Former online business directory ABG Pages, which operated from 2009 until the ACCC launched legal action in 2016, admitted to a range of offences in the Federal Court.
These offences include undue harassment, unconscionable conduct and making false and misleading claims about its services.
In a statement applauding the verdict, ACCC deputy chair Dr Michael Schaper slammed ABG and its sole director, Michele McCullough, for its poor conduct.
“ABG Pages took advantage of businesses, big and small, schools and local Indigenous land councils, with some organisations paying up to $9,000 each year for advertising in an online business directory they did not want and that had no value,” said Dr Schaper.
“ABG Pages used high-pressure sales tactics to sell listings in its online business directory and harassed staff chasing debts that didn’t exist – one customer was called 993 times by ABG Pages over a nine-month period.”
As well as predatory sales practices, the company admitted to misleading businesses into purchasing contracts, and refused to cancel contracts at customer requests.
The court handed down a $300,000 penalty to ABG Pages and a $40,000 fine to Ms McCullough, and both were jointly ordered to pay $25,000 towards the ACCC’s costs.
Ms McCullough was also disqualified from managing a business for five years and directed to attend a compliance program.
“The court’s judgment sends a clear message that ABG’s tactics are not legitimate business strategies. This conduct is unacceptable and businesses and individuals risk significant penalties if they’re also caught breaching the Australian Consumer Law,” said Dr Schaper.
A review page still visible on productreview.com.au gave ABG Pages a 1.4 out of five rating, with eight of the nine reviewers rating it as “terrible”.
“The company used a number of tactics in trying maintain that we had a binding agreement with them. After contacting NSW consumer affairs and being referred to the QLD police, it was established that they had acted fraudulently and that we had grounds for criminal proceedings,” one reviewer claimed.
“I can only confirm the previous experience of other reviewers who have had poor experiences with ABG Pages, however it is gratifying to see that this unethical company is now being taken to the Federal Court by the ACCC,” said another.