CAN-SPAM Act Guide for Businesses

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Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

It is something that happens just about every day. While using your computer, you receive an alert indicating that you have new email messages. Or, while perusing your smartphone, a tiny envelope icon shows you how many emails have arrived in your inbox. Before you click on the messages, you speedread the subject lines to see if they interest you or if you know who the sender is. It might be a mix of personal and promotional emails—messages from a friend, family member, or a store you recently shopped at. And let us not forget the sales and special promotional emails that can flood our inboxes. Sometimes, you receive so many promotional emails that you mark them all as spam and send them straight to your trash folder.

As you can see, writing emails that cut through the clutter, generate clicks, and are interesting to people is challenging. This is especially true for commercial email messages. If email marketing is currently part of your small business strategy, or if you are considering it for your company, having creative and benefit-driven emails is just one part of the equation. The emails need to adhere to rules and regulations relating to commercial email content. This Balboa Capital blog article has the information you need. It is a CAN-SPAM Act guide for small businesses.

What is the CAN-SPAM Act?

The CAN-SPAM Act is a comprehensive law that regulates the use of commercial email messages. It was enacted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2003 to protect consumers from deceptive and unwanted emails¹. CAN-SPAM stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing.

The CAN-SPAM Act requires marketers to obtain permission from recipients before sending emails and provide certain information about their business in each message. It also includes specific rules about how messages must be labeled and what types of content are prohibited. Violations of the CAN-SPAM Act can result in hefty fines and other penalties, so all marketers need to understand how this law impacts their email marketing efforts.

CAN-SPAM Act penalties.

You must comply with the law when sending commercial emails to customers or prospective customers who provided you with permission to send them email communications. If not, your small business could face some costly penalties. According to the FTC website², “each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $46,517.” There can be additional financial penalties, too, depending on the frequency and severity of the emails in question.

Next, some illegal practices relating to email marketing can result in severe penalties. These include registering multiple email accounts or domains using fake information, harvesting email addresses using hacking software, and retransmitting spam emails to trick recipients into the messages’ origin.

How to comply with CAN-SPAM rules.

There are several ways to ensure compliance with the latest email marketing laws. For starters, you can use a reputable email marketing automation system that does not allow spam and has a permission-based marketing policy that users must follow. Next, do not use false or misleading information when transmitting your emails. For example, the “from” and “reply to” domain name and email address must belong to your business, not a generic email address.

Whether you are writing and sending your business’s emails or having a third party do this for you, some basic rules can help you stay compliant.

  • Include the name of your business or brand
  • Never use deceptive email subject lines
  • Communicate that your email is an advertisement
  • Include your business’s physical postal address
  • Include a valid “reply to” email address
  • Give recipients an easy way to opt out of future emails
  • Honor all unsubscribe requests within ten days

If you hire a digital marketing agency or freelance email marketing specialist to write and distribute your business’s emails, ensure that they follow best practices and do not break any CAN-SPAM rules. It would be a good idea to get this in writing as part of the agency-client agreement. Your small business and the third party that sends the email will be responsible for any legal wrongdoing. Simply put, your legal responsibility to follow CAN-SPAM rules does not go away if you hire a third party to write, send and manage emails for you.


The CAN-SPAM Act has been amended several times since its enactment to keep up with changing technology (i.e., mobile devices and text messages) and consumer preferences. The law is designed to protect consumers from unwanted spam while still allowing legitimate businesses to communicate with their customers via email. Following the commercial email marketing guidelines set forth by the FCC can help ensure that you do not break any laws.


Balboa Capital, a Division of Ameris Bank, is not affiliated with nor endorses the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) or Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.