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How to Stop Spam – The First Step

by Dave on June 6, 2010

This post is the first in a series about how to stop spam.can of spam

There’s no denying that e-mail spam has grown to be a huge problem and a serious threat. It seems spam is completely out of control. So what’s being done to get a handle on it? What can you do to limit the spam you receive?

The first step in stopping spam is to understand exactly what spam is.

Most people would say spam is “e-mail I don’t want.” But there are some problems with that definition. First it’s not the legal definition. Second, that definition makes Aunt Betty a spammer when she forwards yet another chain e-mail about cute kittens or “you must send this to 15 others to insure world peace.”

Let’s start with the legal definition of spam. In 2003 the U.S. government and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) created the CAN-SPAM Act, also known as the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act.  At that time spam made up about half (50%) of all e-mail sent. Today it’s estimated that 90%-95% of e-mail is spam. I saw one estimate of the volume of spam put at 17 billion, yes billion, PER DAY! That’s unbelievable.

According to the FTC, “…the CAN-SPAM Act doesn’t apply just to bulk email. It covers all commercial email…” It also “…makes no exception for business-to-business email. That means all email – for example, a message to former customers announcing a new product line – must comply with the law.” Aunt Betty’s e-mails aren’t spam because they’re not commercial. But her e-mails are still a problem and a potential threat. More on that in another post.

According to this FTC page all commercial e-mail, including bulk e-mail, must comply with the law in 7 areas:

1) The company cannot use false or misleading header information. The “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) They cannot use deceptive subject lines. The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message.

3) They must identify the message as an ad. The law gives them some leeway here, but the notice must be clear and conspicuous.

4) They must tell you where they’re located. The message must include a valid physical postal address, whether it’s a street address, a post office box or a private mailbox with a commercial company.

5) They must explain how to opt out of receiving future email. Again, it must be clear and conspicuous and “…easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read, and understand.”

6) They must honor opt-out requests promptly. In this case promptly means within 10 business days. Several other conditions apply including one that says the business can’t sell or transfer your email addresses, even in the form of a mailing list.

7) They must monitor what others are doing on their behalf. That means if they hire another company to handle their email marketing, the original company is still responsible for complying with the law. If there are problems both companies may be held legally responsible.

This law means that commercial or business bulk e-mail is not spam, unless it violates the rules above. Legitimate businesses will comply with the above rules. Those that don’t are sending spam and are illegal.

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