How to Avoid Spam Traps and Protect Your Sender Reputation

spam traps

Few phrases can cause an email marketer as much trepidation as “spam trap.” Countless hours of work can explode unexpectedly and lead to a damaged sender reputation, negative campaign results, or even get you blacklisted by your email service provider. Spam traps are easily among email marketers’ worst nightmares. 

What are Spam Traps

Spam traps are email addresses that are created and monitored by blacklist firms and anti-spam organizations and are intended to catch malicious senders. Don’t be fooled, they look like real email addresses from legitimate senders, but they don’t belong to a real person. 

How do they end up on my email lists? 

Sending to any spam trap can cause a domino effect. When an email isn't needed anymore, the inbox provider will shut off the email after a certain period. 


When a marketer sends to this inactive email address, the inbox provider will return a hard bounce, which tells the sender to remove the email address from their lists. From here, most email marketers will accept this request and remove the email, but others will, unfortunately, ignore it.

This action results in major ISPs utilizing abandoned emails for spam to respond and penalize the irresponsible senders. If they continue to send, eventually the email address won’t return a hard bounce and will be activated as a spam trap and mark you as a spammer, damaging your sending reputation and harming your delivery rates. 

Types of Spam Traps

Recycled Traps 

Recycled spam traps are old email addresses that are no longer in use by the original owner. This address has been dormant for so long that the provider has repurposed it to expose, and block, emails from senders that are not responsibly managing their email data.

Hitting one of these traps indicates to the provider that you are not regularly removing inactive and managing bounces. 

Pristine Traps

Pristine traps are email addresses that are published on public websites but hidden so that normal users never see them. The only way to obtain these addresses is by scraping sites for anything that looks like an email address. If you scrape for email addresses or purchase a list you may have picked up a pristine trap. 

Pure Traps

Pure traps are email addresses that have never been used by anyone, have never opted into any mailing list, or signed up for a contest, or handed out on a business card.

The only way pure traps end up in your email data is if they were obtained without permission. These emails are pure bait, left out on the internet to lure in bots or people that harvest addresses illegitimately to find them. 

Pure traps come with many subtype traps that are very similar in a way that include Whitespace Traps or Dictionary Attack Traps, Honeypots, and Message-ID traps.

Honeypot Traps

Honeypot traps are email addresses specifically created and placed in various areas online to collect information about IP addresses, used to help combat email fraud and spam. They are deliberately hidden in websites, code, and forms to be picked up by harvesters, bots, and malicious actors. 

Honeypots are another form of bait, intended to detect private and commercial unsolicited bulking mailing offenses, and overall work to reduce the amount of spam being sent and received on the internet. 

Typo Traps

These are email addresses with a typo in the domain, such as @gnail instead of @gmail. These are the most common, but misspelled usernames before the @ can also be typo traps. These commonly happen when user data is collected offline and entered into your database manually or entered incorrectly over the phone, or purposefully as a way for customers to avoid being emailed. 

Message-ID traps

Are intended to identify scrappers that grab any data with an @ in it, including message IDs. If you email to this trap, it will tell the owner of the trap that the sender is scraping addresses or buying lists from someone who is. 

Dead Address Traps

Were previously valid emails but have been recently turned off. All mail to these addresses was rejected for some time, usually 12 months or more, and then the addresses are turned back on. This type of trap was made famous by Hotmail and is typically what most people think of when they think about spam traps. 

Most ISPs utilize these traps because they are useful for them to identify senders with poor list hygiene.

Investigative Traps

Are created and submitted directly to senders. The reason for this isn’t to catch a sender doing something bad, but to monitor sender activity. This type of trap is useful for monitoring the ongoing behavior of a sender. Typically this is used to ensure the sender uses confirmation and proper email cleansing on their lists.

How can I tell if Spam Traps are on my list?

It’s hard to determine what emails are spam traps because they look like regular emails. Some spam traps can show engagement such as opens and clicks like real email addresses.

The only true way of knowing if spam traps are in your lists is to keep up with good subscriber acquisition and list management hygiene practices. Regularly cleaning your lists will not only help you avoid spam traps but protect you from other hidden threats like moles, bots, disposable domains, phishing attacks, and much more. 


What happens if I send to them?

Consequences for hitting a spam trap can range in severity depending on a couple of factors:

  1. The kind of spam trap you sent email messages to. 
  2. How many times you sent email messages to it.

Think about spam traps as a symptom of your email list health. If spam traps are on your list and you’re sending it to them, this is a red flag resulting in punishment. A severe repercussion would be an ISP blocking the IP address from which the emails are coming in. 

Download our Complete Guide to Email Hygiene

3 Tips To Keep Your Email Lists Free From Spam Traps

1. Manage your sign up process

  • Validate email address at the point of capture:A large cause of bad data is simply human error. According to DQ Global, “typos and spelling mistakes make up to 58% of data inaccuracy issues.” Introduce a cleansing service that coordinates with your CRM, email service provider, or lead capture forms to ensure the best top-of-the-funnel data quality.
  • Use double opt-in: Incorporating a double opt-in strategy helps limit the number of fake accounts entering your database. This is a great way to catch not only spam traps but typos and fake email addresses.

2. Don’t ever buy a list

When purchasing an email list it's very unlikely that the list:

1) Is your target audience

2) Has legitimate email addresses

Additionally, you won’t know if there are problem accounts such as spam traps, honeypots, bots, seeded trackers, disposable domains, and more hiding within it. 

3. Conduct hygiene, not just verification, on your lists

Notice that we said to conduct “hygiene” on your lists, and there is a reason for that. Verification can identify a valid or invalid email address, but only Webbula email hygiene can go beyond simple verification and detect the hidden threats in your email data like spam traps. 

It’s important to note that verification checks can detect a typo trap, but they cannot detect honeypots or pristine traps. These are real emails, which will pass a verification test. 

Verification alone is no longer enough, email hygiene is the best practice to identify spam traps. 

Sign up for a free email hygiene test on your email list.

Clean, Protect and Grow Your Database