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Is Sending Email Spam a Crime?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. | Last updated on

Whenever you open your email inbox, you're flooded with messages that you never signed up for. Maybe there's some company that's hawking some kitschy t-shirts. Or, maybe there's some email that claims they can sell you "v1agra" over the web. Spam is annoying. That may be why you might wonder if sending spam is a crime -- or if there are anti-spam laws out there to protect you.

There are. But most of the time, sending spam itself isn't a crime punishable by jail time.

But there are times when a spam message could amount to a violation of criminal law.

Spam mail can sometimes amount to fraud.

Have you ever received a spam message that asks for your bank account information -- or requests that you wire money? If you have, that message may have been fraudulent. Fraud is a crime. It constitutes the intentional misrepresentation or false statement to gain money or property.

Spam fraud is a relatively common occurrence. And you should watch out for these emails hitting your inbox. They can take many different forms. Some popular schemes include fraud relating to raising money post-Hurricane Katrina, African-based investment schemes, and fraud concerning the selling of drugs or other medical devices.

Spam mail can sometimes amount to illegal pornography.

Sometimes the emails you get are also racy -- in an illegal way. Child pornography is against federal law. And there are times where sometimes spam emails cross the line. If the email depicts children under a certain age in explicit images, it may be criminal.

Many of the other types of spam, such as sending emails about legitimate businesses and products, are usually not a crime. Though, sometimes emails may violate federal and state civil laws. But know that there are anti-spam laws out there that are meant to protect consumers. For more information and to report spam emails, you should consider contacting the FTC and filing a complaint.

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