Issues with forwarding e-mail to AOL

AOL recently reported a large decrease in spam volume for its subscribers. This is good news for AOL members, but a look at AOL's tactics can show why there is such a large decrease. AOL, being such a large company with millions of customers, must stand strong on their fight against spam. This is a very good proposition and has been shown to work for them. However, their efforts also can result in banning legitimate e-mail and further frustrate Internet users.

Through our webhosting packages, users are allowed to forward e-mail from an account at their domain name, to an off-site e-mail address. This may be because the user wishes to group all of their e-mail into one address or that user may be most comfortable using a specific e-mail interface. However, it should be noted that this type of setup can cause problems with AOL addresses.

The below information illustrates how forwarding to AOL addresses can result in lost e-mail and unwanted blocks.

Lets say you have an e-mail forwarder set up on your account. For this example, I will be using the domain

Here, we can see that I have set up to forward to an AOL address, What this means, is that when someone sends an e-mail to, this message will instead go to

Now I am going to check the address to see what messages I have there.

Here we can see that I have 1 new message, which appears to be spam message. Most users would hit the Report Spam button. However, what I may not know is that this message was in fact sent to This means that when I use the Report Spam button, the message will go through AOL system as being spam message and when the headers are analyzed, it will appear as if the server sent the spam, when in fact all it did was forward a message from a different server to AOL.

This point may be illustrated better in the following diagram:

Here, you can see that the message was sent from the Internet to to The message that was received at AOL, will look like its passed through, and it has. However, is not the server that originally sent the message. Using the Report Spam button will notify AOL and continued usage will result in being blacklisted for sending spam.

What this means is, eventually you will not be able to receive mail that is sent to your domain name at your AOL address, because AOL will be blocking the server that your account is on. There are a couple of different ways to get around this.

Method 1: Checking your domain mail directly
This is the best method and involes setting up an e-mail client to download messages sent to your accounts on your domain directly. This means, that instead of setting up forwarders to forward mail to your AOL account, you would set up POP accounts in your control panel. You would then setup your e-mail client to download these messages. For more information on setting up the POP accounts, go here. For an e-mail client, we recommend the Thunderbird client. Setting your e-mail up in this manner bypasses the AOL step completely.

Method 2: Reviewing your AOL messages
In order for this method to work, you will have to review each and every message in your AOL inbox. Using this method you are still forwarding mail from your domain to your AOL account. In the above example, I would double click on the message to read the message.

At the top of the message, below Subject you will see a field titled To. Make special note of what is listed in this field.

Here we can see that the To is listed as What this means, is that this message was sent to and then forwarded to You would want to look for similar addresses regarding your domain name. If the To field contains your domain name, then this means that the e-mail was forwarded to your AOL address via your domain name. In these cases, DO NOT REPORT THE MESSAGE AS SPAM. Instead just delete the message or disregard it.

If the message is shown as being sent to your AOL address, that is the To field contains your AOL address, then this means that the message was sent directly to your AOL account. If this is the case, and the message is in fact spam, then you can safely use the Report Spam button.

I can understand what AOL is trying to do, but the structure of the Internet and e-mail in particular makes this a bad setup. Because AOL is unable to determine what server actually sent the message, they block the last link. This works in most cases, but does not work in cases involving forwarded e-mails.