Is Cold Emailing Illegal?

Is Cold Emailing Illegal?
Alex Kachalov Alex Kachalov 26 january 2024, 13:54 255
For beginners

Ever been wondering if cold emailing is legal? Well, the general answer is yes, in most countries you can legally send a cold email pitching your product or service to a prospect. However, following the law is essential to avoid crossing into spam territory. Different jurisdictions have their own laws concerning cold emailing; you should adhere to whichever regulations you and your prospects fall under.

This article will give you a rundown on the legal aspects and regulations of cold emailing and the best practices to follow.

Cold email vs. spam

A cold email is an unsolicited email sent to a recipient without their prior consent. Its primary objective is to establish contact with potential clients or business partners. Cold emails are used in sales and marketing to initiate a relationship with the recipient.

Even though cold emails are unsolicited, they aren’t spam. A cold email is sent after researching the recipient and contains information closely related to their interests. In contrast, spam emails are sent to multiple email addresses without any research or specifics. Spam content is generic and irrelevant to recipients, often with clickbait subject lines.

Cold email senders respect their recipients and take care of their sending reputation, while spammers often use one-time domains and purchased or harvested email lists.

Cold email regulations in different jurisdictions

Different countries have unique laws governing email communications. Before sending any cold email to a prospect, you should know the relevant laws governing their jurisdiction and ensure you comply with them.

Below, we’ll summarize cold emailing laws in different regions worldwide.

Cold emailing laws in the United States

The primary regulation governing cold emailing to US residents is the CAN-SPAM Act. Violating this act can attract penalties of up to $46,517 per email. Its statutes include:

    • Providing accurate information

The cold email should not contain any false or misleading information. You must identify your personal or business identity in the email, and the subject line must accurately reflect the email's content.

    • Sharing your location

You must include your business’s physical address, usually at the bottom of the email.

    • Unsubscribe link or button

Your email should have an unsubscribe link or button, and you must tell the recipient how to opt out of any further emails from your address. You must honor any opt-out requests within 10 business days.

Cold emailing laws in European Union countries

The primary law governing cold emailing in EU countries is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Violating this law can attract fines of up to €20 million or 4% of a company’s global turnover.

GDPR statutes include:

    • Having a good reason for reaching out

You must have a clear reason for sending an email to a prospect. For instance, if you’re pitching a product or service, it should be relevant to the prospect’s corporate activities. The legal term states that the recipient must have a “legitimate interest” in what you email them about.

    • Transparency

Be transparent about how you got the prospect's email address. Disclose exactly where you got the address and other data you may have on them.

    • Opt-out/Unsubscribe

Provide a simple way for the prospect to opt out of receiving further messages from your address. Include instructions for the recipient to opt-out, and ensure you honor every request promptly.

Cold emailing laws in the United Kingdom

The UK has three main laws related to cold emailing: the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), the Data Protection Act (DPA), and a local version of GDPR.

PECR violations result in penalties of up to £500,000. DPA and UK GDPR infractions attract fines of up to £17.5 million or 4% of annual global turnover, whichever is higher.

Here are the statutes of the UK’s cold emailing laws:

    • Individual Consent

Cold business-to-business (B2B) emails don’t require prior consent, but B2C cold emails require consent and should be of legitimate interest to the recipient.

    • Providing company details

Details about your business, including contact information and a physical address, are mandatory.

    • Having a proper subject line

Add a relevant subject line to your email. It should not be misleading or contain any false information.

    • Opt-out

Provide a way for the prospect to unsubscribe from further emails from your address. Give clear instructions on how they can do that.

Cold emailing laws in Australia

People sending cold emails to an Australian prospect must adhere to the country’s Spam Act. Infractions can attract fines of up to $257,000 per individual or $1.3 million per company for each email.

The statutes of the Spam Act include:

    • Consent

Consent can be expressed or inferred under Australian laws.

Expressed consent is when the recipient has previously provided their email address to you, e.g., filled out a form, shared their address over the phone, signed up for your newsletter, etc.

Inferred consent is when the recipient shares their contact information or posts it publicly.

    • Stating your identity

Provide accurate information about your business, including its website, contact information, and physical address. Any information you provide must remain valid for at least 30 days after you send the email.

    • Unsubscribe link

Provide a link the prospect can follow to opt out of receiving more messages from you. Unsubscribing should not require logging into an account or paying any fee. Opt-out requests must be honored within 5 days.

Cold emailing laws in Canada

Canada’s primary law governing emails is the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), which took effect in 2014. This law's defining statute is that anyone sending cold emails must get explicit consent from the prospect. Violations can attract penalties of up to $10 million.

Here’s what you need to comply with CASL:

    • Get explicit consent from the prospect

Explicit consent doesn’t mean telling the prospect to expect a cold email from you beforehand. Instead, CASL infers consent as having a past business relationship with the recipient, or the recipient may have published their email address publicly.

    • Provide clear identification

Clearly state your company’s details, including its name, address, contact information, etc.

    • Offer opt-out options

Provide a way for the prospect to opt out of your messages. Also, give detailed instructions on how they can opt out.

You can observe that cold email regulations across most jurisdictions revolve around consent, clear identification, and allowing the prospect to unsubscribe from further emails. If you obey these statutes, you can safely send cold emails to businesses. However, any email to an individual will usually require prior consent.

Why do my cold emails enter the spam folder?

While you may perfectly comply with the above legal requirements, your cold emails are still more likely to get into the spam folder than regular marketing emails. There are two main reasons why an email lands in the spam folder instead of the recipient’s inbox.

1. The email triggers spam filters

Every email server has digital filters that scan incoming messages for spam-like characteristics. Such characteristics include overt use of exclamatory tones, grammatical errors, requests for personal information, suspicious attachments, etc.

If an anti-spam filter marks your message as having spam-like characteristics, it’ll probably land in the spam folder. With cold emails, you need to be extra careful about this, since you may miss the only opportunity to contact your prospect. Before sending a cold email, analyze it for grammatical errors and ensure it doesn’t have spam-like traits.

2. The recipient has marked your previous email as spam

If recipients see no value in your message, they might get annoyed and send it to their spam folder manually. Further messages originating from your address will then be marked as spam. To avoid this, research your prospects carefully and never send cold emails “just in case”.

3. Cold emailing in bulk

Let’s take a closer look at the previous scenario. Suppose you’ve carefully prepared a list of small businesses that might be interested in your offers. Then you send them all a promotion offer, a few hundred very similar messages.

It turns out, however, that many of your contacts use Google services to host their email. If one of the first recipients marks your message as spam, your Google spam score is adjusted. Subsequent emails are very likely to get into the spam folder right away, never to be read.

To avoid this, consider sending your cold emails individually, or at least no more than a few dozen letters at a time.

Best practices for sending compliant cold emails

You must adhere to certain practices if you want your cold emails to reach the prospect’s inbox and elicit a response. We’ll dive deeper into such practices below.

Abide by the laws

Before even thinking of sending cold emails, take care to study all laws and regulations applicable to your and your prospects’ jurisdictions. Seek legal advice if necessary. Keep in mind that failing to fulfill the legal requirements may ruin your reputation and result in substantial fines.

Don’t use clickbait subject lines

Clickbait refers to subject lines that are sensationalized and misleading to entice clicks. Here’s what a typical clickbait subject looks like:

  • Free gifts for you!
  • You won’t believe this!
  • Top strategies for good sales!
  • Open to claim your prize

It’s best to avoid anything that could be mistaken for clickbait. Remember, the purpose of cold emails is to build a long-term relationship with a prospect. Clickbait makes you start on the wrong foot and sours the chances of building a productive relationship. It can also negatively affect your sending reputation.

Have an open identity

Never hide your identity when sending a cold email. The prospect must be sure of the sender or they will likely mark your message as spam.

When you send a cold email, provide all relevant information about your business, including its legal name, physical address, and contact information. This gives the prospect confidence of interacting with a legitimate person, and they’ll likely respond.

An example of a cold email with an open identity
Source: Freshworks

The cold email must be relevant to the prospect

Relevance is critical to cold emailing. The primary idea behind email regulations is to prevent people from receiving irrelevant emails in their already crowded inboxes.

You can personalize your cold email to make it more relevant to the prospect. Personalization involves using data you have on the recipient to send targeted emails. Examples include:

  • Mentioning how you found the prospect (social media, blog posts, website, etc.).
  • Talking about pain points the prospect faces and how you can help solve them.
  • Talking about what the prospect’s competitors are doing and why they should follow suit.
  • Give compliments or praises relevant to the prospect, e.g., congratulating them on record sales in the specific period or a recent award they won.
  • Talking about a mutual connection to make the prospect more willing to read and respond to your message.
  • Mentioning topics the prospect is interested in.

An example of a relevant, personalized cold email
Source: Saleshandy

Allow recipients to unsubscribe easily

Let’s put it plainly: subscribing a person to your mailing list without their consent is generally a bad idea. Instead, include a link or button your recipient could use to subscribe, if they want to. This way, you’ll have their explicit consent for ongoing messages and avoid the risk of spam complaints.

In any case, every cold email you send must include a means to opt out of receiving any further emails from your address. You should also provide instructions on how they can do that. Violating this rule can bring significant legal consequences.

Be persistent

However, don’t be too shy. The first cold email might not get a response, so feel free to send several follow-up messages. You'll often need to send two to three cold emails before the prospect responds. After you send the first email, wait at least 72 hours before sending another one if you don’t get a response. Using a different subject line, length, and tone for each cold email may also help.

Revise your list frequently

You should regularly review your cold emailing list and remove addresses that aren't responding. If you keep sending emails to inactive prospects, you'll increase your overall bounce rate and lower your sending reputation. If that happens, cold emails from your address will likely get marked as spam. Adopt rules to limit the frequency and the total number of attempts to reach a particular prospect, and if they do not express any interest, just let it be.

It is strongly advised to perform email validation even before you start sending cold emails. Many free or paid email validation tools help detect and remove inactive addresses, e.g., ZeroBounce and Verifalia.

The Bottom Line

Cold emailing can yield excellent results if done right. Many profitable customer relationships begin with cold emails, and you can apply this strategy to boost your business. However, following the law in whichever jurisdiction you and your prospects are based is critical.

Most emailing laws revolve around obtaining consent, having a good reason for reaching out, clearly identifying your business, and providing a way for the prospect to opt out of further emails. If you obey these laws, you can comfortably send cold emails to prospects in nearly every jurisdiction.


Yes, sending cold emails is legal in most countries if you follow specific laws, including clearly identifying yourself, having a relevant message, and allowing the prospect to block further messages from you.

How can I send cold emails without being blacklisted?

You can send cold emails without getting blacklisted by using a reliable email provider with a solid reputation. Also, ensure your message is relevant to the recipient; you can personalize it to increase the chances of getting a response. Establish a good sending reputation for your domain before sending cold emails.

Are cold emails illegal in the US?

No, cold emails are not illegal in the United States. They are legal as long as the sender adheres to the statutes of the CAN-SPAM Act, which include providing accurate information, sharing your location, and having an unsubscribe/opt-out button with requests honored within 10 business days.

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