Can You Take Spammers to Court?

Written by Jeff on June 27, 2013

gavelIt’s nice to see stories about people who win against improbable odds; and as someone who has a vested interest in the fight against spam, when these people beat the spammers it really makes for a heart warming story.

Mail Online recently featured a story about Steve Higgins who after receiving around 60 emails a day from a cookware company won a civil suit of 750 British Pounds. Higgins claims he tried many times to have his email address removed from their mailing list by following the instructions provided in the emails was fed up to the point that he filed a law suit in a Northampton small claims court for the money he felt he was owed after having to spend time to continuously delete the company’s emails.

Time he says was wasted, “Every time I go into my inbox, I am constantly having to delete emails. I am having to trawl through all the messages to find the ones I need to read. I am scanning through 50 or 60 emails of junk. It can take up quite a bit of time,” claimed Higgins.

Companies who send spam winding up on the losing end of a court case is nothing new. In November, I wrote about how Tiger Airways was hit by fines for their inability to abide by anti-spam laws for The Email Admin blog. But cases like Mr. Higgins and Tiger are rare. Justice prevailed in both because those accused of sending spam were legitimate companies. These companies were easy to locate and stood to lose too much if they didn’t pay up.

Most spammers, however, aren’t legitimate business people so going after them in a court of law does little to thwart their illegal activities. They are criminals who control large networks of zombie computers that are spread throughout the world so locating one person or group to target with a lawsuit, fine or jail time becomes a difficult thing to accomplish.

While fighting back through the legal system might seem like a waste of time, it doesn’t mean that you, or your organization, needs to sit back and let the spammers have their way with your inbox. Not taking a spammer to court doesn’t mean you have to let them win.

Fighting back against spammers isn’t the most difficult thing to do. In fact it only requires a few things.

Knowledge

To being with, you have to know what spam and other email threats are. You have to be able to spot them. Long ago, funky looking subject lines and emails riddled with poor grammar and spelling were key indicators that a message wasn’t legitimate. But those times are long gone. Bad guys have taken to carefully crafting their emails to make them look professionals and legitimate to fool even the experts. So you have to take some time to learn what the trends are when it comes to illicit email messages. Are they targeting a recent news story? Are you receiving emails from financial institutions you don’t use? Are there multiple emails surrounding a similar topic or product? Of course once you know how to spot these junk emails you need to know what to do with them.

Technology

Some type of anti-spam filter should protect your email; ideally this technical control would have multiple ways of determining whether a message is legitimate or spam and it would also include ways for the user to identify an email’s classification as well. Incorporating user’s input helps the filter learn what is legitimate and what should be marked as spam. The anti-spam solution should also be easy for whoever is in charge of managing it to use so that it can be frequently updated to protect against the ever-changing threat landscape.

A low profile

Most security experts will frown upon the concept of security by obscurity if it is the only method you employ. But just about anyone will tell you that anything you can do to reduce your attack surface is beneficial.

When it comes to spam, keeping your name off the spammer’s lists is a good start. Don’t register for free reports, websites, newsletters or whitepapers if you don’t know whom you are handing over your email address to. Also, keep your email address out of forums and blog comments if you don’t want the bad guys to grab them.

Not all of us are lucky enough to be able to put an end to our spam troubles through the court system, but if we are smart enough, we can do the things to reduce the amount of junk we receive on a daily basis.

Comments

Cass June 28, 2013

It is true you can’t sue unknown spammers but even if you sue overzealous marketers, this also helps to reduce spam, so if you get hit by so many emails a day as the guy in the article was, don’t think twice but file a law suit.

Adelaide June 29, 2013

Yes, you can take spammers to court, but it all depends on the laws that you have in your country. That’s why a lot of them are still able to do the things that they do or they choose to operate in nations that don’t have or have very relaxed rules when it comes to online marketing, especially spamming. We definitely need a good IT consortium if we want to create a happier cyberspace.

Jefferson June 30, 2013

Although identifying and locating spammers can be difficult, this should not stop you from going to court and filing a lawsuit. There are ways – technological ways – that you can use to find and identify the spammers. If this still proves to be futile, then at least you know you did something about it. People will learn from your experience, too. The best thing to do would be to steer clear of spammers by installing a good anti-spam program or system, educating yourself about spam and spammers and then staying updated with the latest technologies and developments in spamming.

Erina June 30, 2013

Well, I’d like to take a lot of marketers to court, but I’m not sure if I have the means and the time to do so. There’s this one marketing firm that keeps on sending mail even if I had opted out a couple of months ago. I know that they are already in direct violation of the law.

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