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Tower victim of hoax

By Nick Stride

Friday 7th July 2000

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Listed financial services company Tower has denied a media hoax was behind Monday's 19c share price fall.

A person going by the name of "the Phantom Media Releaser" this week revealed he or she had conned the Sunday Star-Times with a bogus press statement claiming Tower subsidiary National Insurance would buy Aetna Health New Zealand for $71.7 million, "beating Axa New Zealand and one other unnamed bidder."

Aetna is wholly owned by its US parent company Aetna International and has not been sold.

The hoaxer sent the false release on unheaded paper without the customary media contact information.

A statement sent to The National Business Review, signed with the hoaxer's self-awarded nickname, suggested the Sunday Star-Times story contributed to Tower's share price fall on the day following publication but Tower chief executive James Boonzaier said he doubted it.

Tower's shares had climbed 49c over the three previous days.

"Perhaps a few people were taking profits, but that's all", Mr Boonzaier said.

Sharebrokers said there was no particular reason for the fall. Most were unaware the story, in the newspaper's "briefs" column, had run.

Companies that find themselves the victims of hoaxes probably have little recourse, even if they know the identity of the hoaxer, unless the hoax is defamatory or there is an intention to defraud.

Securities Commission chief executive John Farrell said disseminating bogus information about a listed company was not in itself a breach of securities legislation.

A charge of fraud under the Crimes Act could be pressed if the hoaxer was attempting to manipulate the market for financial gain.

Meanwhile, the phantom is plotting his next strike.

"What paper, what story will I try next?" he gloats in his letter to NBR.

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