A credit provider has had to pay back $1.5 million to indigenous customers in Alice Springs after a Harvey Norman salesman falsified documents.
Consumer credit provider Latitude Financial says it has paid back about three-quarters of the amount.
Customers with little stable income and limited English were given easy access from 2014 to 2016 to credit limits of several thousand dollars or higher, well in excess of what was needed for televisions and whitegoods costing less than $1000.
Financial counsellors from Lutheran Community Care discovered what was happening and told the Financial Rights Legal Centre, who alerted the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
The Harvey Normal employee was sacked and Latitude agreed to fully repay all affected customers.
ASIC are still investigating whether to take more action.
The Financial Rights Legal Centre’s policy and advocacy officer Drew MacRae could not legally comment on the case but said exploitation of vulnerable people was common in the retail industry, where interest-free and buy now-pay later deals are common.
“They end up pushing this finance on to unsuspecting folk, who find themselves getting into a lot of debt,” he told AAP.
Unlike mortgages and other loans, credit provided by retailers is not regulated by the National Credit Code and they do not have to hold an Australian Financial Services Licence .
Complaints about unethical practices in retail, including conflicts of interest such as commissions and sales targets, were made at the Banking Royal Commission.
Royal commissioner Kenneth Hayne has recommended the current point-of-sale exemption of retail dealers from the National Credit Code be removed.
Federal legislation is due in the current fiscal year.
A Latitude Financial spokesman said the company “was deeply appalled” when it became aware of what had happened in July 2017, it had paid back most customers and was working with Lutheran Community Care to do so.