The Department of Internal Affairs

The Department of Internal Affairs

Te Tari Taiwhenua

Building a safe, prosperous and respected nation

 

Historic fine for spam company


13 February 2014

An Auckland based marketing company has been ordered to pay $120 000 for sending spam via email and text messages – the largest penalty imposed for sending spam in New Zealand.

The civil case against Image Marketing Group (IMG) was taken by the Department of Internal Affairs under the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act and heard by Justice Mary Peters at the Auckland High Court.

More than half a million (519,545) messages were sent to New Zealand email addresses by IMG in December 2009.

In 2010 IMG targeted New Zealanders again during 21 email advertising campaigns which promoted sales of the company’s database products for between $1,000 and $2,000 each.

Nearly 45 000 text messages were sent to Vodafone and Telecom mobile users over a period of a month in 2009.

The Department of Internal Affairs took action against the company after receiving about 500 complaints from the public. IMG admitted that the messages sent to these people were spam*.

Toni Demetriou, Team Leader Electronic Messaging Compliance says the result is an excellent outcome.

“IMG must now stop sending any further spam to New Zealand electronic addresses. This is a clear win for consumers who are sick and tired of receiving unwanted messages via email or texts.

“I encourage people to report electronic spam to us so that we can take action to stop this disruptive and unwanted activity.

“Taking a little extra time to use our reporting services can help us root out the companies and individuals who send spam that ties up your time and can be costly to New Zealand business.”

The IMG text messages were sent from an Australian mobile number to New Zealand mobile users. They contained a hyperlink to a website promoting a mobile phone antenna booster.

When address holders sought to unsubscribe by replying to the messages they were charged the usual fee for sending a text message.

IMG also sold a database of about 50 000 email addresses to a third party.

IMG said it believed the recipients of the email and text messages had consented to receive commercial electronic messages.

As part of a pre-trial settlement IMG admitted breaching the Act. The penalties imposed were recommended to the Court by both the Department of Internal Affairs and IMG, and included a discount for IMG's admissions and co-operation.

*For noting: IMG contests the sentence that it “admitted the messages sent to these people were spam.” IMG says it was admitted that “some or all” of the complaint messages were spam.

Notes
The decision of Justice Peters is available online at DIA’s anti-spam webpage here.

Spam is the generic term for the electronic commercial email, fax, and mobile/smart phone text (TXT) and image-based messages you receive without having requested them.

Businesses and individuals can Complain about Spam to the Department of Internal Affairs' Electronic Messaging Compliance team. The Department may investigate these complaints and take the appropriate action.

There is more information about spam on the Department of Internal Affairs anti-spam webpage

Breaches of the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act 2007

In respect of some or all of the spam messages IMG breached the Act in that:
  1. they were unsolicited;
  2. they did not include accurate sender information; and
  3. some or all of the messages did not contain an unsubscribe facility that could be used by the recipient at no cost.

The text messages

Between 27 February 2009 and 26 March 2009 the Defendant sent, or caused to be sent no less than 44,824 electronic messages to mobile phones operated by Vodafone New Zealand and Telecom New Zealand.

The emails

Between 14 December 2009 and 15 December 2009 the Defendant sent or caused to be sent 519,545 emails to email users in New Zealand.
Between 16 March 2010 and 9 December 2010 the Defendant ran at least 21 email advertising campaigns.

Previous cases

The previous largest penalties imposed by the Court were $95,000 in respect of Wayne Mansfield in August 2013, and $100,000 imposed on Lance Atkinson in December 2008.

The Department of Internal Affairs works closely with Netsafe and the Consumer team at the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment on spam and scam issues.

Ends

Media Contact

Sue Ingram
Communications, Account Manager (Policy, Regulatory & Ethnic Affairs)
The Department of Internal Affairs, Te Tari Taiwhenua
Direct Dial: 04 494 0584 / Mobile: 027 541 4696 Email: sue.ingram@dia.govt.nz