What is a spam trap?
A spam trap, spamtrap, or honeypot is usually an email address managed by an antispam organization. They are used to identify UCE (unsolicited commercial email) or SPAM by receiving and monitoring email messages from senders.
Spam traps or honeypots can trigger blacklistings, affecting delivery (and ROI) on your campaigns. We recommend you validate your email lists to maintain proper email list hygiene.
There are different types of spam traps or honeypots used by different organizations.
Spam traps or honeypots can be either fresh email addresses which have never been used online, or a recycled email address.
New or pristine email addresses are created for the sole purpose of capturing unwanted emails. These email addresses can be auto generated or randomized and have never been used by a person. These types of honeypots can be used to identify spammers who scrape data online and those who perform dictionary harvest attacks. Once an email is received to these addresses anti spam organizations are aware they are dealing with the worst kind of abuse, and they will drop the hammer. Both of these methods are illegal in the US under CAN-SPAM legislation.
A repurposed or recycled trap is an email address that once belonged to someone but is no longer a valid address. It was abandoned at one point and is no longer in use. These email addresses will return 550 error codes for period of time, usually 3-6 months. After that time they will be brought back to life as a trap by either ISP’s or anti spam organizations. Yahoo did this with a large number of email addresses at one point.
More reputable anti-spam organizations never list or sign up (opted in) on any website online. Emails may be placed on sites where spammers who break the laws scrape them, or they may randomized emails that were created and never placed online. When they receive an unsolicited email they know that the sender has sent a message to someone who has never opted in.
Once the identify the sender as someone who is sending unsolicited email or SPAM they can take action. Usually it is in the form of blacklisting the IP address, domain, or blocking the sender or IP range in the router, preventing further email from reaching their users or network. Others may contact the senders mail or internet provider, or even affiliate offer provider in an attempt to shut down the offender. And some may resort to litigation under the CAN-SPAM legislation.
Network administrators may subscribe to blacklist services and use the lists to block all incoming email from listed IPs or containing listed domains. Network administrators also communicate privately in groups and block IP ranges and networks that are known SPAM ghettos. This can kill delivery and ROI on your email marketing campaigns.
How did a spamtrap get into my email list?
There are many ways you may have gotten a spam trap in your email database.
Purchased data and email lists
You may have purchased data or an email list from a data broker or vendor. Even worse, you may have bought old data on a disk, or from someone who had it sitting for years. While there are reputable data brokers out there, unfortunately the industry has many that are not on the up and up. Even if the data has opted in, it was with a third party, so is prone to abuse and complaints.
Antispam organizations will also add traps to many of these data feeds, making them more dangerous to mail. While not illegal, many times buying data is just asking for trouble. If you do, I strongly suggest you validate your email list.
If you have purchased data in the past we recommend setting any inactive purchased leads to marketing suspended or simply removing them from your database.
Old email lists or databases
Recycled traps are email addresses that were once valid but are now used as honeypots to collect information about junk email sending patterns, offers, affiliate id’s and spammers. Recycled addresses can occur when a company goes out of business, the domain expires, or an organization has a relationship with the domain registrar or provider.
Here are a few possible scenarios:
A companies domain expires and the domain registrar maintains the email accounts to identify spammers. Even worse, they share information (or give access) to these accounts with anti spam administrators.
Expired domains are purchased by organizations and emails are setup to collect UCE (unsolicited commercial email) so they can list or monitor email marketers.
Companies or ISP’s create email addresses for blacklists or organizations old email addresses so they can identify bulk mailers. Or hand them expired email accounts after a set time like we discussed above.
Because antispam organizations will generally make sure future spam traps return a bounce as bad addresses for at least 3-6 months before they become spam traps you can prevent repurposed traps in your database by emailing remaining engaged with everyone in your database at least once a month. You can also run your data through an email validation company.
If you have not email your database in over a month or two, I would suggest you validate the file.
Invalid emails or syntax errors in signup forms
People can unintentionally enter spamtrap addresses into forms either by making a typo or by intentionally using a fake email address that happens to be a spamtrap. If you use single opt-in, you may add spamtraps to your mailing list. This is more likely to happen if you are a B2C company or if someone thinks they can get whitepapers or free trials simply by filling out a form with made-up information.
How can I identify spamtrap addresses?
It’s very difficult for marketers to find spamtraps. These addresses are kept secret by the antispam organizations. Since their goal is for senders to change their mailing practices and not remove spamtraps, they don’t share these addresses. Spam traps is that they tend to be automated processes and do not engage. Here at Verifications.io we have proprietary methods to find many of these addresses and remove them. We have also networked with ISP’s, ESP’s, and large email marketers with whom we are able to identify the traps.
How can I prevent spam traps and honeypots in my database?
Maintain current, direct opt-in with an active lead database to avoid bad emails from entering your list. If you purchase data make sure to validate it, and keep in a separate list and mail apart from your current list so you don’t contaminate your clean email list.