Junk mail is a modern-day plague -- no vaccine will protect you from it. But there are steps you can take to cut down on the amount of unsolicited mail you receive, if not entirely eliminate it. Fair warning -- if you are currently inundated with junk mail, it will take a bit of patience and perseverance to get off all the mailing lists, but it's well worth the effort in the end, when all the stacks and piles are gone.
A Look At How Junk Mail Gets Started
So where does all this unwanted paper come from anyway? Just about any time that you interact with a business, agency, or other organization -- you are put on a mailing list. But you may not even realize that you've added to someone's direct mail marketing plan until it's too late, and you've been flooded with solicitations. Here's how it works -- you make a purchase or register with a company for a service, your name is added to that company's customer list, your contact information is sold or rented to a list broker, your name can then be sold to literally hundreds of organizations, and each organization may send you unwanted mail and add you to another list. The effect is exponential, rather than linear -- one list can lead to hundreds of pieces of junk mail. Nice!
The best defense is a good offense, so it's best to assume that EVERYONE is out to send you junk mail and be proactive in your dealings. EVERY time you engage in a transaction where you have given out your address, be sure to tell them up front not to include your name on any lists, not to send you any marketing materials or solicitations, and not to sell/rent your name to anyone else.
The Biggest Sources Of Junk Mail
Another big offender in the junk mail game is the credit industry. The credit bureaus make a lot of money selling your name to banks and lenders so that these leeches can fill your mailbox with those annoying and dangerous "pre-approved" offers (more than one person has had their credit ruined when someone stole an unsolicited card application from their mail!) Fortunately, it's incredibly easy to "opt out" of this practice. Simply call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT or visit www.optoutprescreen.com -- it is completely safe to give your social security number (that's how they locate your credit reports), and you have a choice of opting out for 5 years or permanently (be sure to pick permanently). Your name will be removed from those sleazy marketing lists, and you will NEVER again receive an offer that was generated through misuse of your credit report. I will tell you that this is the BEST thing I ever did to stop the junk mail -- I don't get a single financial solicitation from anyone anymore!
Much of the rest of the generic junk mail you receive is created by direct mail service companies -- an entire industry has blossomed around the idea that your address and contact information are valuable commodities. However, these folks are legally required to remove your name from their lists at your request. You can get off lists for "Val Pak" coupons and other impersonal junk mail by contacting the following services:
- ADVO Inc. List Service -- 239 W. Service Road, Hartford, CT 06120
- Cox Direct Operations -- 6030 N. US 301, Elm City, NC 27822
- Carol Wright Gifts -- 340 Applecreek Road, Lincoln, NE 68528-1501
- Harte Hanks Direct Marketing -- 100 Alco Place, Baltimore, MD 21227-2090
- Money Mailer -- 14271 Corporate Drive, Garden Grove, CA 92843
- Val-Pak Coupons Address Info. -- 8575 Largo Lakes Drive, Largo, FL 33773
- Direct Marketing Association -- PO Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008
- Polk List Order Services Opt Out -- 1621-18th Street, Denver, CO 80202
- Donnelly Marketing Name Supression Service -- P.O. Box 3502, Ames, IA 50010-3502
- List Services Corp. -- 6 Trowbridge Drive Box 516, Bethel, CT 06801
- Metromail Corp. Consumer Services -- 901 W. Bond, Lincoln, NE 68521
- Database America Compilation -- 100 Paragon Drive, Montvale, NJ 07645
- Walter Karl Consumer List Mgmt. -- 1 American Lane, Greenwich, CT 06831
- Dun & Bradstreet -- 899 Eaton Avenue, Bethlehem, PA 18025-9922
Just send them a brief postcard, asking to have your name removed from their marketing lists -- and be sure to include all permutations and misspellings of your name and address. This should stem most of the tide, but it's a good idea to keep a template of your letter on your computer -- that way, you can also whip out a "remove me from your list" card to send to any company that is sending you junk mail you didn't request.
Junk Mail From Unexpected Places
Junk mail is just like a leak in your roof or termites in your walls -- you can't always tell where the problem is originating from. And without a starting point, you stand little chance of ever regaining control over your mailbox. You would think that the companies with which you do business would actually honor that promise to "protect your personal information" -- unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way. You have to proactively protect yourself by ask to "opt out" anytime you give someone your contact information (even if it's for a shipping or billing address). Use the words "please do not rent, sell, share, or trade my name" and ask that your name be put on an "in-house" list only. More importantly, don't give out your contact information unless it is absolutely necessary.
For example, you never want to send in a warranty card on a new product that you have purchased -- your warranty is still good even without the card, and they often go to list brokers rather than the manufacturer. You may be tempted to enter a lot of contests and drawings, to sign up for giveaways, "send me more info" packets, and samples -- but the only prize you will win is a ton of unwanted junk mail. Just say no! And while it's nice to get a break at the grocery store, signing up for store scanner "discount cards" adds you to more mailing lists -- just an FYI.
Also check to see if your credit card company lets other businesses send promotions to its card holders, and ask to opt out of these. You can even instruct your credit card company to quit sending you in-house mailings aside from your bill -- this will stop the new card offers, the promotional invitations to sign up for an entirely scammy credit protection plan, and those stupid "balance transfer" checks they seem so fond of. And be sure to contact current magazine and catalog subscriptions to opt out from their lists. While you're at it, ask yourself if you actually read the publication when it arrives, or if it just sits there gathering dust and cluttering up your life each month. If you answered "b," just cancel the damned subscription or get off the catalog list and be done with it!
Your Government, Hard At Work For You
Here's another one I'll bet you didn't know about -- the U.S. postal service, a governmental agency with a monopoly on the letter-sending business, sells change of address lists to marketers! When you submit a permanent change of address form through your post office, you are added to the "National Change Of Address" database. You might think that moving gives you a fresh start, but all that annoying direct mail is going to follow you to your new home. If you've submitted a change of address in the past, just ask to have your name removed from the NCOA database by sending your name, old address, and new address to NCOA Customer Support / 6060 Primacy Pkwy. #101 / Memphis, TN 38188.
However, you can avoid this issue altogether with a sneaky but effective little trick. Only permanent address changes go into the NCOA database -- so check the box for "temporary move" and set the time frame for 364 days. You will receive the same year-long mail forwarding service as a permanent change, and avoid any risk of junk mail moving with you.
Some Unorthodox Approaches
Instead of just bitching about how much junk mail you get and throwing it all in the trash, create a pile for those items you don't want to continue receiving -- then sit down once a week and contact each company to have them remove you from their mailing list. I personally prefer to call rather than write (because I can get confirmation from a live human that my request has been processed). But sometimes, it's just better to get the offending item out of your life as quickly as possible. Plus, it's also deliciously vengeful to know that you are costing those folks who annoy you with their marketing materials a little extra money.
If you receive a solicitation that includes a postage-paid return envelope, put the item back in the return envelope and include a note saying "stop sending me your junk" -- when you mail it back, the company is charged an additional postage fee, and you're essentially sending your removal request at their expense! You can also write "return to sender, remove me from your list" on any piece of first class junk mail and put back in your mailbox -- the post office is obligated to send it back to its source of origination. First-class mail isn't cheap these days, and it's unlikely you will get any more solicitations from that company. You can actually refuse any piece of junk you receive, even bulk mail, and the post office is required to deal with it. I used to take all those grocery store flyers and "dear occupant" solicitations, bundle them together with a rubber band, and put a note on it saying "refused: a gift for the postmaster" -- the USPS just loved me! If more and more people do this, eventually, the postal service might stop making it so easy for companies to send out crap advertisements that recipients don't want in the first place. At least I like to dream...
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