By PETER SINCLAIR
When Allan McConnell decided to go online, the 68-year-old Ngaruawahia pensioner had no idea he was, quite literally, taking a gamble.
Retiring after a lifetime on the land, and encouraged by his net-savvy sons Nicholas, 23, and David, 21, he and his wife Julia took a computer course at Ngaruawahia High School. Suddenly, he was at the "bleeding-edge."
And just a few weeks later, the blood began to flow ...
NeoPets is an enchanting website - a community of virtual pet owners offering cool creatures and stuff like games, auctions, shops and postcards which has become a big craze with the sub-teen set. But don't mess with it.
I can see Stephanie Yost Cameron now - a thin-lipped legal woman, with the kind of surgically induced glamour we recognise from the face of Katherine Harris, Florida's Secretary of State. She is NeoPets' general counsel and vice-president of business and legal affairs.
"In reference to your website domain names 'wneopets.com' and 'wwwneopets.com' ... " she wrote to Mr McConnell, "particularly with regard to [their] intentional diversion of NeoPets.com user traffic to your gambling website, 'www.actioncitycasino.com' ... "
Mr McConnell's immediate reaction can be summed up in one word: Huh?
Ms Yost Cameron then shifts into the stilted phraseology with which lawyers seek to monster you: "NeoPets is committed to taking the necessary steps ... NeoPets therefore demands ... NeoPets requires your written assurances ... if we do not hear from you ... no legitimate rights ... violations ... damages ... "
Mr McConnell's next reaction was a letter to me, which struck a note of well-controlled panic.
"My problem is that I am not the owner of these sites nor any other site on the internet ... I know zilch about them ... I am a superannuitant with limited knowledge of the internet ... should I be concerned about their threat?"
So on Mr McConnell's behalf, I did a little digging.
Sure enough, there he was: name, street address, phone number, everything - listed as the billing contact for Actioncitycasino.com with Network Solutions' WHOIS Lookup on behalf of a company called Stack Em Up Holdings, registered in St John's, Antigua - the administrative contact given as LiquidInternet, an online "marketing" company.
With its slots, blackjack, and "Caribbean poker" (a study of the fine print suggests the odds are somewhat in favour of the house), Action City looks like a nice little earner - especially as careless typists, trying to access the wildly popular NeoPets site, are being redirected to it willy-nilly.
About the only way this could have happened (in the opinion of Matt Russell, ihug's legal eagle) is for Stack Em Up Holdings to have leafed through a phone-book at the edge of the known universe, closed their eyes and stabbed it with a pin.
Mr McConnell ended up the effective proprietor of a "stealth site" to divert traffic from a legitimate web-address to a dodgy one.
Late last week, the web became even more tangled. Overnight, the administrative contacts suddenly included the name of a Doug C. Dohring ("the Dohring Company appears on Advertising Age's annual list of the top 100 US research firms").
Perhaps so, but I couldn't help wondering whether this was the same Doug C. Dohring whose name also appeared on the board of Digital Lightwave when it was involved in a big mid-90s stock swindle - a case to which, oddly, the Church of Scientology was central.
Like other key executives, Dohring and his wife Laurie are L. Ron Hubbard enthusiasts.
Now he appears to have bobbed up as president of NeoPets. Or is he, like Mr McConnell, the victim of identity theft - another Doug C. Dohring entirely? Whatever, a few days later he let Mr McConnell off the hook by assuming responsibility for the "wwwneopets.com" and similar "stealth" domains.
Mr McConnell's problem remains unresolved - what on earth do you do when you suddenly find yourself the registered proprietor of an overseas den of iniquity?
Not a lot. "Unlike the US, we have no law that makes identity-theft a crime," says Peter Dengate-Thrush, chairman of the Internet Society of New Zealand. "Probably that's why they chose a New Zealander."
Mr Russell: "There may possibly be some rights of ownership which he [Mr McConnell] could exercise."
Mr McConnell's letter ended: "I would love to have access to the bank accounts of this lot [Actioncitycasino.com] to see what I was supposed to be worth!"
I can suggest to Mr McConnell that Antigua is lovely at this time of year - St John's is awash with colour and the holidays are just around the corner.
PS: Take a baseball bat!
e-gold is an electronic currency "100 per cent backed at all times by gold bullion in allocated storage." Purports to be an account-based payment system that uses gold as money. Free accounts, no credit check or minimum balance requirement. e-gold Ltd has chosen to register in another of those Caribbean specks - Nevis, in this case - which always inspire such confidence in the integrity of a company.
Advisory: shouldn't we just ban the Caribbean?
MOST NEEDED: e.sessment
Sooner or later your business has got to go online - you know it, your customers want it, but how do you do it? PricewaterhouseCoopers launches a free e-commerce website to evaluate your company's e-business potential, opportunities, competitiveness, risks and market factors in general. Established onliners can assess their performance in relation to competitors; for the not-yet-wired, hand-holding a specialty.
Advisory: the answer to a lot of prayers?
Florida Secretary of State
Doug C. Dohring
Internet Society of New Zealand
St John's Antigua
By PETER SINCLAIR