FTC accuses Experian of spamming customers with no way out
Credit protection giant Experian Consumer Services spammed consumers with marketing emails without offering them a chance to unsubscribe, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
In a complaint filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FTC, prosecutors allege that the company violated the CAN-SPAM Act, a 2003 law that sets guidelines around commercial emails. Under the law, any commercial message must include a valid return email address that a recipient could contact to unsubscribe.
At the bottom of emails referenced in the complaint, Experian claims its communications are not related to marketing materials but instead “contain important information about [a consumer’s] account,” which would exempt them from needing to offer a way to unsubscribe.
According to the complaint, anyone using Experian’s services, including free ones — such as freezing credit if they are the victims of a data breach — must create an account linked to their email address.
The DOJ complaint focuses on three specific email campaigns by the company, including Experian Boost, a product offered by the company purportedly to help consumers raise their FICO credit scores.
“ECS sends these emails even to consumers who have specifically opted out of receiving emails containing ‘Personalized insights and offers’ that include ‘tips about building credit and managing finances,’” the FTC contends.
The company did not respond to a request for comment.
Prosecutors also singled out what they call “Confirm your car” emails, with a subject line purportedly warning the recipient of a “Vehicle detected” with links to them. When a recipient clicks on a link in the email to check on the vehicle, they are allegedly shown “auto-related offers.” According to the FTC, the cars in question often have no connection to the account holders or they have long since been paid off.
Experian also allegedly violated laws around spam in its offers for “Dark Web scans,” which contained text at the bottom explicitly saying: “This is not a marketing email—you’re receiving this message to notify you of a recent change to your account.” In fact, the complaint alleges, the company was marketing both its premium identity protection service and its commercial dark web scanning product.
“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,” Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a release. “You always have the right to unsubscribe from marketing messages, and the FTC takes enforcing that right seriously.”
The proposed order, which must be approved in federal court to go into effect, carries a $650,000 fine, as well as a requirement that Experian offer email recipients the option to opt out.
James Reddick has worked as a journalist around the world, including in Lebanon and in Cambodia, where he was Deputy Managing Editor of The Phnom Penh Post. He is also a radio and podcast producer for outlets like Snap Judgment.