned, Calc said.

From 1 July this year debt management companies have been required to hold a credit license and be a member of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority scheme – changes Calc said did not go far enough.

Debt Negotiators meets both obligations, according to its website.

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