How You CAN the Spammers

Ask and ye shall receive: how to report spammers under the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003

What a bunch of conscientious humans you guys are!! Seems lots of you are dying to report those scummy spammers to whatever appropriate agency will take your compliant. Either that, or whistle-blowing is next on the career agenda.

When I reviewed the basic implications of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 last time, it didn't even cross my mind to include information on how to report offenders. But it crossed your minds ... and you very kindly brought it to my attention ("Hey Grok, shape up and get with the program!").

Apparently, the matter didn't cross very many other minds out there, because it wasn't exactly easy to tiptoe my way through the Internet tulips to discover a useful answer.

But green is the color of persistence!

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the US government agency charged with enforcing CAN-SPAM (wireless spam will be managed through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)). These are going to be busy folks for the next two years, monitoring email practice and writing up stacks of reports to evaluate the effectiveness of the Act.

It's going to be expensive and time consuming to apprehend and prosecute violators of the Act, and naturally, spammers will use that knowledge to their advantage. In reality, the bulk of prosecution will probably come from ISPs. But you help make those wheels turn.

Whenever you complain about spam, try to include the full email header. The information in the header helps consumer protection agencies follow up on your complaint.

Tell the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

Anti-spam organizations recommend you always report spam to the FTC, which maintains an email spam database that is the reference point for taking action against those who send deceptive or fraudulent email.

If you have a specific complaint about an unsolicited commercial email you received, you can fill out this FTC Consumer Complaint Form. This is also the form they want you to use if your "opt-out" request was not honored.

If you want to report any fraudulent spam or violations of CAN-SPAM, simply forward the offending email directly to You do not need to fill out a complaint form for this.

Tell the Internet Service Provider (ISP)

When you communicate with an ISP, make sure you send a copy of the spam message and the full email header. At the top of the message, state the purpose of this email - that you are complaining about being spammed.

Forward a copy of the spam to your ISP - most have a posted email address for reporting abuses. Or call the business office to get the correct email address. When you bring spam to the attention of your ISP, you're not just making them aware of the problem (like they didn't know, huh?), you are providing them evidence and motivation to prosecute spammers.

Forward a copy of the spam to the sender's ISP. Most ISPs have policies covering spam abuse, and it is certainly in their interest to cut off offenders.

Other Channels for Reporting

Spam that promotes stocks can be sent to the US Securities and Exchange Commission at

Spam containing or advertising child pornography is illegal in most of the world under existing law. In the US, you can report suspected criminal activity to the Federal Bureau of Investigation via this form. You can also file child-pornography-specific reports with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children here. There is currently no agency charged with the investigation of spam containing regular pornography that finds its way into children's email inboxes.

Chain letters that ask for money are illegal in the US whether they are in postal mail or e-mail. Report these frauds to your local US Postmaster.

Hope this helps! Happy reporting.

Volume 86: 1/15/04

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