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Typo Spam Traps Stink, Says Email Agency CEO

4/15/14
 
By Ken Magill
 
Maintaining typo spam traps is a reprehensible practice that amounts to entrapment, according to Dela Quist, chief executive of email marketing agency Alchemy Worx.
 
As reported here last week, some anti-spam outfits have spam traps with common typographical errors in their domain names. For example, if someone supplies an email address with two ls in Gmail.com, that mistyped domain may be a spam trap.
 
Hitting such addresses indicates the sender is not verifying email addresses before mailing to them.
 
But by accepting email at these addresses rather than bouncing them, typo spam trap maintainers are engaging in reprehensible behavior, according to Quist.
 
“First of all most ESPs would not send mail to that [typoed address],” he said. “Syntax errors are some of the easiest to spot. The second thing is even if they didn’t [spot the typo], and you uploaded that email, it should bounce and if it bounces you should never mail it again.”
 
Spam fighters, he said, “know that syntax errors happen. They know that if they hadn’t created an email address that would have bounced and they know by not bouncing it they’re denying me an opportunity to do best practices and not mail it.
 
“It’s entrapment,” he said.
 
If, rather than accepting email at typoed addresses, the messages bounced, “we would know who’s a spammer and who’s a legitimate marketer,” said Quist.
 
“The only advocates of [typo spam traps] are advocates of double opt in,” he added.
 
Double opt-in or fully verified opt-in as it’s also known is the email list-building technique where a new would-be subscriber must respond to a verification email in order to be added to an emailer’s list. 
 
[Author’s note: I employ double opt in, but only because I make enemies and must guard against would-be list polluters.]
 
Most—if not all—anti-spammers are advocates of double opt-in. Many of them claim verifying new signups with a message that requires a response is the only acceptable way to verify that the new address was, indeed, supplied by the person who holds it. They also advocate it for keeping mistyped email addresses out of a marketer’s list.
 
Maintaining typoed spam traps, according to Quist, “is a refuge of the incompetent and the weak. They finally find an argument [for double opt-in] that no one can beat because it’s impossible to protect yourself against it.
 
“This argument is the last refuge for the advocates of double opt-in,” he said. “It falls into exactly the same category as me seeding your list maliciously with known spam traps. The idea of setting up traps that would bounce and a good person would take them off because of a syntax error caused at the point of collection, that’s dumb.”
 
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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Mark Goodge
Date: 2014-06-05 15:37:51
Subject: Missing the point

Mr Quist is missing the point. I regularly get spam to my Gmail account, because someone else has mistyped their address and put mine instead. We're not talking about the difference between my.address@example.com and my.address@examplle.com here, but the difference between my.address@example.com and my.adress@example.com. If someone mistypes their email address, and inadvertently enters a valid email address belonging to someone else, then the most that the real owner of the other address should receive is the confirmation request. Which they can ignore. They should not, ever, get any other email from that sender, and will never do so from any legitimate, reputable email marketer. Typo spam traps, therefore, exist to identify marketers who do not correctly verify opt-ins. They perform an extremely valuable role in minimising spam. And a competent, legitimate marketer will never be caught by them.
Posted by: Just a Guy
Date: 2014-04-23 15:05:38
Subject: Today I learned...

...that Dela Quist doesn't really know anything about spam traps.
Posted by: Atro
Date: 2014-04-16 23:24:38
Subject: What's more...

Accusing typotrap owners of this, that and the other seems like a straw man. If marketers made a conscious effort not to mail to permanent undeliverables it just might be different, but as long as that's not the case, let's focus on the real problems shan't we. I know of a few domains that I suppose would qualify as typotraps. They get mainsleaze spam despite never having existed before the current registration, and the originals of the now typotrapped domains date back to the 90's. Senders have only had 15 or so years to figure they're mailing to permanent undeliverable address. Does this matter? Apparently not.
Posted by: EB
Date: 2014-04-16 15:46:51
Subject: So, I suppose, if I own a typo-like domain...

...I can't use it for email, otherwise you can send me all the spam^H^H^H^Hmarketing you want, and it wouldn't be spam?
Posted by: D. Watson
Date: 2014-04-15 19:36:28
Subject: "If they would just bounce the messages then there would be no problem"

Worth a read, or re-read if you normally follow WTTW. https://wordtothewise.com/2013/03/spamhaus-speaks/
Posted by: George
Date: 2014-04-15 16:59:00
Subject: Do you have other sources other than Dela Quist?

I mean, c'mon. This just sounds like more of the old-school "the bigger the list, the better, and to hell with the quality" arguments I've been hearing for years. It's possible to have big lists with high quality - it just takes work! If your content is worth receiving, subscribers will opt-in a second time. If people aren't completing the second step of a double-opt-in, it's because they didn't take the time to (at a minimum) click a link or (at a maximum) fish your email out of the spam folder and click a link. Furthermore, the ISPs don't really care about people sending email to their users. You aren't there customers. (You might actually be competing with one set of their customers - advertisers). The end-user is all they care about, and their experience. Since no one ever called up their ISP to say "I'm not getting enough irrelevant emails anymore!", you're going to continue seeing this. tl;dr - If you matter to your subscribers, double opt-in isn't onerous.
Posted by: Punvaf!
Date: 2014-04-15 16:33:43
Subject: Reprehensible?

So, I've gotta ask; If typos are reprehensible, what sort of prescribed types of traps should be allowed? Recycled? Bogus data into unsub forms? Gibberish addresses tacked onto the ends of web comments? Bogus email addresses printed on business cards dropped into punchbowls to win prizes? ... and just show how awkward and fruitless this would be; imatrap@honeypotzz.com nomailme@example.com quist_is_being_silly@completely-bogus.com zOMG@you-hit-traps.com (and I bet that those made up domains will be in suppression lists for *years* to come)

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