We all know that email delivery problems are costly, and can damage your email reputation. But sometimes email deliverability issues can actually create dangerous situations. As more and more people rely on email for delivery of vital information, and less on the post office and phone calls, this is is something about which everyone, and services and agencies in particular, need to be aware.

A Real Life Case of Email Deliverability Issues Turning Dangerous

This event happened just a few weeks ago, at the end of August, 2022, in Fairfax and Chesterfield counties in Virginia. In June of this year Chesterfield police conducted an online sting operation focusing on “general prostitution” and “human trafficking”. One of the individuals whom they arrested during the sting was Darren Thornton.

Police determined that Thornton was currently employed as a counselor at the Glascow middle school in the Fairfax public school system, which surprised them. The reason that it surprised them to find that Thornton was presently employed at the middle school was that Thornton is a registered sex offender whom they had arrested two years earlier on charges of felony solicitation of prostitution from a minor. And at the time of the 2020 arrest Thornton was employed at that very same middle school, the police had notified within 24 hours of that 2020 arrest!

The police couldn’t understand why two years after an arrest for felony solicitation of a minor, of which the school was notified, Thornton was still working at the school! Especially because, and this is key, they had notified the school superintendent within 24 hours of Thornton’s 2020 arrest. By email. To the two email addresses that the school had given to the police, telling the police that notifications to those two email addresses were the best way to provide such information to the school.

So the Chesterfield police dutifully send notice of Thornton’s arrest for sex offenses against a minor to the two email addresses provided by the school.

However, the school never got the notifications.

Explained Chesterfield County Police Chief Jeffrey Katz, in a post on the Chesterfield PD Facebook page:

“Upon making this arrest, we learned that Mr. Thornton was a school counselor in a Fairfax County Middle School. As such, within 24 hours of this arrest, we called Fairfax County Schools to find out the best way to make the appropriate notification to the superintendent of Thornton’s arrest. We were given two email addresses to make notifications…

…On June 9, 2022, I worked another of these stings – this time, our focus was on general prostitution / human trafficking. My team came upon and arrested Mr. Thornton again! We recognized him, and I looked up his name on the internet. I was surprised to see that he was still listed on Fairfax County School’s webpage as a school counselor and inquired of our staff how that could be possible. The next day, our special victims unit supervisor made a second phone notification to Fairfax County Schools, whereupon the matter appears to have been addressed administratively with his firing in August.

Yesterday, we learned that the emails sent in November 2020, following our phone call, did not go through the Fairfax County School Server to the intended recipient.”

The Facebook post also included copies of the sent emails, which said:

“Darren Lamar Thornton
Counselor at Glascow Middle School.
He was charged with the following:
18.2-346 Section B Class 6 Felony for victim 16+
18.2-349 Use of a Vehicle to Promote Prostition
18.2-250.1 Possession of Marijuana”

In a statement to the Washington Post, Chesterfield police spokeswoman Elizabeth Caroon said “We tend to think one local government sending an email to another local government … is an effective and efficient way of communicating, but this situation demonstrates that even reliable forms of communication can fall short of reasonable expectation.”

What Can be Done to Detect and Avoid Email Deliverability Issues and Email Delivery Problems?

If you send email in the regular course of business, and especially if the email you send contains information that can be critical to someone’s health, safety, or welfare, it’s crucial that you monitor your email deliverability both to make sure that your email is getting through and, if any of it is not getting through, to determine why it’s not getting through so that you can fix the email delivery issues promptly.

One of the most important things you can do in this regard is to make sure that you are monitoring bounces (when an email that you send bounces back because of some failure at the other end, such as the inbox is full, or the email address doesn’t even exist). Usually you will receive an email from your system with the bounce notification which will include one of a number of SMTP codes that tell you why it bounced, but sometimes the only notice you will get is the rejection which is inserted into your email logs and you won’t receive a notification by email. This latter is rare, but if you are sending email on which somebody’s health, safety, or even life may depend, best practices require that you are also having someone parse those mail logs. Note that it is your server that is supposed to trigger the bounce notification email, and that that bounce notification email is based on the notice of rejection that is in your email logs.

In terms of other best practices and deliverability issues, well, that’s what we’re here for, and if you’re curious you can see what we do for you here. And of course if you have your own dedicated IP address, we can also put you on our certified senders list, the Good Senders List, which is honored by inbox providers, spam filters, and other email receiving system around the world.

When Email Deliverability Issues Turn Dangerous

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