I’ve been wrongly labeled as a spammer – what can I do about it?
I have used the same email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) for about 10 years.
I am the author of a newsletter which goes to about 150 people, ALL of whom
have ASKED to be included in my list, and I send and receive about 30
emails/day, mainly business. I never have and do not currently use my ID for
any spamming to anyone, nor do I forward any of the dozens of spam emails I
receive from “friends.”
When I sent an email to two different local contacts recently, I received
the same message by return: “This message was undeliverable due to the
following reason: Your message was not delivered because the return address
was refused. The return address was “<email@example.com>” Please reply
to <Postmaster@ispmail.ntl.com> if you feel this message to be in
I DO consider this message to be SERIOUSLY in error – I have written to
them several times, but I have been ignored. What do I do now, please?
Very little that you haven’t already done.
First, you’re assuming that the message means that the remote system
thinks you’re a spammer. That’s not necessarily true.
Even if it is, it’s very important to realize that this isn’t some global
database where everyone in the world now thinks you’re a spammer.
On the contrary.
It’s very likely to be this one email system that you’re having trouble
with and perhaps only a single user thereon.
“Return address was refused”
One of the frustrations of diagnosing email error messages is the potential ambiguity.
This error could mean so many things.
It could mean that the user that you’re sending to actively blocked your email address from sending to them. Depending on the service, that could be entirely separate from spam processing.
It could mean that the mail server was unable to validate your email address – perhaps the DNS servers that resolve “mydomain.co.uk” or the mail records associated with it were having a problem at the time. Again, this is unrelated to spam.
It could mean a configuration error on the part of the recipient’s email server. Particularly for smaller services, this is surprisingly easy to have happen.
And, of course, it could mean that the system has identified your email address as a source of spam.
It still might not be you.
Spam versus spam
Let’s assume for a moment that the email is being rejected because your email address has been listed as being source of spam.
First, it’s very likely that this association is only on this one email service. As I mentioned earlier, there’s no global list of spammers by email address. There are a few lists, but they are often incomplete, poorly maintained, and used by relatively few email services any more because of their inaccuracies.
Second, it’s also very likely that this isn’t your doing at all.
Yes, it’s possible that the people that you’re sending messages to have clicked the “This is spam” button. It happens all too often on legitimate non-spam – either because the button is too close to delete, you’ve said something to annoy the recipient, or perhaps they’re just too lazy to look for your unsubscribe link. Of course, if you change what you’re sending so that it no longer meets the expectations of what people originally signed up for, it might legitimately be considered spam.
But I’ll assume that you’re doing all the right things and that your subscribers are as well.
You email address could still get marked as a spammer.
It’s extremely common for spam to be sent “From:” spoofed email addresses. What that means is that a spammer could be sending spam that looks like it’s “From:” you, even though you’re not in any way involved.
And the recipients of those messages could legitimately hit the “This is Spam” button.
This is so common that most spam filters should actually be ignoring most “From:” senders – they’re random these days and have little to do with the spamminess of the message.
However, some may still; as a result, you pay the price.
The email address “postmaster@” is technically supposed to be valid for every domain that can send or receive email. Most email servers will come pre-configured with error messages that suggest that you contact that email address for additional assistance.
In practice, though, it rarely helps.
Because it’s predefined, the “postmaster” email address probably gets more spam than any other email address.
Because there’s so much spam and so many spam-related issues, the person handling email sent to postmaster is very likely overwhelmed (often this isn’t a full-time position; it may be something that happens in a sysadmin’s spare time, if that person has any).
The email address is often ignored.
That’s not to say that all email servers handle postmaster poorly, but many do. The work associated with responding properly is just too overwhelming.
What should you do?
There’s only one thing that I’d add to what you’ve done already: send a message from a different email address and ask the recipients if they are aware of why this bounce might be happening. If they are (say they blocked you), that’s important information for you. If not, they as customers of that other email service can often get better support at their end in tracking down the issue than you can as an outsider.
But if none of that works, there’s surprisingly little to be done.
Every week, a very small percentage of subscribers to my newsletter mark it as spam. As long as that percentage is low, it’s not worth worrying about.