THE corporate watchdog is stepping up its scrutiny of advertisements for financial services in regional Australia, including mining boom towns, in a bid to weed out unscrupulous operators.
West Australian and Queensland mining areas including Kalgoorlie and Mount Isa are among areas to be targeted, along with the fraud hot spot, the Gold Coast, tender documents show.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission will monitor print, radio and television advertising covering almost every product available to retail consumers for which it is responsible. An ASIC spokesman said advertising had a "significant role" in determining consumer choices and the watchdog had a "strong focus on ensuring advertising is not misleading and encouraging good practice in advertising".
"The current exercise is to enhance the coverage of regional media again, including electronic and print publications," he said.
ASIC is seeking a media monitoring outfit able to provide investigators with access to a searchable, regularly updated database of print, radio and TV ads from around the country, the tender documents show.
It wants to monitor ads for credit, including home loans, bank accounts and term deposits, superannuation, insurance, investment products including managed investment schemes and margin loans, and share-based products including derivatives and contracts for difference.
In addition to mining areas, ASIC is also increasing surveillance of the Gold Coast, where the federal and Queensland police are running a joint investigation into a series of share scams run out of call centres.
The advertising blitz was foreshadowed in February by ASIC commissioner Peter Kell, a consumer protection veteran who joined ASIC in October last year after a stint as deputy chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
"Irrespective of whether it's a region that has a larger proportion of retirees, a mining town, or a remote indigenous community, we should see financial products and advice marketed in a responsible and accurate fashion," Mr Kell told an Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia lunch.
"We know from past experience that sometimes these communities are targeted by unscrupulous promoters."
He warned financial services promoters that ASIC had recently been granted new powers to issue public warnings and, through the courts, to seek civil penalties of up to $1.1 million for each advertisement that is adjudged misleading.