What are Spam Traps and How to Deal With Them?

What are Spam Traps?

Spam traps are email addresses that are not created for communication but to catch spammers. It is put on the web in such a way that the location is hidden from the viewers. People who use email extractor software (mostly used by spammers) can find these email addresses. Spam traps may look like legitimate emails, but they do not belong to anyone. Its sole purpose is to identify spammers. 

Why Do We Need Spam Traps? 

In case you are wondering, “Why should we put so much work into catching a spammer?” there is a specified spam email box to catch spam emails. This can help limit the amount of spam that reaches emails visible to you, but there are a variety of other tools that can be used as well. 

Half of the world’s population uses emails to communicate and share information. In 2019, it was estimated that the total number of emails exceeded 293 billion.

Spam emails traffic accring to years

We can see the data from 2014 to 2019 and the percentage shows the traffic of spam emails sent during a specific period of time more than half of those emails were spam. Shockingly, about 50% of emails last year were spam – that is a lot of wasted space. 

Data shared by Kaspersky Lab shows the country’s source of spamming happened in 2019. China came first with 15% followed by the United States at 12%. Russia came in as third with 6%. 

To reduce this number and prevent spam as much as possible, email service providers use spam traps and spam filters 

What You Need to Know About Spam Traps

If you’re sending an email to a spam trap, that’s considered an indicator that you have used bad practices to collect email addresses or you were not vigilant in keeping your email list clean. 

The impact of hitting a spam trap can vary. It depends on variables such as the type of trap you come across, how many times you come across it, and how the spam trap operator handles issues when they happen. However, there are also some positives to consider. 

In the order from bad to really bad, the following is what can happen if you send an email to a spam trap: 

Your sender reputation will be damaged, causing bounce rates to increase and your deliverability (the percentage of emails that make it to the inbox) will decrease. 

Your IP addresses may be added to a blacklist database, which means deliverability for you as well as other customers will be affected. 

If you come across a spam trap operated by one of the major ISPs, such as Yahoo, AOL or Gmail, they could permanently blacklist your sending domain. 

If you come across a trap operated by an anti-spam organization, for example, Trendmicro or M3aawg, delivery of your emails to all ISPs — as well as companies who consult their databases — will be affected because they use that information to filter incoming emails. 

Types of Spam Traps

You can hit a spam trap without knowingly doing anything wrong. This is because of the different ways that spam traps are created. There are several spam traps used daily. Each of these need to be avoided to keep your sender reputation untarnished.

Pure Spam Traps 

These are email addresses that have never been used by anyone. They’ve never opted into a mailing list, been used to sign up for an account, or handed out on a business card. 

The only way this kind 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 websites where people or robots harvesting email addresses illegitimately will find them. 

When email addresses are collected this way, they’re often shared with other spammers or added to bulk mailing lists. These lists get sold to people who may not understand the consequences of emailing people without permission.

Recycled Email Addresses

A recycled email address is the kind of trap you could happen upon even if every email address on the list was obtained with permission. These email addresses are still risky to use because sending out 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 that the provider has repurposed it as a trap to expose and block emails from senders who are not responsible for managing their email marketing program. 

There is a specific time period for each email service provider to turn that email into a spam trap. For example, Outlook and Gmail have 270 days. That means if one email address is inactive past 270 days then any email sent to them from you may be considered as spam. 

Duration of time after emails recycled as a spam trap

For Yahoo, it’s 180 days plus 60 days for every year. For AOL, it’s only 90 days, which is a short amount of time compared to other email service providers. 

Hitting a recycled spam trap indicates that you are not keeping your lists up-to-date. To keep your lists clear of issues, you must regularly remove inactive subscribers and manage bounced emails. 

Invalid Email Addresses

If a user subscribes to a service provider by using an email address that contains a typo, that email is put at risk of falling into a spam trap. Some users may also submit a deliberately fake email address — for example, when someone is required to supply an email address but they don’t want to be emailed. 

Email Address with Typos

For example, email addresses with a typo in the domain, such as @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 is entered incorrectly when a customer is spelling it out over the phone. 

Although emails with typos are not seen as malicious as some of the others, this practice is still harmful. Not only will your sender reputation be damaged, but you will most likely also be seen as negligent. 

Fake Email Addresses

Website registration and shopping cart forms commonly attract fake emails. If you’ve ever had to hand over your email address in exchange for a “free whitepaper,” you may understand how this happens. For example, someone submits an address such as “donotmailme@please.com,” which might just happen to be a spam trap address. 

How to Avoid Spam Traps

Spam traps are designed to identify senders with irresponsible list building techniques. Unfortunately, you will not find a public list of traps that you can delete from your list to solve this problem. However, there are a variety of obvious dangers in the spamming world that you should avoid. Spam traps lurk in certain areas and should never be used for your email campaigns. 

Purchased Lists

Avoid purchased lists at all costs. The purchased email list may include spam traps, and they most definitely include any contacts who have not opted-in to receive your company’s communications. 

Using a purchased list almost guarantees that you’ll run into a spam trap, not to mention that the subscribers on these purchased lists likely have no connection to your brand and will probably mark the mail as spam or delete the email. All of these behaviors negatively affect your sender reputation. 

Outdated Emails

Another crucial strategy to use in preventing spam traps is keeping your email address list up-to-date with subscribers who are regularly engaging with your content. Like previously mentioned, spam traps are sometimes sourced from outdated email addresses that are no longer valid. Going for long periods of time without sending emails to an address can lead to getting caught in a spam trap. This can also happen when sending to an email address that has not been opened for a long period of time. As a general rule, it is wise to clean your email list every three months.

How Do I Know if There is a Spam Trap on my List? 

Keep an eye on your delivery rates or deliverability to make sure your lists are not afflicted by a spam trap. If you see your delivery rates drop compared to previous results, you may have a spam trap on your list.

How Do I Remove a Spam Trap?

If you believe you have a spam trap on your list, it’s time for a thorough cleaning. Use a bulk email verification service and clean your email list every three months. Remove contacts within your email list if they have not engaged with your content for at least three months.

Conclusion: Avoid Spam Traps by Using Vigilant Practices

Spam traps are mandatory if you want to catch a spammer. However, there is always a chance of contracting a spam trap onto your list. Your sender reputation may suffer if you continue to ignore any of the spamming signs.

Fortunately, by following vigilant and consistent practices, spam traps are more likely to be avoided. If you maintain your email list by utilizing these practices, you can avoid most spam traps and the consequences that come with them.

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