Bank customers who responded to an online survey have their in-boxes flooded with hundreds of unwanted email messages.
The bank, which services most of the Northeast, apparently conducted the survey to gauge consumers' interest in online banking. Individual email addresses were forwarded to everyone on the mailing list, resulting in hundreds of unsolicited email messages.
In a letter of apology, Fleet Bank vice president Laura Cleary wrote that the barrage of email messages that subscribers were subjected to was due to a "server configuration error on the part of the vendor supporting the online survey."
However, Tim Choate, president of Tennessee-based Edge.net, which was hired to process the mailing list by a Fleet Bank subcontractor, said the spam was not the result of an error. According to Choate, his company complied with the instructions it received from the subcontractor: to create an open mailing list.
"We did exactly what our customer asked," he said. According to Choate, Fleet Bank has since terminated its relationship with the subcontractor that hired Edge.net, and will post the apology to the mailing list recipients on its Web site.
A spokesman for Fleet Bank would only say that "this was an isolated problem, and although it affected a small group of customers, we take their concerns very seriously. We have worked diligently to ensure that our customers will experience no further inconvenience."
The angry response from the Fleet Bank customers underscores how negative an impact spam of any kind can have on businesses that send it. According to some accounts, more than 200 messages were inadvertently sent to the list as of last night, with more filtering in as late as today.
"We're talking about many megabytes of email having to be downloaded," said customer Tom Herman, one of the recipients of the unwanted email.
"If a huge national bank like Fleet Bank can't handle an email server, how could they possibly manage secure online transactions?" Herman said.