Jared E. Bendis

Walgreens keeps spamming me, why they need to stop, and this is why it matters.

If you have previously unsubscribed to a Walgreens advertisement and have recently started seeing emails from them again. Please reach out to their customer service and social media platforms, loudly and often.  Tell them Jared sent you.

As someone who has had regular access to email since the late 1980s, yes that makes me an old GenXer (not a boomer) and I understand this technology well.

I am inundated with email.  As a member of the media I am subscribed voluntarily (automatically) to every mailing list from every company at every trade show and conference I attend.  This is in fact legal.  And as long as the emails have proper headers, proper footers, and a working opt-out link, I have no problem with email marketing.

That being said, I am buried in email.  Buried! So many companies (and colleagues) format their email so poorly that I cannot rely on SPAM filters.  I even have to route emails that would regularly get caught by SPAM filters back into my inbox.

A few months ago, I sat down to purge my 13,000+ unread emails in my inbox. This is a grueling process.  Sometimes it’s easy. You find an email from a company that you don’t engage with – you unsubscribe – then you search for all the emails they have sent you. In a moment you can eliminate 5, 10, even 50 emails from one company at a time.

As I often use my phone to check email and this is more of a desktop task, I often have to table my cleanup activities until I have a nice block of time.

During the last purge, I remember thinking to myself that while I do indeed shop at Walgreens (for literally one item) that their advertisements never do me any good. So I unsubscribed and deleted all the old Walgreens emails.  This was more than 10 days ago.

Last week, after several weeks of having no emails from Walgreens, I started receiving emails again.  It was very curious.  One on Sunday, then one on Monday, and the Monday one was even more curious as the title was “Return to Walgreens”. At first I took the message as simply to come back and shop but after 3 of those emails – and one very peculiar email with the subject “[untitled]” the subject changed to “Let’s reconnect.”

Now I’m not just sitting here and accruing SPAM emails from Walgreens. Confused by the new emails I read the fine print:

You are receiving this email because xxx@gmail.com is signed up to receive Walgreens communications. If you no longer wish to receive these emails, please click here. We’re always here if you’d like to come back.

Well first, it’s wrong.  I didn’t sign up. I had been signed up in the past but having removed myself from your mailing list I should have been moved to a blacklist of emails that they cannot send marketing materials to anymore.

Some of my followers on TikTok were afraid that this wasn’t really from Walgreens but a bizarre phishing exercise.  As mentioned at the start, I’m GenX, we invented phishing. The email was from walgreens@eml.walgreens.com and the reply field was to support@e.walgreens.com.

The link was a legit link BUT the link took me to a webpage that returned the following message:

It’s a shame to see you go! Would you like to fine-tune your inbox instead? Opt-out of select subscriptions to see fewer, more relevant emails in your inbox. (a warning graphic) There are no subscriptions associated with xxx@gmail.com. Manage your email subscriptions. (with no link).

This is bad.

Walgreens is emailing me, well after I have unsubscribed, falsely indicating why I was receiving the email, and then linking me to an opt-out link that reports that I am not subscribed so is therefore invalid.  All of this is in violation of SPAM laws both federal and state.

So I reached out to Walgreens customer service.

I also filed a case with the FTC. If I suspected how bad these emails were going to be I would have waited and filed a more complete version.  My interactions with customer service have been staggeringly bad.

The first reply was as follows:

Thank you for contacting Walgreens.com customer service. This is in response to your e-mail regarding unsubscribing.

Apologies for sending another e-mail but I needed to confirm this information with you. May I ask you to provide the following information so that I may mark your e-mail address from manual removal?


Phone number:

Zip code:

Thank you for allowing me to assist you. Have a good day.

First, they reframed my complaint about receiving SPAM as somehow simply having a difficulty in unsubscribing.  I had never resubscribed.  So my difficulty in unsubscribing could more easily be stated as Walgreens not abiding by their own black list.

Second, they asked for personal information. Now I understand this isn’t a lot of information, in fact most people could find those 3 items about me without much difficulty. But the idea that they wouldn’t or couldn’t help – without getting more information than just my email address is absurd.  And why would I volunteer any more information to a company that is currently abusing the information that they have of mine. I declined.

The response to my declining was insane:

Thank you for your response. I do understand your frustration, however I must explain.

Apologies, Under the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), we are required by law to verify certain information before accessing your account . This includes modifying, disclosing, or altering any information or settings on your account. If this information is not verified, we have no way to confirm your identity.

If you do not want to verify your information you can block the following marketing address in your e-mail client to stop messages going forward: walgreens@e.walgreens.com. This is in compliance with the Federal CAN-SPAM act of 2003 by providing an alternative method of opting out for customers who do not wish to verify or confirm the account information.

I am sorry for any inconvenience caused, but we are unable to go against Federal regulations to comply with a request and it is expected that a member wishing to opt out confirm enough information so that we can assist you. You can confirm the information or use the option above to stop the e-mails going forward, as either will solve the issue for you.

Thank you for your patience and understanding. Have a good day.

We at walgreens.com look forward to assisting you.

This is absolute bullshit.

For them to hide behind HIPAA while violating the CAN-SPAM act is not just shameful but it is terrifying.  Are their marketing emails tied to HIPAA data?  Is their assertion that their possession of data protected by HIPAA somehow elevates these marketing emails so that they are exempt from the CAN-SPAM act? Again, their attempt to reframe my filing of a complaint and grievance into something transactional is terrible. And it’s scary.

At no time were either of these customer service people seem concerned or alerted to the fact that I was complaining that an email on their federally mandated blacklist was being sent emails.  If their email system is violating one federal law how do we know it isn’t violating any others?  If I did have sensitive data at Walgreens I would now be VERY concerned that their databases are combined and that something is amiss.  Somehow an email was sent to an email that was, or should be, in a database, that says never email.  How could this happen? Is this human error? A technical glitch?  A data breach? And to what extent is it happening and can it happen? Am I the only one?  Or am I the only one who thought to complain?

The second part of the email where they tell me that by telling me to block their emails they are complying with federal law by giving me an alternative way of opting out is despicable. Not only is this one of the most idiotic things I have ever read, but clearly it’s a boilerplate that someone told them to cut and paste.  It’s an actual policy to tell someone that to be in compliance with federal spam laws is to simply tell people if they don’t want anymore spam to just not read it. After all, that’s all an email block is, it’s a filter.  It’s like telling me if I don’t want to get mugged I shouldn’t walk down the street in their neighborhood.

I explained how both of these responses were bullshit and how they keep attempting to reframe my complaint into something that it isn’t.  Surprisingly I got another response:

Thank you for contacting Walgreens.com customer service. This is in response to your e-mail regarding unsubscribing.

I apologize for any inconvenience. I was unable to locate an online account using your email address, so I was able to manually opt you out of further emails. Please allow 10 business days for the emails to completely stop showing up.

Thanks for your patience and understanding. Have a great day.

None of that makes any sense!  So their HIPAA policy isn’t a policy after all? They peaked under the hood and saw it was all clear?  This person read my email and it made sense to him that the second person didn’t? How was he manually able to opt me out of further emails if I was already opted out of getting emails? There is nothing here that indicates that this is true and that anything will change.

As for waiting 10 days.  That’s also bullshit.  Federal spam laws give them a 10 day grace period when I opt-out – that’s true. But I am not opting out! I am complaining that they are ignoring the blacklist!  They don’t get a free pass and another 10 days for that!

Walgreens should know better. Walgreens is begging me to come to them with sensitive medical information about myself and at the same time being careless with my data.

Many of you probably think this sounds petty. And if you view it as simply 9 unwanted emails in my inbox you would be right.

But it is more than that.  It’s bullying, it’s bad customer service, it’s bad data management, its flagrant abuse of their blacklist for profit.

I suspect someone in marketing is using the blacklist as a tool for a marketing campaign.  And even if it is a 3rd party company, the law states that Walgreens is responsible.  The fines could be as great as $42k per email, liabilities here could be in the millions.  Customer service is so busy trying to reframe my complaint and push me away they aren’t even protecting Walgreens! They appear to be servicing no one.

Do I expect Walgreen to pay me $8 in damages for every SPAM email they send me? (That’s the most you get in Ohio per email).  Well I hope so!  Hell that’s $72 so far.  But if we look at it another way, right now it would be about $40 per week.  If Walgreens wants to send me advertisements for $40 per week they are welcome to!  But I still won’t do any extra shopping there, which is why I unsubscribed from the emails in the first place.

I’m not worried about SPAM from a random pornographer, I’m worried about companies who think the laws only apply to the random pornographers.  Let’s tell them otherwise.

Walgreens – what is going on?

If you have previously unsubscribed to a Walgreens advertisement and have recently started seeing emails from them again. Please reach out to their customer service and social media platforms, loudly and often.  Tell them Jared sent you.