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Hearing aid retailers fined $2.5 million for misleading pensioners

The Federal Court has ordered hearing aid retailers Oticon Australia and Sonic Innovations to pay penalties totalling $2.5 million for misleading pensioners through newspaper advertisements for hearing aids sold by AudioClinic and HearingLife clinics.

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The misleading ads were published on 85 occasions in newspapers around Australia from June to November 2017 under the AudioClinic and HearingLife brands. Oticon and Sonic sold more than 10 000 of the advertised Oticon Ria2 and Sonic Cheer20 hearing aids.

Oticon and Sonic admitted that the advertisements contained three false and misleading representations about hearing aids available to pensioners under the Australian Government Hearing Services Program. The misleading representations were that:

  • in order to obtain a free hearing aid pensioners had to book a free hearing test at an AudioClinic or HearingLife hearing clinic before the deadline in the advertisement, where there was no time limit;
  • the free hearing aids included wireless technology that would allow users to connect them to digital devices like televisions and mobile phones, when in fact these were additional accessories which were sold separately at an extra cost; and
  • any user of the advertised hearing aid would no longer miss any conversations, when in fact this may depend on a person’s individual circumstances and the nature of his or her hearing impairment.

“Many of the pensioners targeted by the advertisements were vulnerable due to their age and hearing loss. The misleading representations by Sonic and Oticon created a false sense of urgency for these consumers to book a hearing test and led them into a sales process based on incorrect information,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.

“This conduct is unacceptable particularly because it targeted vulnerable pensioners. The decision from the Federal Court sends a strong message to the hearing aid industry about the importance of ensuring all representations to consumers are accurate and not misleading.”

In addition to paying penalties of $2.5 million, the Court ordered by consent that Sonic and Oticon offer refunds to customers who purchased ConnectLine and SoundGate3 accessories, publish a corrective notice in a nationally circulated newspaper, and establish an Australian Consumer Law compliance program.

 

 

 

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