Email Wrongly Trapped by Spam Filter Costs Taxpayers $250,000
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“The spam filter ate my bid” has replaced “the dog ate my homework” at Cobb County schools. At least it has for Mike Russell of Elite Telecom Services.

We all know that spam filters occasionally lead to false positives – legitimate email which is mistakenly trapped as spam. In fact, an entire industry has arisen devoted to helping make sure that legitimate email doesn’t turn into false positives (for example, see our own SuretyMail).


But unless you are involved in sending commercial email on a regular basis, you may not realize just how serious a problem it can be.

Mike Russell sure knows. He is the president of Elite Telecom Services, a company which recently bid to provide a new telephone system to the Cobb County school system in Georgia. His bid was, according to estimates, about $250,000 lower than the next closest bid, and he was in the running, until something happened: the Cobb County school system’s purchasing agent asked a question of Russell, and required a response by email. And Russell’s response got trapped by the spam filter.

“We must have our response to this request returned via e-mail … in order for your company’s response to be considered further,” wrote the purchasing agent for the Cobb County school system, Jill Vestal.

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Russell dutifully responded to the question by return email, but it never landed in Vestal’s inbox, because her spam filter ate it.

As a result, the Cobb County school system awarded the contract to the next highest bidder, whose bid came in at about $250,000 more. And Russell, who did nothing wrong, was out of a job.

And to add insult to injury, the Cobb County school system is blaming Russell for the fact that his email got trapped by their spam filter!

 

Despite the fact that the Cobb County IT folks admit that terms such as “long distance” (which of course would appear in a telecom bid and related correspondence) probably tripped the spam filter and trapped Russell’s response, Cobb County schools’ finance director Robert Morales blames Russell, saying that “someone seeking a substantial contract with a public agency should be able to outwit a program designed to catch pornographers.”

“I think any good manager is going to follow up the bid process,” said Morales.

Now, before you leave this article thinking that this is an extreme example, and “it can’t happen to me”, it can. And probably has. If you transact any business at all on the Internet, it’s important that you check your spam filters on a regular basis to make sure that no important email has accidentally been caught in there. And if you send email in the course of your business, you should take all steps to ensure that the email you send doesn’t get misidentified as spam (the ISIPP ebook on email deliverability is a good resource for this).

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3 thoughts on “Email Wrongly Trapped by Spam Filter Costs Taxpayers $250,000
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  1. Agreed. What sort of “public agency” requires response via e-mail alone? How reliable is that? Most attorneys prefer real paper with real signatures for obvious reasons.

    I’m required to check my spam folder for false positives. It’s my fault if I don’t. Apparently, Mr. Morales and company feel the need to scapegoat an already victimized contractor for their own shortcomings.

    Why do I smell bid-rigging here? I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Morales has an interest in the “second lowest bidder”.

  2. “We must have our response to this request returned via e-mail … in order for your company’s response to be considered further,” wrote the purchasing agent for the Cobb County school system, Jill Vestal.

    Vestal made the requirement that “We must have our response to this request returned via e-mail … in order for your company’s response to be considered further,”

    Cobb was prevented from faxing, regular post, courier…

    It was the school board’s responsibility to insure the return email they required was not trapped by their email filter.

  3. Since when is the phrase “long distance” indicative of porn? The spam filter I use (in Outlook Express) merely dumps messages from senders I’ve expressly blocked, into the Deleted folder.

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