The Truth About Spamtraps

Truth About Spamtraps

i: Understanding the Logic of Spamtraps

Spamtraps are used as a fraud management tool by large national and international Internet Service Providers (ISPs). They use spamtraps to attract the spammers so that they can track them down, and block the IPs of unwanted spam emails. Because the spamtrap address is unable to receive emails directly, one cannot acquire them in the database without any further assistance.

“ISPs and Anti-Spam Services use spamtraps as a way to poison the lists of spammers who knowingly engage in email address harvesting.”

Spamtraps can be organized in different categories in the anti-spam universe, but in this passage, it would be considered in the category of list poisoning. Anti-spam services, along with ISPs, use spamtraps to poison the spammers’ list, who specifically involve in gathering email lists, which is prohibited under CAN-SPAM.

‍ii: Meaning of the Different types of Spamtraps

Not all spamtraps are identical or equal, meaning that not all spamtraps have the same negative weight to one’s sender reputation. Two major spamtraps used by ISPs and Anti-Spam services exist, and these are Pure and Recycled spamtraps.

Pure Spamtraps have a significant impact on one’s reputation and thus influence the delivery of emails to major ISPs. Pure spamtraps hold a vast penalty because they are primarily generated for acting as a dominant spamtrap. Therefore, ISP or Anti-spam services automatically consider any email checker to be spam that is received on these Pure Spamtraps network. No exact validation exists as to why emails are collected in the Pure Spamtraps inbox.

On the other hand, Recycled spamtraps are those emails which were formerly used by legit ISP/Email providers, but those accounts are not in use by those owners anymore.

This type of spamtrap is called by other names as well, like dead addresses, dormant addresses, inactive addresses, etc. After a specific time of inactivity, ISP turns those accounts off, resulting in a return hard bounce or SMTP error for the sender. These errors are usually displayed as “550-unknown user”. “Gravestoning” accounts are the name given to this process. When an email id is a gravestone from thirty to ninety days, ISP reactivates some of the addresses; but this decision is entirely dependent on how ISP analyzes those email ids. The ids which are revived turn into Recycled Spamtraps. Any email, which is sent to these ids, is documented as a spamtrap. The spamtraps which are recycled hold a lower penalty on one’s IP or domain reputation; however, they are still considered to be a hit spamtrap. Be reminded that not all ISPs hold similar gravestone procedures. The best thing to do is to know all regular updates from major ISPs that make up your database.

The third type of spamtrap goes by the name Role Accounts or Function Email Accounts. These types of accounts contain webmaster@, hostmaster@, sales@, support@, postmaster@, etc. The consequence associated with this trap varies based on the domain or ISP that’s being used. Usually, these accounts have a higher penalty with small B2B domains.

iii: How do Spamtraps End Up in Your Database

Spamtraps are meant to be secret, and only the owner knows about the address of their spamtraps. Discovering that you have one or more spamtrap in your database can be both shocking and unfavorable because of the penalties associated with it. Following, you can find the most common ways in which spamtraps land in the database of marketers.

The easiest way to get a spamtrap is by buying an email list. The lists which are purchased don’t specify the dates they were made or born on. Therefore a user can never be sure of how old the email addresses are on that list. Email lists that are purchased also don’t include opt-in records. If a user has ever bought an email list, there are high chances that your emails are being sent to a large number of spamtraps.

The second most straightforward way of getting a spamtrap is by sending emails to dormant or old lists. An excellent example of this happening is when a list is compiled from a particular event, and email addresses are acquired into that list. After a long time, when marketers see that they haven’t contacted anyone from the list consisting of 100,000 email ids, their first thought would be to make use of it now. However, by this time, many of those emails would already have been dormant by then or would be inactive or invalid. This will result in a catastrophe for those marketers as they will definitely hit the spamtrap.

Some of the other ways of getting spamtraps into opt-in lists are through familiar role account hits or typos that open path towards domains that are dead. These expired domains are those who are not in service anymore. For instance, ISPs tend to have no business, unite with another service, or are entirely bought. In such cases, ISP can do two things; gravestone the email ids or migrate all of them to a new service. Knowing that several Anti-Spam services don’t accommodate a structure to preserve webmail services, this causes them to purchase gravestone ids by moving them to spamtraps.

‍iv: The Risk Spamtraps Deliver to your IP Addresses

As mentioned earlier, spamtraps carry a high penalty on one’s IP and Domain reputation. From the different types of spamtraps, Pure spamtraps are the ones that most negatively impact the reputation. When such a spamtrap is hit, it immediately blocks the IP address and sometimes affects even the domain. Getting blocked in this way can be costly and disrupts the entire campaign, and the method of regaining that reputation is not easy.

Reducing the repercussions of spamtrap hit is a lengthy and tiring method depending on the spamtrap type, origin, and Anti-Spam Service or ISP. An IP address or subnet of addresses takes upward of six months up to a year to improve from a spamtrap hit if the instructions of the trap owner/ISP are correctly followed.

‍v: Are Your Deliverability Problems related to Spamtraps?

Speaking from personal experience gained from using many top ESP’s and Windows Live Hotmail, it is concluded that many of these delivery issues are not because of spamtraps. The most significant factor that affects the delivering aspect is the lack of observance of common best practices for email acquisition, for example: don’t purchase this list, etc.

Nevertheless, if suspicion arises, that deliverability problem is due to spamtraps, then examine the bounce logs to get some proof. Also known as SMTP Failure logs, or sending logs, these are significant initial steps in understanding the source of the issue. ISPs that block or defer mail send a message of rejection or bounce message to the mail server’s origin. Sometimes called a Non-Delivery Receipt/Report, or DSN, which stands for Delivery Status Notification, for delayed messages, contains meticulous details explaining the reasons for an email message which failed to deliver.

If you are tracking your bounce logs and can’t come up with a conclusion, the next thing to do is to check the reputation which monitors services; you can use Senderscore.org for this. Additionally, you can also check this by using Anti-Spam service providers like Cloudmark, BrightMail, Message Labs, etc. Another way to check is by signing up for Return Path or DNSstuff.com; these sorts of service providers offer a spam database lookup tool, which proves to be beneficial in so many ways.

vi: What to do After you get Spamtraps?

Restating the apparent facts, the most common way to work with spamtraps is by following the most useful practice for email acquisition and avoid them altogether. However, if you ever see you have spamtraps, the IP address is blocked, and you need a quick way out before this further gets worse, then the information mentioned below will be useful for you.

One most common mistake made is that people panic and end up using their marketing budget on services that affirm they can make the spamtraps go away. However, a smart marketer knows the fact that if a spamtrap exists, it is only known to the owner of that particular spamtrap; this means, the general users won’t have any idea about this.

Firstly, one should recognize the cause of the problem and amend it immediately before it harms anything else. ISPs and Anti-Spam services don’t correctly mention the problem without you inquiring about the spamtrap first. A piece of wise advice, do not ask about the address. Spamtrap owners are more focused on preventing the spread of spam, so they will not accommodate your request seriously; they will not inform you about which spamtrap you are hitting because it is more time and resource consuming for them to set up a new address for you. Any spamtrap removing service that states ISPs deliver their addresses are false-fully promoting their services. Don’t fall into that trap!

Several great sources exist which explain in detail how a spamtrap can be removed from your database. You can access these services, but always remember that the most cost-effective and resourceful way of having a spamtrap free database is by never actually involving the traps initially. Nevertheless, if its too late and your database is already infested, then read the steps below which will help you drain out the spamtrap from your database:

  • Confirm the database again: the most costly solution because email communication is of great worth to the business, and reconfirming it can cut the list of subscribers by 75% or even more. On the contrary, one can lessen this loss by only authorizing a specific segment from the database. Experts recommend that this should be done regularly because classifying specific segments can help decrease the fallout rate up to 50% or sometimes even more than that.
  • Purchased a list recently? If you did, then get rid of it no matter the cost. Purchased lists are the most significant cause of getting a spamtrap hit by marketers. There is no point in keeping such purchased records because you most definitely will trigger a spamtrap hit.
  • You are excited because you recently witnessed an unexpected increase in the number of subscribers? This can be complicated because we emphasize the word “recently.” Scrutinize the subscribers’ lists and look for ids that seem unusual, because the chances are that such ids may not belong to valid users.

Always remember, rooting out spamtraps is costly, increases issues for the business relationships, and has terrible effects on one’s brand-ability to deliver email to the inbox in the future.

‍vii: Other Ways to Limit Trap Risk

Limiting your threat of getting spamtraps is relatively straightforward; track the best practices for gaining and delivering email marketing messages. Having said that, it can be understood that business objectives don’t revolve around email marketing objectives. It is mostly a one-way street, and best practices are naturally the first loss of any income-based meeting. Keeping that in mind, the following pointers show the best bet options to limit one’s brand’s hazard of tripping a spamtrap.

1) Use Smarter Webforms: For any email marketer, growing the number of sign-ups is their priority. Incorrectly cumulating the list size, however, can come at a high cost. Ensure that you are decreasing the risk linked with data entry mistakes over the web forms. Web forms are the first thing needed in diminishing the issue of spamtraps. While you can employ a webpage designer/coder to code in the ISPs and B2B domains syntax rules for expired domains, this can be expensive when associated with utilizing a service like BriteVerify.com. Such a service is recommended while working on refining email hygiene.

2) Suppression Lists: Generate and preserve a suppression list that is moveable and has MD5 compliant. This way, if one chooses to transfer ESPs or take an email program in-house, then one can drag along the suppression file with them. If a time or resource constraint lies ahead, then it is better to use a service. Suppression lists typically contain expired domains, wireless domains, role accounts, government units, and many more. Subscribers can also be included that who complain or target the junk button for their individual ISPs. This would involve placing feedback loops; nevertheless, it is a great idea to save those addresses in a suppression folder.

3) Soft Bounce Management: Generate a soft bounce threshold that works along with the marketing schedule. Soft bounces can happen if the recipients’ mailbox is seen to be full. Mailbox being full is an initial indicator that the recipients’ id may be close to becoming gravestone by a specific ISP. One should refrain from hitting a recycled spamtrap if a threshold for soft bounces is set to be removed later. The way to calculate this is, if five emails are sent to a subscriber within the 30 days, then the soft bounce threshold will be displayed as five soft bounces in 30 days. Once the limit is set, MTA will treat 5th soft bounce in those 30 days, as if it is now a hard bounce. This process can save one’s reputation by dodging hard bounces, and in the future, this will help one to stay away from a recycled spamtrap.

viii: Concluding

When a Spamtrap is hit, it doesn’t mean it’s the End of the World.

Nonetheless, if you hit one, then there is a lot of work that should be done to overcome this situation. If the best practices are thoroughly followed, then most of the work is already. Otherwise, start working with a skilled Email Deliverability Consultant. After this, contact BriteVerify to recognize hard bounces and role accounts way before they are repositioned as spamtraps. One may also consider working with an inbox monitoring facility so that the progress can easily be monitored. Doing this will help track the progress of how deliverability is affected.

Eventually, the goal is to return the company’s deliverability rate to normal like it was initially, and bringing it to productive levels because, as it is known, deliverability affects the bottom line. Good luck and best practices!