CREDIT card company MBNA is investigating claims its staff are harassing hard-up consumers who have fallen behind in their payments.
The company has defended its debt collection methods after the Irish Independent uncovered allegations it is phoning people who are in arrears up to eight times a day, texting them and phoning them at work demanding payment.
Calls are being made from call centres in India and the UK.
The Irish Independent spoke to a number of consumers behind on their payments who felt they were being harassed and intimidated by the firm.
The Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) and the Free Legal Aid Centres (FLAC) backed up the claims, accusing MBNA of harrying debt-ridden customers.
MABS business manager Ann Marie O'Connor said the State debt advisory body was coming across cases of consumers being harassed by credit card firms.
"Our advice to people is monitor and watch the extent of it."
She said the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 specifically prohibits harassment.
Ms O'Connor said many people coming to MABS complain about receiving several phone calls every day.
FLAC director general Noeline Black said: "There is growing evidence that debt collection techniques have become more harsh."
Consumer advocate Brendan Burgess, of the askaboutmoney.com website, encouraged consumers subjected to repeated calls to complain to the Financial Regulator.
MBNA is one of the largest credit card operators in this market, and it also issues its card to Postbank, EBS Building Society and Ryanair.
Asked if its company representatives were phoning people up to eight times a day, texting them and phoning people at work, the company denied it was harassing customers.
"We do not contact customers on bank holidays or Sundays, just from 9am until 9pm Monday through Saturday; except by prior agreement by a customer," a spokeswoman said.
It admitted that its debt collection is outsourced to companies outside the island of Ireland and insisted it had guidelines in relation to contacting people.
"We would take an alleged breach of these guidelines seriously, including any allegations of harassment and encourage customers to contact us directly if they have any such concerns," the spokeswoman added.
Asked if it was reporting its customers to the Irish Credit Bureau (ICB) for missing just one repayment, the company replied: "MBNA reports both positive and negative data on a monthly basis to the ICB, which is in line with guidelines."
Commercial debt advisers said MBNA tends to be one of the most enthusiastic when it comes to demanding repayments from customers.
Emmet Pullan of Debt Plan Ireland said: "MBNA and GE Money shout the loudest initially, but when they realise you are in arrears and have not got the money, they will strike a deal."
Mr Pullan said credit card companies were now handing over accounts in arrears to debt collection agencies. If your debt is sold on, it is a red light on your Irish Credit Bureau file, he said.
Some credit card companies have outsourced their debt collection for accounts in arrears to India. People in these call centres tend to ring people three or more times a day.
EBS last night said it had an agreement with MBNA on how members in credit card arrears would be treated.