Who’s Placing Spam Traps in Your Email Marketing List?


We talked about spam traps and how they impact your email deliverability some time ago. Knowing how important this topic is and how it can really bug you, we wanted to add to what we’ve said and clear up any misunderstandings.


What are spam traps?

Spam traps are email addresses that exist for the sole purpose of catching illegitimate emails and identifying senders with poor data quality practices. In other words, these are tools used to identify and punish spammers and careless marketers.

This may not seem like a big deal. You may think: Oh, this will never happen to me! But odds are, if you neglect email marketing best practices, whether with autoresponders or regular newsletters, it may cause you trouble at one time or another.

Shooting spam traps

Judging by Murphy’s Law, it’s probably going to be when you least expect it. Like right before that pay-raise talk you scheduled with your boss the other week. Ouch!

The truth is, there are countless spam traps out there, and new ones are set up daily. They are managed by large internet service providers (ISP), anti-spam organizations like Spamhaus and URIBL, and security companies like TrendMicro. Even corporate email servers may be set up for the purpose of fishing for spam traps. In fact, some domains are set up for that sole purpose.

Types of spam traps

Now that I have your attention, we need to fully understand what we’re dealing with. Let’s start with the background and talk about the types of spam traps you may run into while rolling out your campaigns.

Types of spam traps

  • Abandoned and recycled email addresses

Some spam traps used are actual email addresses that have been abandoned by the user and recycled by the provider. Typically, ISPs turn off an abandoned email address and produce an unknown-user bounce code. Later they may reactivate it and convert it into a spam trap.

  • True spam traps

These email addresses are created solely to capture spammers. They will never subscribe to your mailing list and could not have been in contact with you in the past.

  • Unassigned email addresses

Some addresses have never been assigned to anyone but for some reason begin to receive spam. Not typical these days, however still worth mentioning.

How do spam traps end up on your list?

OK, so we know what spam traps are and the types we’re likely to encounter. Let’s consider the scenarios in which bad email addresses are most likely to get onto your list.

Spam trap surprise!


  1. Imported lists

    Questionable data often can be found in our old email accounts, such as Google Contacts, Mozilla Thunderbird Contacts, etc. These can include role email addresses (e.g. abuse@domain.com, office@domain.com, etc.), people who never replied to our emails and would be likely to mark our emails as spam (e.g. HR recruiter we contacted when applying for a job), and long-abandoned email addresses (now reactivated as spam traps).

    Tip: While these sources are a great place to start building your database, be cautious when importing these addresses into your email marketing account. Start by exporting them to a file, then manually delete the ones that are likely to cause you trouble. You won’t regret it!


  3. Migration from another service

    We often see bad email addresses when clients move their lists from different solutions or service providers, many of which don’t manage bounces properly or remove known spam traps.

    Tip: All email service providers (ESP) aren’t equal. You may have been the unlucky one whose bounces and unsubscribe requests weren’t processed properly. To lower your risk, import only fresh and active email addresses you’ve been in contact with. Don’t transfer those that have unsubscribed, complained, bounced or been recognized as spam traps. Your subscribers and your performance metrics will be grateful!

  4. Offline sign-up forms

    If you have a brick-and-mortar business or attend trade shows and events, you may collect contact details on paper to follow up and get the conversation going. Unfortunately, you don’t always have the luxury of badge scans and often end up with stacks of business cards and handwritten sign-up forms with scribbled email addresses. As you might guess, scanning or rewriting often results in typos. Incorrect contact details may end up on your lists.

    Tip: By all means, connect and network wherever you are. To collect new subscribers at the same time, consider GetResponse Forms on the Go, made for signing up subscribers wherever you are. Typos, scanning and rewriting? These are things of the past!

  5. Online sign-up forms

    You probably use sign-up forms on your company website or blog,. This is the most effective, organic method for building an email list of engaged, loyal subscribers. It’s also an area where typos are very likely to appear.

    Tip: To avoid typos and invalid email addresses, use the double opt-in subscription method. This sends an automatic email asking new subscribers to confirm that they want to be added to your newsletter. This ensures that only good email addresses get added to your list, saves you money, and makes your email marketing campaigns more effective.

  6. Purchased or harvested list

    We shouldn’t really need to mention this, as GetResponse is strictly a permission- based email marketing service. We don’t accept purchased or harvested lists because they are full of invalid, old, and abandoned email addresses and spam traps.

    Tip: We only have one tip. Just don’t do it. Don’t use purchased or harvested lists. Instead increase your reach organically. It’s worth the time, effort and satisfaction you gain by truly connecting with your clients.

Bonus Tip

To keep your list safe from spam traps and all types of bad data, routine database cleaning is the way to go. Create a segment of subscribers who haven’t opened any of your emails in the last 6-12 months. Try to reengage them with a couple of carefully designed newsletters. If that doesn’t work, delete them. You’ll save time and money you can now spend on clients who can purchase your product or service.

Fighting spam traps

What to do when you hit a spam trap

We covered this last time, so in order not to repeat ourselves we’ll sum it up.

  1. Regularly monitor the reputation of your IPs and domain with online tools such as Return Path’s Sender Score or SNDS. If a spam trap is added to your list, you’ll notice it and be able to investigate and remove it.
  2. Remove subscribers who have not opened or clicked your emails in a while. Spam traps don’t open emails, so this should lower the risk of finding one on your list.
  3. Identify the source of the spam trap and fix the problem before more appear on your list. Follow the tips above and use double opt-in to keep yourself secure.


What does GetResponse do about spam traps?

We do all we can to take good care of your lists and help you keep them clean. This includes bounce management (removing email addresses that are invalid or can’t accept emails), complaint handling (removing email addresses that mark your emails as spam), and analyzing the quality of your database.

GetResponse vs spam traps

What does that mean? We remove addresses that have an invalid domain or have been found to be non-existent. Most important, we remove any spam traps we identify. This is not an easy task. Only if we work together can we achieve best results!

What are your thoughts about spam traps? Have you had any experience with them yet?

  • Bob Sommers

    Great article. I never knew how important is was to insure that the email address added to my list is valid. Good reason to check and double check before sending an email.

  • Michal Leszczynski

    Thanks Bob!

    I’m glad you found it interested!

    It’s very important and that is why we always preach about confirmed/double opt-in. It
    helps marketers focus on clients that can actually purchase their
    products or services and, most importantly, are interested in the offer


  • Great points Michal. One tip is to avoid assuming that because someone gave you their business card that it is OK to add them to an email marketing list. Even more true of email addresses obtained online, either public or even if connected via a social network. Better to send someone a carefully crafted invite to opt in to be sure. Thanks for sharing.

  • Michal Leszczynski

    Hi Rick

    That’s a great tip! People often collect business cards from prospects at trade shows and other similar events. If someone seemed interested in your discussion, let them know that there is a way they can keep in touch and follow your brand.

    Their interest however, is not enough to assume that they want to receive your promotional newsletters. That’s bad for your brand and your complaint rates. And we don’t want to be ‘that guy’ ;).

    Glad you liked it Rick!


  • We don’t accept purchased or harvested lists because they are full of
    invalid, old, and abandoned email addresses and spam traps.

  • Michal Leszczynski

    On top of that, working with subscribers that agreed to receive newsletters from particular brands is not only fair but also much more rewarding!

  • Michal Leszczynski

    Hi Remco,
    Thank you for your comment. I’m happy you liked the post :).

    As for your question, here in GetResponse we are strongly against purchased lists and you can find all the necessary information here – http://www.getresponse.com/legal/antispam.html

    Although you may get quite a bit of information regarding the audience when purchasing lists, the truth is that you’re still a stranger to them and they won’t like to hear from you, unless they opted in themselves. It’s about communicating with your own clients, forming a bonding with them and turning them into loyal brand advocates. You won’t get that with purchased leads I’m afraid. Not to mention the numerous spam traps, bad and invalid email addresses and the risk of being marked as spam and having really bad deliverability. It only goes down from there on and you may see that even your organically acquired clients will lose interest in your offer, miss your emails and end up going to the competition once you go down that path.

    We’re all pro permission-based email marketing here in GetResponse :). Trust us, it’s worth the effort ;).


  • ChrisHayes1

    I think there’s another potential way. Blackhat marketers may want to reduce competition in their niche so they gather a list of spam traps and manually sign them up to the competitions list through their on site web forms. This would only work for single opt-in though. Edit: Actually the spam traps would still receive the double opt in request, not sure if that would damage reputation.