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Can you get in trouble for sending unsolicited emails?

Can you get in trouble for sending unsolicited emails?

The CAN-SPAM Act (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing) regulates how businesses communicate with consumers via electronic mail. It was first introduced into Congress on April 11th 2002 by Rep. Billy Tauzin, then chairman of the House Committee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection. He proposed this legislation as an amendment to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (also known as "the Telecom Bill") which deregulated telephone service. The bill passed both houses unanimously in December 2001.   In 2005, after lobbying from large internet companies such as Google and eBay, President George W. Bush signed the bill into law without any changes or exceptions.

So what does the CAN-SPAM Act do exactly? What are its consequences if you violate these rules? Is there anything I should know about my rights when it comes to using email marketing to promote myself and my products and services? Let's take a look at some potential answers to those questions so we're all clear on what we need to know before launching our next campaign.

Is sending unsolicited emails legal?

Yes! Not only is sending unsolicited emails perfectly acceptable under federal law, but also quite common practice. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), over 90% of Americans receive direct mail advertisements annually. That number jumps up to 97% among adults who live within 50 miles of their homes. Since most people will be receiving unsolicited emails every single day, it would appear that they are not violating any laws against sending unwanted communications. However, the CAN-SPAM Act says otherwise.  

If you don't want to follow the guidelines set forth by the CAN-SPAM Act, you could face fines and even jail time depending on whether or not the recipient complained to authorities. So let's go through each section of the law one by one so we'll understand why it's important to comply.

What is the fine for spam emails?

According to Section 754(b)(1)(A):

"Any person other than an original source shall be liable for a civil penalty..."

This means that anyone else besides the sender of the message is responsible for paying the fine. If you've been accused of sending spam emails to someone and you didn't write the email yourself, you may have grounds for a lawsuit.

Is it illegal to send mass emails?

Section 751 states clearly that it is illegal to send mass emails advertising goods or services unless you have permission to do so. This includes bulk email lists obtained from third parties. Any list that contains more than 500 members must include contact information to unsubscribe. You must provide opt-out instructions and allow users to change their preferences.

How many times can you email me per month?

You cannot exceed 250 emails per calendar quarter. For example, if you sent 10,000 emails between January 1st and March 31st, you'd have to wait until September 30th to send another batch of 2,500 emails.

Does the CAN-SPAM Act apply to bloggers/website owners?

No. Bloggers are exempt from the CAN-SPAM Act because they operate independently and generally post content online that isn't intended to solicit sales or advertise goods or services. They aren't running ads on websites or collecting e-mail addresses -- they just like to share interesting stories and opinions. As long as you aren't trying to sell something or offering coupons, you won't run afoul of the CAN-SPAM Act.

Is unsolicited email considered spam?

It depends on whom you ask. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the word "unsolicited" doesn't necessarily mean "unwanted." Instead, it seems that the term refers to emails that were generated without the consent of the recipient. This means that if you send an email to someone asking them for money, you can technically be labeled as a scammer. But if you simply wanted to inform someone of an upcoming event, you wouldn't have violated any laws.

That said, you shouldn't assume that unsolicited email is always good news. If you think you might have gotten in trouble for sending an email, check with a lawyer immediately. Because it's hard to prove intent, it's possible that you could end up being charged with fraud or conspiracy charges related to an alleged scam. These types of crimes carry stiffer sentences than mere violations of the CAN-SPAM Act.

Finally, if you're wondering where you stand legally, here's everything you need to know about the CAN-SPAM Act and its enforcement.

Are there additional laws governing email marketing for small businesses?

There are plenty of state laws that regulate email promotions, especially around consumer privacy issues. Some states require you to obtain express written consent prior to initiating communication with individuals by email. Others prohibit certain kinds of offers, including ones that promise immediate results. Still others make sure that you give customers ample opportunity to cancel their subscriptions easily.

To learn more about the different ways that individual states regulate email marketing, please see our article titled How To Legally Market Your Business Via Email.

Have you ever received an unsolicited email? Did you find the sender guilty of breaking any laws? Share your story in the comments below!

What is the CAN-SPAM Act

The CAN-SPAM act requires anyone who sends marketing e-mails to clearly identify themselves as being associated with their company. This identification can be done through various methods including full name, logo, URL address, phone number, fax number, or even a physical mailing address.

It also prohibits deceptive practices such as false opt-out mechanisms, hidden text boxes, unsubscribe links that are difficult to find, and misleading subject lines.

If you do not comply with these regulations, you could face legal consequences. You may receive fines up to $16,000 per violation if you break one of the main provisions of the act. However, there are some exemptions to most of the laws within the act, so don't worry too much about breaking it.

On the other hand, if you follow all of the guidelines set forth in the act, you won't need to fear legal action against you. For example, if you're using a reputable web hosting provider, they will automatically make sure your site complies with this law. Therefore, you should always check with your host before sending off promotional campaigns.

Who's responsible for complying with the CAN-SPAM Act?

"Sender" means the person or entity that transmits an advertisement or solicitation electronically to a recipient.

"Recipient" means an individual receiving an electronic message.

"Electronic mail transmission" includes transmissions made possible by technology now commonly used for transmitting digital information such as computer networks, data communication systems, telecommunication devices, mobile computing devices, and similar technologies capable of storing, retrieving, processing, communicating, transferring, and displaying digital information and related content.

"Digital information" means data processed by electrical impulses representing sounds, images, characters, graphics, words, phrases, symbols, or other forms of intelligence in a form usable for human perception.

You must include certain disclosures regarding yourself on each piece of correspondence sent to someone else. These disclosures would include things like whether you were paid to send the message, what kind of relationship you had with the recipient, and where the sender got his/her contact information. If you violate this section of the act, you might

If you send unsolicited emails, chances are good that it's illegal and could land you on some sort of watch list with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). But what exactly does that mean? What constitutes "unsolicited" or "junk"? How do you know if you're breaking any rules? And how much time will you spend doing due diligence before launching into a new project?

The CAN-SPAM Act was passed by Congress back in 2000 and has been amended several times since then. It regulates electronic communications, including e-mail, but its impact goes beyond just regulating companies' marketing practices. If you run a small business and plan to make money through direct sales, advertising, promotions, contests, sweepstakes, etc., you need to be aware of this law because there's no doubt that you'll encounter people who may try to sell you something or ask you about their product. You also might want to consider buying products from these vendors yourself - they probably won't mind if you buy directly from them instead of going through online retailers like Amazon.

Here we break down everything you need to know about the CAN-SPAM Act and explain why you should care whether or not you receive unwanted solicitations via email. For more information, check out our article detailing what the CAN-SPAM Act means for marketers.

What is the difference between spam and unsolicited email?

Unsolicited email is defined as email sent without permission of the recipient. In other words, it's when someone sends promotional materials to others without prior request or approval. Spam is another term used to describe unsolicited email, although technically it isn't really a legal definition under US federal law. A person who receives spam is considered a consumer -- so anyone receiving unsolicited email from a company or individual would fall under the jurisdiction of the FTC.

What classifies an email as spam?

There are two types of spam according to the CAN-SPAM Act:

A) Prerecorded Messages / Transactional Email: This type of message includes prerecorded audio/visual material such as greeting cards or video greetings. These messages are often called transactional emails because they contain information regarding a transaction, such as an order confirmation or shipping notice. They don't include links to websites or web pages.

B) Bulk Sender: Any message containing over 200 emails per day. Companies must register with the FTC to become a bulk sender. There's currently only one registered bulk sender which is Direct Mail Network Incorporated (DMN), but there are many smaller entities that are still active.

Spammers create lists of addresses to bombard with mass amounts of email. Some spammers even set up automated systems that automatically send emails to large numbers of contacts at once. Many spammers target specific groups of individuals based on demographics, geographic location, interests, hobbies, jobs titles, religious affiliations, political beliefs, and similar categories. Others focus specifically on collecting contact lists from various sources, especially those obtained through social media sites.

Is junk mail same as spam?

No. Junk mail and spam are completely different things. According to the CAN-SPAM Act, junk mail refers to advertisements sent to consumers who did not sign up to receive them. Spams, on the other hand, refer to messages sent indiscriminately to thousands of people, usually without regard for demographic data or personal preferences.

In general, spamming involves using deceptive techniques to trick internet users into opening and viewing unsolicited messages. Most commonly, spammers send out millions of emails each day looking for computers running Windows XP or older versions of Microsoft Office Outlook 2007. Then they attach malicious software designed to capture passwords, steal files, or gather sensitive information.

But there are plenty of ways to avoid getting caught up in the crosshairs of spammers. Here are three tips to help protect against spam and stay safe while surfing the net:

1. Use reputable domains

Avoid clicking on suspicious links found within email messages. Instead, visit the website directly by typing the address into your browser. Also, pay attention to the URL (the part after “http://”); most legitimate websites begin with “www.” or “https://”. Another way to spot phishing scams is to look for misspellings or grammatical errors. Be wary of unexpected popups, too. Look for a simple warning message stating that the site contains malware instead of having to click through numerous layers of security warnings.

2. Disable cookies

Cookies are little bits of text stored on your computer. When you browse the Web, your browser asks websites where you've previously visited to store cookies. Cookies allow websites to serve content tailored to your needs. However, hackers can use cookies to track your movements across multiple websites, which makes cookie theft difficult to detect. To ensure your safety, disable all third party cookies on your browser.

3. Set strong password policies

Don't give out your login credentials easily. Make sure you regularly change your passwords on important accounts. Don't retype long complex passwords either. Instead write them down somewhere secure, hide the key somewhere else, or use a passphrase that uses upper and lowercase letters, symbols, numbers, and spaces.

For example, here's a short phrase I made up that combines both upper and lower case characters and punctuation marks: "I am a man who loves to eat." That's easy enough to remember and doesn't require me to memorize dozens of unique codes!

What is the difference between email and spam?

Before the CAN-SPAM Act came along, email simply meant something being delivered electronically, and spam referred to unsolicited email. Nowadays, the terms are synonymous, though there are slight differences in definitions. Unsolicited email is the main concern for CAN-SPAM compliance, whereas spam refers to unsolicited email that falls outside of the scope of CAN-SPAM. Although the CAN-SPAM Act requires certain disclosures in every email, it doesn't define spam nor specify how it differs from regular email. Thus, the boundaries remain undefined and subject to interpretation.

According to Section 1.106(d)(4) of the CAN-SPAM Act:

An advertisement shall constitute a prohibited practice if it--

(i) appears to be an offer to supply goods or services;

(ii) solicits financial contributions;

(iii) is false, misleading, or deceptive; or

(iv) misrepresents affiliation or connection with another entity.

So, for instance, if you were selling a book on Amazon and wanted to promote it with an affiliate link, that would fall under the category of a promotion rather than spam. On the other hand, if you were promoting a weight loss supplement, that'd be spam.

Under CAN-SPAM, there are four major violations:

1) Failure to disclose required information clearly and conspicuously in all outgoing electronic mail messages

This requirement covers the disclosure of any relationship between the sender and receiver, as well as the true source of the email. Additionally, the name of whoever paid for the transmission must appear prominently in the header portion of the message.

2) False representation or omission of origin

Any statement claiming that the message comes from a particular organization or individual must accurately reflect the identity of the sender and be displayed plainly and unambiguously.

3) Misrepresentation of the contents

Misleading statements about the nature, characteristics, quantity, quality, or price of goods or services offered must not be included in the body of the communication.

4) Deceptive subjects or offers

Emails can convey false impressions about the subject matter or purpose of the messages, particularly if they suggest special knowledge or expertise.

Is junk mail same as spam?

Yes and No. Yes, because unsolicited email is regulated by the CAN-SPAM Act, but No, because spam is a broader concept that encompasses a wide variety of unsolicited email. As discussed above, spam refers to unsolicited email that falls outside of the scope of CAN-SPAM. So depending upon how you classify unsolicited emails, you may find yourself violating the CAN-SPAM Act, but not necessarily spam laws.

To learn more about the CAN-SPAM Act and other related government regulations, download our guide to email regulation.

The CAN-SPAM Act (Consumer Protection and Email Marketing Act), passed by Congress in 2003, was designed to protect consumers from spam. It also established standards for how companies should communicate with their customers -- including when it's OK to send them emails about products or services they've expressed interest in receiving.

But what does "unsolicited" mean exactly? And is there anything illegal about sending those emails if someone didn't tell me not to?

In this article we'll explain everything you need to know about the CAN-SPAM Act, as well as some specific questions you might have regarding its application to your business' communications practices.

Can I send emails without consent?

If you're using email to market yourself or your company, then yes, technically speaking you can send people any kind of message you want. But according to the CAN-SPAM Act, you must obtain express written consent before doing so. This means you must explicitly say to the person who receives the email whether the communication is acceptable, and give him/her the opportunity to reject it.

Under the CAN-SPAM Act, all commercial email sent through servers operated on behalf of a business has to include two key pieces of information. First, the sender must clearly identify himself or herself as being associated with the business at issue, which may be accomplished via a return address like Second, the recipient must receive a clear notice informing her that she's receiving an email from an organization whose identity she's already known.

That second part is important because the CAN-SPAM Act says that anyone who sends an email to an individual he doesn't know represents "the transmission of an electronic mail message." That includes both businesses and individuals. So even if you don't personally know every single person who ever opens an email you send, you still have to make sure they understand that you're trying to reach them.

For example, let's say you set up a website where you sell books online. You'd obviously never intentionally try to contact people who aren't interested in buying books. However, if you were selling other things that would appeal to a wide range of potential buyers, such as electronics, clothing, gardening tools, etc., you wouldn't necessarily know beforehand whether each of these potential customers wanted to hear from you. In fact, many people probably won't care one way or another until after they've made a purchase decision.

So just to avoid confusion, you could always add something like, "We hope you enjoy our products! If you decide to buy, please click here," into the footer section of your site. Then, whenever someone clicks on that link, you'll know for certain that they gave you permission to send them more information.

How do I ask for permission to send an email?

There are several ways you can go about asking for permission to send someone an email. Some require additional steps beyond simply adding a line to the bottom of your message telling them you're going to start contacting them again. For instance, you might offer a free gift worth $10 or less with a limited number of entries available in order to encourage participation. Another option is to provide a special discount code that only works when someone provides his/her name and email address.

But regardless of how you approach getting consent, it's best practice to put it somewhere obvious within your first few sentences of the email. Here are three examples of good places to insert the request:

1) At the end of the body, near the signature.

2) After thanking the customer for taking time out of his day to visit your website.

3) As soon as possible in the opening paragraph.

Of course, you will likely find different approaches work better than others depending on the circumstances. Just remember that whatever method you choose, you absolutely must follow through. Otherwise, you risk violating the CAN-SPAM Act.

What are the requirements of sending an email?

To comply with the CAN-SPAM Act, you should consider four basic components to every email you send:

Identification - Every email must contain a valid return address, preferably your own personal one. A valid return address allows recipients to easily recognize you as the author of the email. While most webmail providers allow users to create multiple accounts under a single domain name, it's generally considered bad form to do so unless you're specifically targeting a large audience. There are exceptions to this rule, but it's a good idea to stay away from creating dozens of fake addresses.

Notice - Anybody who receives an email from you must immediately see the following statement printed prominently above the subject heading: "This e‑mail is intended solely for the designated recipient(s)." Be aware that "designated recipient(s)" refers to whoever actually opened the email.

Consent - The sender must obtain explicit consent prior to initiating contact with a consumer. To accomplish this, the sender must either present the consumer with a written notification containing specified information or a prerecorded audio recording that explains all relevant facts.

Errors & Omissions - Your email must meet certain technical specifications to qualify as compliant with the law. These include having no more than 50 characters per line, no more than 12 lines total, and a maximum file size of 10MB. Also keep in mind that you cannot use images in your emails, so text alone is required.

Doesn't sound too difficult, does it? Well, unfortunately many commercial email service providers fail to abide by the CAN-SPAM Act, often putting the burden of compliance entirely upon small business owners. Many ISPs refuse to take action against spammers, claiming that they don't violate federal law since they're merely exercising their rights granted to them by the U.S. Constitution. But if you want to avoid legal issues altogether, you should check out our guide to avoiding spam complaints.

It depends on what you mean by "email marketing." According to the CAN-SPAM Act, "electronic mail promoting the sale of goods or services" requires written authorization before the sender contacts a consumer. What constitutes a promotion, however, isn't defined very precisely. Most experts agree that if you're offering any sort of incentive to opt-in to your list -- such as a prize drawing or coupon -- then you need the subscriber's approval.

However, in cases where the cost of entry is minimal -- typically less than $20 -- or the benefit offered is purely informational, chances are that you don't need to seek permission to continue communicating with your subscribers.

Also note that while the CAN-SPAM Act covers virtually every type of email imaginable, it only applies to direct marketing campaigns conducted through commercial email systems. So if you operate an Internet forum, blog, social network, or similar platform to share news and opinions with friends and family, you're exempt from complying with the law.

And finally, it's important to point out that the CAN-SPAM Act doesn't apply to noncommercial email. So if you're running a nonprofit group, political campaign, or religious ministry, you're completely off the hook for abiding by its strictures. In addition, there's nothing wrong with soliciting donations over email, so long as you disclose that you're collecting money on behalf of a charitable cause.

Want to learn more about the CAN-SPAM Act and related topics? Check out these articles below:

What Is Spamming and Why Does My Business Have to Get Rid Of It?  [NO LONGER WORKS]

Why Are There No Laws Against Spam Advertising? [Broken URL Removed]

Are Unscrupulous Emails Actually Illegal Under Federal Law?



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