Unsolicited email advertising -- SPAM -- has emerged as one of the top concerns of consumers in Texas, throughout the US and over the entire World Wide Web. Unwanted emails clutter mailboxes and can deliver viruses and worms.
At best,consumers are harried by straightforward but intrusive attempts to sell real services and products. But more often than not, consumers are tempted by shady and deceptive offers that are too often outright scams or frauds. Worse, consumers are repeatedly baited by increasingly sophisticated tricks designed to steal personal financial information.
There is also a significant portion of spam received by consumers that is adult in nature, raising concerns for parents about the appropriateness of material that their children might be exposed to.
Our office hears from consumers every day asking:
The short answer is that this agency's Consumer Protection and Public Health Division is making every effort to address the issue of unsolicited email. However:
The bottom line? However determined and successful the efforts of state and federal enforcement authorities, consumers looking for relief from spam will have to make it a priority to protect their email accounts. Just as you lock the doors and windows of your house at night, you should take steps to protect yourself from incoming email advertisements.
You can take steps to reduce and manage the flow of unwanted email into your mailbox. If your current email address is receiving an extremely large volume of spam, you are already on a number of active mailing lists. You are probably being spammed from all over the world. You might want to weigh the benefits of closing your account altogether and starting over with a new one, which you can then protect. Although it is inconvenient to change your email address, wading through a large volume of unsolicited mail is time-consuming, too, and no authority in the world today is in a position to stop all the spammers who may be targeting you once your email address is in wide circulation.
Work with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to take advantage of all the filters, blocks and other junk mail management techniques they have to offer. Familiarize yourself with the different levels of security available to you. ISPs are under considerable pressure from their own customers to reduce the influx of bulk mail. Most offer information, guidelines, and services to reduce spam. Shop around. Some providers do a better job than others at protecting their customers from spam.
Use the "remove" feature with great caution. A reputable business concerned about customer relations will likely honor your request to be removed from their list. Unscrupulous spammers, however, may use the remove feature to identify active mailboxes, and you may be inviting more, not less, spam.
You can also remove your email address from some national direct email lists, by visiting www.dmachoice.org.
The Office of the Attorney General is dedicated to educating consumers about Internet fraud. If you once fall prey to some of the dangerous schemes circulating on the Internet today, the damage can be devastating, and the chances that the perpetrator will be caught or your money recovered are, frankly, quite slim. Many of the most vicious schemes originate in foreign coountries, where even our federal government is challenged to investigate or prosecute. Governments of other countries do actively cooperate to identify and apprehend perpetrators of foreign lotteries and Nigerian advance fee frauds. But our most effective weapon against these criminals is to educate consumers.
A federal law, the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, was passed in 2004 in order to address the problem of spam. The CAN-SPAM Act gives the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) authority to enforce its provisions and pursue penalties for violations, and also authorizes this office to enforce certain provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act.
Like the Texas anti-spam law, the federal law does not make spam illegal. Rather, it sets certain standards for email marketers to follow. Unfortunately, it also supersedes certain portions of the Texas law and is in some ways less stringent.
Under the CAN-SPAM Act, unsolicited email advertisements must have a functioning return email address, the legitimate physical address of the mailer, and a way for people to opt-out of future mailings. The Act also prohibits deceptive subject lines and false or misleading header information. The Act also requires that commerical emails be identified as advertisements. The CAN-SPAM act also has enhanced penalties for certain unscrupulous conduct such as "harvesting" email addresses from Web sites, generating email addresses using "dictionary attacks," using automated means to register multiple email accounts from which to send spam, and relaying emails through a computer or network without permission.
The Act also allows the Department of Justice to seek criminal penalties, including imprisonment, against commercial emailers who engage in certain misconduct. For example, sending spam with false header information, using a computer to relay or retransmit multiple commercial messages to deceive or mislead the recipient about the origin of the message, registering for multiple email accounts or domain names using false information can all subject a person to criminal prosecution. It is also a criminal offense to send spam containing sexually oriented material that is not properly identified as "SEXUALLY EXPLICIT" in the subject line.
It is a violation of Texas law if the subject line of the email is misleading about the content.
The Federal Trade Commission also investigates complaints about spam email. You can forward spam directly to the commission at email@example.com. If you want to file a complaint about a specific company that sent you an unsolicited commercial email, visit the 'File A Complaint Online' section of the FTC Web site.
This office also accepts consumer complaints about violations of the Texas anti-spam law. However, we have access to the Federal Trade Commission's database of complaints so it is not necessary for you to forward all of your spam to us.
The Office of the Attorney General cannot prevent you from receiving unsolicited email advertisements, nor can we intervene on behalf of any private individual who is being spammed. We can however, take legal action against flagrant offenders whose spamming affects large numbers of consumers.
For assistance with your own mailbox, contact your internet service provider. Read the tips for protecting your mailbox above. Educate yourself about common internet frauds and scams.