Remember that slightly embarrassing email address you created back in 1995? The one that was a combination of your astrology sign, your birthday and some other cute innuendo? Yeah, that one. You’re probably not using it anymore, but that doesn’t mean that AOL (or any other email service) isn’t still accepting email at that address!

How can this be? Well, your old email address might now be a Spam Trap.

Spam traps are created to lure and catch senders who don’t follow good sending practices, or send unsolicited junk mail. There are 2 types:

Recycled Spam Traps: You retire or abandon your email address, and it goes dormant. ISPs start rejecting your email address and delivering bounce notifications to the sender. After some time passes, the ISP stops bouncing or rejecting messages and “recycles” your email address. Some senders think that, because their messages aren’t hard bouncing from a particular address anymore, it’s OK to send to it again. Wrong. You should (almost) never email to an address that hard bounces.

Pure Spam Traps (also known as “Honeypots”): These are the (really bad) ones, used by the ISP specifically to catch bad senders. These email addresses have never been used by an actual human, but they’re out there. They typically make their way onto email lists that are then acquired by email list brokers. The bad news is that often, these lists are shady in that the addresses were scraped illegally.

While it’s legal to buy, rent, share and send to email lists acquired from a broker, most ESPs support direct subscriber consent ONLY. They do not allow senders to use purchased lists. In addition, ISPs don’t have to deliver mail from senders using purchased lists. So while there is no legal constraint against using a purchased list, there is no legal obligation for a sender, ISP, or spam-monitoring service to deliver your email, either.

When you hit a spam trap, your IP address and domain are flagged. If you hit a pure spam trap, you’ll probably be blocked immediately. If you hit a recycled trap, the ISP now has you on their radar, and they’re waiting for you to send to it again. If you do, then you’re blocked.

I can’t emphasize enough what a big deal this is. Many businesses rely on email marketing to generate some or all of their revenue. Is purchasing a list really worth it when it could not only impact your deliverability, but send your reputation straight down the drain? ISPs can be forgiving, but if you are a repeat offender and continuously send email to spam traps, you’re doomed.

Many algorithms are used by ISPs to determine your reputation, and spam traps are a major one. These algorithms are constantly changing so the ISP can stay a step ahead of you, so don’t try to fool the system.

Net Atlantic takes compliance and delivery very seriously. Sending to spam traps affects us as your ESP, as well as your sending IP, which is often shared with other organizations. Our compliance team constantly monitors our network to ensure that all of our senders are on the up-and-up. We help enable our clients to be good senders through automatic hard bounce management, built-in subscriber forms, and our team of dedicated email marketing experts.

Does your ESP take a hands-on approach to helping you become the best sender you can be? Share your thoughts in the comments below!