Nixon sues over mass faxes

Saturday, August 30, 2003

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Attorney General Jay Nixon is expanding his pursuit of the fax advertising industry, filing suit Friday against one Florida company that promotes vacation packages through unsolicited mass faxes and another that uses the same method to sell stock research.

Nixon announced the filings during a news conference in the office of a Kansas City investment adviser -- whose fax machine printed out an unsolicited ad for a build-your-business seminar just as the attorney general was speaking.

"At least this one has something to do with my business," said Joe Farris, whose written complaint about twice-weekly faxes advertising discount vacations in Orlando, Fla., had caught the attention of the attorney general's staff.

Nixon estimated that his office had received 500 complaints in the past year about junk faxes, many from small business owners like Farris who conduct much of their own business by fax.

In March, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled in two cases brought by Nixon that unsolicited fax advertisements can be banned under a section of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991.

Those cases were brought against two companies -- one in California, the other in Texas -- that sell so-called "broadcast fax" services, sending out hundreds of thousands of fax ads for clients. The 8th Circuit sent those cases back to a trial court, where they are pending.

In the new lawsuits, the defendants are companies that hire the mass-fax services to send out their advertisements. The firms that sent the faxes for the advertisers are identified in the lawsuits but are not listed as defendants.

"We feel that both are responsible," Nixon said. "We'll first go after the person that pushes the button to send it out, then the person who pays for it."

One of the lawsuits, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, names Holiday Management Group Inc., doing business as Holiday Orlando Reservations of Winter Springs, Fla.

The defendants in the other lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in St. Louis, is Avalona Communications Associates Inc. of Tampa, Fla., doing business as StockReporters.Com, and company president Peter Emmanuel of Tampa. Nixon said he had received a substantial number of complaints about StockReport.Com.

Both lawsuits seek injunctions ordering the companies from sending unsolicited fax ads to Missouri fax machines, and to pay financial penalties that Nixon said could amount to $500 for each fax received on a Missouri machine.

No one at either company was available for comment Friday.

A woman who answered the phone at Holiday Management Group referred questions to managers, all of whom she said were out of the office Friday and could not be reached.

In the other case, no telephone numbers in the Tampa area or central Florida could be located by directory assistance or on Internet databases for Avalona Communications, StockReport.Com or Peter Emmanuel. An Internet site for StockReport.Com does not list a phone number.

Like most junk faxes, those sent by Holiday Management Group and Avalona Communications included toll-free numbers that recipients could call to have their fax numbers removed from the senders' databases.

Farris, however, said he was able to speak to someone when he called the number on the Orlando vacations ad but that the faxes kept arriving -- an average of two per week for the past year.

"There was almost arrogance on their part," he said of the call and the letters he wrote before advising the company about a month ago that he would file a complaint with Nixon's office.

Nixon called junk faxes "an insidious tax" on recipients, who bear the costs of the paper, ink and phone line.

"This is really no different than listening to a radio ad and afterwards getting a bill for listening to it," Nixon said.

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