Most web hosts, including DreamHost, have a mail option that let's you receive mail at your domain, but forwards it to another address which is where you really get your mail.
For example, John sends you an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your email account at DreamHost (or whoever you use to host your website) shows this as a forward, so it forwards the email to you at email@example.com, or wherever you want it delivered.
That works very nicely, except for one thing. AOL has a spam system that fails to identify the proper source of the email.
Here's what happens. DreamHost forwards the email to your AOL account. You pick it up there.
That's fine, until some spammer sends you spam. And you click the "This is Spam" button. After all, it is spam. AOL identifies the email as spam, and attempts to set a filter to knock out other spam from the spammer. Sounds good, so far.
However, they incorrectly identify the source of the email as the DreamHost email server by noting the IP address. After enough "This is Spam" clicks from you (and hundreds, maybe thousands, of other DreamHost clients who are forwarding email to AOL), AOL's automated system incorrectly flags the DreamHost IP address as a spam source and blocks all email.
After all, if you get 100 spam messages a day, all forwarded to your AOL account, and click that button 100 times, AOL counts that as 100 spam messages from DreamHost. Multiply that by thousands of DreamHost customers and it's a lot of spam... none of which was originated on DreamHost servers. All DreamHost did was what you asked, forward your mail to your AOL address.
At this point, all mail that should be coming through to you (and all those other AOL users) is dumped as spam.
Even worse, all mail sent by DreamHost clients (if they use the DreamHost server to send mail and it has that same IP address) to an AOL address gets dumped by AOL, too.
AOL is causing a big problem
Frankly, AOL is causing a big problem here, by blocking a lot of legitimate email from intended recipients. They're identifying the wrong originator.
This means you stop getting your forwarded email. (Even if you never clicked "This is Spam," other AOL customers did.)
It also means email that does originate with DreamHost clients (if they use the DreamHost SMTP server) is blocked from all AOL recipients.
AOL compounds the error by refusing to do anything about it.
By the way, this affects all web hosting companies, not just DreamHost. And it can occur with other spam filter systems if they block IP addresses and don't properly locate the actual source of the spam. Other hosting companies will be doing the same thing, if they haven't already.
DreamHost kicked in a solution by shutting down all forwards to AOL. That might seem "unfriendly" but they have to deliver email.
Your solution? Get your own email address. Host it at your website. Then use webmail, if you must get it online, or your email program on your computer to download your email and send it.
You don't need to forward to AOL. You don't need to use AOL mail anymore. You can even have your email program pick up your email (using IMAP) on your AOL account and download it to your computer... until you get everyone switched over to using your new email address.
AOL's Ongoing Problem with Email
"You've got mail" was always so "cute." But AOL has always had a problem with email. They don't play nicely with others. It's as if AOL resents the fact that there is an internet beyond the AOL system. (Even though their customers want and need access to the world.)
AOL might want to argue this, but when Time-Warner merged with AOL a few years ago, the corporate edict was that all divisions would switch to AOL email. They did, and suddenly began losing mail. This was important business email, and it was costing Time-Warner a bundle.
Eventually, AOL reprogrammed their corporate email to resolve the problem. In other words, they gave a better email system to their own company than they did to their customers. But it still didn't work.
Finally, they had to let their various corporate divisions go out and reestablish email service with POP and SMTP just like you and me.
Comcast is Worse
As the folks at DreamHost were solving the AOL problem, they discovered they were having similar problems at Comcast. Here's their report:
"Comcast blocks are atypical from the others that we’ve been having problems with in that they last indefinitely until unblocked manually. Unlike AOL blocks (which phase out automatically after 24 hours - though may reappear) someone has to flip a switch over there for any future mail to go through. The unfortunate part is that they have zero human availability and all we get from their blacklist email address are auto-responses — either the IP is automatically unblocked, or the unblock is denied and the phone number of their abuse/security department is given.
"Unfortunately, this phone number is a completely unmanned voicemail drop-box. We’ve left no less than six messages on their voicemail in the last couple months, and despite numerous requests we have never received a phone call back or an email response. We’re not even asking that they remove the blacklist — we’re simply asking for more information on why the IPs were blocked, and for a sampling of the typical spam they are supposedly getting from us! In fact, the only response we can get from them (if we get one at all) is an automated form message saying that “most of the email” received from our IPs is spam, which we know, in fact, is false."
This serves to highlight the fact that it's best to run your own email address. Over time, either the ISPs (like AOL and Comcast) will get it figured out. After all, it's cutting off mail service to their own customers. Or business customers will bail and start using their own mail box at their own website.
Your Own Email Address
One of my clients told me they'd rather keep their AOL address than get their email at their own website.
I guess that's okay if you want to look like the kid down the block. An AOL address does not give a good business impression. Ten to twelve years ago, an AOL email address showed you were sharp, using leading technology. Today it says you're ten to twelve years behind.
If you've read Internet Business Magic you know all the reasons you should have your email address at your own website. You maintain control. You can move it to other servers, if necessary. You advertise yourself, not the internet provider. There's more; read the book.
Get your own email address. Host it on your website. Then use webmail, if you must get it online, or your email program on your computer to download your email and send it.
Does that mean you can't use AOL? No. we're just suggesting you don't use an AOL email address. (For that matter, we don't think you should use a Hotmail address either, or a Yahoo address, or any of the other "free" addresses, for doing business.)