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Tackling the Dangerous Email Domain Dilemma

The rise of dangerous and high-risk domains has been significantly altering our online world. To the tune of 100,000 or so per day. And when most of these domains are seen for but a few weeks before vanishing into the ether, timing is of the essence.

Disposable email addresses, hide-my-email, email aliases, or whatever you choose to call them – designed for temporary or anonymous use – are quickly becoming a double-edged sword. While they offer a great benefit in privacy and spam reduction for legitimate users, they also provide an easy and scalable disguise for fraudsters.

But why should businesses, in particular, worry about dangerous and disposable email domains, and what makes them a strong tool for fraudsters? Some of the most pervasive threats come from the misuse of disposable and high-risk email domains because of the ease at which they can be created. These email addresses enable a range of illicit activities, from phishing scams to fake account creation, making the task of identifying and mitigating fraud more complex.

The Challenge of Dangerous Domains

The allure of disposable email addresses for fraudsters lies in their simplicity and anonymity. Dangerous domains pose a significant risk because they can be used to bypass traditional email verification processes, engage in phishing scams, spread malware, or facilitate fraudulent activities. Moreover, their transient nature complicates efforts to track and counteract these threats, as these domains often disappear before they can be properly investigated.

Examples of fraudulent activity using disposable emails:

  1. Bypassing Email Verification: Many platforms rely on email verification as a primary method to confirm a user’s identity. Fraudsters can use disposable email domains to create multiple fake accounts and bypass these checks, leading to exaggerated user numbers, skewed analytics, and a vulnerable platform.
  2. Phishing Scams: Phishing scams are one of the most common ways dangerous domains are used. Fraudsters create domains that mimic legitimate businesses to trick users into providing sensitive personal identification information, such as login credentials or credit card numbers.
  3. Malware Distribution: Dangerous domains often serve as the starting point to spread malware. Convincing users to click on links within emails sent from these domains, attackers can infect systems with malware designed to steal data, monitor user activities, or obtain unauthorized access to networked systems.
  4. Enabling Fraudulent Activities: Disposable domains can often be used to mask the activities of those engaged in illegal or unethical practices like spam campaigns, distributing pirated content, or selling counterfeit goods. It can be challenging to track and take action against the perpetrators due to the temporary nature of these domains.

The Impact on Businesses

Consider a scenario where fraudsters target an online retail platform by creating an email address domain that closely mimics the platform’s official customer service. They then send emails to customers claiming that there’s been a security breach and urging them to click on a link to reset their passwords.

Because the email address is real, and is being sent from a real domain, typical verification methods won’t register an issue. The embedded link then leads to a convincing, but fake, password reset page designed to steal the customers’ login credentials. Unsuspecting customers, believing the communication to be legitimate, provide their information, which fraudsters then use to access accounts, make unauthorized purchases, or sell their credentials.

The repercussions for businesses impacted by such a scenario can be significant. First, the reputational damage from being linked to phishing scams or fraudulent activity can severely affect a brand, resulting in considerable efforts and resources to rebuild customer trust. Financially, companies face direct losses from fraudulent transactions, costs associated with addressing security, and potential fines tied to data breaches. There are also legal and regulatory ramifications for businesses that do not adequately safeguard customer data, potentially leading to legal action and penalties.

The possibilities are limitless if unchecked. Think about what someone with an email address could access in your own platforms or apps. Could they make fraudulent purchases, perform coupon fraud, submit a fraudulent claim, or phish for further information? 

Strategies to Mitigate Risk

  1. Implement Advanced Email Verification Tools: Using email verification tools that go beyond basic syntax checks to analyze email domain characteristics, historical data, and sender reputation to assess the risk level helps identify and block disposable or suspicious email addresses.
  2. Leverage Machine Learning: Machine learning algorithms can process vast amounts of data to identify patterns and signals indicative of fraudulent activity. And by analyzing the behavior of email domains over time, these algorithms can predict and flag potential threats as they arise before they impact business.
  3. Utilize a Network of Activity: Collaborating with an experienced fraud prevention organization like AtData offers access to a comprehensive, historical database and domain risk scoring. By continuously monitoring the digital landscape and processing billions of real-time signals, they stay up to date with the latest threat intelligence. This real-time information enables companies to make informed decisions about how to escalate potential threats.
  4. Adopt a Holistic Approach: Protecting against dangerous domains is just one piece of a comprehensive fraud prevention strategy. Businesses should ensure every potential attack vector is covered while providing seamless experiences to their legitimate customers.


The threat posed by high-risk email domains can feel significant, but it’s not insurmountable. By leveraging advanced validation tools and partnering with data intelligence providers, businesses can alleviate risks. These solutions represent a shift in how we approach digital security, from a reactive stance to a proactive strategy, and help turn the nebulous and often overwhelming task of digital security into a manageable, data-driven process. By integrating tools, such as domain risk scoring, into your digital infrastructure, you’ll transform email addresses into a shield so the digital world is a safer place for companies and customers alike.

AtData’s fraud prevention solution utilizes advanced identification and classification models allowing our customers to instantly identify and mitigate suspicious or disposable email addresses from creating accounts or transacting within their business.

Learn more about AtData’s fraud prevention.

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Author: Diarmuid Thoma

AtData’s Vice President of Fraud & Data Strategy. Over 20 years of experience designing and working on fraud prevention platforms with large companies including Facebook, Symantec, and Hewlett Packard. Founding member of fraud platform Trustev which was acquired by TransUnion.