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A short guide on common spam trap email addresses

Mar 5, 2019

We’ve mentioned on a few occasions that there is a war between spammers and Internet Service Providers going on an everyday basis. This war is pushing the ISP’s to take extra measures in the fight with the baddies. One of the strongest weapons they use are the spam traps (known also as honeypots). Unfortunately, legitimate senders also can get caught into those traps, by a ricochet.

In this article, we will explain what are they, how they work and how to stay away from them.

Email Trap – What is a spam trap?

Inbox and blacklist providers use spam traps to catch malicious senders. It looks like a real email address, but it doesn’t actually belong to a real person and it’s not used for any form of communication.

ISP’s take a random inoperative email address and turn it into their version of the spam trap. It could be an email address that once was active, but after a certain time of inactivity, they started to bounce back. If there is an email sent to such email address, ISP’s knows that the list is either rented or purchased. Even the most legitimate users will get caught by those traps if they fail to maintain their email list. And the consequences can be hurtful…

Email Trap – Spam traps can become your nightmare

There is a high risk that you’ve already send an email to a honeypot, and you don’t even realize that you did. To the anti-spam organizations, you will look like a spammer, but probably you didn’t do a good job of taking care of your list or used wrong practices to collect your emails. Even one spam trap on your list can be fatal for your reputation and email deliverability. It all depends on the type of a trap. And I believe you already know, that if your reputation is getting low, your emails will land in spam boxes, and you can get blacklisted. In one word – worts email marketer nightmare!

Spam trap on your list – how come?

To realize how one of those could get on your mailing list first, you will need to learn about different types of traps that are currently used by ISP’s. In this part, we will cover the most common, however, if you would like to dive deep on this subject, check a comprehensive list created by Laura Atkins, email deliverability expert and owner of World to the Wise.

  • Pristine traps – hidden email addresses published on public web sites. A normal user would never see them, can be only collected by people that use wrong collection methods,i.e. Scraping the web for anything that has an email format. If you’ve ever purchased/rented a list or scrapped websites yourself, there is a very high risk that you have a pristine trap on it.
  • Recycled traps– inactive and abandoned email addresses, that once belonged to real people, later converted to a trap by the inbox provider. After a certain amount of inactivity time, inbox providers deactivate emails (for example Gmail and Outlook after 270 days and AOL after only 90 days).

Once you send an email to such address, you will receive a hard bounce, which is basically the final notice to remove it from your list. If you take good care of your list, you will delete any hard bouncing addresses ASAP. But there are people who don’t really pay attention to their bounces and will keep on mailing the spam trap. Soon they won’t receive a hard bounce anymore, instead will get under the ISP’s radar as a misbehaving sender. This approach was designed to find and penalize irresponsible senders.

Unfortunately, there are ways of getting spam traps on your lists, that are behind your responsibility. You might get users that subscribe on your page or signed up for a trial with a fake or accidentally (or not) mistyped email address, that unluckily might be the traps. Even worse – someone who is not a fan of your work, or even a competitor might intentionally use a spam trap email to during the sign-up process.

How to fix your processes to avoid email spam traps?

To avoid spam traps first, we need to understand how they could get on our list, and improve the possible holes in the strategy, to prevent spam trap of sneaking through.
Important! If you’ve been guilty of using any bad emarketing practices, there is an easy first step to fix it…

Don’t ever do it again you naughty outlaw, and get rid of your mailing lists before it is too late to be saved! (Okay, I might be slightly overdramatic, but really want to get my point across).

Most commonly, the honeypots will get on your lists either during your signups, or they are already there, in your inactive subscribers’ segment. Therefore let’s focus on those two angles:

  • Sign up process:

Don’t ever buy an email list
Might be full of traps, just waiting for you! But that is not the only reason why you shouldn’t use such lists, read our previous article on this subject here.

Use double-opt in
If an email is confirmed, it means that the email address is real, and there is actually a person behind it, that might be interested in your product. Score!

Validate with Bouncer, in real-time
Integrate your landing page with our real-time API, to catch typos and non-existing email addresses, before they will land on your list.

  • Managing your lists:

If it bounced, remove it!
Always take off your list any email that hard bounced! Do it before it will turn into a spam trap. Additionally, put it on your blacklist/suppression list to make sure that you won’t reacquire it again, or use it in your next campaign.

Keep an eye on your inactive segment
Those that have been inactive for a while now, won’t bring any extra value to the ROI of your campaign but might increase the risk of getting caught. Don’t feel sorry to say goodbye!

If you are worried that there might be already a spam trap on your list, you will need to take a close look at the quality of your list. Unfortunately, you won’t find a list of honeypots on the internets, that you could use to compare and remove them from your subscribers. You will have to measure the engagement of your list. The emails that are listed under clicked or opens, are probably decent. Therefore if you take your time to manage your inactive subscribers, you will most likely clean your list from traps. You might also run a re-engagement campaign, asking people to confirm their interest in receiving content from you. The ones that won’t reply/click or open your email, might be suspicious – take them down.

Bouncer as your email spam trap protection?

Yes, this is not a typo – our tool won’t fully protect you from spam traps!
We do monitor them for our internal purposes only and we are not providing any information about them to our customers. In fact, we have mixed fillings about spam-traps.

From one perspective this functionality would be really helpful to the customers to protect them from malicious agents. Which we would definitely love to help with.
On the other hand, it might be attracting customers who need to wash out their harvested lists, which would be against our anti-spam policy.
And we really try to be consistent with our values and mission.

Some of our competitors are claiming that they are able to spot a spam-trap, some are saying it’s not possible to verify them, because a good spam trap is not designed to be spotted, and only old spam traps are possible to be identified. The truth is, that a good spam trap/honeypot is not going to be published, and the ones that are possible to be revealed are most probably already obsolete. It might be good enough solution to provide some information about spam traps, but we would not be able to assure we spot them all.

We have heard about ways to verify a spam trap, but those methods are very close to hacking, and we prefer the light side of the force.

However, if you follow the good practices that we’ve mentioned in the previous paragraphs, and additionally run your list via Bouncer to find undeliverable email addresses before they are turned into traps, you will most likely stay clean from them!

May your list be always clean, engaged and decent!

Line and dots
Line and dots