How to stop junk mail in its tracks
This article is part of Financial Literacy Month.
Most Americans receive a daily flood of junk mail. Some savvy citizens take a stand against the torrent. My friend Pam gets great delight from calling the sender of every catalog she receives in order to be removed from their mailing lists. This works well, but there are easier ways to deal with the problem. Here's a list of four tools you can use to keep the marketers at bay.
OptOutPrescreen.com looks like it might be a phishing site at first. It's not. It's an official site established by the Consumer Credit Reporting Industry to allow consumers to opt-in or opt-out of credit offers. I did this the last time I posted about the service, and haven't received a credit card offer in over a year!
When you complete your request, you can elect to either opt out of credit card offers for five years, or you can opt out forever. Not only will this keep your credit report and social security number from circulating to various companies, it will also cut down on the amount of junk mail you receive.
This is a legitimate site, endorsed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. (I wonder if similar sites exist in other countries? From the comments: The Canadian Marketing Association has a do-not-contact service. Canada will be launching a do-not-call list in Fall 2008.)
DMA's Mail Preference Service
OptOutPrescreen.com will stop the credit card offers, but wouldn't it be nice to stem the flood of other junk mail? You can at least put a finger in the dike by visiting the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service. The DMA web site offers a menu of consumer information and preference services, including:
- How to remove your name from mailing lists
- How to get your name off e-mail lists
- How to remove deceased individuals from marketing lists
- How to protect your identity from being stolen (and what to do if it's already happened)
- Guidelines for shopping by mail or telephone
The most important of these is the mail preference service, which allows consumers to to remove their names from the junk-mail lists. “Please note that signing up with MPS may prevent you from receiving mail you want,” says the DMA, “such as new catalogs, coupons, announcements about new businesses in your community, and notices of special offers.” Right. That's a chance I'll take, thanks.
Though junk mail is annoying, it's nothing compared to telemarketers. Telemarketers make me do a slow burn. Fortunately, there's an easy way to deal with them, too. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission manages the National Do-Not-Call Registry. This do-not-call list does not expire. Once you sign up, telemarketers are required by law to leave you alone. If they don't, you can file a complaint.
What if this all sounds like too much work? A service called GreenDimes will do take care of some this for you. According to the company's FAQ:
GreenDimes reduces credit offers, insurance offers, sweepstakes offers, coupon mailers, charitable solicitations and retail catalogs that your household receives. We can't reduce mailings you receive as a result of a relationship you have with a company or organization. These include magazine subscriptions, bank statements, brokerage statements and school alumni mailings. Please contact those organizations directly to manage your mail with them.
GreenDimes offers three levels of service:
- The free Basic level appears to cover the DMA's Mail Preference Service and possibly OptOutPrescreen.com. At this level, you still have to do some work yourself.
- For a $20 one-time fee, the Premium level further reduces junk mail, and provides automatic protection. GreenDimes also plants five trees on your behalf.
- The Bundle requires a $36 one-time fee. You receive everything from the Premium level, plus 2 CFL bulbs, a re-usable shopping bag, and some other goodies.
Right now, GreenDimes is paying users $1 to sign up. I don't understand that business model, but then I don't have an MBA… (There's also a well-maintained GreenDimes blog with articles on environmental topics.)
Footnote: This seems like a good place to mention two other related topics: Effective techniques for handling a door-to-door salesman and How to obtain your free credit report.