Best practices

What are Spam Trap addresses?

EmailLabs Team, 12 September 2022

spam-trap

Spam traps are email addresses used by ISPs, various spam-fighting organizations, and Blacklist administrators to identify and monitor the mailings of senders who do not follow good mailing practices when it comes to verifying their contact databases. The aim of their use is to reduce the amount of spam that reaches our mailboxes every day.

If your mailing list contains these types of addresses, it may mean you are not taking proper care of its hygiene.

Types of Spam Trap addresses

  • Pristine Spam Traps (PST)
    These are new email addresses that have been created by ISPs or anti-spam organizations specifically to set up a trap – that is, addresses that have never been used before by regular email users (who might have consented to their processing). Such addresses are often posted on accessible, public websites. Spammers who extract data from them (web scraping) also unwittingly end up collecting these seeded email traps. Addresses gained this way (or, for example, illegally acquired in a data leak or hacking attack), are often sold on. The presence of PST-type traps, therefore, helps to detect those senders who build their contact databases incorrectly, which can lead to immediate blocking of their sending domain or IP address and significantly weaken their reputation.
  • Recycled Spam Traps (RST)
    A recycled spam trap does not usually cause as much damage to senders as PST traps, but over time their presence can also lead to a weakened reputation and lower deliverability. Unlike addresses specifically designed to catch spammers, recycled addresses have a certain element of legitimacy to them – they are very often contacts that were once valid addresses but have been abandoned (e.g. addresses of former employees, mailboxes of people who have moved to another vendor, addresses in expired domains, etc.). After a certain period of time (usually around 12-18 months), these are taken over and reactivated by the ISP and then converted into traps. They are more likely to attract regular, legitimate senders – for example, those who previously corresponded with its original owner before it was recycled. Such addresses often appear in older groups of contacts, such as those you use for less frequent mailings – Policy change or reactivation campaigns.
  • Typo Spam Traps (TST)
    Similar to recycled traps, these are addresses that are designed to give the impression of correct addresses. However, they contain a subtly altered domain name that can easily fool the eye – e.g. gmai.com instead of gmail.com or yaho.com instead of yahoo.com. Their presence in the database can be completely accidental – resulting from a misspelled address on the registration form. Like RST, typo traps are not as damaging as pristine traps, but further mailings to such an address may signal that the sender does not care about the hygiene of its contact database and may prompt the provider to take further decisive steps. To rule out their appearance in the contact base, make sure that the sign-up form uses the double-opt-in method.

Honeypot – a trap for spammers

When talking about Spam traps, it is impossible not to mention a particular type of trap – the Honeypot. In cyber security, this term refers to a strategy that relies on the use of appropriately crafted methods (in this case, email addresses) to detect unauthorized processing and reveal the perpetrator. Such traps are particularly troublesome for spammers because ISPs or anti-spam organizations do not wait until an address is in the subscriber’s database and someone accidentally sends an email to it. Such addresses are deliberately promoted and made public directly on websites or embedded in their code. Web scraping bots are able to find such addresses and collect them into their database. Once emails start reaching the mailbox, the active spammer can be located, blocked, and reported to the relevant organization fighting spam.

This trap can therefore be compared to a pot of honey exposed to the sun – all you have to do is wait patiently and the insects will be tempted to fly to it themselves.

 

spamtrap-address

 

How do we identify Spam traps?

We usually only become aware that Spam traps may be present on our mailing list when the delivery rate starts to drop and we have checked out other potential causes of this phenomenon. Identifying specific Email addresses that trap is not easy – such information is not publicly available, as it would be counter to the purpose of their existence – spammers would easily exclude them. However, there are several ways to find potential Spam traps – the key is to track engagement. A recipient who doesn’t open your emails for several months, doesn’t complete orders, doesn’t use the password reminder, and doesn’t get in touch with you themselves (technical requests/complaints, etc.) could be one (or soon become one). To be sure, you can segment your contact group and implement a reactivating campaign only for unengaged recipients. If your emails still do not get opened, remove such addresses from your mailing list. Even if they are not Spam traps, the lack of any response can mean one thing – the recipients are not interested in receiving any correspondence from you.

There are also a number of paid tools available on the Internet that allow you to check for Spam traps in your mailing list – some of the more popular ones are, for example, ZeroBounce or Email List Verify.

How to avoid Spam Traps?

  • don’t buy contact databases – only use the addresses of recipients who have knowingly agreed to receive communications (in accordance with GDPR) and who actually want to receive communications from you,
  • use address validation through a double-opt-in mechanism in the sign-up form to eliminate typos leading to non-existent mailboxes,
  • block mailings to domains with the most common typos – e.g. gemail.com, gnail.com, etc. – by adding them to an internal blacklist in the EmailLabs interface,
  • only send to active and engaged contacts – take care to personalize and select relevant content,
  • regularly update your database – remove from it those contacts who do not open emails and are not engaged recipients and those who return Hardbounces.

Spam Traps: Summary

What consequences you face when sending messages to Spam Trap addresses depends on the type of trap you get ‘caught in’. If you make a single mailing to an address with a typo, there should be no reputational impact, as long as it involves, for example, registering and sending a double opt-in message (to confirm enrolment), which will shut down further attempts to communicate with the same recipient. However, multiple mailings to trap addresses (especially the pristine ones), can have significant negative consequences – such as weakening reputation, being blacklisted by RBLs, and a decrease in deliverability rates.

The fight against spam is constant. Every day, our inboxes are flooded with emails we do not want. So let’s remember that Spam Traps are not intended to make it difficult for legitimate senders to carry out their mailings – those who take proper care of the hygiene of their mailing list and send out campaigns only to contacts interested in receiving emails from them, have nothing to fear. Spam Trap addresses are allies in the fight against spammers who block visibility in the mailbox for your messages – looking at them this way, you may find them a useful tool.

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