15 Oct 2008

Trio face big fines for spamming operation

8:15 pm on 15 October 2008

Three New Zealand men face fines of up to $NZ200,000 for allegedly running a massive email spamming ring.

Regulators in New Zealand and the United States allege the operation sent billions of unsolicited emails between 5 September and 31 December last year.

The messages encouraged people to visit sites selling a range of herbal tonics, sex enhancers and sex toys, Trevor Henry, from New Zealand's Department of Internal Affairs said.

The department has filed High Court proceedings against Christchurch businessman Shane Atkinson, his brother Lance Atkinson, who lives in Queensland, and Christchurch courier Roland Smits.

Mr Henry said the group's activities were not considered criminal under New Zealand law, but the department could sue and seek a maximum penalty of $200,000 from each man.

It is the first court action of its kind since the introduction of the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act on 5 September 2007.

The trio probably netted about $US2 million in sales commissions from the two million emails they sent in New Zealand alone.

Mr Henry said the Government would need to decide if the penalties were harsh enough.

The men, who were served court papers earlier this month, have 30 days to issue a statement of defence if they wish to contest the proceedings.

America's Federal Trade Commission has filed its own complaint in the United States against Mr Atkinson, his Australian Company, Inet Ventures, US citizen Jody Smith, and three US companies.

It is estimated about 120 billion spam messages were sent daily.