On January 25, 2010, a coworker e-mailed me after a brief panic. She had just received an e-mail with the subject line “Final notice,” and thought her car was going to repossessed.
But her car wasn’t in danger of disappearing—and she e-mailed me because I was the one who sent the message, to her and 250,000 other people, asking them to sign a petition about a public option in the healthcare reform bill.
I was in charge of e-mail advocacy for the blog Firedoglake, and it was part of my job to get people to open e-mails, sign petitions, and make donations to support our work. I thought using “Final notice” would get more people to notice the pitch, which began “This is your final notice to sign our emergency petition to progressive Members of Congress…”
Unfortunately, it appears I was among the first in the political advocacy world to employ that deception, and today the tactic is increasingly common. Recently, I woke up to an e-mail from an address that began FINAL-NOTICE, and the subject line was “AUTO-CONFIRM: [M. Whitney (3/31/2015)].” It wasn’t from my bank, but rather the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The DCCC and the House Majority PAC (a group also working to elect Democrats to Congress) are probably the two biggest offenders when it comes to faux-debt collection fundraising pitches, but they are not alone. The National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee also sends similar e-mails, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Republican party, and the Prop 8 Legal Defense Fund have all tried it in the recent past.
I get that political e-mail fundraising has taken on an even more frenzied, gimmicky, and desperate approach than ever before, as the need for cash becomes increasingly important in politics, and as more and more campaigns are competing for inbox attention.
But these pitches are different, and dangerous. They bank on fear: that the recipient missed a payment; that they’re behind on bills; that their power will be cut.
The first instance I can find of this tactic is actually from the AFL-CIO in January 2010, when the labor group ran a digital campaign in support of financial reform. An e-mail with the subject line “Final Notice—Payment Past Due” was for a campaign asking labor activists to sign a petition telling major banks that it was their “final notice” for a “past due payment” for the damage they caused to the American economy.
Most e-mails in this genre follow a similar formula. They feature phrases like “NOTICE: [CANCELLATION]” and “FINAL NOTICE.” Some might use an official-sounding beginning of an e-mail address (like SECOND.NOTICE@, or accounting-dept@). In the body of the e-mail there is sometimes more deceptive language, like “you are officially on notice” or “imminent cancellation.”