This year's "internet sweep" by the Commerce Commission will target scams circulated by spammers, says its director of Fair Trading, Deborah Battell.
The sweep started yesterday, with an investigator appointed to go through spam and examine it for representations that may breach the Fair Trading Act, Battell says. Part of an annual 20-nation effort organised by the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network, the internet sweep will last for a month.
Battell says the sweep will be "proactive and not reactive" in that the commission will actively try to locate spammers and phishers and not wait for consumers to file complaints.
The single investigator working on the sweep has been trained as part of the commission's cooperation with overseas agencies, Battell says, and will use "available internet tools". These tools include mailheader analysis, as well as taking part in anti-spam discussion forums. The commission has been collecting spam over the past few months, Battell says, and will use this for the analysis.
This is the first time spam has been the topic of the Sweep, which Battell says have been conducted annually for the past five years. The Commission expects most of the spammers it finds to be based overseas and Battell says these will be reported to the appropriate authorities in their countries.
However, businesses that spam while refraining from breaching the Fair Trading Act have nothing to fear from the sweep, Battell says, because New Zealand doesn't yet have anti-spam legislation. Battell didn't wish to comment on whether or not anti-spam legislation would make the commission's job easier, but emphasised that the sweep will be conducted entirely under the auspices of the Fair Trading Act.
Fax spam isn't part of the sweep either, as Battell says it isn't as big a problem as email-based spam. "We are concerned that internet spam makes it very easy to contact people, and want to ensure that traders do not evade their obligations under the Fair Trading Act," she says.
Should the commission decide to investigate a rogue trader, it has the powers to issue warnings, cease and desist letters and also to prosecute. For individuals, the maximum penalty for breaching the act is $60,000 and for businesses, $200,000.