After court action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission late last year a certain amount of money has been preserved which the ACCC intends distributing to consumers who utilised the 1902 numbers advertised by Cedric Desmond Collinson, trading as CDRC's Financial Network, between January and August 1998.

It was alleged by the ACCC that financially disadvantaged consumers had been targeted and misled by Collinson into making expensive 1900 phone calls charged at $5 per minute in the belief they would obtain a loan.

The ACCC alleged that advertisements placed by Collinson in various newspapers around the country represented that personal loans were available to callers from the operator of the 1902 numbers cited, or alternatively, that the operator arranged loans on behalf of callers.

The ACCC alleged that Collinson made false or misleading representations to callers about their prospects of getting a loan and, in some instances, that they had been successful in obtaining a credit card when they had not. Because the advertisement targeted disadvantaged and vulnerable consumers such as sole parents and pensioners, the ACCC alleged that Collinson's conduct was also unconscionable.

On 16 September 1998 Collinson consented to orders in the Federal Court in Melbourne restraining him, or any legal entity with which he is associated, from engaging in such conduct as alleged or similar conduct in the future. Collinson also agreed to relinquish a sum of money that had been preserved by the Court as part of the ACCC's proceedings.

The court action taken by ACCC followed from a joint investigation of Collinson's activities between the ACCC and the Victorian Office of Fair Trading and Business Affairs in July last year.

The ACCC invites those consumers who called CDRC between January and August 1998 and who want to make a claim to forward their relevant telephone accounts showing the call charges to CDRC and proof of payment of their accounts to GPO Box 520J Melbourne, VIC, 3001 by 30 June 1999. This can be in the form of a receipt or subsequent telephone account indicating payment.

Consumers should note that the ACCC was not able to preserve or recover from CDRC the full amounts paid by consumers and thus may only receive a partial refund of their CDRC call charges.

If consumers have not yet paid their telephone accounts their liability for the calls made to CDRC will be partially reduced.

A consumer's telecommunications carrier can provide duplicate telephone accounts if consumers have not kept their accounts. However, there is usually a charge for this service (of approximately $5 per account).

Because consumers may only receive a small percentage of the CDRC call charges, (if the claim is accepted) a common sense judgement should be made about whether it is worth making a claim for small amounts.

"The ACCC will be swift to act when vulnerable consumers are targeted and exploited by such tactics as employed by Collinson," ACCC Chairman, Professor Allan Fels, said today.