'Spam King' resurfaces, linked with SMS campaign

Spammer Brendan Battles is being linked to an unsolicited bulk SMS marketing campaign in New Zealand that could breach New Zealand anti-spam laws.

Reports of the messages are appearing on online forums like Geekzone and Vodafone's customer forum. The message says:

"Tired of dropped calls, poor signal or static? Goto www.AntennaBooster.co.nz for a special Vodafone users offer! To opt-out, reply with the word 'UNSUBSCRIBE'"

The text messages arrive from an Australian mobile number, +61 447 100 250.

According to whois data for the antennabooster.co.nz domain, the registrant is Brendan Battles of Browns Bay, on Auckland's North Shore. The domain in the contact email address given for antennabooster.co.nz, imagemarketing.co.nz, is also registered by Battles.

The "mobile phone antenna booster" advertised is, according to the site, a "thin strip to be placed at [sic] the back of cellphone".

Costing $9.95 plus $4.95 "S/H", the product promises "no more disconnections, reduces static interference" and "increases phone reception on boats, elevators, cars, buildings, tunnels, mountains and more."

Advertised on the site are other domains registered by Battles, like nzdata.info, audata.info, marketingmistakes.info and nzpostage.co.nz. All are hosted by Affinity Internet in the United States.

The company behind antennabooster.co.nz is Image Marketing Ltd, with a registered office at 63, Apollo Road, Mairangi Bay, North Shore. Its director is Brendan Paul Battles of Browns Bay, who holds 940,000 of the one million shares issued, according to the Companies Office.

Tan Chor Thien and Walter Scheer are the other two shareholders of Image Marketing Ltd, with 50,000 and 10,000 shares each, respectively.

Battles has a history as a prolific spammer going back many years in the United States and New Zealand. He earnt notoriety by suing anti-spammers Spamhaus in 2003, together with associate Eddie Marin and Boca Raton, Florida-based organisation Emarketersamerica.org, only to withdraw the lawsuit in September that same year.

Battles activities have been the subject of investigative journalist Brian McWilliams' book "Spam Kings". In the book, McWilliams says Battles sent out up to 50 million spam messages a day, hawking amongst other things subliminal weight loss tapes.

In 2006, Battles was found to have set up shop in New Zealand and was accused of running a bulk unsolicited email campaign for broadband accounts and telephone calling rates here.

Software developer Chris Burgess of Giant Robot was one of those hit by the SMS messages. Burgess reported the matter to the DIA and also emailed Battles, demanding to see proof that he has consented to receive the text messages sent out.

As of going to press, Burgess has not received a response from Battles.

Asked what he thought of the SMS run, Burgess says "It's a shame to see personal communications hijacked by people with little to offer."

"Theirs is a numbers game," Burgess says, that involves "bothering a million people to make maybe ten sales."

Vodafone spokesman Paul Brislen says that the telco isn't pleased to see its name being used in the messages, and is taking the matter seriously. Brislen says Vodafone is investigating the issue, and looking into what further action it can take.

Joe Stewart, manager of the anti-spam compliance unit at the Department of Internal Affairs confirms that sending unsolicited messages is against the law.

Asked if he's familiar with Battles and the SMS messages, Stewart told Computerworld that "the SMS campaign and the name have crossed my desk."

Stewart adds that it's irrelevant that a spam message is routed via overseas providers, as long as it's terminated in New Zealand. He says people who receive suspected SMS spam are adivesed to forward it to 7726 and the DIA will investigate.

Battles was contacted by Computerworld by telephone and email for comment on the above, but didn't respond. Battles has never, to Computerworld's knowledge, been charged with or convicted of spamming. Most of his activity both in the US and here predates the criminalisation of sending unsolicited messages.

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