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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.

Spam traps are a tool used by internet service providers (ISPs) and email service providers to identify and monitor spam email. There are two types of spam traps: pristine and recycled. Pristine spam traps are email addresses that were created specifically to catch unsolicited emails, while recycled spam traps are invalid email addresses that were once active but are no longer in use. These traps are not published on websites or given out to individuals, making them difficult for senders to identify. Senders who send to these addresses are likely sending to a list of email addresses that have been compiled without permission, also known as a contact list, and have a poor sender reputation.

Sending to a spam trap can result in the sender’s domain being flagged as a source of spam traffic, resulting in a decrease in delivery rate and a higher chance of emails being sent to recipients’ spam folder. ISPs and ESPs use these traps to identify and block IP addresses that are sending a large amount of spam, as well as fake addresses, fake domains, and IPs that are used by spammers. To avoid falling into a spam trap, it’s important to regularly monitor and clean up your email contact lists and be cautious of any email addresses that seem suspicious or fake. Spam traps are a method used to detect and permanently blacklist email senders who engage in unethical practices such as using purchased lists or scraping sites for email addresses. Even well-intentioned senders can fall victim to these traps if they unknowingly acquire a list of fake or opted-out email subscribers. It’s important to always obtain email addresses through opt-in methods to avoid the bad news of ending up on a blacklist.

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. Spam traps serve the sole purpose of identifying and catching spammers who engage in unethical email practices. These traps are often set up to receive emails and monitor delivery rates, and when a hard bounce is detected, the sender is flagged as a spammer. For example, if a company sends an email to a trap address that was set up by an anti-spam organization, they will be flagged as a spammer and their messages may not be delivered to their contacts. It’s important to always obtain permission before sending emails and to keep your contact list updated to avoid falling into these traps. 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 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 contact 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 maintain a good sender reputation and avoid falling into a spam trap, it’s important to use best practices for email marketing and to be cautious of any email addresses that seem suspicious or fake. 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 traps 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. Email marketers can prevent falling into a spam trap by using a double opt-in process for collecting email accounts and regularly cleaning their email lists.

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 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!

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