This small selection of CAN-SPAM law suits shows that noone is immune to prosecution should the spotlight fall on them. If big brands with their large marketing departments can fall afoul of the law, what hope is there for sales teams who have none of the CAN-SPAM ready tools their marketing counterparts have?
Also, don’t be lulled into thinking only the FTC can prosecute, and that they only go after big brands and intentional offenders. This is not the case at all. Actually any business, group or individual can take legal action against spammers and they do. For example this lawyer and anti-SPAM activist, one of hundreds who specialize in SPAM litigation, claims more than 50 cases awarded judgement against spammers, ranging from a few hundreds dollars to hundreds of thousands in settlements.
Microsoft ($7M Judgement), AOL, Earthlink ($16M judgement) and many others including Facebook ($873M judgement) and MySpace ($235M judgement), have also filed separate law suits of their own against dozens of different spammers, with some success. In these cases, the SPAM campaign targeted their customers (e.g. Hotmail users or Facebook users) and/or was launched using compromised email or social media accounts.
According to the FTC’s June 2016 complaint, the defendants paid affiliate marketers to send consumers millions of illegal spam emails from hacked email accounts, making it appear that the messages came from the consumers’ family members, friends, or other contacts. Links in those email messages led to websites deceptively promoting the defendants’ unproven weight-loss products.
Takeaway: Masquerading as a someone else is illegal
The FTC charged that they sent deceptive emails in advance of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) roll-out, falsely claiming that consumers would be violating the law if they did not immediately click a link to enroll in health insurance. They also alleged that the emails failed to provide a mechanism to opt-out or a valid physical postal address.
Takeaway: Sending emails with deliberately misleading information is illegal.
CAN-SPAM Violation: ValueClick fined $2.9 million
The FTC charged ValueClick subsidiary Hi-Speed Media with using deceptive emails claiming that consumers were eligible for ‘free’ gifts, including laptops, iPods, and high-value gift cards…”. Consumers lured to ValueClick’s Web sites by these promises were led through a maze of expensive and burdensome third-party offers which they were required to “participate in” in order to receive the promised “free” merchandise.
Takeaway: Onerous conditions to realize a “free” offer are illegal.
CAN-SPAM Violation: Kodak Imaging Network fined $32,000
The FTC claimed they failed to offer an opt-out method or honor consumers’ right to opt out within 10 days of making the request. One marketer also failed to include a valid postal address. Kodak argued it was a mistake where someone sent a campaign prematurely before it was ready.
Takeaway: Ignorance or negligence is no excuse for non-compliance.
CAN-SPAM Violation: YesMail Inc. fined $50,717
The FTC alleged that Yesmail’s spam filtering software blocked some unsubscribe requests in the form of an “unsubscribe me” reply. This meant Yesmail failed to honor some unsubscribe requests and continued mailing opted out recipients more than 10 days after their requests.
Takeaway: Using reply-to is not a foolproof. An opt-out link is best.
CAN-SPAM Violation: Jumpstart Technologies fined $900,000
“These defendants intentionally used personal messages as a cover-up for commercial messages,” said Lydia Parnes, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Deceptive subject lines and headers not only violate the CAN-SPAM Act, but also consumer trust.”
Takeaway: Misleading subject lines and sender information is illegal.
CAN-SPAM Violation: Optin Global Inc. fined $475,000
After receiving 1.8 million of the defendants messages from consumers, the FTC charged that the defendants e-mail contained false or forged header information; included deceptive subject headings; failed to identify e-mail as advertisements or solicitations; failed to notify consumers they had a right to opt out of receiving more e-mail; failed to provide an opt-out mechanism; failed to include a valid physical postal address. In short they violated almost every provision of the CAN-SPAM Act.
Takeaway: You are responsible for affiliates sending email in your name.
CAN-SPAM Violation: Trancos, Inc. fined $87,000
Trancos sent email campaigns identifying the sender as various nonexistent organizations, including Paid Survey, Your Business, Christian Dating, Your Promotion, Bank Wire Transfer Available, Dating Generic, and Join Elite. The court awarded the individual plaintiff $7,000 in damages and more than $80,000 in attorney fees.
Takeaway: Falsifying sender or header information is illegal.
The FTC said that individual officers of a company can be liable if they participate directly in the spamming or if they knew or should have known about the deceptive practices. The FTC charged that the defendants’ spam messages deceptively marketed a male-enhancement pill, prescription drugs, and a weight-loss pill in violation of federal law.
Takeaway: Officers of a company may be liable for spam violations.
FTC Charged that emails contained false originating email addresses, and failed to provide clear and conspicuous notice of the opportunity to decline to receive further spam from the sender, and/or a functioning return e-mail address, and the senders’ valid physical postal address.
Takeaway: Pretending to be sender that doesn’t exist is illegal
Not just email, SMS too
SPAM laws are not limited to email. In recent years there has been a growing incidence of SMS Spam. Here are a few examples SMS SPAM cases. Once again lots of household names caught in the act!
SPAM Laws and History
This reference list the applicable SPAM laws in different countries around the world. Unfortunately, it pre-dates GDPR, but it’s still useful. If you’re still reading… here’s an amusing account of the history of SPAM.