ONE of Australia's largest debt collection firms ACM Group Limited was found by the Federal Court to have harassed debtors, using "widespread and systemic" misleading conduct to recover money.
It is a victory for corporate watchdog ASIC which took the firm to court over its dealings with eight debtors.
In a statement from ASIC on Friday, the regulator said it presented 96 phone calls to the court, mostly between ACM debt collectors and the debtors.
It included the ACM debt collector training manual that was in use at the relevant time as evidence of ACM's conduct.
The court found "the manual made it very plain that debtors should be threatened with litigation".
ACM Group was understood to have leveled a number of threats, including threatening to tell a debtor's husband about what they owed, telephone neighbours or friends, issue warrants for arrest or take action to stop a debtor from leaving the country.
The court described the tone of one of ACM's supervisors as "rude, condescending and vicious, no description of this call (and some of her later efforts) can adequately capture the offensiveness involved".
ASIC Commissioner Peter Kell said ASIC was committed to ensuring debt collectors operated professionally and efficiently, and consumers who found themselves in a difficult position financially could be confident they would be dealt with fairly and lawfully.
"ASIC will not tolerate behaviour designed to intimidate and mislead debtors. This includes cases where the debtor's family, friends and associates are also threatened with unreasonable behaviour," Mr Kell said.
The court concluded that declarations of misconduct and injunctive relief, restraining ACM from future similar conduct, be granted.