Spam Trap Email Addresses and their Impact on You (and Us)
A Spam Trap is an email address traditionally set up by an ISP or Spam identification service that is used as bait to expose illegitimate senders who add email addresses to their lists without permission. They can also be used to identify email marketers with poor list management practices. gCast performance and other clients can be materially impacted if a Spam Trap address is accidentally used in your campaigns, so we here at Gen3Media take them very seriously.
Nobody likes spam, and Spam Traps are very effective at fighting it so for that we can all be grateful. That is until, despite your good intentions, a Spam Trap ends up on your mailing list.
The email addresses used in a Spam Trap are typically old emails that have been chosen as they are no longer in use, or artificial email addresses created to try and trap the dishonest creators of artificial email send lists. This can be by placement on forums, website, and even fake business cards. The Spam Trap addresses are monitored constantly, but never used, so that they cannot ever be confused with a legitimate human who has opted into your communications. Spam detection agencies publish thousands of new Spam Traps email addresses every day, to fight against illegitimate spam senders. While they keep the list of actual Spam Trap addresses a secret, they rank the different addresses as to the likelihood of accidental to purposeful usage, and scale their response accordingly.
Even the inadvertent sending of an email to a Spam Trap can be very damaging to your sender reputation as well as causing deliverability problems for others using gCast. These can range from temporary sending bans to full blacklisting of your accounts and brand by the worldwide Spam detection agencies.
Spam Traps do not always come via uploading illegitimate email lists, as they may come by a simple typo on entry or from being an old email address that was long ago legally entered into your database. But as the Spam Trap address is guaranteed to no longer being a real human, the sending to it identifies that the email management of your send database is not being completed adequately. gCast provides a comprehensive database cleaning and monitoring service, so it is likely that an Spam Trap email address in your database has not been opted in via a feedback check with the individual, and is therefore corrupting your entire subscribers database.
What to do if you have hit a Spam Trap
Depending on the level of Spam Trap that is accessed, the spam trap owner may publish an alert to all major international ISP to place spam blocks on the specific sender, the computer IP addresses used for sending, or even the entire marketing service provider (Us). Because of this risk, Gen3Media takes appropriate action to protect its other customers, and to help you deal with the required response.
We take Spam Trap cases very seriously because what is damaging to you has potentially a greater negative impact on our reputation as an Email Service Provider (ESP), and this affects deliverability for all customers. In the event the triggering of the Spam Trap was due to a breach of our terms and conditions of use regarding the sending of Spam via our service, client accounts may be locked or even cancelled in extreme cases or for repeated offences.
In almost all cases, the triggering of a Spam Trap is an unexpected surprise for both you and us. Our primary aim is to help you fix the problem as soon as possible. Even good email marketers can get caught and it's not always immediately clear why it has happened. Possible explanations include importing legacy email lists, errors when collecting email addresses offline, and using only single opt-in for your sign up process.
The type of Spam Trap you hit can be an indicator of where your problems may lie. Once notified of the Spam Trap trigger, our team will work with you to investigate how the trap may have got on your, or your client's, list and advice on how we can rectify the situation. The impact of hitting a Spam Trap can vary. It depends on variables like: the type of trap you hit, how many times you hit it, and how the Spam Trap detection service responds.
With your help we can get you back on track towards a safe, successful marketing program.
What can happen when you trigger a Spam Trap
In order of increasing severity, here's what can happen if you or one of your clients sends email to a Spam Trap:
- Your sender reputation will be damaged. This causes bounce rates to increase and your percentage of delivered (to the inbox) emails will decrease
- Our IP address may be added to a blacklist database, which means deliverability for your other clients (and our other customers) would also be affected
- If you hit a Spam Trap operated by an ISP, such as Gmail or BigPond, the ISP can permanently blacklist your whole domain
- If you hit a Spam Trap operated by a spam detection agency (e.g. Abusix, Spamhaus, SpamCop) delivery of your emails to all ISPs and companies who consult that agency’s database will be affected because they use that information to block potential spam
As mentioned above, even legitimate email marketers can be caught by Spam Traps. There are a lot of things you need to pay attention to, in order to maximize your email deliverability. If something is off, hitting a trap provides an excellent opportunity to revise your customer acquisition and email marketing methods.
Our response process after you trigger a Spam Trap
Because it should be extremely rare that any one of our clients trigger a Spam Trap, but yet the consequences to all our clients can be severe, we will contact you immediately we become aware of you triggering a Spam Trap. Our team will contact you by email with information on which client it was (if you have multiple clients) and the specific campaign details. We cannot however, identify the actual Spam Trap email address. The identity of these are protected by all parties for obvious reasons.
Regardless of the severity of the case, the specific client’s ability to send a campaign will be suspended (or your entire account if there is only one client) until we help you resolve the issues with the list containing a Spam Trap.
The review and recovery process will normally involve:
- Identifying all the ways subscriber data has been collected and added to your list. If for any reason, third party or purchased email addresses have been added to your list, they must be removed immediately to not be in breach of our standard terms of usage
- Reviewing the age of your lists. We need to find out how current your email database is and how regularly, or irregularly, they have been sent bulk commercial emails
- To help you through this process of recovery, when the suspension is removed we can provide optional services to help you manage a campaign plan to ramp up from a smaller group of your most engaged subscribers to increasingly wider distributions in order to help to repair your sender reputation.
This whole process can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to resolve. Having a Spam Trap address in your valuable customer database is akin to having a virus in your computer systems. Sadly, by its nature we cannot identify the specific email address to remove it, and we must work backwards by identifying all the emails that are legitimate in your database, based on how they have responded to previous campaigns. A number of addresses will have to be flagged as potential Spam Traps, and cleansed from your overall customer database to protect the integrity of your database. This is actually a positive, as these emails represent very poor or non-existent engagement opportunities for you, and therefore waste your funds in ineffective transport changes. gCast specifically supports the filtering and removal of such emails on an ongoing basis to keep your database relevant and effective in your overall marketing campaigns.
We understand it can all sound quite daunting, but so long as you are willing to work with us, as a legitimate sender with good intentions there is no need to worry. Going through damage control in response to hitting any kind of Spam Trap is actually a great opportunity to review and improve your sending and list management practices with the help of our expert team.
Types of Spam Traps
It is possible to hit a Spam Trap without knowingly doing anything wrong. This is because of the different ways that Spam Traps are created.
Pure Spam Traps
These are email addresses that have never been used by anyone: they've never been opted into a mailing list, used to sign up for an account, or handed out on a business card.
The only way this sort of Spam Trap could possibly end up on your subscriber list is if they were obtained without permission.
Pure Spam Traps are set up with the sole intention of luring in spammers, which is done by leaving them out as bait. The address is placed on the Internet where people or robots harvesting email addresses illegitimately will find them.
When email addresses are collected this way they're often usually shared with other spammers or added to bulk mailing lists that get sold to people who may not understand the consequences of emailing people without permission.
Recycled Spam Traps
This is the kind of trap you could hit even if every email address on the list was obtained with permission. But they're still bad news because sending to these addresses can make you look like a spammer.
Recycled Spam Traps are very old email addresses that are no longer in use by the original owner. The address has been abandoned for so long the provider has repurposed it as a trap to expose, and block emails from, senders who are not responsibly managing their email marketing program.
Hitting a recycled Spam Trap indicates that you are not keeping your lists up to date, which means regularly removing inactive subscribers and managing bounced emails.
Typos and fake emails
If someone subscribes using an email address that contains a typo, or they submit a deliberately fake email address – because they don't want to be emailed – you run the risk of it, coincidentally, being a Spam Trap email address.
For example, someone might submit an address with a typo in the domain: @gnail instead of @gmail. Typos on the domain side of the address, after the @, are the most common Spam Traps but you can also strike one with a misspelled username: the bit before the @.
Username typos can happen when email addresses are collected offline and later have to be entered into a database, or it be entered incorrectly when a customer is spelling it out over the phone.
Website registration and shopping cart forms are where you're going to attract the fake emails. If you've ever had to hand over your email address in exchange for a "free whitepaper," you can appreciate how this happens.
So, for example, someone submits an address like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org (random slapping of keyboard) and, unfortunately for you, it happens to be a Spam Trap address.
The best way to avoid both of these trap types is using confirmed opt-in. By requiring new subscribers to verify their subscription address with a response you can ensure your list will never be contaminated with an invalid email address that, at best, will bounce and at worst is a Spam Trap.
These type of Spam Traps are designed more so to encourage best practices than fight bulk-mail spammers. You're highly unlikely to be blacklisted if these traps are found on your list but you will still be required to take action to stop hitting them.