Truck-shop operators Goodring Co and Betterlife Corp have been fined a total of $171,500 after the first such sentences under the strengthened Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act 2003 (CCCFA) that came into force last year.
Goodring was fined $98,000 for breaches of the CCCFA, and the Financial Service Providers (Registration and Dispute Resolution) Act (FSPA) in the Auckland District Court. Betterlife was fined $73,500 for breaches of sections 17 and 32 of the CCCFA.
The two Auckland-based companies usually operated from trucks or by going door-to-door, selling goods at significantly higher prices than were available from mainstream stores, the Commerce Commission said.
It cited Goodring selling branded hoodies to customers for $159 and Betterlife selling an iPhone 5C for $2,401 under an installment plan when the phones usually retailed for about $600. Truck-shops often target poorer neighbourhoods, dangling desirable consumer goods with little to pay up front but on steep finance terms.
The companies pleaded guilty to a total of 34 charges under the CCCFA related to their lending practices. "Both companies failed to provide borrowers with the legally required information and the information was also not provided in a clear and concise way, as required by the act," the Commerce Commission said.
Goodring faced two additional charges under the FSPA. Under that act, lenders must be registered on the Financial Service Providers register and "despite being aware of this requirement Goodring was not registered," the regulator said.
Judge Mary Beth Sharp said both Goodring's and Betterlife's terms and conditions suffered from "serious and significant deficiencies" and would have been extremely difficult or impossible for the debtors to read or understand, according to the commission.
Commission general counsel Mary-Anne Borrowdale said that the charges resulted from a year-long investigation into the mobile trader industry.
"We have been actively enforcing the amended credit laws since their introduction and they are important in protecting some of New Zealand's more vulnerable consumers," Borrowdale said.
"We regarded the conduct of Betterlife and Goodring as serious because of the deficiencies in their loan contracts. Although the penalties given in this case were more than previously, we are considering whether they are adequate to address the non-compliance that we are seeing."
The commission has prosecuted six mobile traders this year, including Goodring and Betterlife. In February Flexi Buy was fined $50,000 in the Auckland District Court and $3,480 was awarded in damages to affected customers. Ace Marketing has pleaded guilty to charges and is expected to be sentenced in July and Macful International appeared in Manukau District Court this week.
A sixth mobile trader has not yet appeared in court, the commission said. It has a further 14 ongoing investigations into the conduct of mobile traders.