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Is cold emailing illegal

Is cold emailing illegal? (Laws in the US, UK, Europe, and Canada) 

Key Takeaways
  • You must follow country-specific laws like the CAN-SPAM in the US or GDPR in Europe to send cold emails legally.
  • Personalize your cold emails and use segmented targeting to prevent them from being marked as spam.
  • Include your commercial or business address, not a PO box, for trust and legal compliance.
  • Regularly update your email list, avoid writing deceptive subject lines, and provide an easy opt-out for legal compliance in cold emailing.

A business new to cold emailing strategy has one prior question in mind – Is cold emailing illegal?   

This blog explains the legal aspects of cold emailing. We’ll differentiate cold emailing from spamming and discuss its legal regulations in different countries.  

If you’re new to cold emailing or want to understand the legal aspect associated, this guide has you covered.  

Let’s begin by simply defining cold emails. 

What is a cold email? 

Cold email refers to an unsolicited message sent to a recipient with whom the sender has no prior communication.

The primary goals of cold email outreach are to initiate conversations, establish relationships, and explore opportunities for collaboration or sales. 

When do cold emails become spam? 

To overcome your cold emails getting spammed, you need to know the difference first –

Cold email vs. Spam 

Cold email vs. Spam

There are many reasons why cold emails get spam, such as lack of personalization, improper targeting, and failure to comply with legal regulations.

Those reps who take a generic and unresearched approach will probably lead cold emails into spam.

Moving on to our most awaited discussion – Are cold emails illegal? 

Is cold email illegal? 

Sending cold emails isn’t illegal, but this is not as simple in execution as it sounds.  

Well, the precise answer to “Is cold emailing legal or illegal,” mainly varies depending on the geographic location of the sender and the receiver and the associated regulations.

So, rules governing cold emailing practices vary by country, just like how cultural customs and laws influence behavior globally.

For instance, in the United States, the Cold Email CAN-SPAM Act sets guidelines for commercial messaging. 

If talking about Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) instructs about the do’s and don’ts of cold emailing.  

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Is cold emailing illegal in the US – The CAN-SPAM Act!

Yes, cold emailing is legal in the United States if it follows the guidelines of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.

The rise of email marketing as one of the primary modes of business has led to the formation of these guidelines for sending commercial electronic messages.

Additionally, the CAN-SPAM Act protects people from unsolicited commercial messages and guides businesses in sending emails correctly.

Noncompliance can be highly costly as violations of the CAN-SPAM Act can result in penalties of up to $51,744. 

Here’s what the cold email CAN-SPAM regulation instructs: 

Cold email CAN-SPAM regulation rules

1. Transparency to information delivered

  • Don’t mislead with false information  

The sender must provide accurate and updated details regarding their address, business, and contact information.

False or misleading information in the email “from” and “reply to” sections is counted as a violation.

  • Use non-deceptive subject lines 

The cold email subject line must indicate what’s in the message fairly. Avoid practices such as clickbait in subject lines to mislead, as it will probably lead to spam emails. 

2. Sender details and opt-out 

  • Disclose your physical location 

In unsolicited emails, a business must include its genuine physical address as it adds credibility to its existence.

Use a business address or a commercial mail receiving agency (CMRA) instead of a post office box in your emails to meet transparency requirements under laws like CAN-SPAM.

  • Comply with opt-out regulations 

Add an unsubscribe link for the recipients to opt out of receiving your unsolicited emails if they appear irrelevant. Additionally, you must provide an opt-out request processing within ten days to avoid legal issues. 

3. Third-party management 

  • Ensure responsibility for third-party email services 

In case a third party handles cold email outreach for your business, you are still legally responsible for compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act. 

For more detailed information and guidance, you can refer to the Federal Trade Commission’s CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business

The above section discussed only the main requirements for cold emailing. 

Understanding cold email laws is crucial for businesses targeting global audiences. So, let’s discuss cold email regulations in various countries.

While cold emailing is generally permissible in many countries, it becomes crucial for businesses to adhere to specific regulations regarding data protection and anti-spam laws.

Here are the most obvious cold emailing regulations:

Is cold emailing illegal UK?

Regulated by:

For cold email in the United Kingdom, there are three governing bodies:

Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), and Data Protection Act 2018.

Key points of UK GDPR

  • Consent requirements: Explicit consent is required before sending marketing messages, particularly to private individuals. 
  • Business-to-business communications: Cold emailing is more permissible in B2B scenarios, but still must adhere to certain guidelines. 
  • Clear opt-out method: Businesses must provide an easily accessible way for recipients to unsubscribe from emails. 
  • Data protection: Compliance with data protection laws is mandatory, particularly in handling personal information. 


Non-compliance can attract fines of up to £17.5 million or 4% of the company’s annual global turnover. 

The UK’s regulations protect individual privacy and ensure that businesses obtain clear consent before sending electronic marketing material, especially to private individuals.

For businesses, navigating these laws means careful management of email practices to stay compliant. 

You can visit the UK Information Commissioner’s Office website for further information on the UK’s email marketing regulations. 

Is cold emailing illegal in Europe?

Regulated by:

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive (PECD) 

Key points of GDPR

  • Legitimate interest: Cold emails must be sent for valid reasons that align with the recipient’s business or professional interests. 
  • Transparency: Disclosure of where the recipient’s data was obtained is mandatory. 
  • Opt-out options: Must provide a straightforward method for recipients to unsubscribe from future emails. 


Non-compliance can result in fines of up to €20 million or 4% of the company’s global turnover. 

The GDPR and PECD establish strict guidelines to protect personal data and privacy, making adherence essential for businesses engaging in cold emailing within Europe. 

You can check detailed GDPR rules for cold emailing on their official GDPR website, which offers comprehensive information.  

Is cold emailing illegal in Canada?

Regulated by:

Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) 

Key points of CASL

  • Consent requirements: Explicit consent is typically needed before sending commercial emails. Implied consent might apply in certain scenarios, like existing business relationships or if the recipient’s contact information is publicly available without restrictions. 
  • Content relevance: Emails must be relevant to the recipient’s business or role. 
  • Clear identification and unsubscribe option: Senders must identify themselves and provide an easy way to unsubscribe from future communications. 


Non-compliance can result in fines of up to $10 million per violation. 

CASL is one of the strictest anti-spam laws globally, emphasizing the need for explicit consent and relevance in email communications. Businesses must be cautious in collecting email addresses and managing their email marketing activities to comply with CASL. 

For a comprehensive understanding of CASL, visit the official Government of Canada website. 

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6 Best practices to follow legally compliant cold emailing 

These practices will help correct your cold emailing strategy to overcome legal compliance and additionally will help improve your cold emails. 

Best practices to follow legally compliant cold emailing

1. Refine your cold prospect list timely 

If you send unsolicited emails to inactive or invalid contacts who don’t respond, spam filters may flag your emails as spam. 

So, when cold emailing, conduct email validation to confirm you’re reaching active users.  

Neglecting this can lead to increased bounce rates, harm your sender’s reputation, and hinder email deliverability.  

You can use email validation tools to save time and focus on crafting personalized sales pitches.  

The email verification platform can help you in: 

  • Detecting syntax errors in email addresses. 
  • Authenticating the recipient’s domain via DNS checks. 
  • Verifying the existence and receptivity of the email address. 

2. Go for meaningful over deceptive subject lines 

Craft a relevant subject line for your cold email that reflects the content within.  

This transparency in subject lines falls under email marketing laws like the CAN-SPAM Act in the USA or the GDPR in Europe.  

Additionally, meaningful and honest subject lines lead to establishing trust with the recipient, improving the deliverability rate, and enhancing the sender’s reputation.  

On the contrary, if you use misleading subject lines, your open rate might increase. But, once your prospect realizes that it was just clickbait and exaggeration, they may mark you as spam or unsubscribe. 

A study by Nerdy Joe reveals that using irrelevant or unclear subject lines can decrease email open rates. 

Accurate subject lines also reduce the likelihood of your email being marked as spam, thereby improving the effectiveness of your cold email campaign.  

It’s important to remember that honesty in your cold email subject line is not just a legal requirement but also necessary for effective cold emailing results.  

3. Be transparent about your identity  

When sending cold emails, transparency about your identity is crucial to encourage opening and engagement.  

Recipients often ignore emails with vague addresses and lack identifiable information.  

Emails from unknown senders without a profile photo, name, or address can raise suspicions, leading many to dismiss them as spam or phishing attempts.  

To avoid this, you can enhance the credibility and effectiveness of your emails by: 

  • Using a professional email address 
  • Add a profile photo
  • Mention your company details 
  • Including a clear email signature 
  • Add links to your official social media handles

Remember adding details regarding your identity not only complies with legal standards but also reassures recipients of the legitimacy of your email.

4. Crafting cold emails that make sense to recipients 

By saying relevant cold emails, we meant personalizing them for each recipient. 

Outreach experts prioritize tailoring emails to individual needs rather than sending generic bulk messages.  

This approach is akin to Jay Baer’s philosophy in ‘Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is about Help Not Hype,’ where he suggests, “What if instead of trying to be amazing, you just focused on being useful? What if you decided to inform rather than promote?” 

To ensure your cold emails are meaningful and relevant, consider these questions: 

  • Is your product or service directly relevant to the recipient’s business? 
  • Is this the right time for the prospect to need your solution? 
  • Are you addressing a possible pain point that the prospect can experience? 

By answering these questions in your cold emails, you aim to be helpful and informative, thereby increasing the value and effectiveness of your outreach efforts. 

5. Warm-up domain to enhance deliverability 

Domain warm-up is when you gradually increase the number of emails sent from a new domain over time. 

A sudden spike in email activity can trigger spam filters, leading to your emails being blocked or marked as spam.  

So, this practice is crucial, especially if you’re sending a large volume of cold emails.  

It helps build a positive reputation with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Email Service Providers (ESPs).  

Each ESP has its daily sending limits. For instance, the daily email-sending limit in Google Workspace is 2000 per day.  

Here are some quick tips to begin of domain warm-up: 

  • Send a few emails daily to cold contacts. 
  • Get these emails opened and replied to. 
  • Gradually up your email count over 2-3 months. 

Note that successful email warm-up lies in balancing volume with engagement. 

A must check: A step-by-step guide to email domain warm-up 

6. Include an easy opt-out option

Mentioning a way to opt out of your emails is one of the good cold email practices to avoid legal compliance and regard recipient preferences. 

Here are some tips on presenting an opt-out link to your cold email:

  • Make the opt-out link visible 
  • Keep the opting-out process simple with minimal steps. 
  • Process opt-out requests promptly. 
  • Use polite language in the opt-out wording. 
  • Strategic placement of the opt-out link (Better to keep it at the bottom of the email). 
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Till now we’ve studied compliance with cold emailing, you will be interested in knowing Text Messaging (another powerful channel in marketing), and our next section will guide you.

Is cold texting illegal?

If you’re wondering, ‘Is cold texting illegal?’ the answer is a straight no.

The key reason behind the strictness in the legality of cold texting is the personal nature of text messaging. 

Texts are often seen as more intrusive than emails, and the law reflects this perception. 

In the USA, the legality of cold texting, like cold emailing, is governed by strict regulations. Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), businesses must obtain explicit written consent before sending promotional texts. 

Violations can result in hefty fines, highlighting the importance of compliance. 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also regulate text message marketing, ensuring it doesn’t involve deceptive practices. 

Businesses must acquire the recipient’s consent and avoid prohibited content such as hate speech or threats to comply with legal regulations.

Additionally, each mobile carrier may have specific rules regarding text messages, which businesses should adhere to. 

Note: Consider referring to resources like the FCC and FTC websites for more detailed guidelines.

How does Salesmate improve cold outreach? 

Cold emailing is one of the heroic strategies to generate leads, opportunities, and sales.

Salesmate CRM is a powerful solution that combines CRM, cold outreach, automation, and intelligence.

Here’s how Salesmate lets you elevate the cold email outreach game:

  • Generate leads with built-in tools like Web Forms, Live Chat system, and Meeting Scheduler. Plus, it helps you identify qualified leads with custom lead scoring models.
  • Build targeted lists based on specific criteria such as demographics, interests, or behaviors, ensuring your message reaches the most receptive audience.
  • Creating personalized, powerful email campaigns becomes a matter of minutes, not hours.
  • Utilize AI to generate contextually rich emails swiftly. Salesmate’s intelligent system ensures each email is tailored to engage your audience effectively.
  • Refine your outreach and marketing emails with A/B and multi-variant testing capabilities.
  • Create custom sales pipelines to visualize your post-prospecting interactions to grab opportunities.
  • Track and analyze campaign performance with a comprehensive dashboard that offers actionable insights into opens, clicks, and engagement metrics.
  • You can manage subscriber lists, automate opt-ins and opt-outs, and uphold compliance with the email campaign software.

You can get over to manual hustle and automate cold outreach with Sequences. Not just outreach, Salesmate lets you automate workflows, nurturing, and follow-ups.

Get Analytics for your campaign and sales communications to improve decision-making.

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Wrap up 

You need to understand the laws as cold emailing illegal practices will lead you nowhere and burn all your money. 

Further, you must invest in powerful cold email tools that let you streamline your email outreach strategy.

Country Cold emailing governing law  Penalties 
United States CAN-SPAM Act (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003) Fines up to $51,744 per violation. 
Europe GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) Fines up to €20 million or 4% of global turnover. 
United Kingdom UK GDPR (UK General Data Protection Regulation), PECR (Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations), DPA (Data Protection Act 2018) Fines up to £17.5 million or 4% of global turnover. 
Canada CASL (Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation) Fines up to $10 million per violation. 

Disclaimer: This is an informational form of a blog on cold email regulations, not legal advice. 

Frequently asked questions 

Is cold email legal?

Similar laws apply in other countries like the GDPR in Europe and the Spam Act in Australia.

How do I cold email without getting blacklisted?

To avoid getting blacklisted when sending cold emails, adhere to best practices like personalizing your emails, ensuring they provide value to the recipient, maintaining an up-to-date email list, and complying with email regulations like the CAN-SPAM Act.

Is it illegal to sign someone up for something without their permission?
What types of emails are prohibited by the CAN-SPAM Act?

The CAN-SPAM Act prohibits emails with deceptive subject lines, missing or misleading header information, no clear indication that the email is an ad, no valid physical address of the sender, no way for recipients to opt-out of future emails, and failure to honor opt-out requests promptly.

Is it illegal to send unsolicited emails?
Can you get in trouble for sending unsolicited emails?

Yes, sending unsolicited emails can lead to trouble, especially if they violate laws like the CAN-SPAM Act in the U.S. or GDPR in Europe. Penalties can include hefty fines.

Sonali Negi

Sonali is a writer born out of her utmost passion for writing. She is working with a passionate team of content creators at Salesmate. She enjoys learning about new ideas in marketing and sales. She is an optimistic girl and endeavors to bring the best out of every situation. In her free time, she loves to introspect and observe people.

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