ASIC launches legal action against Harvey Norman, Latitude for misleading advertising

The Australian Securities & Investment Commission (ASIC) has launched legal action against Latitude Finance Australia and Harvey Norman Holdings Ltd for advertising that promoted interest-free payment methods.

The corporate regulator alleged that from January 2020 to August 2021, advertisements promoting ‘no deposit’, ‘interest free’ payment methods over a specified term for purchases at Harvey Norman were misleading because they did not disclose that consumers could only use the interest-free payment method if they applied for and used a Latitude GO Mastercard.

ASIC also brought forward that the advertisements misrepresented the true cost of using the payment method because they failed to adequately disclose establishment fees and monthly account service fees.

ASIC deputy chair, Sarah Court said: “ASIC is concerned the advertising did not provide consumers with the full picture, that they could only use the interest-free payment method by applying for and using certain Latitude credit cards. These credit cards, ASIC alleges, attracted substantial fees over the course of the 60-month payment term, and exposed consumers to the risks of incurring further debts and charges, as well as potentially affecting their credit rating.”

Consumers who signed up to the GO Mastercard on or after 16 March 2021 and before 11 August 2021, and made a purchase at Harvey Norman using the 60 months interest-free payment method and paid off their purchase over 60 months, would be liable to pay at least $537 in fees, on top of their purchase amount.

“Consumers have a right to make informed choices. Credit providers and retail partners such as Latitude and Harvey Norman should ensure that their advertising clearly discloses all important information about payment methods and any fees,” added Court.

ASIC seeks declarations, pecuniary penalties, injunctions and other orders against Latitude and Harvey Norman. The date for the first case management hearing is yet to be scheduled by the Court.

In a statement, Latitude Financial said it acknowledges ASIC’s filing of civil proceedings regarding alleged misleading advertising of Latitude GO Mastercard. “The allegations relate to historic advertisements that ran between 1 January 2020 and 11 August 2021.

“Latitude takes these allegations very seriously and has worked cooperatively with ASIC during its investigation.

“Latitude is now reviewing ASIC’s claim and will not be commenting further at this stage given the matter is before the courts.”

Harvey Norman has been contacted for comment.

The date for the court hearing has yet to be scheduled by the court.

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