Experian Fined for Sending Emails Without Giving Opt-Out Options

The U.S. Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium following a news conference

By the Department of Justice

ConsumerInfo.com Inc., which does business as Experian Consumer Services (Experian), has agreed to a permanent injunction and to pay a $650,000 civil penalty as part of a settlement resolving alleged violations of federal law that requires 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, the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission announced [Tuesday].

The settlement resolves 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. Experian shares a parent company, Experian PLC, with Experian Information Solutions Inc., which offers credit information, analytical tools, and marketing services.

The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court in Santa Ana, concerns 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 an 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 on Monday by United States District Judge Fred W. Slaughter, 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.

            “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. “This permanent injunction and civil penalty will provide relief to consumers and help to prevent future violations of the CAN-SPAM Act.”

            “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.”

            This matter was handled by Assistant United States Attorney Ross M. Cuff of the Civil Division’s Civil Fraud Section, Justice Department Senior Trial Attorney James T. Nelson, Assistant Director Lisa Hsiao of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch, and Frances Kern and Elsie Kappler of the FTC.

            For more information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts, visit www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch. For more information about the FTC, visit www.FTC.gov.


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