can-spam penalties

CAN-SPAM Penalties: Everything You Need to Know

Ignorance of the law excuses nobody. Making law compliance an important factor for any business to thrive and succeed, more so if they’re utilizing a commercial message for their marketing efforts. But what’s the significance of the CAN-SPAM Act to your emails? Why should marketers and organizations comply with it? And why is it necessary to comply in the first place?

In this article, we’ll talk about the examples of penalties that violators will face for non-compliance, share valuable insights applicable today, and answer a few important questions surrounding the topic. Read on.

What is a CAN-SPAM penalty?

Just to give a brief background about the subset law, the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 is an act that reinforces strict guidelines for thoughtful and ethical email communications, ensuring that the recipients have control and safety over the commercial messages they receive. CAN-SPAM Act compliance encompasses transparency and disclosure of senders’ information in formats such as marketing emails and forms of commercial advertisement.

All penalties imposed on “senders” for violating the regulations are outlined in the CAN-SPAM Act. It encompasses civil fines, criminal charges, legal repercussions, and long-term reputational damage. The Federal Trade Commission, a commercial mail-receiving agency, also imposes a hefty fine for violators to compensate for the financial and time loss of victims of fraudulent marketing emails and tactics.

Let’s take a closer look at what happens when we fail to adhere to the CAN-SPAM Act, they’re as follows:

Civil Penalties

Civil penalties serve as a “quick fix” for non-criminal violations of laws or regulations. These penalties are commonly addressed through fines or settlements as an immediate remedy for the damages caused. These penalties are disciplinary measures to discourage non-compliance and reinforce accountability for unlawful email practices.

The importance of civil penalties lies in their capacity to enforce consequences, discourage recurring offenses, and protect consumers against deceptive or fraudulent email communications.

Sample scenarios of civil penalties

Example 1: A small online retailer, namely ANNA SMALL SHOP, was fined $47,898 by the FTC for sending promotional emails without an opt-out function for their subscribers. Even after receiving countless complaints every single day for months, ANNA SMALL SHOP persisted in its email campaigns.

Example 2. Pedro, a digital marketer, was penalized $28,000 after being found guilty of using a misleading subject line in his email campaigns. Consistently, Pedro’s emails promised “exclusive deals” and “limited-time offers” to his subscribers in the subject line when his emails are mostly about irrelevant content and unrelated products which leads to confusion and frustration among recipients.

Criminal Penalties

email criminal

Criminal penalties lean towards more serious violations of the CAN-SPAM Act. These penalties are punishable with criminal charges like damage compensation, and imprisonment in cases involving fraudulent or malicious spam activities.

Sample scenarios of criminal penalties

Here are some sample scenarios showing criminal penalties under CAN-SPAM compliance.

Email hacking. Illegal access of a market to the recipients’ emails with no consent to send marketing emails, spam, and promote fraud.

Example: Linda receives an email from one of her go-to retailers asking her to confirm her orders by clicking on a link. However, it’s not the seller but an opportunistic hacker. Linda’s typically careful with hackers, but this time she forgot to check twice since it was someone she thought she knew. The hacker then took her personal information to pose as her to send out fraudulent emails.

Identity theft. Exploitation and assumption of the identity of unsuspecting individuals to do spam emails behind the identity of others.

Example: Janne receives an email from her “bank”, asking her to verify her account details by clicking on a random link. When Janne clicks the link and enters her personal information, the scammer steals her identity to commit fraudulent transactions.

Phishing scams. These are direct attacks used by hackers to steal unsuspecting user data, including login credentials and credit card numbers.

Example: Hackers, who obtained Jared’s information from a data breach, send him an email offering discounts on craft beers from an online liquor store. Jared clicks the link, leading him to a fake website, where he unknowingly enters his payment details.

Private Lawsuits and State Enforcement

Refers to the penalties enforcement by state-level bodies or attorneys with the CAN-SPAM Act, providing further deterrence against unlawful email practices.

This penalty allowed affected individuals by fraudulent emails to file private lawsuits to seek accountability and compensation from fraudulent spammers. Commonly, lawsuits result in more penalties and potentially add to the financial and legal consequences faced by violators.

Sample scenarios of private lawsuits and state enforcement penalties

Here are some sample scenarios showing private lawsuits and state enforcement penalties under the CAN-SPAM Act.

State Attorney General Enforcement

State Attorney General Enforcement is the power and duty of governing state-level body, or a state attorney general, to implement and reinforce the laws within their state.

Example: A local business sends out deceptive spam emails to subscribers within a particular state, violating the CAN-SPAM Act. Eventually, the complaints from residents regarding this electronic mail message reached the office of the state attorney general.

The state attorney general investigated the growing concern and initiated legal action against the business for violating state and federal spam laws. As punishment, the spammer was subjected to civil penalties.

Private Lawsuits for Damages

Private Lawsuits for Damages are legal steps taken by individuals seeking compensation and damage control that lead to harm or losses due to the actions or negligence of another party.

Example: Karen receives a random email from an online shop promoting their products. The emails have enticing claims and information, which made Karen think that those products would help her too—so she went for it. Sadly, her purchase and use of their products resulted in a health hazard as all the claims and information in their promotional email were fake.

She reported the online shop’s internet website to the authorities, making sure to make the company accountable for the damages due to their unethical way of marketing their products. Karen also demanded compensation in a private lawsuit.

Class Action Lawsuits are lawsuits where a group of people, also known as the plaintiffs, agree to sue a fraud at the same time collectively.

Example: 54 customers received spam emails from an online retailer about their products that had exaggerated claims and fake discounts. All 54 customers were victims. The fraudulent retailer used emails to deceive consumers into making purchases based on false information.

Note: In the US, independent internet service providers can directly sue spammers.

Redress for Consumers

Section 19 of the FTC Act says victims of fraudulent emails may seek redress or compensation for damages inflicted by the regulations violators. This provision helps consumers recover victims’ actual losses incurred as a direct result of the violations and the value of their invaluable lost time.

Sample scenarios of redress for consumer

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Here are some sample scenarios illustrating redress for consumers under the CAN-SPAM Act:

Financial Compensation for Actual Losses

There’s a section in the FTC regulation that says victims of phishing scams can seek financial compensation or reimbursement from the company that scammed them. This is to recover any losses caused by the scam that occurred.

Warning and Cease-and-Desist Orders

Businesses that are persistent in sending unsolicited commercial emails, despite the angry customers repeatedly opting out of the mailing list, will face penalties. The regulatory authorities may carry out authorized warnings or cease-and-desist orders against the company to stop the fraudulent emails from coming or completely shut down their business operations altogether.

Additional tips to help marketers maintain email compliance and avoid penalties:

  • Be consistent in updating your knowledge about CAN-SPAM Act requirements and guidelines and best marketing practices to remain compliant.

  • Always ASK for consent from your leads before sending commercial emails. Don’t forget to give them clear instructions on how to deal with your content. Make your opting-out process prompt and convenient.

  • As a sender, ensure that your emails accurately identify the sender and indicate your updated contact information, including a physical and postal address, if any.

  • Perform regular audits of your email marketing practices. Do a breakdown every once in a while to identify the aspects of your email marketing strategy that need more attention, and if any potential compliance issues should be addressed or if there’s any room for your compliance to improve.

Read the next blog: CAN-SPAM: Understanding the Requirements and How To Avoid Penalties for Non-Compliance

Frequently Asked Questions about CAN-SPAM Penalization

email gmail

Here are five recurring questions to get a better understanding of email compliance:

How much is the civil fine for sending spam emails?

You can get fined for a few hundred dollars up to $51,744 for sending spam emails. Although the situation may vary whether or not redress or lawsuits apply to your case—and if the recipients will push through the penalizations.

What is the most common CAN-SPAM violation?

It depends, and we think there’s no singular answer to this question—but we know a few. Namely, deceptive subject lines, missing opt-out requests buttons, and fake sender addresses.

Is it okay to just ignore the CAN-SPAM complaint?

No. Because if you do, you’ll have to scroll through complaints after complaints about your emails. The FTC will come after you to investigate and potentially fine you, or worse file a cease-and-desist order. Ensure that you’re updated and implementing only the best email practices to stay compliant. If any complaints pop up, take them seriously, and address them promptly. Rinse and repeat.

What if I’m just sending spam emails to friends and family?

The CAN-SPAM Act applies to all commercial emails, so the law also applies even if you’re only reaching out to loved ones. As long as you’re sending emails with a marketing email and promoting a product or service, you need to follow the rules to avoid any legal trouble.

I want to learn more about email compliance. Where do I go?

For consultation, you can rely on UnsubCentral. We’ll gladly help you answer all of your questions and explain everything you need to know about email compliance. For self-research, You can also visit FTC’s official website. Their website offers a wealth of information, including a comprehensive compliance guide.

Final thoughts

Building a good reputation through email marketing takes time and effort, BUT with bad email practices, it can crumble in a matter of just a few clicks. Right now, CAN-SPAM is a significant factor for all marketing efforts because it serves as the clear guidelines for commercial email communications to prevent online exploitation, which helps ensure transparency, honesty, and respect for recipients.

Marketers should learn to respect the preferences of their subscribers by following the CAN-SPAM rules: offer a prompt way to opt out, avoid any misleading tricks, and do not send spam emails. Think of it as building trust instead of burning bridges. Remember, a happy recipient is a loyal customer, and a loyal customer is worth more than any quick win. Plus, they’ll come back if they trust your offer if they’ll ever need it.


  • Sticking to the CAN-SPAM compliance act for email will do you so much good along the way

  • The CAN-SPAM email marketing act is important for all businesses to avoid penalties, maintain trust, and protect their reputation

  • Ethical and transparent email practices foster recipient trust and enhance marketing effectiveness

  • Never forget to add a clear and prompt opt-out mechanism for opt-out request to your emails

  • Staying informed about CAN-SPAM updates and privacy laws is vital to navigating regulatory changes

  • Respect for recipients’ preferences and don’t pin them down if they want to opt-out

  • Protection of their interests should serve as a guide for email marketing strategies.

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