Email Spam Traps: What Are They and How Can You Avoid Them?

Spam traps can be bad for business. In this article I'll show you how you can recognize them, and I'll also teach you how to avoid them!

Gracija Atanasovska

Content Writer

Did you know that 320 billion spam emails are being sent every day? And that 94% of malware tries to sneak into people’s inboxes this way?

According to one statistic, more than half of the emails sent globally every day are spam emails. And there are some estimates that the number is actually much higher.

With these statistics in mind, the necessity and existence of spam traps is more than justified.

What Are Spam Traps?

Spam traps (also sometimes written together as “spamtraps”, and occasionally called “honeypots”) are email addresses that are used to detect, identify, and monitor spam emails. ISPs (internet service providers), security software, anti-spam organizations, blacklisting companies, and corporations that deal with online security all use these hacks to track and trap spam email and stop (block) spam emails from potentially entering your inbox.

Why Should You Care About Spam Traps?

At first glance, it seems like somebody else’s concern, right? I’m not a spammer, my company doesn’t spam my customers, why should I care?

Well, the thing is, even if you’re the most well-intentioned, email campaigns can end up having a spam trap on their email list.

Spam traps can blacklist your IP address or your email domain, which can, in turn, affect sender and deliverability reputation, as well as open rates, and erode the customers’ trust in your email content.

So, as you can see, you don’t have to be a spammer to still be concerned about spam traps. It’s important for you to know what they are so you can avoid them ending up on your email contacts list in the first place.

How Does a Spam Trap Look Like?

Spam traps look just like real email addresses. The only difference is that they don’t actually belong to real people and can’t be used for communication purposes.

Spam traps can’t enter with the double verification (opt-in) method on your email list. Instead, they can find their way in there through uncombed and poorly managed email contact lists, or if you somehow break the rules of email marketing based on permission taken from people and customers to use their email addresses for marketing purposes.

What Are the Most Common Types of Spam Traps?

That being said, you can still “land” on a spam trap without actually knowing that you’re doing anything wrong. This has to do with the different types of spam traps and the ways they’ve been created.

That’s why next I want to show you some of the most common types of spam traps so you can better recognize them the next time you go through your email list and protect the credibility of your company or business.

Pristine or Pure Spam Traps

As the name itself says, these kinds of spam traps haven’t been used by anyone ever. They’ve never entered the opt-in process of mailing list subscriptions, they’ve never been used for an account sign-up, and they’ve never been present on any business card or company website.

These spam traps were created by ISPs and other security platforms and companies, and they were never supposed to be used as sender addresses.

So, the only way they could’ve ended up on your mailing list is if they were somehow procured without permission.

The only intention of these pure spam traps is to serve as bait for spammers. The address is put somewhere on the internet, and it’s an easy target for bots and people who illegally harvest email addresses wherever they can get a hold of them.

Also, whenever these kinds of email addresses are obtained in this way, they often end up being shared with other spammers and bots. They are also added to bulk email lists which are then sold to people who want to gain huge email lists in a fast and easy way, without understanding (or caring) much the consequences of such actions for their business or company.

Pristine spam traps are also considered as the kind of spam traps that are most likely to negatively affect your deliverability and sender reputation. Having this kind of spam trap email in your email list makes it highly likely that your IP address or domain will end up being blacklisted and blocked.

Recycled Spam Traps (or Recycled Email Addresses)

Recycled spam traps are email addresses that used to be valid, but are now only used for the purpose of catching spam messages.

For example, the so-called “role addresses” can often become spam traps once abandoned, like [email protected], or [email protected], as well as [email protected]. Email addresses from former employees can also be used as recycled spam traps.

This kind of spam trap isn’t as bad as the pristine one, but it can still, nevertheless, damage your deliverability and sending reputation, given enough time.

Email Addresses That Contain Typos or Invalid Email Addresses

These are email addresses that seem like they’ve been misspelled, and they resemble well-known providers such as Yahoo, Hotmail, and Gmail. In reality, these are fake addresses and are used for the sole purpose to be spam traps.

If you want me to put it simply: never trust a “yaho” and “gnail”, when you have “yahoo” and “gmail” as the real deal.

Sure, this can be an unintentional client’s typo, and at times it really is. However, you should always consider it and be careful about it once you see it in your email list. Of course, this can’t happen always - usually the programs in which you manage your email campaign don’t allow for typos. But, if you somehow happen to put contacts while offline, or a customer tells you their email address by the phone and you write it manually, these things can happen. Sometimes, it’s just an honest mistake.

Similar to the recycled email addresses, the ones with typos also aren’t as bad as the pristine or clean spam traps. It does, however, make your list, and with that, your company, look sloppy in the way they handle contacts, and it can even harm your sender reputation if you don’t take care of it on time.

Fake Email Addresses

Fake email addresses are often given during website registration or when filling out shopping cart forms.

This can be easily avoided if you introduce a confirmed opt-in process in which you ask your subscribers to first verify the address they put in the form, and then actually register for your mailing list. By doing this you can ensure that you won’t end up with a contaminated list full of invalid email addresses, which might be spam traps or, at the very least, will make the addresses bounce and lower your deliverability/sender score.

What Kind of Damage Might Spam Traps Cause to My Email Campaign?

Spam traps can have a different impact on your email strategy. It usually depends on the type of trap you stumble upon, as well as how many times you end up hitting it, and it can also depend on what the spam trap operator does on the other side.

But, if you’re wondering about some potential, more serious consequences stemming from hitting spam traps, these are the most common ones:

  • You can experience damage to your sender reputation, and increased bounce rates, which can decrease your deliverability rates, aka the amount or percentage of emails you send that actually end up in someone’s inbox.
  • Your IP address may end up being added to a blacklist, which can also affect deliverability rates, as well as damage your company’s image.
  • If you happen to stumble upon a spam trap that’s operated by a major ISP, like AOL or Yahoo, for example, you may actually end up being blacklisted permanently.
  • Also, if you hit a spam trap that’s operated by anti-spam companies such as SpamCop or Spamhaus, your deliverability will be affected once again. That’s because the ISPs, which the emails pass through, use this info from large anti-spam companies to filter the emails that pass through them.

How Can You Prevent a Spam Trap From Ever Entering Your Email List?

Spam traps can be prevented from entering your list by keeping a clean, healthy contact list in place, and sticking to a good email marketing campaign etiquette.

Let’s take a brief look at some of the best ways you can go about this.

Avoid By All Cost Buying Any Email Lists From the Internet

Purchased lists are just accidents waiting to happen. These are lists compiled (and obtained) in all sorts of ways, and many of them contain spam traps, fake email addresses, as well as old, unusable email addresses.

Seriously, if you buy an email list (also called “purchased lists”), it’s almost certain that you’ll fall into some kind of spam trap. What’s more, the healthy addresses on the list are from people who actually haven’t consented to your email marketing efforts and may very well mark your incoming emails as spam, which is another step bringing you closer to being blacklisted.

Check For Any Possible Contamination of Your Email Lists

List contamination happens when an email address that is actually a spam trap ends up being, accidentally or deliberately, added to an email list.

If you want to avoid this kind of list contamination, then make sure to do a thorough check-up of your email list, and be sure to look for any misspellings in email addresses.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, introduce an opt-in or email validation so your email campaign can automatically check whether that particular address is legitimate or not, and it can also prevent any unintentional typos.

Get Rid of Outdated Emails in Your List

Another way you can keep your email campaign away from spam traps is to keep your email list updated. Only retain subscribers who are willing to engage with your messages on a regular basis, and make sure to allow people to unsubscribe if they don’t want to be subscribed anymore.

If you want to animate subscribers who haven’t really interacted with your content in a while, send them re-engagement emails and try to get back their attention that way. Remove any contacts who don’t reply to these re-engagement campaigns, so you can make sure there aren’t any spam traps left in your email list.

How Can You Remove a Spam Trap?

If you think you might’ve hit a spam trap on your email list, you should definitely do some list maintenance.

Get rid of contacts who haven’t interacted or engaged with you in any way in the last six months. If you think this is too much, narrow it down to 3 months, for example.

And if you’re still encountering spam trap issues after this, then try list segmentation. Find out and identify list segments that are clear and free from any spam traps, and put them aside from the other addresses on the list. Continue doing this with the other segments until you find out about the spam traps’ whereabouts.

Sometimes, though, nothing will work and you will have to get professional help to identify and remove spam traps for you. It’s just that, sometimes the email world gets too complicated and you will need expert help to navigate between the ISPs (internet service providers), the spam traps, as well as any blacklists or deny lists that you might’ve ended up on.

Final Thoughts

Spammers aren’t the only ones who have to watch out for spam traps. Marketers and email campaign strategists need to do this as well.

The main purpose of spam traps is, of course, to catch spammers in the act. So, naturally, the best way to bypass them is not to adopt this spammer behavior.

And this means that you should never, ever buy email lists from the internet. It’s just not ethical and it will only do harm to your email campaign, rather than good.

Also, make sure to do regular checkups and maintenance to your email lists. Look for any typos and useless, outdated email addresses that have been abandoned by your customers. If you can, implement the double opt-in option, aka the email verification option, so that you know your email subscribers are actual people.

And last but not least, keep your contact list healthy and regularly updated, while also making sure to follow proper email marketing etiquette.


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