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A Dispatch

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March 31, 2005

CAN-SPAM Helps Promote the Lies

There are tons of "email marketers" out there (who produce megatons of spam), and I'm convinced that most of them believe in their hearts that they're doing nothing wrong because they adhere to the U.S. CAN-SPAM law. But when they start lying in their spammy pitches, they don't deserve even the support of the Direct Marketing Association.

Case in point...

I was scanning through a few days' accumulation of spam suspects that had collected on my server. These messages are contained in a single text file, which I download in that form and view in a text editor. These messages never see the light of an email client program or HTML rendering engine.

On Tuesday came a message that was giving me a chance to opt out of further mailings from this source. How did he get my address? Here's what he says:

Please understand, the only way I could have your email address, is because you have given it to me along with your name through one of my advertising efforts.
You may have filled out your name and address to obtain one of my special gifts of a product, subscription, eBook, merchandise, vacation, business information, etc.
You, most likely, did this over the Internet, but it could have been at a booth show, at a state fair, through a mail-in coupon or any of a host of methods used in my various advertising campaigns.

As proof, he supplies a copy of the information I had "submitted." It includes my first and last name, email address, city, state, and ZIP code. There were blank fields for my address and day/evening phone numbers.

He signed with his name, U.S. address, and an instant message address, along with a removal email address. All very CAN-SPAM-ish.

Two days later comes another mailing from the same fellow. He begins:

First of all, I want to Thank You for staying on my contact list. In case you don't remember, you were given the opportunity to remove yourself in the last letter that I have verified you received 2 days ago.

I won't even bother getting into the business of how he got my email address and contact data. The chance that I supplied such info in response to an advertising campaign of his is next to zero. And I've never been to a State Fair. But this information is so readily available among spam list traders that my assumption is that he got the data that way. The mortgage spammers seem to have even more details, so the data this guy has is small potatos. If he doesn't bother to keep a real audit trail of his list sources, he can't prove otherwise.

(I also Googled the guy's name, and found that a couple of years ago he had spammed, noting in his message that he had accumulated databases of contacts and partners, as well as acquired addresses from network marketers. Oh, yeah. Those are all trustworthy sources of opt-in email addresses! In any case, now we know how he really gets his addresses.)

It's the second email message that reveals all. First, there is no possible way he can verify that I received any piece of mail. Is it because the first one didn't bounce? What decade is he from? Fewer and fewer email servers are bouncing messages after they have been accepted, even if the addressee is invalid (to reduce the scatter caused by forged From: addresses in spam and viruses). That an incoming mail server accepts a message is absolutely no guarantee that the message will ever reach the addressee. In truth, I hadn't ever "received" the message until I spotted it in this several days' collection of suspected garbage.

But the bottom line here is that this message sequence demonstrates the folly of an opt-out system when put into the hands of a typical email marketer. To this guy, the fact that I did not opt out means that I have opted in. I'll get all his mailings now. Well, actually, I won't because future messages from him will be immediately and unceremoniously deleted at the server...but he'll be able to "verify" that I received them.

So, what's an email marketer to do? My advice would be to convert to a confirmed opt-in (or, in DMA-speak, double opt-in) system. That means giving your current list a chance to really opt-in, and discard those addresses that don't. Your list will be much smaller, but much happier.

Something tells me that the chance of this email marketer changing his ways are as low as the chance that I filled out one of his response forms at a State Fair.

Posted on March 31, 2005 at 12:10 PM