Easy Way to Stop Your Mailings: Blacklisted

Your list is Blacklisted! Your legitimate email is blocked by several ISP’s because you picked up a “Spam Trap” address – That address is now part of your subscriber list.

spam trapWhat should you do, what can you do?  Where did this Spam Trap come from?

Spam traps are used by many different organizations and can originate from anywhere.  They can be created or designed as needed: frequently made from a no longer used email account or an inactive domain.  To be effective, the address in question must be inactive for a considerable amount of time.

Frequently spam traps are emails that have been abandoned by the original user and recycled just for this purpose.  Another source comes from email addresses that had once functioned as a role account that is no longer in use, such as webmaster@ and president@.  In other cases, they are created specifically as spam traps, by an ISP, Blacklist provider or other organizations.

Essentially a spam trap is an email address that is not opted-in to receive mail, used to trap malicious senders.  It could be an unused older email address or one that’s newly created just for this purpose.  A spam trap is not created to function as a communication tool.

Who Uses Spam Traps?

Many organizations use spam traps, including large ISP’s like AOL, industries that offer spam filters and organizations that specialize in email reputation.   For instance, SpamCop  ( an email spam reporting service) has spam trap creation rules for these entities:

Traps must consist of email addresses which have never been used for legitimate email. They should not be “recycled user accounts. They should not be well-known email addresses, however fake. Spammers and other users should not be aware what the addresses are and you should try to keep them as confidential as is reasonably possible.  SpamCop will also keep them secret. We never reveal trap messages. Web-poison addresses and the like are acceptable sources.”

Void of rules or regulations, organizations interpret spam trap information with charts, formulas and WAGs to block incoming emails based on their own understanding and methodology.

Creating a Spam Trap (simple example)

Your company purchased a list, one address on your newly acquired list has been inactive for a year.  When your company emails to the list, the inactive address can’t be delivered to, as the in-inbox no longer exists.  In this case, your company, the sender, receives a hard bounce notification basically signaling the sender to remove that address from their member’s lists.  Most senders do remove these addresses, but those that do not will continue to send to this inactive account.

Eventually, this abandoned email address will cease returning a hard bounce to the sender becoming ripe for the ISP to turn it into a Spam Trap as a response to the irresponsible sender, in this case, your company.

Spam Traps – The Blacklist Guaranty

The Blacklist Guaranty – send an email campaign with a “Spam Trap” and you will be blocked or blacklisted in no time.  This block may take the form of a permanent block on your sending IP Address; your future messages will not be delivered until you remove the spam trap address.  With your tarnished reputation and spammer label, no doubt you will become familiar with Blacklist reporting agencies like Spamhaus and the Passive Spam Block List who will continue to keep you on their Blacklist until you resolve the spam trap issue.

Who put a Spam Trap in My Permission Based Email List?

A spam trap added to your list unknowingly by:

  1. Not using confirmed opted-in and other permission-based maintenance
  2. Harvesting addresses
  3. Purchasing email addresses
  4. Renting email addresses
  5. Using an email Append service
  6. Deliberately added to your list
  7. Using an old list

How to Remove Spam Traps

Avoid spam traps.  Not too long ago, spam traps were near to impossible to remove and the reporting ISP, unlikely to tell you which address to remove to get yourself off their Blacklist.  

You could reconfirm your list of subscribers and once again.  require all list members to confirm their subscription to your email newsletter.  You will lose subscribers because the process required action they must take.

If reconfirming all your subscribers seems a little daunting, you may be able to identify clean, spam trap free addresses by mailing in segments. Start with small groups, (i.e. join date for example) until the entire list is used. Eventually, if everything goes right you may be able to isolate the offending email address and avoid most of the reconfirm process.

You may possibly avoid spam traps altogether by using a verification service.  Email verification is one way to make sure the addresses on your list are associated with an actual inbox.  In other words, it’s making sure that the messages you’re sending have somewhere to go.

How to Prevent Spam Traps

Review the age of your lists.  How often was it used?  Email lists are considered stale when they are over 3 months old without use.   Lists with several stale addresses can lead to high rates of bounces, spam complaints, and unsubscribes.

Do not buy a list, know how your list member email addresses are collected.

Manage your list sign-up the process: confirm, validate all new sign-ups.

In summary, removing a spam trap is a challenging task, and you may not be successful unless you reconfirm your list.  The better solution: make sure these offending addresses stay off your mailing lists altogether by following Safe Mailing Practices and not following the Worse Email Practices for List Management.