In a statement issued late on Friday (2 August), Queensland’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) said that the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane had issued an injunction against Gold Coast woman Amanda Stichbury “for breaches of the unsolicited consumer agreement provisions of the Australian Consumer Law”.
According to the OFT, Ms Stichbury owns accommodation listing websites Special Days Pty Ltd, Accommodation Find Pty Ltd and Internet Find Pty Ltd.
It said that Ms Stichbury has twice been prosecuted, in 2014 and 2017, for “sending invoices under various trading names to businesses nationwide, requesting they pay for services that were never requested or authorised”.
The regulator added that these invoices “included words which implied that a previous relationship existed with the victims, which was not the case”.
Ms Stichbury has been issued with penalties totalling $68,000 since 2014, according to the OFT. However, it said that these penalties have failed to “deter her continuing to conduct her fake billing practices, resulting in the OFT taking this stronger enforcement action”.
“Failure to comply with an injunction will result in a contempt of court order, and may lead to more serious consequences, including jail,” said Craig Turner, OFT’s acting executive director.
“Behaviour like Ms Stichbury’s has no place in Australia.”
The OFT has been approached for additional comment.
On 27 January 2017, the OFT revealed that Ms Stichbury — then of Brisbane — had pleaded guilty to a total of 166 counts of invoicing for unsolicited services and making false or misleading representations.
At the time, it said that Southport Magistrates Court personally fined Ms Stichbury $10,000, and her three businesses named above were collectively penalised a further $40,000.
That came in addition to an $18,000 fine that was imposed in 2014.
Then OFT executive director Brian Bauer, commenting on the 2017 court verdict, said that “Ms Stichbury’s business model was based almost entirely on deception, and sought to prey upon time-poor businesses simply paying an invoice without enquiring into it too deeply”.
“Businesses need to be vigilant when paying invoices, ensuring the payments are for services that were legitimately provided,” he warned.
Losses estimated at $5.5 million last year
The OFT warned that fake billing, also known as unsolicited billing, involves businesses being requested to pay invoices for services that have not been ordered, and are often attributed to domain name renewals, directory listings and advertising.
It said there were more than 10,000 reports of such billing practices Australia-wide in 2018 alone, with losses estimated at $5.5 million.
Businesses and consumers alike are being urged to lodge complaints about potential instances of fake billing to their relevant fair trading body.