Like you, I get a lot of marketing emails. Some are great—promotions from companies I like or newsletters from colleagues. But I also get a lot of straight-up spam. Gil Gerretsen of BizTrek shared a spam horror story online recently, and it seems like more and more companies are sending out junk. 

The senders of these annoying emails obviously don’t understand the CAN-SPAM Act, which, in fairness, I can be difficult to interpret since it’s written in legalese.  But it’s Federal law. And the penalties are severe. Violators can be fined up to $300 per email if they’re convicted of breaking the law, and they could be sent to jail, since the Act has criminal penalties for violators.

I came across an article from Infront Webworks that offers a great, plain-English explanation of the CAN-SPAM Act and some pointers for people sending marketing emails. Here’s what to avoid:

  • Adding people to your list who haven’t specifically told you they want your emails. People can sign up for your emails in many ways, including subscribing via form on your website, giving your their contact info on a sheet that says “Join Our Mailing List” at a trade show, telling you verbally that they want to join, or by being a customer (purchasing something from you in the last two years).
  • Making it difficult for people to unsubscribe. The law stipulates that you must have an unsubscribe link on each email you send. It can be at the top, bottom, or wherever you like, but it needs to be visible and it needs to be easy to use. 
  • Hiding your location. The CAN-SPAM Act requires senders to include their address in every email sent.
  • Continuing to email people who have unsubscribed. If someone unsubscribes, you aren’t allowed to email them again, unless they sign up again. You do have 10 days to get the person off your list, but if you email them again after the 10-day limit, you’re in violation. 
  • Buying email lists. Yes, there are lists for sale out there. But unless you call each person on the list and get their verbal agreement to receive your emails, you can’t email them. The only exception is a list is coming from a partner company who made it clear in their opt-in that subscribers were agreeing to receive email from you when signing up.  

Spam is annoying, and it’s hard to believe anyone still thinks it’s effective. If you’re dealing with unwanted, unsolicited emails, you can report them at