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Office of Competition and Consumer Protection

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Debt collection - two decsions

< previous | next > 30.11.2018

Debt collection - two decsions
  • GetBack and Vex violated consumer rights while enforcing debts.
  • The President of UOKiK imposed fines on both companies.
  • One of the allegations concerns informing neighbours, family, etc. about debt.

The Office of Competition and Consumer Protection has received complaints on two companies: GetBack i Vex. Both companies are based in Wroclaw and recover debts. As the proceedings by UOKiK have demonstrated - this was not always done in accordance with the law.

GetBack – the decision

The proceedings against GetBack’s debt collection practices began at the end of 2016. Ten practices related to debt collection aroused doubts of the Authority. GetBack used coercion and pressure because they repeatedly sent SMS messages and called debtors. Besides, they contacted debtors’ neighbours and family. Such actions caused a sense of fear and anxiety. The letters sent by GetBack to debtors did not include mandatory information, the title of the claim, the name of the creditor or the payment date. Therefore, the consumer may not have known if they actually were a debtor, and if so, how much they owed the creditor.

The company also asked a court bailiff to send requests for payment to debtors, even though no enforcement proceedings were under way. The requests were stamped with the national emblem. Their content, form and delivery by a bailiff may have created the wrong impression that the letter had been sent by a court bailiff in the course of enforcement. The consumer, fearing that their property would be taken over by a bailiff, may have repaid the debt.

The Authority questioned GetBack’s practice of repeatedly suing the same consumer. The problem is that the court discontinued the proceedings, and the debt collector once again brought an action on the same claim and continued the debt collection activities. Thus, GetBack could count on a mistake of the consumer, who had to repeatedly submit objections to the court, because if he did not do it on time, a final ruling would be issued, and the consumer would have to pay the required amount. Besides, the debt collector added legal costs to the debt amount, even though the case was not considered by
a court, or when the consumer lodged an objection to the order for payment or abolished it. As a result, the consumer was misled as to the debt amount.

The President of UOKiK had reservations about the company using the following names for its department: The Debtor’s Rights Ombudsman or the Office of the Debtor's Rights Ombudsman, which suggested that it was an independent institution helping consumers.

The President of UOKiK concluded the company had violated the consumer rights. The penalty for the debt collector amounted to over PLN 5 million (PLN 5,059,045).The decision is not final. If the decision becomes final, the President of UOKiK may defer the payment or split it into instalments due to the important interest of the undertaking. “Other proceedings related to GetBack are also under way. We are examining the method of offering and selling corporate bonds of this company,” says Marek Niechciał, the President of UOKiK. The proceedings concern: GetBack, Idea Bank, Polski Dom Maklerski, Mercurius Financial Advisors, Noble Securities. Information on what to do when a consumer bought GetBack bonds are available here: finanse.uokik.gov.pl/strona-glowna/obligacje.

Vex – the decision

The proceedings against Vex, a debt collection company based in Wrocław, were initiated in November 2016. The Office of Competition and Consumer Protection received a lot of complaints from people who felt intimidated by the company. “Debts must be claimed, but you can not break the rights of consumers, violate their privacy and dignity. Each visit to the debtor's home must take place with his consent. Without such consent, you cannot descend on anybody on Christmas Eve or Holy Saturday, as was announced by Vex employees,” says Marek Niechciał, the President of UOKiK.

To force consumers to pay debt, Vex exerts pressure on them, which is an illegal aggressive commercial practice. They use different methods for this. They send SMS messages and emails to consumers, threatening them with a visit at late hours. They could take place between 7 am and 9:45 pm, also on Christmas Eve or Holy Saturday. One of the consumers who reported to UOKiK wrote: Yesterday I received a very alarming email from the VEX debt collection company. It says, for example, that if I do not pay the debt, two Gentlemen will come to me in the evening. And if I don’t pay the debt by
22 January this year, the Gentleman will be very upset and he cannot wait to meet me at my place of residence. For me, this is a threat to use force against me and I am simply afraid. I called the Gentleman to clarify the issue. The conversation was as follows: the Gentleman practically did not give me a word; he asked what kind of man I am, if I am not able to pay my debt, and said I should dress well, go visit my neighbours and my family, and borrow this money.

Vex contacts neighbours, family, employer, and village leaders without the debtor’s consent. Its employees give them the name of the company and ask them to tell the consumer to contact Vex. This makes it very easy for a third party to find out what Vex does. A debt collector should operate in a way that does not violate the consumer’s privacy.

Moreover, when contacting debtors, Vex does not give them full information on the debt amount or the undertaking they owe money to. The consumer does not know whether, how much and to whom they are in debt. One of the consumers described this as follows: After my request for a written information specifying the account number, what debt is in question, and what its exact amount is, I heard they were not obliged to do this, and instead of arguing, I should pay and they would leave me alone.

The President of UOKiK ordered Vex to cease the illegal debt collection activities. And imposed a fine of PLN 20,000 (PLN 20,122). The decision is not final.

UOKiK and debt collection

In 2017, UOKiK issued a decision in the case of For-Net (fine of PLN 42,481). The Authority questioned the content of requests for payment. For example, For-Net informed consumers it could apply to a bailiff to “open the flat and other rooms as well as lockers of the debtor with the police assistance, also during the debtor’s absence.” Such actions are taken by bailiffs independently, not on a debt collector’s request, and as a last resort, when other measures have failed. We remind consumers that if they feel they are being intimidated by a debt collection company, they should notify the police. It is also worth to write to UOKiK: [SCODE]dW9raWtAdW9raWsuZ292LnBs[ECODE]

Consumer support:

Phone: +48 801 440 220 or +48 22 290 89 16 – consumer helpline
Email: [SCODE]cG9yYWR5QGRsYWtvbnN1bWVudG93LnBs[ECODE]
Branches of the Consumer Federation
Consumer ombudsmen – in your town or district
Financial Ombudsman – when your complaint has been rejected

Additional information for the media:

UOKiK Press Office 
Pl. Powstańców Warszawy 1, 00-950 Warszawa, Poland
Phone: +48 695 902 088, +48 22 55 60 111
Email: [SCODE]Yml1cm9wcmFzb3dlQHVva2lrLmdvdi5wbA==[ECODE]
Twitter: @UOKiKgovPL

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