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What Can You Do About Spam Email Abuse?

Attorney Myers: I receive tons of junk email spam, so much that it makes it hard for me to sort through and find the important messages that I want to read from my friends and family among all of the junk. Isn’t there a law?

What can you do about Spam Email Abuse
Spam Email Abuse

Yes, there’s a law. The question is whether it’s ever enforced. In 2003, Congress passed the “CAN-SPAM” Act aimed at punishing individuals and companies that send out those annoying unwanted mass emails. The acronym stands for “Controlling the Assault of Non Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act.”

Under the law, spammers must conspicuously identify their messages as an advertisement or solicitation. They must include their actual physical postal address. The law requires advertisers to provide their own return email address, not that of any third party spamming company they hired. And, the subject line cannot be misleading.

Does the Law Cover SPAM Opt-Out?

Finally, all spam must include an opt out mechanism. Somewhere in the message there must be a way for you to notify the spammer that you desire no further email from that source. Once you click the opt-out notice button, the spammer has 10 days to stop the barrage. The company that sent the offending message must be able to process opt-outs for 30 days after it sends out the messages.

Each violation of the above provisions is subject to fines of up to $16,000. However, if there has ever been a single successful prosecution under this law, I’m not aware of it as of this writing.

Are Personal Settings Better Than Congressional Action?

Computer consultants have better advice for dealing with annoying spam. Your email program has privacy settings that allow you to filter out spam. It screens out emails that are sent to you as part of multiple emailings. Just be sure that you do not also block little Johnny’s Boy Scout troop or any other organization you may belong to that sends simultaneous mailings to notify members of snow cancellations and other important matters. Avoid that problem by adding email addresses to your electronic address book of all club members who send out such notices.

In 2008 Congress amended the CAN-SPAM law, which can be found at 15 U.S.C. 7701. Under the changes, spammers may not charge you for opting out and they may not require any information about you other than your email address. Finally, they may not make you take any steps other than sending a reply email or visiting a single web page in order to opt out.

Is Email The New Wasteland?

In the 1960’s the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission called the then growing TV industry a “vast wasteland”. That criticism pales compared to the stuff flying around the internet from spammers.

Adapted from an article © 2012 Eagle Tribune Corporation. Originally appeared in Derry News ABOUT THE LAW column.


Attorney Andrew D. Myers is a personal injury and bankruptcy attorney practicing in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He blogs on legal topics of interest and welcomes questions. Click Here.

4 thoughts on “What Can You Do About Spam Email Abuse?”

    1. Well, Perry, please update me on your progress. My problem is spammers who do not follow the law by allowing an opt-out, spammers who use one address to send and do not provide a return email, and spammers who are located in some distant jurisdiction.

  1. I’m not saying that it would be easy. But if you live in the same country, have more than one email address, and the spammer violates the law, it should be easy to prove that: (1) Their business is based on spamming and (2) They violate the law by not removing you per the CAN-SPAM Act.
    If a spammer is constantly getting new addresses, of which more than one belongs to you, I believe the act of hacking or selling of email addresses would be involved, which becomes a felony offense per hack per 18 U.S.C. § 1030(e)(2).

    tl;dr- No one operating a business based on spam should be allowed to remain in business.

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Attorney Myers is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association, Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers, and New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association. The Law Offices of Andrew D. Myers offer a broad range of legal services in personal injury cases in Massachusetts (MA) and New Hampshire (NH) areas.

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