ASIC's Legal Action Against Harvey Norman Scheduled for April 2023
In 2022 Harvey Norman, alongside Latitude Finance Australia, was sued by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) with the regulator claiming that Harvey Norman's advertisements for 'no deposit' and 'interest-free' payment methods from January 2020 to August 2021 did not provide an accurate representation of the costs involved. ASIC further alleges that the advertisements were misleading as "they did not disclose that consumers could only use the interest free payment method if they applied for and used a Latitude GO Mastercard."
The legal action follows multiple complaints made by consumers over the misleading nature of the advertisements. Speaking to the Australian Financial Review, ASIC's Deputy Chair, Sarah Court, described the clarity of the advertisements:
"There is nothing in the advertising that makes it clear to consumers that in order to avail themselves of the 60-month interest-free payment method they need to apply for a Latitude credit card and then use that credit card to purchase the goods...In many of the ads, there’s no reference to a credit card at all, and in many of the ads there’s no reference to Latitude Finance at all. Some of them contain in very small print some reference to Latitude, but for the majority of consumers, and for many of the ads, there’s just nothing to suggest that a credit card is involved at all.”
In a statement released by ASIC on October 5th 2022, Ms. Court stated that ASIC alleged that the credit cards within the promotion "exposed consumers to the risks of incurring further debts and charges, as well as potentially affecting their credit rating." ASIC stated that the payment option would require a minimum of $537 above the original purchase amount and it has been reported that these extra charges could total up to $1500 for some customers.
The marketing campaign included television commercials on Seven, radio ads played on Southern Cross stations, and front page, display ads and wraps across News Corp, Nine Entertainment and Seven West newspapers.
ASIC has requested that the court order both Harvey Norman and Latitude to pay a fine and engage in corrective advertising three times a week for two weeks.
Harvey Norman's response to the action was minimal with the company stating that it “intends to defend the proceedings commenced against it by ASIC”. Harvey Norman was previously investigated by ASIC in 2017 for their reporting and exposure to over $1.15 billion in questionable franchisee loans.
A case management hearing has been scheduled for the 3rd of April 2023.
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