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Bank slapped for beating up small biz

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The Aussie competition regulator has slammed Macquarie Bank for suing hundreds of small businesses caught up in a series of apparent telco-bundling frauds.

The bank had been a big financier of various firms which offer businesses bundled deals - sign up to a telecoms deal and get a free TV or laptop.

But in many cases people were unaware they were actually signing up to multi-year rental agreements, often with a separate finance company.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said it was not impressed by Macquarie's reaction.

ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel said: "I have to say to you this is a source of great disappointment to us. I'd like to think that when the chairman of the ACCC approaches the CEO of a major organisation like this and says, 'based on all my own commercial experience and based on what we believe at the ACCC is a fair and reasonable way forward', that they'd listen to it and react receptively."

Samuel told Aussie current affairs programme ABC1's Four Corners that the regulator was investigating hundreds of complaints of similar dodgy deals.

Four Corners found evidence of doctored contracts charging people for hardware they had not ordered nor asked for, forged signatures or signatures that had been transposed from one document to another and even evidence of finance companies having set up direct debits using forged documents.

A subsidiary of Macquarie has sued 300 businesses for missing payments relating to the dodgy deals.

Some customers have signed up to multi-year deals only to find that the telco provider goes bust, leaving them paying off the hardware bill with no hope of receiving services.

Samuel added: "I think it is very clear though that the finance companies would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to realise in many of these cases that what they're dealing with is companies that are engaging in a course of conduct that is potentially misleading small business consumers."

Samuel said he'd spoken to CEOs at Macquarie, Cisco Systems and Capital Finance. All three had turned down his request to stop aggressively pursuing the contracts, he said. ®

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