What are spam traps and how to prevent them

What is a spam trap?

A spam trap is an email address that looks completely normal (e.g. Bob@yahoo.com) but has never opted in to any marketing lists. These addresses are monitored by major blacklist organizations like SpamHaus to identify spammers who are sending to addresses that have never opted in. If you email a spam trap owned by one of these organizations, your domain and/or our IP address will be blacklisted. Spam traps are also used by inbox providers to identify senders who are using purchased, non-opted-in data.

Spam traps are kept completely secret and there is no way to identify one by looking at it.

How does a spam trap get on your list?

There are a few different ways this can happen:

1. By accident

Someone might accidentally sign up and misspell their email address. The misspelled address might happen to be a spam trap. This happens more often than you might think by nature of the sheer amount of signups there are on the internet every day.

2. Bots

With the steep rise in subscription bombing, it has been increasingly common for bots to maliciously sign up thousands of email addresses to forms, and some of the seemingly random email addresses may happen to be spam traps. This can happen only if you are using a form that is not protected by captcha or a double opt in.

3. Old data

Some spam traps are email accounts that shut down 5, 10, or even 15 years ago. The email account owner will stop returning bounces to tell senders that the address is undeliverable and convert the old, unused address into a “recycled” spam trap. This is different than a “pristine” spam trap — pristine traps have *never* been valid, but recycled traps *were* valid at one point. If you are caught sending to a recycled trap, it means you haven't cleaned your list in years or recently purchased a list of very old data, both of which will get you in deliverability trouble.

4. Non-opt-in data

Lastly, if you have purchased, scraped, or appended a list that isn't opted in, that is an easy way to get spam traps on your list which will tank your deliverability. Spam traps are intentionally circulated into purchased databases and posted on public webpages so that anyone who uses these email lists will likely have a list full of spam traps.

How do I keep spam traps off my list?

If you follow these steps you can completely protect yourself from ever encountering a spam trap:

  • Enable double opt-in on your forms. This resolves issue #1 above. If someone accidentally misspells their email address and that misspelling happens to be a spam trap, a confirmation email will ensure that address is not added as an active contact on your list.
Spam traps never open messages. So you can be sure they won't ever confirm their subscription, open or click.
  • Add Captcha. This will prevent bots from adding contacts to your forms which completely protects you from #2 above
  • Regularly clean your list. You can do this with engagement tagging automations that remove contacts after they haven't engaged in a certain period of time (we have a 2-part engagement tagging recipe available for free in the “Create a New Automation” modal). This completely eliminates the chance that you will end up with any “recycled traps” on your list explained in point #3 above. If you are regularly removing contacts who haven't opened, you are guaranteed to also clean off any potential spam traps because spam traps never read emails.
  • Don't purchase, scrape, append, or trade lists. This is prohibited by our Terms of Service for a good reason, because it means your list will be full of spam traps and likely cause a blacklist.

Manually scanning your list for addresses that look suspicious won't help because spam traps look normal and are completely secret. There is nothing about the email address name that gives them away. Removing contacts who have unsubscribed, bounced, or marked as spam also won't help. Spam traps never bounce, unsubscribe, or mark as spam.

I have a spam trap on my list, what should I do?

You will know you have spam traps on your list because your deliverability has begun to steeply decline or because ActiveCampaign compliance agents have let you know that your sending was responsible for causing a blacklist. To fix this you should take all of the steps outlined in the previous section plus one additional measure: aggressive list cleaning. You should immediately remove all contacts who have not opened a message in the past 3-6 months. Our Engagement Management tool makes this easy. This may seem severe, but it's the only sure way to clean the spam traps off your list. Spam traps never open, so by removing non-openers you are also guaranteed to remove the spam traps.

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