How can I get a legitimate company to stop sending me email?
April 12, 2006 12:09 PM   Subscribe

What do you do with a legitimate company who keeps sending you email even after you've asked them to stop?

The story:

I started a health insurance application online but didn't complete it. I'd given them my contact information, so a week later I got an email reminding me to finish. By that time I'd decided not to continue so I clicked the unsubscribe link they provided... and got a 404 page.

I called the 800 number and got a CSR who told me to "just keep deleting the emails until they stop" (ha!), then got a "supervisor" who said she'd take care of it. I also replied to the email with an unsubscribe request, mostly so I could have some documentation of the dates and details.

Naturally, neither of these requests worked and today I got another email with the unsubscribe link still 404... and I'm told the supervisor I spoke with is on vacation.

The question(s):

1) Is there another way to unsubscribe under these circumstances? Am I going to have to track down a VP to make this stop? What's the super-secret magic code to find someone who knows what to do?

2) Can I take them to small claims court? I'm in California and it seems like this might qualify, but I can't find anything definitive about it. I'd kind of like to, if only because of the "just delete them until they stop" crap. Any advice/experience in this kind of thing would be great.
posted by stefanie to Computers & Internet (16 answers total)
I personally would set up a rule in my email program to delete all mail with "" in it. And forget about it, and worry about something more important. But that's just me.
posted by jellicle at 12:14 PM on April 12, 2006

Many email applications (including operamail, which your profile says you use) will let you "filter" your email. In Gmail for instance, you just tell all email from:( to bypass your inbox and go directly to the trash.

Just do that.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 12:19 PM on April 12, 2006

Many states used to have strong anti-spam laws, unfortunately they've all been super-seceded by the federal governments terrible, lobbyist written "CAN-SPAM act" which basically lets people spam as long as they provide an opt-out. Since they're not providing a useable opt-out system they're violating that law, but I'm not sure if there's any way to get relief under CAN-SPAM.

The simplest thing to do might be to setup a rule to automatically block their email. Depending on what client/web provider you use this might be as simple as blocking all mail with their name in it, or from the email address they are using.
posted by delmoi at 12:24 PM on April 12, 2006

Can I take them to small claims court?

Are their offices nearby? Usually this has to be done at the court nearest to the defendant.
posted by winston at 12:24 PM on April 12, 2006

If it's a UK company it is possible to sue:
Chartered engineer Nigel Roberts became the first person to win a court judgment over a company's breach of the UK's anti-spam law late last year. His success received widespread media coverage – and now he's encouraging others to do the same.
Roberts sued Media Logistics (UK) Ltd, a marketing firm based in Falkirk, Scotland.

posted by Lanark at 12:50 PM on April 12, 2006

An alternative approach at work is talk to your IT department who can block the offending companies domain at the firewall. We do this for a few large corporates with 'over active' marketing departments, if they won't play nice then they just dont get to send us email.
posted by Lanark at 12:56 PM on April 12, 2006

Why are people so willing to accept obnoxious behaviour from corporations?

Find every email address you can get from their website. Do a whois search on their domain name and collect all email addresses found there. Set up a rule in your email program to automatically forward all their emails back to them. Include,,, and Your spam emails from them will stop soon.
posted by angrybeaver at 1:11 PM on April 12, 2006

Sadly, CAN-SPAM has neutered many state anti-spam laws. Thanks to the Direct Marketing Association for paying for legislation. *sigh*

Yes, you can sue them in small claims court, but make sure that you have plenty of evidence (ie, screenshots of the 404 page, etc.) the RIAA loves using screenshots in their lawsuits, so I guess they're useful as evidence.

But I'd start with writing them a letter explaining the situation and what steps you've taken, and mention that if they don't resolve it, you'll take legal action. It's worth the price of the stamp and who knows, it might actually work.

(I did this with Rackspace a few years back. They flat out spammed me, and I bitchslapped them for it. The emails stopped and I have yet to see another one.)
posted by drstein at 1:21 PM on April 12, 2006

Can I take them to small claims court?

Jesus, what is it with Americans and wanting to sue people?

"Oooooh, your honour, I had to delete the emails over and over again! At least twice a week! Somebody must owe me money for that!"

Set up a filter, stop whinging, move on.
posted by Dasein at 1:34 PM on April 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

In a society that is ridden with solicitations marking schemes and lack of customer service, I believe consumers need to take action and show the burden these ploys.

Is the email really hurting? Do you really need to seek punitive damages within a small claims court?

The answer is probably no to those questions, but is it a big deal? Yes it is. Often corporations only institute change when it as been forced upon them. If we as consumers took each one of these violators to litigation the bearing of the violation/intrusiveness of the emails because saturated and looses value…the boy who cried wolf. If we all ignored these emails and just hit our delete button we then can not complain if we do nothing to force the change. Where is the happy medium?

With this said I suggest the following:
If you just want the emails to stop then I would do one or many of the suggestions that the following individuals have suggested when pertaining to your email options.

If you want to really force the change with the company and make them aware of your dissatisfaction; I would continue to keep the evidence of emails and screen shots you have amassed during the ordeal. I would make one more call and ask to speak with someone at a higher level, preferably someone in their operations department. A lot of times (and I know I worked for a Health Insurance Company in the IT department) these companies outsource their web-design to other companies, they may not even be truly aware of the situation. If you do get to speak with someone tell them you want a date and time when the problem will be resolved. If they cannot give you a date, then you ask for a letter in writing that the situation has been resolved and has been implemented in place to prevent it from happening again. No company should ever refuse to write such a letter. If they tell you they do not have the authority to do such a task then you need to speak with someone who does. Remember that threats and abusive behavior never get anyone anyplace; it will do nothing but discredit you.
If you continue to have problems, or get the “round about” with this company and its staff I then suggest you contact your local police department and make a report of harassment. I would not take them to small claims court, I feel this defeats your purpose and again shows nothing but that you see dollar signs.

Good luck.
posted by lutzla23 at 2:48 PM on April 12, 2006

I suppose I should have reworded the second question as "is this against the law?" because, yeah, going to small claims court is an awful lot of trouble and not worth the twenty bucks I'd get out of it, but I'd like for them to see some consequences to their response of "we don't really feel like it" when I said "stop it". I sure as hell don't think that it would be anything close to a financial windfall, unless your definition of a windfall is enough to pay for parking downtown and buy lunch at the courthouse cafeteria.

Also, I know I could filter their emails, but I see this as something that they should fix, not something that I should have to work around because, as lutzla pointed out, ignoring bad behavior isn't going to do anything to make it go away. I can't imagine asking my IT department to make changes to accomodate someone else's broke-assed system; I'd like to actually attempt to get them to make their shit work the way it's supposed to.

I've spoken to an actual person at their executive offices, who agreed that this was not acceptable ("They told you to delete them? Yeah, that's not right") and she's going to work on it for me. Plus, I've got screenshots and all so if I continue to get the runaround I can be a PITA about it. (Or more of one, I guess, depending on how you're looking at it.)
posted by stefanie at 4:49 PM on April 12, 2006

What I have done in just such a situation:

- got their administrative and technical contact phone numbers from Whois

- Called them up everytime I got an email that I didn't want.

- If I got their answering machine I left a message.

This lasted only a few days.

Note: this might not be the best way to go, either.
posted by barnacles at 4:58 PM on April 12, 2006

File a spam complaint with their domain name registrar. Some registrars are pretty trigger-happy. It this works, it will be very satisfying.
posted by ryanrs at 5:35 PM on April 12, 2006

"Jesus, what is it with Americans and wanting to sue people?"

It's not the wanting money part, it's that corporations generally ignore you until they're likely to LOSE money.
posted by klangklangston at 6:02 PM on April 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

I suggest setting up a rule in your e-mail software to automatically forward all their spam to humans at their company, with a note that explains the situation, then automatically deletes the message for you.

I don't know how hard that is to do in other e-mail programs, but it's dead easy with Apple Mail.

You forget about the situation in a week or two, and meanwhile any e-mail they send to you just lands in their own inboxes.

It's like setting them up with a spam annuity.
posted by I Love Tacos at 7:40 PM on April 12, 2006

Thanks for the tips, guys. And thank you, I Love Tacos, for the phrase "spam annuity".
posted by stefanie at 11:56 PM on April 12, 2006

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