Your rights under 'anti-spam' law when you receive unsolicited electronic messages.

Unsolicited electronic messages and your rights

The Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act(external link) (UEMA) also called the 'anti-spam' law prohibits:

  • spam being sent to, from or within New Zealand
  • harvesting software from being used to create address lists for sending unsolicited commercial electronic messages.

What is spam?

Spam is any electronic commercial messages including emails, texts, faxes, SMS messages and multi- media message services that are sent to you, but not at your request. Spam is used to:

  • promote products or services
  • direct you to websites, social media site or shops where commercial sales happens.

The UEMA does not cover internet pop–ups or voice telemarketing.

Spammers may harvest mail addresses on the internet. Specialised programmes called web spiders visit every webpage, newsgroup or bulletin board online, they can find to harvest email addresses and then add them to the spammer’s address database.

If you have already bought something online or registered with an internet site then your email address may have been added to a mailing list and this is made available to spammers.

Spammers may also simply guess by using a computer programme to try and deliver mail to addresses using popular words, names and numbers.

What you need to know

The Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act (UEMA) applies to commercial electronic messages, ie email, faxes, instant messages and SMS (txt) with a New Zealand link.

Electronic messages not covered by the Act

Some commercial messages are excluded from the UEMA or anti-spam law:

  • response to a quote
  • confirmation of a previously agreed arrangement
  • warranty information;
  • factual information regarding an ongoing relationship eg, gym membership
  • employment or benefit information
  • products or services relating to a previous transaction.

It is perfectly legal for businesses to send you commercial electronic messages if:

  • you consent (express or implied)
  • they contain accurate information about the sender and how the business can be contacted
  • they include a free unsubscribe facility that works within 5 working days of your request, eg a message saying “if you don’t wish to receive future messages, send a reply with unsubscribe” in the subject line.

Silence or not clicking “unsubscribe” is not consent. Businesses may use an existing list or database of customers if their consent is already on record. You can agree verbally but the business should keep a record of this.

Rarely implied consent can arise in the context of a close existing relationship between the business and some of its customers, where they already exchange information and it is reasonable to assume that messages will be sent even if not requested.

Reporting spam

The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) enforces the anti-spam law. You can complain to the DIA:

  • if you did not consent to any spam
  • that you have unsubscribed and continue to receive spam.

See Spam complaint(external link) on DIA's website.

Consequences of spam breaches

Businesses can be fined up to $500,000 and ordered to:

  • pay you compensation for any loss suffered as a result of the spam
  • pay damages equal to the profit they made through sending the spam.

More information:

Example situation

Mary receives a text message that notifies her she has won a large amount of money in a European lottery competition. She replies to the text message and is asked for her email address and a fee to cover the postage or administrative fees to be able to receive the winnings. This is an advance fee fraud spam that is being sent out to lots of people. Forward the text on to 7726 to report the spam.

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