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What is a Murkogram?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2016
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A murkogram is a type of spam email that has a few distinctive features. Most spam can be labeled as unsolicited commercial email (UCE), since it attempts to sell you something without ever gaining your permission to contact you in the first place. The murkogram, though, is unique in that it also tries to convince you that UCE you receive is perfectly legal according to the law.

The name murkogram is named after US Senator Frank Murkowski. In 1999, the US Senate was considering a bill called S. 1618. The bill was also called the Telephone Slamming Bill, and it mainly pertained to the business of companies charging long distance providers without explicit customer permission. Senator Murkowski decided to attach a section to S.1618 called Title III or the Inbox Privacy Act, which would require all UCE to include the name of the company, contact information like a telephone number, physical and email address, and instructions on how to remove your email address from receiving other emails in the future.

The House of Representatives didn’t like the provision, and removed it. Therefore there is no Title III section of S. 1618. The reason this little legal lesson is important is because of the phrasing in a murkogram. Most murkograms will cite that they are in compliance with the Bill S.1618, Title III. As such, consumers cannot complain or do anything about receiving UCE of this sort.

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Yet technically this is not true. There is no Title III section, so the murkogram makes use of a phony law to prevent consumers from complaining about spam. There are a couple of other laws that have “died” in the House or Senate that you might see cited in a murkogram. They include H.R. 3888, which did include in its initial version, some language that would seem to protect spamming activity. This language was removed and the bill never became a law. Another frequently cited bill is H.R. 4176, which like 3888, was never made into law.

What the murkogram attempts is to keep you receiving spam email by referring to laws or provisions that don’t exist. They hope by sounding “official” that they will not get complaints from users. There are a lot of companies that do give information of the sort suggested by Senator Murkowski, and where unsubscribing from lists is pretty easy, a few companies tend to be very tricky in this respect.

Murkograms are now strictly illegal, thanks to the US Federal Law, the CAN-SPAM Act, signed into legislation in 2004. This is an “opt-out” system, where people can unsubscribe by sending an email to UCE creators. However, the law also defines deception contained in emails as criminal behavior.

This means any murkogram you receive is illegal, since it makes statements about laws that don’t exist and implies you have no means for preventing receiving such mail in the future. Most people comply with Can-Spam, and there are fewer murkograms being sent at present. If you do receive one, you may want to work with your email or Internet provider to report this illegal behavior.

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