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What is a spam trap email address? (Or, if you prefer the one word version, what is a spamtrap email address?) Perhaps more importantly, why do they matter? Here we explain spam traps, and how to avoid spam traps. People used to not really believe that spam traps existed, at least not so many of them that an email sender would really need to worry about having a spam trap on their mailing list. But they do exist, they are everywhere, and as an email sender you do have to worry about avoiding them. So let’s start by explaining the definition of a spam trap, and where they come from.

A spam trap is an email address which by definition does not (maybe even cannot) sign up for any email mailing list and, and this is is important, which is being monitored to see if, nonetheless, mailing list email is being sent to it. The only way that the spam trap can end up on a mailing list is if it was put there without its consent. If the spam trap email address is receiving mailing list email, it is spam, pure and simple (hence the “spam” in ‘spam trap’).

Spam traps are primarily created in one of two ways: A brand new email address may be created with the specific intention that it be a spam trap. Or an old, disused email address may be repurposed as a spam trap. Regardless of which way the spam trap is created, what they have in common is that, by definition, any email sent to that email address is spam, which makes the sender of that spam a spammer.

This is one of the reasons that, generally speaking, inbox providers don’t approve of email validation and verification services. Because those tools are intended, among other things, to identify and remove spam trap email addresses from someone’s mailing list. But if a mailing list is built with best practices, which include confirming email addresses with confirmed opt-in (sending the email address a pre-onboarding email with a link or some other way for the person who has that email address to confirm that in fact they want to be on the mailing list), then no spam trap will end up being added to that mailing list. (There are some instances where using an email validation service with a confirmed opt-in list can make sense, such as when reviving a very old list that was built with fully confirmed opt-in but which has not been sent email in a very long time, so as to avoid generating a lot of bounces from old and abandoned email addresses which confirmed originally but are no long valid, but they are far and few between.)

Hitting spam traps will cause your email to be tagged as spam, and maybe even blocked and blacklisted. Avoiding spam traps is one of many reasons to use confirmed opt-in when building your mailing list, and it’s a big one. There are other reasons to use confirmed opt-in, including the the hidden legal dangers in not confirming email addresses and, of course, because it is the best way to create the most responsive, productive mailing list.

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2 Responses

  1. Nice article describing what a spam trap is. The term is not self-explanatory.

    What are the practical consequences of emailing a spam trap? Can anyone create a spam trap and send demand letters to email spammers to collect settlement payments in a manner similar to dealing with text message spammers who violate the federal Do Not Call list?

  2. Hi Mr. Whitlock – there are no real laws to penalize email spammers for the end user, unlike the laws for text message spammers. The practical consequences to the sender are that their email starts going to the spam folder and their email can also end up being blocked.

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