The CAN-SPAM Act and Your Email

The CAN-SPAM Act, otherwise known as the Controlling the Assault of Non-solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, was passed by President George W. Bush in December of 2003. The Act, which became effective January 1st, 2004, is currently enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a national agency that overlooks issues of broadband, media and public safety. Although individual states have passed laws protecting users from receiving unsolicited emails, CAN-SPAM was the first federal law that mandated national protection laws regarding the emailing of spam material.

Spam accounts for 14.5 billion messages globally per day, with the United States being the largest generator of spam emails. Researchers have found that spam accounts for 63 percent of all emails, with about 36 percent of these emails being advertisements and 31.7 percent adult material. Surprisingly most spam emails are sent by pharmaceutical companies, with an astonishing 55.35 percent of all spam emails in the United States related to pharmaceutical businesses. About 13 percent of spam consists of malware links, while identity theft accounts for a minor percent of these emails, at about 0.77 percent.

In order to protect users from unwanted email and identity theft, both federal and state laws have been passed to keep users’ personal information private from companies that send spam materials to consumers. While the federally mandated CAN-SPAM Act was passed in order to help users avoid a large volume of spam emails, many users have also nicknamed the law the “You-Can-Spam” act, as it allows certain types of spam emails to be sent, overriding more substantial and strict state laws that better protect users.


Provisions and Penalties of CAN-SPAM

The following are the main provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act, followed by the penalties arising from violating these provisions:

  • No individual or company can use another computer without authorization.
  • No individual or company can falsify header information in order to lure users to read an email.
  • No individual or company can use deceptive subject lines.
  • You cannot use another person’s computer without permission and send commercial emails on it.
  • You cannot register multiple email accounts or domain names which falsify the real identity of the registrant.
  • You cannot falsely represent yourself as the owner of Internet protocol addresses used to send commercial emails.
  • For every violation of the Act, individuals or companies can be charged up to $11,000. Additional fines may be added if other spam-related acts are committed, including “harvesting” email addresses from other websites and relaying emails through a computer or network without permission.


Safety Checklist

Users can protect themselves from receiving spam emails by practicing some simple safety measures, as articulated in the following checklist:

  • If you do not recognize the sender of the email, do not open the email.
  • Guard yourself from emails that ask you for personal information, such as your social security number or bank account number. No legitimate company will ask you for personal information over email.
  • Watch out for spelling mistakes and typos, as spam emails often include grammar mistakes.
  • For users of Outlook and Outlook Express, Cloudmark DesktopOne has been highly recommended by industry experts, as it is one of the best spam filters currently in the market. Spamfighter supports POP3mail and has also been highly recommended.
  • Users who continuously receive unwanted spam from the same source can file their complaints with the FCC.
  • All companies sending unsolicited emails must give users the choice to unsubscribe. In most cases, users can find “to unsubscribe” disclaimers at the very bottom of the email. When they click on the link, a window should pop up to state that the user is now unsubscribed.


Authoritative Resources

If you are interested in researching other ways to protect yourself from spam, as well as receiving updates on the best in current anti-spam software, here is a short list of reliable sources you can use:

  • Mollom: Mollum is a web service that helps users eliminate spam emails by analyzing the type and quality of content being sent.
  • Spamcop allows users to report spam, filter email, block emails from past spam sources and read the most current spam statistics.
  • Spamwars: Spamwars is a blog that includes posts and updates on recent spam schemes and also provides links to tools that protect users from viruses and phishing.