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What are the penalties of violating the CAN-SPAM act?

The CAN-SPAM act was enacted to stop the sending of the dreaded email spam. When using an email service provider, like VerticalResponse, you'll usually have guidance on what you can and can't do within the law. But if you break the law, there can be some pretty costly consequences.

Every email that breaks the the law can cause penalties of up to $16,000. The CAN-SPAM Act also has other violations that may cause even more fines. According to the FTC website, the law provides for criminal penalties (including imprisonment) for:

  • Accessing someone else’s computer to send spam without permission.
  • Using false information to register for multiple email accounts or domain names.
  • Relaying or retransmitting multiple spam messages through a computer to mislead others about the origin of the message.
  • Harvesting email addresses or generating them through a dictionary attack (the practice of sending email to addresses made up of random letters and numbers in the hope of reaching valid ones).
  • Taking advantage of open relays or open proxies without permission.
The best thing you can do is make sure your email is in compliance. How? Here's a list of what CAN-SPAM requires,right from the FTC. For more help, check out our guide, The Ultimate Guide to Email Delivery.

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information. Your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information – including the originating domain name and email address – must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message.
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines. The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message.
  3. Identify the message as an ad. The law gives you a lot of leeway in how to do this, but you must disclose clearly and conspicuously that your message is an advertisement.
  4. Tell recipients where you’re located. Your message must include your valid physical postal address. This can be your current street address, a post office box you’ve registered with the U.S. Postal Service, or a private mailbox you’ve registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.
  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you. Your message must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future. Craft the notice in a way that’s easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read, and understand. Creative use of type size, color, and location can improve clarity. Give a return email address or another easy Internet-based way to allow people to communicate their choice to you. You may create a menu to allow a recipient to opt out of certain types of messages, but you must include the option to stop all commercial messages from you. Make sure your spam filter doesn’t block these opt-out requests.
  6. Honor opt-out requests promptly. Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send your message. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days. You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to give you any personally identifying information beyond an email address, or make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single page on an Internet website as a condition for honoring an opt-out request. Once people have told you they don’t want to receive more messages from you, you can’t sell or transfer their email addresses, even in the form of a mailing list. The only exception is that you may transfer the addresses to a company you’ve hired to help you comply with the CAN-SPAM Act.
  7. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf. The law makes clear that even if you hire another company to handle your email marketing, you can’t contract away your legal responsibility to comply with the law. Both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that actually sends the message may be held legally responsible.



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