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Can I Count on Mail to a Bad Address Bouncing Back?

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Will email that I send bounce back to me to let me know if the recipient’s email address is closed or no longer exists, or will it just go out into space never to be seen again?

Unfortunately, the answer is:

  1. Both
  2. Neither
  3. All of the above

Email bounce messages are both annoying and informative. They can help you fix a problem with an email you’ve sent, or they can simply be another message in a big pile of spam.

Unfortunately, about the only thing you can count on is that you cannot count on bounce messages.

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What’s a bounce?

Just to be clear, “bounce” is the term we use when email we send causes an error message (also in the form of an email message) to return to us. Usually, though not always, the error message includes the original email.

The email you sent has not been delivered, and is thought of as having “bounced back” to you.

Hopefully, the error message contained in the bounce tells you why it bounced.

What is this “closed” you speak of?

I have to ask what you mean by a “closed” account in your question. It could mean many things, including:

Return To Sender

  • The user stopped using it. Email will be successfully received and accumulate. There’s nothing here that would cause a bounce.
  • The user could have “closed” the account, but the ISP hasn’t released or deleted it yet. Email may still accumulate without bouncing until cleanup happens after some period of time.
  • The account existed, but is now closed.
  • The account no longer exists (or never did).

While you might think of some of those states as being “closed”, not all of them will cause a bounce, and none of them require a bounce.

Bouncing spam

With the ever-increasing influx of spam, many ISPs choose to ignore mail destined for invalid or closed destinations. Why? To avoid flooding the internet with even more noise.

You’ve probably received bounce messages for email you didn’t send. Spammers have “spoofed” the email so it looks like it’s coming from you, and then blasted it out to anything they can find that looks like an email address. Some ISPs generate bounces if those addresses are invalid, and that’s what you’re seeing. Other ISPs don’t generate bounces, since they’re as bogus as the spam that caused them.

The bottom line here is that an ISP may or may not return a bounce on an invalid email address (or on any error, for that matter).

But it gets worse.

Because so many bounce messages are the result of spam, even if a returning bounce message is the result of some email you actually did send, some spam filters now filter those bounces out as spam.

So even if the recipient’s email provider sends a bounce, there’s no guarantee you’ll get it!

Bounces usually happen, but…

Now, lest you give up all hope, I will say this: most of the time, bounces are generated and received and work pretty much as you expect. The problem is, you can’t count on it.

If you send an email to someone and don’t get a bounce, that tells you nothing. They could have received the email, or not.

You can only tell if they got it if they reply or somehow act on the information you included in the mail.

But if you hear and see nothing, you just can’t tell whether or not the email arrived. (And of course, you certainly can’t tell if they actually read it if it did. 🙂 )

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Leo

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Posted: January 6, 2020 in: Managing Email
This is an update to an article originally posted December 13, 2006
Shortlink: https://askleo.com/2870
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15 comments on “Can I Count on Mail to a Bad Address Bouncing Back?”

  1. I personally like when it bounces back. Just today at work, an email I sent to my boss and two of our vendors got bounced back. Looking at the reason given, I quickly saw that I had spelled the address wrong by 1 letter. Was able to resend it with the correct address..wow…Now I don’t have the 300lb purple gorrilla called a boss banging on my desk. hahahaha. Thanks Leo for the tips.

    Reply
  2. Since the prospect of a bounce is so iffy, it’s too bad we cannot offer an incentive similar to how the US Postal Service does it. My idea would be to join a service and receive an account number. Then, if I wanted to ensure notification of a mis-addressed eMail, then I’d simply flag the eMail with my account number. If it’s bad, then the ISP, by bouncing it *to the service,* would later be reimbursed for its trouble. This could be done any number of ways with the main goal being to reduce the money-handling costs.

    Reply
  3. I want to my email that i send one hour ago to not be read by the person that i sent hem email. How to able to solve this problem.Thanks.

    You cannot. Once email has been sent, it is out of your control.

    – Leo
    15-Mar-2009
    Reply
  4. If someone requests you to send an email to their address and it bounces, do they have any access to that in order to add a viris?

    They could certainly make something that LOOKS like a bounce that also has a virus.

    Leo
    06-Oct-2010

    Reply
  5. I used a very old address to send a message & to ask a question. This address was at least 15 years old. If it is no longer a working address, will my message
    still go or could it bounce back as not being available?

    Reply
  6. Thank you for the clear and comprehensive explanation as to why I don’t always receive a Mailer Daemon notice. In all my searching you are the only one to explain this aspect of Mailer Daemons.

    Reply
  7. I tell you, closing a Yahoo! email address is such a massive headache. In the past, when I’ve closed other email accounts, email sent to those closed accounts has “bounced”. This is good, it means anyone I forgot to notify, will know that my old address is no longer working. It also means that I get the reassurance of knowing that the old address has been closed. Not so with Yahoo!

    I followed the instructions to close my Yahoo! email account. I then sent a couple of test emails to my closed address, expecting them to “bounce”. They did not bounce. I then logged back into my closed address, I know that reopens the account but I had to look; sure enough my test emails were sitting in the inbox, they had not been bounced back to sender.

    How long does it take before a closed Yahoo! email address starts bouncing messages? This is important to me so I would really like to know.

    Because the Yahoo! way of dealing with closed accounts is so bad, it looks like I will have to re-open this unwanted account and monitor it for another 12 months, this seems to be the only way I can reassure myself that nothing important is slipping through. In my opinion this is not good enough and Yahoo!/Oath!/Verizon really need to review their policies in regard to email account closure,

    Reply
    • My recommendation is to set up a vacation auto-responder in Yahoo! mail letting people know you no longer use the account, and then close the account and never login again.

      Reply
      • I have since read your related article, “Desperately Seeking Closure” and now feel a bit foolish, good advice that I came across too late.

        Reply
  8. A brief note – email used to include commands in the 1st line. 1 of those was for a return ‘receipt.’ On rare occasions, I see a prompt for a ‘receipt’ so maybe that still exists? IIRC, the commands line went unsupported several years ago in general.

    Onto a new problem, SPAMHAUS. There are 2 email @ that bounce my mail from a mail.com id – all others work fine. I ran a deep virus scan and found nothing. The return msg seem to indicate the id is blocked by a whitelist. I was able to indirectly contact one of them thru someone who can reach the blocked ids. SPAMHAUS seems to be in the business of blocking email. There workaround lead me in circles until they asked for too much personal info and felt like phishing. What do you know about them? 1 failing id i on OUTLOOK.com, the other is on kanstellation.com Here is the latest return header:

    nnnn@outlook.com:
    SMTP error from remote server for MAIL FROM command, host: outlook-com.olc.protection.outlook.com (104.47.14.33) reason: 550 5.7.1 Service unavailable, Client host [82.165.159.130] blocked using
    Spamhaus. To request removal from this list see https:[URL removed]

    Reply
  9. Leo: When I sent out an email and it had been disabled or full, I always got an “undeliverable notice” but in the past few weeks I have got nothing even though I intentionally misspelled a name. What could be causing this?
    Thank you,
    Steve

    Reply

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