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Nov 21, 2002
How To

3 Steps if You're Blacklisted by SpamCop - How to Fix it

SUMMARY: Ouch! Your company has just been blacklisted by Spamcop. What do you do next? Our Tech Editor Alexis Gutzman contacted the folks over there to get a step-by-step primer for you.

Plus, if you are wondering how being blacklisted will actually
affect you in reality, she explains that too. Turns out there is
some good news (your name can be off the list in just a few hours) and some bad news (if your web host finds out, they may shut down your site without warning).
SpamCop is one of the better-known publicly-accessible
blacklists. SpamCop is a vox populi system of determining what
spam is. Anyone can report a message as spam to SpamCop,
whether the person who received it opted in or not, even if
that person confirmed the opt-in.

Like most public blacklists, SpamCop is a guilty-until-proven-innocent system.

== > Why You Should Care

If a single SpamCop user reports your message as being spam,
you are added to its blacklist. Email administrators at ISPs
and corporate IT departments who visit the list frequently, may
then block your incoming mail to all their users.

Plus, if the company hosting your Web site sees your name on a
SpamCop list they may pull the plug on your site, without
even giving you prior warning or sending you a back-up disk.
(It is a clause in many hosting contracts today.)

You may also be affected by a SpamCop blacklisting even if
your own email is not reported.

This is because SpamCop is DNS-based, meaning that it
is based on the IP address of your sending email server. If
another emailer using the same broadcast email vendor as you do
is listed with SpamCop, then you may find your email being refused
just as if you had committed the alleged offense yourself.

The folks at SpamCop know this system is not perfect. In fact
their site notes, "This blocking list is somewhat experimental
and should not be used in a production environment where
legitimate email must be delivered."

Still, because it is fr^ee to use SpamCop's list to filter email,
many budget-conscious email administrators use it either alone or
in concert with other solutions to try to keep spam out of their
systems. Universities, in particular, are likely to use SpamCop
because they don't worry as much about "false positives."

("False positive" is a euphemism for mail the recipient really
wanted that was not actually spam.)


== > How SpamCop Works: Newly Changed Policies

Very recently, SpamCop has changed its blocking policies. Today,
SpamCop will list you for up to 6 hours for each of the first two
complaints. If you only received two complaints, and it was
more than six hours ago, then you are already off their list.

On the third complaint, you are listed for 72 hours.

Note: If you host your site with an ISP that also hosts spammers, then your IP address can be blocked right along with those
of the spammers. If you use a broadcast email vendor that mails
to opt-out lists, or mails for other clients with lists of
questionable origin, then you will be blacklisted often.

In the world of email, you are definitely judged by the company
you keep.

== > Three Steps to Get Off the Blacklist

It is a myth that there is nothing you can do but despair. There
are reasonable people behind the scenes at SpamCop handling mail.
(I know because I have met some of them.)

Although the system is biased in favor of the email recipient,
SpamCop's dispute-resolution procedures do give mailers a
chance to get unblocked under certain circumstances.

That is because, while SpamCop may still officially define spam as
"whatever the recipient says it is," the reality is that SpamCop
does not want to be blacklisting legitimate marketers and
publishers.

Consequently, SpamCop actually takes action against email users
who routinely report permission email as spam, and may terminate
their SpamCop accounts.

Here are the three steps you should take if you are blacklisted:

1. First thing, very first thing, before you confirm
anything, before you refill your water glass, before you
scream, vent, or bang on the desk, call your ISP. Tell
them:

A. You are very concerned that you were erroneously
reported to SpamCop for *permission* email that
you sent out.

B. You are working on getting the block cleared, and
that you absolutely did not spam anyone, did not
use an opt-out list, did not rent an opt-out list,
or anything like that.

The key is that they know that you are concerned and
working on clearing up the misunderstanding. Keep a
record of the name and direct phone number of whoever you
spoke to.

Email the same thing to abuse@ and postmaster@ your ISP's
domain. That is where the SpamCop report was sent. Make
sure you include your name and direct phone number, so
that they can reach you. Being reachable can make a huge
difference. Tell them that in the future, you want to be
sure they forward any and all spam complaints about them
directly to you so you can clear them up. Be very, very
courteous, concerned, and professional.

2. Call your broadcast email vendor. The company you pay
to send out your email. (If you send your own mail, skip
to #3.) Many email vendors have good relations with
Sp*mCop. If they are already on SpamCop's radar as opt-in
only, then you may already be de-listed, but not before
the automatically generated report went out to your ISP.

If you found out about the SpamCop listing by reading
your delivery report, then your ISP might not yet be
aware of the problem (they get a lot of email at their
abuse desk). If they are not on the case, get them on the
case.

3. Even if you are already de-listed, you should still write
to SpamCop to prove that the subscriber really did opt-
into your list and confirmed that opt-in. They do not want
users of their system harassing publishers and marketers
that run legitimate confirmed opt-in (a.k.a. double opt-
in) lists.

(SpamCop is not sympathetic to single opt-in
lists gathering names from pre-checked boxes, because
consumers often do not notice that a box is checked.
SpamCop are concerned that people may have been duped
into joining a list, and only confirmation "proves" the
intention to subscribe.)

You will need specific evidence about this particular
subscriber to get the listing reversed. An assurance on
your site or your own privacy policy is not enough.

Officially, SpamCop assures the anonymity of its users.
The copy of the unwanted message reported by their user
is supposed to have the email address of the complainer
stripped off, however, the software will leave the ID
number of the complainer in any un-sub links at the
bottom of your original message. See if you have the
subscriber's ID anywhere in the message, embedded in
links, or in a form if it is an HTML newsletter.

Once you find the subscriber (if you can find any clues),
look at your subscriber database and find out when the
person subscribed, whether by email or on a Web site,
what IP address the person came from, and any other data
you have stored about that subscriber. Since the folks at
SpamCop do not want to hear about the subscriber unless
it is a double opt-in list, also include anything you have
about the confirm. The more information you or your
broadcast vendor keeps on file about subscribers, the
better.

Put all these facts together into a very courteous email
message and send them off to deputies@admin.SpamCop.net.

Realize that the people who read these messages are
volunteers who are trying to make a difference. They
are not anti-commercial zealots, looking to get you. If
there has been a mistake, they want it fixed. They are
reasonable and will respond promptly to a reasonable
message from you. (They were even nice enough to read
this article before we published it to make sure we
explained it all accurately.)

In your email to them, be sure to include:

A. The IP address that is currently listed.

B. A note to the effect that this is, in fact, a
double opt-in list.

C. Whatever data you have about your subscribers that
you could provide to them to get the block lifted.
While they will not usually give you the email
address of the complainer, they do occasionally
contact the complainer to ask for the email
address that received the offending message.

D. If you have that subscriber's specific opt-in
information, having pieced together the
subscribing email address from clues left in the
original message, send it along, as well.

== > Prevent Being Blind-sided by a SpamCop Listing

Have yourself added as an interested 3rd party to the reporting
scheme so that you receive the same reports your ISP receives,
at the same time. Have your techies do that at:
http://spamcop.net/fom-serve/cache/94.html


Or write to deputies@admin.spamcop.net, and ask them to do it
for you.

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