iSelect fined $8.4m for dodgy and misleading conduct – price comparison websites suck

iSelect is a price comparison website. It (and all its dodgy cohorts) pretend to offer you the best deal on a range of mobile, internet, electricity, human and pet insurance, home and personal finance… Except in 99.9% of the time they don’t.

Well, to be fair the ACCC says iSelect only ripped off 38% of its ‘hundreds of thousands of customers’ between November 2016-2018. That 38% would have had significantly cheaper gas and utilities had they done some research and gone direct.

iSelect is a price comparison website (PCW)

PCWs and their apps are solely data-harvesting services that shop your data to ‘partners’. They cannot, and can never be, on the customers’ side as they receive commissions and get weblink click-throughs as well. The dodgier ones have a very small pool of preferred partners.

According to Rod Sims, ACCC Chair

“iSelect was not upfront with consumers that it wasn’t comparing all plans offered by its partner retailers. In fact, about 38% of people who compared electricity plans with iSelect at that time may have found a cheaper plan if they had shopped around or used the government’s comparison site Energy Made Easy.”

The ACCC found iSelect

  • did not disclose it received commissions from the retailers when those consumers selected a plan via the iSelect website or call centre.
  • Did not adequately disclose that there were cheaper plans from its preferred retail partners. These were available via its call centre – not iSelect’s online comparison service.
  • Between March 2017 and November 2019, it misrepresented the price of some of the plans to almost 5,000 consumers. It quoted a total price for some plans which underestimated the cost by up to $140 per quarter.
  • And we think its highly dubious advertising is a crime!😂
iSelect
iSelect

Price Comparison websites (PCW) suck

Last year we published an article The truth about energy price comparison websites – they don’t #Stop the energy rip-off. We found that over 5000 energy plans covered Australia. Most PCWs only offer a small number of electricity vendors and a subset of their plans.

iSelect

To Joe and Jane Average price comparison websites look good. There is an oblique, inferred, unrealised expectation (never say promise or you will cop a fine) that it may reveal a lower price than you are presently paying. Many have so-called helpful calculators that you enter your details and past bills in.

Behind that is an AI that uses an algorithm predicated on three things.

  • First, it draws from a small group of ‘partners’ that pay for the privilege of a PCW marketing for it.
  • Second, to offer you a price that is just below your current vendor. As you must disclose your current vendor and plan it knows what to offer – not the best price!
  • Third, then to offer the plan it makes the most commission from

The AI looks at your time on page and click-through. If it feels you are not interested/engaged, it will offer you an extra enticement to sign up*.

Recently went through iSelect for health insurance. The Customer Service operator enticed us in by offering one month free with NIB and a $100 MasterCard. When we didn’t receive the one month free we contacted NIB who indicated iSelect could not make this offer at all. The MasterCard has not arrived. Went through Customer complaints and received plastic answers. Just be wary of iSelect as they blatantly lie to get you in.

Some sites also sell your data to telemarketers and vendors. The result is pressure sales tactics if you don’t use the site.

If you must use a PCW look for this upfront

  • Who owns it – some are just a front for vendor or brokerages.
  • A declaration that it receives commissions from its partners on click-throughs and signups
  • Clear identification of its partner’s names
  • A clear identification of the ‘plan’ or schedule that it recommends
  • And there are usually catches like the price is introductory and can increase during the term. Be wary of offers that have X% discount off the price!

And then we recommend going direct and seeing if you can get a better deal.

In iSelect’s case energy, health insurance, and financial loans are done by General Brokerage Services Pty Ltd. From its website:

The company provides energy brokerage services; and energy solutions by understanding client’s usage patterns and requirements and negotiating with various energy partners. In addition, it offers online comparative services.

Guess what – it is a 100% subsidiary of iSelect Ltd using your data to gain commercial advantage.

iselect
A privacy policy should contain the bare necessity to provide the service – not be buried in thousands of words of legal jargon

It is about 3400 words and here are precisely the things you need to be on the lookout for. Never just taking its word for it, ‘iSelect is committed to protecting the privacy of your personal information.’

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