Sprint Telco has been fined $10,800 by the ACCC for allegedly stating it was acting on behalf of Telstra, or with Telstra's approval, during a telemarketing call.
The ACCC issued the infringement notice because it had reasonable grounds to believe that Sprint Telco made a false or misleading representation to a consumer during the in October 2016, in which the consumer was transferred from Telstra to Sprint Telco.
Sprint Telco was not in fact acting on behalf of Telstra, or with Telstra's approval.
The ACCC and ACMA have identified unauthorised transfers as a recurring problem in the telecommunications industry. Each year these agencies receive a substantial number of complaints in this area. The problem has also been identified by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), which deals with complaints from individual consumers and telecommunications providers about unauthorised transfers.
Traders seeking to transfer consumers without consent will often create the impression that they are calling from the consumer's existing provider, when this is not the case. They may also falsely claim that they are simply checking on the discount being offered to the consumer, or that there will be no change to the consumer's service if they sign up.
Alternatively, consumers can sometimes be transferred from one corporate group member to another to enable a trader to avoid regulatory sanction or unpaid debts. In such cases, the consumer often has no idea that a transfer has taken place. The ACCC recently took a company and its sole Director to Court for engaging in this conduct.
While the ACCC and ACMA will continue to take enforcement action where complaints reveal particularly concerning or systemic conduct, both agencies are working to build consumer awareness about unauthorised transfers, they say.
The ACCC is also calling on telecommunications wholesalers and resellers to look at ways to prevent unauthorised transfers from occurring in the first place, such as recording entire sales conversations and improving business systems to identify unauthorised transfers at each level of the supply chain. The ACCC considers such measures will deter unauthorised transfers and assist with law enforcement.
"Unauthorised transfers can result in unexpected costs to consumers such as early termination fees, cancellation fees, loss of discounts from bundling services and costs to reconnect with their original provider," ACCC Acting Chair Delia Rickard said
"Consumers are entitled to make informed decisions about their choice of service provider. The ACCC will continue to act where consumers are switched, or attempted to be switched, from one telecommunications service provider to another without their express knowledge or informed consent."
In consultation with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the ACCC has today issued further guidance to help educate consumers on how to avoid becoming the victim of an unauthorised transfer.
If you think you have been transferred to a telecommunications provider without your informed consent, you can contact the TIO's dispute resolution team on 1800 062 058 or online.
It's worth noting that the payment of a penalty specified in an infringement notice is not an admission of a contravention of the Australian Consumer Law. The ACCC can issue an infringement notice where it has reasonable grounds to believe a person has contravened certain consumer protection laws. Also worth noting: Sprint Telco is not affiliated with the US company, Sprint Corporation.