Woman struggles to clear $11K debt to mobile traders
Mobile trading companies are preying on vulnerable people in poor communities in the Far North, a community advocate service believes.
Over the last three years Pahimata Benson, a beneficiary from Awanui north of Kaitaia, says she has clocked up more than $11,000 worth of debt after numerous visits from several truck shops.
She says Ace Marketing, The Good Guys, Lync Direct Shop and Home Direct visited her home "more than 10 times".
Benson says some items purchased were a 40-inch TV, console, blankets and clothing - but she's lost track of what she has bought and has no idea how much has been paid back.
Some statements show she's being charged 25.5 per cent interest, along with failed payment fees of $35-$41 a week, with some as high as $65 for a "field visit".
Benson's debt problem came to light after she married Peter Benson in April.
They are now seeking help from the Kaitaia People's Centre, which is acting on their behalf to get the companies to disclose the original signed contracts listing all items, prices and money owed.
Manager Janine Foster says at least six other local people have been into the centre seeking help for the same problem.
"They're preying on the vulnerable in the community.
"They seem to target them and go back to the same people all the time."
Lync Direct Shop says they have acted "legally and professionally".
"This customer has not paid her account since 2014, we have sent numerous letters to her and tried contacting her ... with no success."
The Good Guys General Manager Nyree Anderson says Benson has been a customer since 2006 when she purchased $189 worth of clothing.
"Pahimata continued to purchase from the truck at regular intervals to a total of 49 times... with her last purchase being made in 2014. As she has defaulted on payments since then, she has not been able to buy from us again.
"As a gesture of good faith, I have written off the balance owing, so Pahimata no longer owes any money to our company."
An Ace Marketing spokesperson says Benson had two contracts, the first of which went into default immediately.
"We did not receive a single payment from her for that purchase.
"We have already treated both contracts as having been cancelled, and have written off all monies owed to us."
The Ace spokesperson says customers who are unable to make any payments can request a suspension.
"No customer is forced to enter into a contract."
Home Direct retail general manager Janelle Calder says they won't comment on individual cases but the company is happy to work with customers to help them manage debts.
"However, there is also a responsibility of the customer to manage their debt and to be responsible and accountable for the decisions they have made."
Kaitaia community advocate Peter Furze says the mobile trucks are like an "Aladdin's Cave" for some people.
"They can walk in and take stuff right then and there. They're crippling a certain level of our society."
MOBILE TRADERS INVESTIGATED
The Commerce Commission has prosecuted seven mobile traders this year.
The commission currently has 18 ongoing investigations into the conduct of mobile traders.
This comes after it published a report after a year-long investigation into the industry last August.
The report found that 31 of 32 mobile traders did not comply with all their legal obligations, highlighting systemic non-compliance issues in the industry. Home Direct was the one trader that was found to be legally compliant.
Issues identified included charging significantly higher prices than for comparable goods in normal shops, charging extra fees and disclosure issues.
They also made it difficult for customers to cancel agreements and continued to take payments after an item was paid for.