A new customer of i4free appears to have used its "tell a friend" feature to tell a great many friends indeed.
As part of its online registration process the free ISP offers new customers the chance to email a promotional message from i4free to others.
Customers receive an extra draw for the ISP's monthly prize - this month, a $5000 Compaq computer system - for every person they email. A form on the i4free site provides the ability to mail up to five "friends" at once.
But longtime spamwatcher Alan Brown of Manawatu Internet services says multiple addresses at his ISP received the unsolicited mail yesterday, including some in the manawatu.net.nz domain, which is solely administrative and contains no user accounts.
"One address it was received at has never existed," says Brown. "Other addresses hit have only ever existed on spamware CDs as corrupted forms of long-dead real accounts."
Brown says "tell a friend" systems have been abused where they have been used overseas: "I'm surprised that i4free are even trying it considering the worldwide experience."
The CEO of i4free, Annette Presley, says most of the 60,000 people on i4free's books have used the "tell a friend" feature, sending out an average of 20 commercial emails on behalf of the ISP.
"We had 2000 people sign up yesterday so it's hard to track this one down."
She says she can not understand why a customer would use the system to spam strangers.
"Obviously if that's happening then we want to know about it as much as you do. Obviously, the Internet is such an unregulated environment that all sorts of things can occur. We're certainly not interested in perpetuating them.
"We definitely haven't been spamming and we're not interested in spamming. It's illegal in the States and it should be here. We're actually for some regulation of the Internet and it's something we've been looking at ourselves."
Presley says that if her company finds out the customer has been mailing customers who do not exist it will "do something about it". She did not know yesterday if i4free's terms and conditions forbade such use of its system.
"It's such a new environment for everybody that we're all learning as the days go by. I guess we're expecting people to take more of a responsible attitude."