Spam Traps: What They Are & How to Avoid Them

January 18, 2023
Written by
SendGrid Team
Opinions expressed by Twilio contributors are their own
Reviewed by
Ayanna Julien
Opinions expressed by Twilio contributors are their own

Spam Traps: What They Are & How to Avoid Them

Many companies want to know how to detect spam, and some use a clever solution: spam traps (also called honeypots). Spam traps are used to identify and monitor spam email. Anti-spam organizations, internet service providers (ISPs), and corporations use these traps to lure spammers. 

But why should you care? You’re not a spammer. Unfortunately, even well-intentioned senders can end up with spam traps on their contact list. Spam traps can cause your IP address or even your domain to be list denied, affecting your sending reputation and email deliverability

Your emails aren’t spam, but it’s crucial to know how to identify spam traps and how to prevent them from appearing on your contact lists. 

Types of email spam traps

Different types of email spam traps will impact your marketing success to varying degrees. For instance, a pristine spam trap might immediately denylist you, whereas a less severe recycled spam trap may eventually route messages to the junk folder. Routinely cleaning up your contact list is the best way to avoid any type of spam trap, but let’s take a closer look at pitfalls you should avoid. 

Pristine spam trap

Pristine spam traps are email addresses created by ISPs and other organizations that have never been used by a sender. 

How do these spam traps end up on contact lists?

The email addresses are embedded in websites, so when spammers scrape websites to grow their contact list, the spam traps end up in their list. Many purchased or rented lists also contain pristine spam traps.

If an ISP notices that a sender is forwarding its promotional emails to a pristine spam trap, it’s a tell-tale sign that this sender is practicing suspicious methods of gathering contacts.

While all spam traps negatively affect your sending reputation, the pristine spam trap has the most severe consequences. Your IP address or domain will likely be added to a list of denied email addresses—meaning your emails will go straight to the spam folder

Recycled spam trap

Recycled spam traps are often old domain registrations or email addresses that were once valid. Some common examples are role addresses (sales@, info@, support@) or email addresses of employees who are no longer with the company. Companies who have figured out how to detect spam may use these addresses as spam traps.

The recycled spam trap generally isn’t as harmful as the pristine spam trap. After all, it takes time to update lists to account for addresses no longer in use. But repeatedly sending emails to these addresses will still cause damage to your sending reputation over time.

And figuring out how to find spam trap email addresses is more difficult when those addresses look as valid as the others. Recycled spam traps present a greater challenge when it comes to cleaning up your lists. 

Email with typos

Emails with common typos, such as “gnail” instead of “gmail” or “yaho” instead of “yahoo” can also be used as spam traps. Sometimes this is unintentional—someone makes a mistake while signing up—but it can still lead to spam traps on your end.

Typically, the consequences of the typo spam trap aren’t as severe as pristine spam traps. 

Spam trap

How do I prevent a spam trap from entering my list?

There are a few ways spam traps can end up on your list, but they trace back to the same root problem: poor email list management and upkeep. You can usually prevent spam traps by maintaining a healthy contact list and following email best practices—in other words, the same steps that you take to avoid spam traps benefit your overall email marketing strategy. 

Avoid purchased lists

Avoid purchased lists like the plague. Your list shouldn’t include any contacts who have not opted in to receive your company’s communications. 

Using a purchased list almost guarantees that you’ll run into a spam trap when recipients didn’t ask to receive your communications and will probably mark the mail as spam or delete the email. All of these behaviors negatively affect your sender reputation.

Check email addresses

List contamination occurs when a spam trap was added deliberately or accidentally to an unconfirmed list. Even if it’s a mistake, it will have a negative effect on your sending reputation.

To avoid list contamination, check the correct spelling of the email addresses on your list. Incorporate email validation processes into your sign-up forms to automatically check the legitimacy of an email address and prevent typos. 

You should also include a double opt-in for all of your subscribers. This allows recipients to confirm their email address before you start sending them your content. A double opt-in: 

  1. Double-checks that your recipients want your emails 
  2. Verifies that only legitimate senders are on your list 

For other contact list best practices, see our guide, How to Grow Your Email Marketing List.

Keep your list updated 

You can also prevent spam traps by keeping your list up to date with subscribers who are regularly engaging with your content. 

Send reengagement campaigns to subscribers who have not engaged with your material in the last couple months. Remove subscribers who do not respond to the reengagement campaigns to weed out any contacts that could be spam traps.

How do I know if there’s a spam trap in my list?

If your IP address or domain has been list denied, it’s likely that you have a spam trap on your list. (Not sure if you’ve been list denied? Here’s information on denylists and how to find out if you’ve been added to one.)

Keep an eye on your delivery rates. If you see your delivery rates steadily decline (or tank), it’s very possible you have a spam trap on your list. 

For those wondering how to identify spam traps in your contact list, there are solutions. You can use tools like 250ok's Reputation to determine how many and what types of spam traps your list is hitting. 

How do I find and remove a spam trap?

If you believe you have spam traps on your list, it’s time for a thorough cleaning. Remove contacts who have not engaged with your list for 6 months. (Still not working? Narrow the window to 3 months.)

And if you’re still having issues after scrubbing your list, try removing spam traps through list segmentation. Identify clean list segments that are free of any possible spam traps and separate them from the rest of your list. Continue to narrow the segments until you are able to locate the spam trap.

For professional help in removing a spam trap, consult with our Expert Services. Navigating the email landscape is tricky, and we know the ins and outs of ISPs, spam traps, and denylists like the back of our hand. 

Maintain a healthy email list with Twilio SendGrid

Remember that the purpose of spam traps is to catch spammers. So if you’re wondering how to identify spam traps, know that the best way to avoid them is to not act like a spammer. This means:

  • Don’t purchase lists. 
  • Ensure good list hygiene. Regularly scrub your list of typos and outdated emails.
  • Use a double opt-in to confirm that your recipients are legitimate senders. 

Maintain a healthy contact list and follow email sending best practices. For more tips on how to identify spam traps and stay out of the spam folder, check out our free guide, Tips and Tricks to Stay Out of the Spam Folder.

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