Spam text message complaints soar

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 15:10 04/02/2013

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Complaints about spam text messages have jumped five times since Internal Affairs introduced in June a new way for people to report unwanted texts.

The head of the department’s anti-spam unit, Toni Demetriou, said the number of complaints it received about spam texts had risen from one or two a week to one or two a day.

The service, developed for Internal Affairs by Wellington firm Run the Red, lets people forward spam messages free-of-charge to a short code, 7726. Complainants then receive a text in return with a hyperlink to a website where they can provide more information.

‘‘I believe we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to complaints about unsolicited text messages, but the more complaints we receive, the better we can protect consumers from spam and deal with offenders quickly and efficiently,’’ Demetriou said.

The vast majority of complaints the unit received were about genuine spam, he said.

Internal Affairs could often quickly act to stop spam text messages that were generated within New Zealand, but the ‘‘large majority’’ of text spam was sent from overseas, he said.

‘‘I think that is where the real challenge is going to be.’’

Even so, Internal Affairs could liaise with overseas authorities to share information, he said. It had for example been in touch with the United States Federal Trade Commission over spam texts sent to New Zealanders by ‘‘penny auction’’ site ziinga.com.

‘‘I believe we have provided some valuable information to the FTC.’’

Demetriou said there was currently nothing the department could do about ‘‘robot’’ automated calls to people’s home phones. 

A life insurance firm was last week cold-calling people with unsolicited recorded messages to market its services.

Although the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act bans almost all spam electronic communications, the act’s original architect, former Labour communications minister David Cunliffe, carved out a specific exception for spam recorded telephone calls.

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