A popular cash-prize game on Facebook has been shut down after promoters publicly and abusively accused members of an online competition syndicate of cheating.
Police and the privacy commissioner are investigating the Wellington-based finance company Superloans over questions of cyber-bullying and breaching the Privacy Act after the company made public accusations against players of its Crack the Safe promotion on Facebook last month.
It used its Facebook page, which has more than 32,000 likes, to accuse some players of creating fake profiles to boost their chances of winning. It cancelled the free promotion soon after.
The company also shared a YouTube video, featuring the names and pictures of people it believed were part of a team of cheats, and showing abusive messages the company sent to group member Amy McKay.
In the video, Superloans accuses McKay, 31, of being part of a group that cheats in competitions by using fake Facebook profiles to give her more chances of winning. McKay, of Pahiatua, denies the accusations.
In the video, Superloans says the company has been monitoring her and others. It then shows a screenshot of a Facebook post in which the company says: "I guess I will get straight to the point, you and the low-rent c...s in your group need to get the f... off my page now and forever."
McKay said she had hardly eaten or slept for a week after a tirade of online abuse from other competitors, the worst of which told her she should kill herself.
She had not won anything in the promotion, she said.
The video and many associated comments have since been removed.
McKay said she had not been aware of anyone cheating by making fake profiles. The competition group was mainly "stay-at-home mums" who put adverts for competitions on a shared page, which was "good for the businesses".
She made a formal complaint to the privacy commissioner, and also complained to police and Facebook. Police confirmed they were investigating her complaint and would contact those involved over allegations of cyber-bullying.
The privacy commissioner's spokesman, Charles Mabbett, confirmed his office was investigating.
The Department of Internal Affairs said it investigated the promotion after receiving a complaint. "We asked Superloans for an explanation and were told it had shut down Crack the Safe because it had received numerous complaints about the promotion."
Facebook would not confirm whether it was investigating. It said: "Facebook is based on a real-name culture and it is a violation of our policies, that everyone agrees to when they sign up to use Facebook, to hold a fake account or operate under a false identity."
Superloans has offices in Wellington, Lower Hutt, Napier and Porirua. It has two directors, Sean O'Connor and Paul Ryan, with a registered address at its Wellington branch, according to the Companies Office register.
After being contacted repeatedly for comment, a Superloans spokesperson said: "I am unable to respond due to the group in question contacting the privacy commissioner."
On March 21, it said on its Facebook page that it had caught someone cheating by using a profile in their 4-year-old son's name.
The profile's friends were used for gaming, and six people who accepted the profile's invitations to join the game were all fake, it said.
"The $275 prize was forfeited and she is now banned from all our promotions and page for good."
The competition had an initial total prize pool of $10,000, which would have been split into more than 100 prizes ranging from $50 to $500.
CRACK THE SAFE
Competitors had to "like" a Crack the Safe application on Superloans' Facebook page. They allowed the app to take information from their public profiles, friend lists, email addresses and Facebook likes. They had to make competition-related posts publicly viewable on their pages. They then raced to guess four-digit codes to win a prize. The more new people they invited to join the game, the less time they had to wait between attempts.
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