How to respond to an abuse complaint


There’s a lot of variation in how ESPs respond to a report of one of their customers sending spam. Almost all ESPs will suppress future email to the recipient. Most will also note that there was a complaint about the sender, and use a count of those complaints for reporting, triage and escalation of problems. Beyond that, though, there’s little consistency.
I sent a spam report to abuse@mailchimp last week. The spam was nothing special – it was an advert about bouncy castles from a small company local to me sent to a tagged address used to register a domain that expired several years ago, so I knew someone had purchased a “targeted” list. The mail I sent to mailchimp was just one line, mentioning where the email address had come from and a full copy of the email with headers – again, nothing special.
The response I got back from Meredith was particularly good, so I thought I’d share it.

Hi Steve!
Thank you for getting in touch with us with the info on the sender. I found the account and turns out they were already suspended for excessive bounces. The account is permanently banned going forward and we’ll do everything we can to ensure this doesn’t happen again! Meredith @ MailChimp Abuse

I received that less than 90 minutes after sending in the report. In less than fifty words it tells me an awful lot about MailChimp and their abuse policies and procedures.

  • MailChimp have an abuse desk
  • They actually look at each report, rather than handling them entirely automatically
  • They have the time to send what looks like a hand-written reply
  • They’re staffed at an appropriate level for the level of spam reports they receive and/or have good automation
  • … all of which means that they must run a pretty clean ship – ESPs who don’t can drown in many thousands of reports a day
  • They understand that the information about where an email address was acquired from is important, which means they’re really a competent abuse desk, not just tier one customer support
  • They have automation in place to detect and shut down bad customers even before getting complaints
  • They’re taking appropriate action against the customer to stop the spam (sometimes getting rid of the customer is appropriate, sometimes educating them is)
  • They’re humble enough to know that even if they’re handling things well, there’s always room for improvement

We’ve worked with MailChimp in the past, so it’s quite possible Meredith recognized my name, despite it being sent from my personal account to their abuse role account. Even so, it tells a strong story – and if an abuse desk is aware enough of people in the industry and paying enough attention to notice them in the incoming abuse@ mail stream without cues, that’s something in itself.
How an ESP responds to a complaint tells a much stronger story about their attitude to bad behaviour by their customers than a dozen webpages of policy and claims of zero tolerance. If that sort of response were sent to ISP postmaster or NOC staff, a blacklist staffer or some other filter operator it would have a direct effect, but consistently good responses to reports of spam also builds a reputation within the legitimate email industry – and that reputation can affect how others will work with you when you need them to.

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  • This should be common with all ESPs but sadly isn’t. I’m working with the Abuse department of CheetahMail right now and for the size of their company their responses have been great. I run the Abuse Department at EmailDirect and i expect nothing less, even if we get a harsh LART with death threats we train everyone to handle them with care and before you know it they respond with kind words. Unfortunately for some other Abuse Departments and I will omit names do not care, respond or are VERY understaffed! Good to know MailChimp is on top of it.

  • ESPs can also escalate responses to favored email addrs, just like they can suppress. 😉

  • Indeed. One of the happier moments in my email life was being asked for spam samples for one particular instance, finding one, sending it, and later getting a second-hand report of the sender saying “Oh my God; we spammed Huey’s wife?”
    Granted, I’m absolutely certain that I’m not important enough to warrant that response (although my wife might have been) but it’s nice to hear all the same.

  • I’m not surprised to see this sort of response from Mailchimp, though, regardless of whether they recognized Steve’s name/email address or not. On the rare occasion that I report spam to them (only when it hits a personal email address), they respond similarly to me, and most ESPs would have no reason to know who I am.
    More to the point, while I do see occasional spam from their customers in my spamtraps (which never complain about spam), the quantities are a couple of orders of magnitude less than many other “reputable” ESPs. While they might be a smaller ESP than some of those, they aren’t that much smaller. My impression is that Mailchimp takes abuse seriously, proactively looks for signs of it from their customers, and doesn’t let it continue. That’s how ESPs should operate.

By steve

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