Consumer Bastardry: Telstra bombards customers over unpaid bills
TELSTRA has been accused of harassing and bullying customers over unpaid bills, with relentless barrages of automatic calls every two hours.
One man too sick to pay his bill said the telecommunications giant called him about seven times a day from 7am, with an automated message demanding he organise payment of his account.
Former Telstra customer Gary Duffy said he was harassed non-stop after medical complications from a heart operation left him struggling to afford basics like rent and food.
"They were just constantly, constantly ringing and it's just an absolute nightmare," he said.
Mr Duffy, who has suffered repeated strokes and seizures since his operation, said the deluge of calls and letters every two or three days pushed him to the verge of a breakdown.
"It's almost like someone knocking on your door every hour saying, 'Hey, you've got to pay this bill'," Mr Duffy said.
"If it was an ex-partner ringing you all the time, you could take them to court and have them stopped, but apparently with Telstra they think they're above everything."
Mr Duffy said he had relied on his phone in case of a medical emergency but had been afraid to turn it on because of the calls.
He had abandoned using a phone at all until a friend bought him a pre-paid phone as a gift on Friday.
Internet users have also expressed outrage over the automated calling tactics, with some worried that scammers could replicate the calls to obtain personal details from unsuspecting customers.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission guidelines recommend companies do not contact a debtor more than three times a week.
Consumer group Choice spokeswoman Ingrid Just said the frequency of Telstra's automated calling seemed "excessive".
"The telco obviously needs to recoup their debt (but) should be using all channels, not just one," Ms Just said.
She said customers who felt harassed as a result of such calls should tell the company involved.
A Telstra spokeswoman confirmed the telco used automated calling for debt recovery but said the system allowed customers to opt to organise payment of their bill or speak to a consultant in order to stop the calls.
She said many customers had given positive feedback on the system.
A debt collector should only contact you when it is necessary and reasonable.
Contact should be limited to a maximum of three phone calls or letters a week.
Debt collectors must not frighten, intimidate or embarrass debtors.
They must not talk about your situation to other people, including family.