Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
Date: 15 December 2016
Thousands of Australians who have paid credit reporting bureau Veda to obtain their credit reports are being urged to get their money back.
The Australian Privacy Commissioner found Veda had breached privacy rules when it sold commercial products to consumers who simply wanted a copy of their credit report, which, by law, they’re able to access for free once a year.
Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim said Veda “interfered” with the privacy of these customers by charging for “expedited” delivery of a credit report, even though the person hadn’t accessed a report in the previous 12 months, and for failing to prominently state their rights.
He also determined Veda didn’t take reasonable steps to ensure the free option was as available and easy to identify as the commercial product, and used and disclosed personal information for the purposes of direct marketing.
Gerard Brody, CEO of Consumer Action, said Veda set up its websites and phone service in a way that drove consumers towards its commercial products.
“We call on any and all consumers impacted by this decision to contact Veda as soon as possible to receive your refund,” he said.
A consumer may want to view their credit report as it contains their personal details, borrowing and repayment history, defaults, and more.
A credit application may be rejected depending on the information in the file.
Veda currently charges $79.95 for a credit report in one business day. Its free option is “dispatched” in 10 days.
Consumer advocates were disappointed the Commissioner didn’t uphold their complaints in relation to Veda not providing a credit score in the report, not providing the report within 10 days, and excessively charging for reports after the first, free one was delivered.
Kat Lane from the Financial Rights Legal Centre called the overall decision a “big win”.
“While we are disappointed with the findings on the [other] points, the central principles hold: consumers are entitled to a free credit report and credit reporting agencies can’t manipulate the system for their own commercial advantage,” she said.
“We expect the Privacy Commissioner to oversee both Veda’s refund process and implementing the required changes to their phone service and websites.”
A Veda spokeswoman said more than 250,000 Australians were accessing a free Veda credit report each year.
“Veda will be taking action in relation to two complaints: Within six months we will enable phone requests for free credit files, in the same way as may be made for premium products,” she said.
“Customers who purchased a $69.95 MyCreditFile express credit report on or after 12 March 2014 may be eligible for a refund – Veda will be alerting eligible customers.”
Fiona Guthrie, CEO Financial Counselling Australia, said “free” means free, not $69.95 for faster access to a credit report.
“This is both sensitive and critical financial information that all consumers need to access from time to time,” she said.
“It’s our own information and we have every right to be able to access it without having to pay an arm and a leg for the privilege.”
The Commissioner’s decision follows a series of complaints in late 2014 by the Financial Rights Legal Centre, Consumer Action Law Centre, Financial Counselling Australia and the Australian Privacy Foundation.
Earlier this year, Fairfax Media reported that 2.86 million Australians are at risk of credit default – which could see their all-important credit score fall – in the next 12 months.