Office of Public Affairs | Permanent Injunction and $650,000 Civil Penalty Imposed on Experian Consumer Services for Allegedly Sending Commercial Emails Without Providing Consumers the Ability to Opt Out of Future Emails, in Violation the CAN-SPAM Act
The Justice Department, together with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), today announced that ConsumerInfo.com, Inc. dba Experian Consumer Services (Experian), has agreed to a permanent injunction and a $650,000 civil penalty as part of a settlement to resolve alleged violations of the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 (CAN-SPAM Act), the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Rule (CAN-SPAM Rule), and the Federal Trade Commission Act. The CAN-SPAM Act and Rule require senders of commercial emails to notify the recipients of such emails of their right to opt-out of future emails and to provide an opt-out mechanism. Experian shares a parent company, Experian PLC, with Experian Information Solutions Inc., which offers credit information, analytical tools and marketing services.
The case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, involves emails Experian sent to consumers who had created free Experian accounts to control third-party access to their credit reports. Account holders may “freeze” their credit reports to make them inaccessible to identity thieves and legitimate potential creditors such as banks. They can also “unfreeze” their credit reports when they require a credit check, for example, to finance a expensive purchase. The complaint asserts that Experian sent its account holders millions of commercial emails promoting additional Experian services. These emails asked the consumer to confirm whether a car that Experian had associated with the user’s account was theirs, offered a service aimed at boosting the user’s credit score, and advertised a free scan of the dark web. The emails did not give the recipients notice that they could opt-out of future such emails or provide any opt-out mechanism, violating the CAN-SPAM Act and the CAN-SPAM Rule. The complaint alleges that these emails implied that they contained important information about the recipient’s account, even though they were commercial in nature. The government received many consumer complaints that these emails contained no opt-out mechanism.
The stipulated order, entered by the federal district court yesterday, enjoins Experian from sending commercial emails that do not provide notice that the recipient may opt-out of receiving such emails in the future or an opt-out mechanism. The order also enjoins Experian from otherwise violating the CAN-SPAM Act. Under the order, Experian is also subject to a civil penalty judgment of $650,000.
“Consumers have the right to opt-out of email advertising that they do not want,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The department is committed to enforcing the CAN-SPAM Act and preventing senders of commercial emails from falsely describing those emails as providing account updates or other transactional information in order to circumvent the opt-out requirements.”
“Signing up for a membership doesn’t mean you’re signing up for unwanted email, especially when all you’re trying to do is freeze your credit to protect your identity,” said Director Samuel Levine of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “You always have the right to unsubscribe from marketing messages, and the FTC takes enforcing that right seriously.”
“It is critical that consumers have the ability to opt-out of unwanted commercial emails, and such emails should not be misleading in any way,” said U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada for the Central District of California. “This permanent injunction and civil penalty will provide relief to consumers and help to prevent future violations of the CAN-SPAM Act.”
This matter was handled by Senior Trial Attorney James T. Nelson and Assistant Director Lisa Hsiao of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ross Cuff for the Central District of California and Frances Kern and Elsie Kappler of the FTC.