Understanding the Risk of Sending Email to a List You Purchased

Risk of Emailing Purchased List

Can I legally send marketing emails to a list of prospects that I purchased?

That’s a question I got recently from a client – and a question that a lot of companies ask as they consider new ways to generate leads and sell more software.

There’s plenty of confusion around what you can and can’t do under the CAN-SPAM Requirements for sending commercial email.

So I’m going to clear things up … and also help you understand the risk of sending email to people who didn’t specifically opt in.

Yes, You CAN (Spam) Send Unsolicited Email

CAN-SPAM is an acronym for “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing.”

Yup, you read that right. A law that lumps marketing together with porn!!

In a nutshell, CAN-SPAM establishes a set of requirements that says your email must:

  • Include your physical postal address in every email you send
  • Include a very clear and obvious way to opt out with every email you send
  • Use very clear “from” “to” and “reply to” language that accurately reflects who you are. In short, don’t try and deceive recipients about who the email is coming from.

There are a lot of companies that interpret CAN-SPAM as a law that prevents you from sending ANY marketing/promotional email.

But the truth is you can send email to prospects (including purchased lists) as long as your email is in compliance with CAN-SPAM requirements.

You can get the full CAN-SPAM compliance guide and details on the FTC website.

The easiest way to ensure compliance is to use an email service like MailChimp, AWeber, or Constant Contact – they automatically add an unsubscribe link and other compliance requirements to every email you send.

Now let me point out the obvious ….

I’m not a lawyer. Don’t go spamming your purchased list, get fined by the FTC, and then say “But I read this blog post on the Juice Marketing website that said it was ok.”

NOTE: If you’re doing business in Canada, it’s a good idea to take a look at the new Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation that went into effect in 2014 – it’s more restrictive than U.S. requirements.

The Risks of Emailing a Purchased List

Now that we know it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.  There are risks that should be considered before you hit “send” on that next email newsletter, product promo, or webcast invitation.

1. Getting Fined

We’ll start with the most significant risk … and maybe the only thing you need to consider. If you slip up and happen to overlook CAN-SPAM requirements, you can be fined $16,000 for every single email that violates the law. If you send to even a small list of 500 names, you can do the math – it adds up quick!

2. Getting Blacklisted

If enough people on your list mark your message as spam (that likelihood is higher since they don’t know you), you run the risk of damaging your sender reputation and possibly get your IP address blacklisted.

When your IP address is blacklisted, you can run into real problems getting even basic/legitimate messages delivered to people you email regularly (customers, partners, etc).  The likelihood of having every message you send (promotional or not) go straight to your recipients junk mail folder or bounce back undelivered increases significantly when you’re blacklisted.

Think you might already be blacklisted?  Here’s a handy tool to check: http://mxtoolbox.com/blacklists.aspx

3. Spam Traps and Honeypots

Honeypot, trap, bait, call it what you like – but plenty of purchased lists contain email address that are designed to lure spammers. Any messages sent to these purposefully “planted” email addresses are automatically flagged as unsolicited spam and expose you to the risks mentioned above (fines, blacklists).  And it’s impossible to find and single out these spam traps because it’s just another email address buried somewhere in your list.

4. That List is Tired and Beaten Down

You think that list you purchased hasn’t also been sold to 50 other companies just like yours?

Those companies are pitching the same software, the same support, and the same consulting you are. The list is tired and abused.  That means your open and click rates are going to be very low – and the ROI on your list purchase and that email you designed (or paid someone like us to design) will be even lower.

Oh and by the way, the data is NEVER as accurate as the list provider says it is. So you’ll also see a really high bounce rate – if it’s high enough, many email providers (MailChimp, Hubspot, etc.) will warn you and/or put your account on hold.

So How Do You Build a Good List?

That’s a topic for a whole other article. But as a quick tip, the best thing to do is leverage your website as a lead capture tool through calls to action, landing pages, contact forms, newsletter sign up, and other effective inbound marketing techniques.

Instead of forcing your message on thousands of unsuspecting inboxes, inbound marketing focuses on attracting people who are searching for and interested in the products and services you offer. It’s not a quick solution. It takes time to build a good reliable list. But over time, you’re creating a valuable asset and competitive advantage.

What’s your take? How much success have you had emailing to a purchased list?


  1. says

    Not at all. The ESP avoid sending email to purchased email list because some time large number of emails are bounce. For Email Campaign of purchased email list keep the emails are verified or valid.
    Break down list in small pieces. Send the good email one the try for other. If bad email are undeliverables so try to send manually.

  2. says

    aweber is the worst. You can have a list of your own clients from your own CRM or accounting system and still can’t use their service to send out emails UNLESS you allow them to send an email to every one and get them to opt in. Experience showed me that, that type of email only gets about a 10% response. Only being able to market to 10% of your own customer base is pathetic.

    Mailchimp is much more reasonable. You just have to acknowledge that it isn’t a spam list. If they get too many complains, they will warn and or suspend you but at least you can market to your own client base without being forced to do an opt-in

    • mark_badran says

      Mark – you’re spot on. Each email provider has their own requirements/restrictions. I’ve never used aweber (although it’s very popular). But it seems to me that HubSpot used to be fairly restrictive as well (lots of warnings and hoops to jump through). Maybe not so much anymore because we haven’t had much trouble lately when working with our clients who use HubSpot.

      But at the end of the day, I think you and I agree that MailChimp rocks! It’s what we use in-house and recommend to all of our clients.

  3. Katie says

    Hi Peter,
    The experience you had with your purchased list may be due to using the email service provider Constant Contact – most ESPs do not allow sending to purchased contacts. I was in the same boat as you – until I found a company called [promotional brand name removed]. They don’t suspend or block your account for sending to purchased lists and they protect your corporate IPs/domains by sending your emails from their own.

  4. says

    Thanks for an excellent summary. However, my experience is that some providers will take it as spam even if all the points are covered in the email (address, unsubscribe, etc.) Case in point: Precision Computer Methods Inc. (mostly a Sage 300 consulting firm) was trying to add a new product “Clear 4G phone and internet service”. We obtained a list from a member of a real estate broker’s organization and fed it into Constant Contact. As far as I know, the member had permission to send email to that list, although we (PCM) did not have opt ins for all those emails. The member was also a sales rep for us, part time. We sent out the spam compliant email. Maybe 8-10% of the emails were marked spam by the recipients and Constant Contact followed up by a phone call, request to remove those email addresses, and a brief penalty period during which we could not send emails. The one thing I would do different is to more carefully evaluate the marketing piece before sending it, and because of the desire not to get blacklisted we probably wouldn’t do it at all. But I think it was the “over the top” nature of the email which got us in trouble more than the list. The subject line was “This is not your grandmother’s phone service”, and maybe that was offensive to many people. (After all, this was an email, not a Superbowl commercial).

    • mark_badran says

      Peter – some email service providers are more strict than others. Some won’t allow you to send email AT ALL to anyone that hasn’t previously opted in to YOUR list. In your case, it sounds like you had implied consent (“as far as I know we had permission”) rather than explicit consent (they specifically opted in to communications from your company). In addition, it seems to me that the wireless and internet service industry is FULL of spam. So the content of your email was already in a high risk category.

      To be clear, the point of the article is that even though sending email to a purchased list is legal (in many situations/jurisdictions in the U.S.), it’s also risky – as you experienced.

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