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  • Debt collectors harass NSW woman for years over abusive husband's debt
  • By Emily McPherson
  • 07/02/2018 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: Ron ( 1 article in 2018 )
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A NSW woman has told how she was harassed for years by debt collectors over her financially abusive husband’s $15,000 credit card bill.

The single mother, Sarah* from regional NSW, said she still remembers the first call she got out-of-the-blue from debt collection company Baycorp, which left her in tears.

Sarah had finally broken free from her financially-controlling husband who, during their time together, had applied for several credit cards and one personal loan in both of their names.

After the couple split in 2014, her husband declared himself bankrupt, putting her in the full firing line of the banks.

But with the help of a financial assistance company Sarah had managed to get the debts waived on compassionate grounds and believed she had finally sorted out the mess she had found herself in.

Then came the call that would turn her life upside down again for the next two-and-a-half years.

It turned out there was one more credit card she knew nothing about, and St George bank had sold the debt to Baycorp in 2015.

“I remember pulling into the driveway of my mum’s house and getting a phone call from a private number and it was this girl who said she was from Baycorp,” Sarah told

“She told me I had this debt that needed to be paid.

“I kept trying to explain to her that it was my ex-husband’s debt, not mine.

“But she kept going at me. Saying, ‘But you owe this much money’ and when could I make the payments. By the end of the conversation I was in tears.

“It just hit me so bad. I didn’t know what to do, I was a mess obviously because I thought that the debt was all gone and that I was over that rough stage.”

Two years later, in 2017, St George would be convinced to buy back the debt from Baycorp, wipe it, and pay Sarah $14,800 in compensation - but not before the debt collectors made the single mum-of-two’s life hell.

‘He was actually financially abusive, big time’

Sarah’s troubles with debt began when she met the man who would become her husband at the young age of 18.

“We moved in quite early together and he just took control of everything. He used to control the money, he used to pay the bills. To me that was the normal thing,” Sarah said.

“He used to work for a bank so he knew them inside and out. We were always in debt and he would reconsolidate. He just used to throw things in front of me and I would sign them. I wouldn’t question them.

“I think that he also may have gotten most of his mail online so I didn’t know about it.”

Sarah and her husband would go on to own their own home, but in the final year of their marriage, Sarah says he convinced her to sell it.

“I was always like ‘no, I want this for my kids’. But he said we’ll get out of debt, and he convinced me.

“I didn’t even see a single cent of that money from the house. I couldn’t even tell you where it went.”

“I never really questioned it but now I look back he was actually financially abusive, big time.”

While she was aware of some of the credit cards her husband had, Sarah says she had no idea about the St George account that would go on to play such a large part of her life for the next few years.

It later emerged her husband had applied for the account online, making her a secondary card holder. He provided his driver’s license as ID and payslips for both of them. But no contract was ever signed.

When the pair split up, Sarah says her husband offered to take care of their debts in lieu of paying child support. However, within months, he had declared bankruptcy.

‘They made my life hell’

With her marriage over, Sarah began the struggle of trying to care for her two toddler children, while also working part-time.

“I was at a really bad point in my life and the only reason I would get out of bed was my kids and for my job,” she said.

But amid her personal turmoil, the calls from Baycorp kept coming.

At first Baycorp refused to provide proof that the debt was Sarah’s. They later claimed that the letter of offer and bank statements St George sent to the couple’s house were all the evidence they needed that she consented to the loan.

“They just refused to acknowledge that the debt wasn’t mine,” she said.

They said it would just make my life easier if I just paid it. And then every time they called I would just get so stressed out.

They made me believe it was mine. I tried to bargain with them over payment plans and I tried everything I could to try to clear my name.

“In the beginning they didn’t offer me any help with any payment plans. Later they asked me to pay $200 a week or something stupid like that I couldn’t afford.

“Maybe if they had said let’s reconsolidate this into something cheaper. If I had to pay that for 15 years I would have. I kept saying to myself I’ll get through this.”

Baycorp’s General Counsel James Beaumont confirmed to that they were aware of Sarah’s allegations of harrassment.

“We take allegations such as this very seriously and are investigating the consumer’s concerns,” Mr Beaumont said.

“Once we have completed our investigation we will provide a response to the consumer. Given there is a current investigation taking place it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

Ombudsman finds in favour of debt collector

In desperation, the financial assistance company Sarah hired to help her took her to case to the Credit and Investments ombudsman (CIO), who conducted a review of Baycorp’s actions in November 2016.

However, a CIO review found Sarah had agreed to be a joint owner of the credit card because a letter of offer had been sent to the address she had shared with her husband and the card was activated with its first purchase.

In CIO’s official “position statement” on family violence, the ombudsman recognises financial abuse as a form of domestic violence.

CIO’s statement also acknowledges that “an abusive ex-partner will use finance to prolong the abuse. For example, they might refuse to make repayments or default on joint obligations”.

“In such circumstances, the CIO could help the consumer by negotiating with the financial service provider to not pursue the consumer for the debt, or make a separate agreement with the consumer for the consumer’s share of the debt,” the statement reads.

A CIO spokesperson said if they were aware a consumer was experiencing family violence, they would deal with the matter according to their position statement.

‘Our sincerest apologies for your inconvenience’

A breakthrough finally came for Sarah in January 2017, when she walked into a St George branch and found by chance a staff member who actually listened to her story.

The woman encouraged Sarah to report the matter as fraud to police and from there the bank’s fraud department began investigating her complaint.

In May 2017, the bank bought back the loan and removed Sarah’s liability for the debt.

A few months later, the bank agreed to issue Sarah with a written apology and to compensate her to the same value as her debt.

In the letter, the bank asked Sarah to: “Please accept our sincerest apologies for the inconvenience caused.”

“We are forwarding you this cheque for $14,800 as a full and final resolution of your concerns,” the letter read.

Sarah said she was relieved to finally be able to put the matter behind her, but was still upset that St George never once picked up the phone to call her before they sold the debt on.

“Why the hell would you go and sell something to another company when you haven’t even spoken to me?” she said.

“That got me down so much because if they had it probably would have been a totally different situation.”

A St George spokesperson told “We are committed to fixing mistakes if we make them. We have apologised to our customer and arranged for the debt to be cleared.”

“We have improved our processes to ensure customers’ experiencing financial abuse are looked after appropriately and we have various forms of support in place, including financial hardship assistance and financial counselling,” the spokesperson said.

Sarah said she felt compelled to speak out about her treatment at the hands of the debt collectors so other victims of financial abuse would know there were other options out there.

“I want other people to realise that they shouldn’t have to put up with being like that,” she told

Baycorp made my life hell. They destroyed my credit file. I have only just got on my feet to a point now where I’m not digging for coins for milk.”

Sarah’s story comes after the big four banks last week lodged their submissions into the royal commission on banking misconduct and the industry prepares to be put under the harsh glare of public scrutiny.

*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.

Contact reporter Emily McPherson at


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