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

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:

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.

National Do-Not-Call Registry

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.

GreenDimes

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.)

Update: Readers also recommend Catalog Choice (for stopping unwanted catalogs) and Earth Class Mail (for converting paper mail to digital).

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.

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Cheap Like Me
Cheap Like Me
12 years ago

I keep meaning to sign up for Green Dimes, but haven’t done it yet. I’ve gone the route of calling every catalog and asking them to stop sending (and some companies, like Lands End and LL Bean, have options — you can choose to receive the back-to-school or holiday catalog only). But the catalogs seem to reproduce after I’ve canceled them – I cancel one known quantity and receive two or three I’ve never heard of! I think catalogs will decline once there’s a sea change in our culture, so that companies can understand that maybe people WANT to look… Read more »

aria
aria
12 years ago

Another great one for catalogs:

http://www.catalogchoice.org/

Frugal Dad
Frugal Dad
12 years ago

Nice tips. I have managed to greatly reduce my junkmail and credit card offers by using OptOutPrescreen.com. I like the feeling of going to the mailbox and knowing the only thing in there is legitimate correspondence (with a few exceptions).

Helen
Helen
12 years ago

I’ve used Catalog Choice as well, and it really works! It was much easier to sit down with a batch of catalogs from the recycling stack and enter them all at once than wait on the phone, only to hear “Well, why don’t you want our catalog?”

SavetotheFuture
SavetotheFuture
12 years ago

Thank you for the info. I am one of the target markets that the credit card companies like-Young college graduate. Everyday I get a minimum of two credit card offers so hopefully this will help put a stop to this.

Philip
Philip
12 years ago

Not that it is too much of an issue, but having just moved into a new house, I get alot of offers for previous occupants. Have any of you dealt with that and done anything about it?

Similarly, at my previous house having lived there 3 years, I still would get new credit cards, not offers but actual valid cards for other people. If I had called the number to activate I could have gone and used their $10,000 credit limit if I were such a person

Daniel
Daniel
12 years ago

My wife and I did these things a few years ago (back when you had to send a letter to the DMA, before their website existed). We no longer get credit card offers, junkmail, or junk phone calls – it’s GREAT!

jed
jed
12 years ago

Excellent info! As a college student just about to enter the real world -holy crap, money matters?- I can’t thank you enough for the daily insight I get from this blog.

It’s almost exploitative how much “free money” credit temptations get thrown at virtually penniless students. But hey, gotta learn sometime I suppose.

My.cold.dead.hands
My.cold.dead.hands
12 years ago

Good thread.

Is there a way to earmark a thread so that others can see it?

There are plenty of people that I know need this information desperately.

Bob
Bob
12 years ago

Thanks for the “Opt-Out”links. I am going to sign up to relieve the stress on my mailbox post.

It sure is going to destroy my fun though, if I am not too busy I take great pleasure in removing anything that has my name on it and then sending all of the rest of the stuff back to the company in their own postage free envelope that they so conveniently provided.

BPT - MoneyChangesThings
BPT - MoneyChangesThings
12 years ago

I’ve been using CatalogChoice for about 6 months and generally it works. It’s very gratifying since you can go in and look at every catalog you’ve opted out of. It’s free, and seems to be making good headway. My volume is down, but be forewarned that every time you buy something online, the catalog stream is activated. If you’re a regular customer of a company you can ask them to reset your account, but it’s really a nuisance to do that, especially since it requires phoning customer service. My dream is someday catalogs will be OPT IN, not opt out.… Read more »

Yer
Yer
12 years ago

Some of these sites (greendimes.com) require your credit card information to verify your address. They say that won’t charge any money on your CC, but I don’t want my credit card information needlessly sitting on another site’s database. Plus, when I signed up for greendimes (before they asked for my CC), they sent me the confirmation e-mail for a DIFFERENT user. So now I’m logged in as someone else. That may mean that someone ELSE got ME confirmation e-mail and is now logged in as me. JD, have you personally signed up for these sites? How do you feel about… Read more »

leigh
leigh
12 years ago

i’m so relieved to not have a mailbox full of junk mail anymore!!

my biggest complaint now is the local flyers the postal carrier has to put in everyone’s mailbox 3-4 days a week. i just throw those out, but i would prefer to not get them at all…

Daniel
Daniel
12 years ago

@leigh (10) – yeah, if you figure out how to do that, I want to know too… I have a PO box and a street mailbox. The only mail I get at the street mailbox is those flyers, and I’d rather not get them at either address.

Russell Heimlich
Russell Heimlich
12 years ago

If the junk mail in question comes with a pre-paid envelope then stuff everything they sent you and mail it right back to them.

This is what I do even though it probably has little effect of actually getting the junk mail to stop. It still makes me feel a little better for seeking revenge-> http://www.russellheimlich.com/blog/how-i-deal-with-junk-mail/

rmummy
rmummy
12 years ago
You asked about opt out sites in other countries. The Canadian Marketing Association has a Do Not Contact site http://www.the-cma.org/?WCE=C=47|K=224217 I registered a while back and have seen a decline in the addressed junk mail we get. The Canadian Do Not Call list will be launched this Fall, looking forward to being able to answer the phone with out someone trying to sell me something!
The Tim
The Tim
12 years ago

Here’s a series of posts where a guy weighed and cataloged all the junk mail he received each week for an entire year. Interesting stuff.

From the conclusion:

If every household in America gets as much CRAP as Skor does each year, then a minimum of 4.56 billion pounds of CRAP are received each year, occupying a volume of 156.88 million cubic feet, enough to completely fill the ill-fated Kingdome two and a third times.

Saving Freak
Saving Freak
12 years ago

I have used opt out prescreen have had little problems since. Of course now I don’t get to laugh at the silly credit card offers. So maybe it worked a little too well.

Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife
Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife
12 years ago

I managed to get off almost all the legitimate mailing lists out there..my snail mail box only gets about one junkmail letter every other week now. I followed these steps

http://lifelessonsmilitarywife.blogspot.com/2007/08/opt-out-completelyit-actually-works.html

Another point, the businesses you do business with (your phone company, internet provider, etc) are exempt from this. You’re going to have to call each one directly to stop their junkmail. You can even request they not send all those mail inserts when they send you your bill (I didn’t even know that was a possibility til a phone rep asked if I wanted to check that block too).

Mike
Mike
12 years ago

Is there anything like this for Canadians? I’ve heard of the do not call registry that’s coming available this Fall 2008, but anything for junk mail?

Jane
Jane
12 years ago

Does anyone know how to insure that credit card statements or other junk mail isn’t going to old addresses or being sent under your maiden name? We regularly receive offers under the previous owner’s maiden name. It bothers me that the same is most likely occuring at my previous addresses.

Starving Artist
Starving Artist
12 years ago

Thanks for this, JD! I’ve been getting better about reducing my “identity theft” risk, and these opt-out notices are another step in the right direction. About a year ago, my SOP was to pour speghetti or similarly gross food items on my credit offers after I threw them out. I bought a shredder a few months ago ;0)

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Yer wrote: JD, have you personally signed up for these sites? How do you feel about providing them your credit card information? I’ve signed up for all of them except GreenDimes. (GreenDimes is redundant if you do all the other sites.) I had no qualms giving my info because all of the sites are somehow or other endorsed by the U.S. government. Call me naive, but this gives me a feeling of safety. If I hadn’t already done this, I would actually let GreenDimes do it for me. (I might actually pay for one of the levels of service, depending… Read more »

icup
icup
12 years ago

Opt out of junk mail? That would be like throwing money away! I shred all the junk mail that comes into the house and save it up all year to put down as the first layer of mulch in my beds. This cuts down substantially on the mulch I have to buy, and assuming I pick out the plastic bits from the occasional credit card or envelope window, is perfectly safe and environmentally friendly. In a year or so, those credit card offers will become dirt. Now catalogs on the other hand…that is something I try to opt out of… Read more »

Rick
Rick
12 years ago

I seem to be in the minority here, but I actually like getting “junk mail.” There are always coupons that I can use, or ads for various sales and other good deals. Further, I love getting credit card offers, and I apply for all sorts of 0% balance transfers and such.

In short, I save tons of money by browsing through all my junk mail.

Aryn
Aryn
12 years ago

I did most of the above (except GreenDimes), and Catalog Choice and my mail stack is 1/4 what it used to be. Some days we don’t get any mail (since we also have online billing.) I love it!

If you’re worried about not getting coupons, ValPak still comes because it’s not addresses to a name, and even if I didn’t get their mail, I could print their coupons online.

Jimmy
Jimmy
12 years ago

I’ve heard earthclassmail is a great tool as well. I haven’t used it because I am mostly paperless and don’t receive much paper mail anymore anyway. You can do/view just about everything online (bills, email, invitations, banking…) Other than the guilty pleasure/convience of having magazines and package deliveries shipped to you, there shouldn’t be much that you need to have shipped around the country (or worse, the world) in an envelope. This is more of an environmental concern than a monetary concern as stamps for letters are pretty cheap but still worth trying to get others to catch up to… Read more »

SanjDimes
SanjDimes
12 years ago
GreenDimes here,

Cool that you have so many responses. mulch one was pretty hilarious. Shows how much people care about getting rid of junk mail.

Yes, we cover Opt-Out Pre-Screen and have a catalog screener where you can stop your unwanted catalogs. Happy Earth Week!

Serendipity
Serendipity
12 years ago

I can’t help but wonder how much of the US Postal Service budget is covered through junk mailings. Does the insane amount of junk mail help subsidize postal rates for the rest of us? Or does it just compound problems for the post office (needing more carriers, using more fuel, etc.)? Does anyone have any info on this they could share?

Suzie
Suzie
12 years ago

There’s another service no one has mentioned yet, ProQuo.com. It is similar to GreenDimes except that its absolutely free! What’s really cool about ProQuo is that it lets you choose what you want and stop what you don’t want. You can stop the pre-approved credit card offers but keep the ValPak. You can choose stop receiving the Lands End catalog but start receiving Victoria’s Secret. Plus you can enter multiple names and addresses under one registration so you can add your previous address or add the name of a previous resident.

John Egan
John Egan
12 years ago

Well… During a period a few years back, I began wrapping the information they sent around a big handful of gravel … And then putting it back in their return mailer and sending it back.. They get billed by the weight at the post-office.. If everyone did this, they’d soon stop.. Presently, they get the business discount (cheaper than the price you or I pay) for mail..I really tried to get all my friends and family to join in, but they’re just a bunch of party-poopers! One of my friends did suggest using the enclosed mailers with a gummy label… Read more »

Jim
Jim
12 years ago
I’ve used the national Do Not Call registry and the Optout prescreen, both with great success.

For people who have moved or are moving and concerned with credit cards or card offers going to the wrong address, you can do a change of address request with USPS online:
https://moversguide.usps.com/

Jim

Lindsay
Lindsay
12 years ago

I signed up for GreenDimes and it was great. Within 3 weeks I stopped receiving offers for things, and virtually no junk mail gets to me now. I think its worth it, they only charge I got was for the service, and I like that they plant trees.

Philip
Philip
12 years ago

@John ESI Money Egan
Be careful trying to redirect a letter, that sounds very close to mail fraud. Going to jail would NOT be frugal!

Bill Laboon
Bill Laboon
12 years ago

That OptOut Prescreen site REALLY looks like a phishing site. I wonder if the mailing companies did that on purpose to make sure that not many people would sign up?

@Philip
What’s not frugal about jail? Rent out your house while you’re gone, and the government pays for your food and lodging. =) Meanwhile, your investments are all compounding annually!

Anne
Anne
12 years ago

@leigh and Daniel – if you’re talking about the newsprint circulars, usually containing a few grocery store circulars and some coupons, I was able to unsubscribe by calling the number listed in teeny tiny print on the back of the paper. It worked, but I still get my neighbor’s copy occasionally because the mail carrier just throws them in the mailbox without looking at the unit number.

djc
djc
12 years ago

I would also like to know how to stop the grocery store flyers – they are only addressed to “Resident” and don’t have a contact address on them. Some days my lockable mailbox is stuffed full of them and the legitimate mail gets left right on top of the stack, where an unscrupulous person could reach in and take them.

jd
jd
12 years ago

Go to http://www.junkbuster.com/index.html, take the junk mail link, then to ‘opt-out’, follow the instructions on creating the letters, and mail them.

In about 90 days most of the junk will dry up.

It’s worth the book of stamps and envelopes to regain control.

jd
jd
12 years ago

Don’t use the USPS Mover Kits. From what I understand they market the new address information.

Mike
Mike
12 years ago

@djc

I would phone the post office and complain about the carrier just leaving regular mail in the open. Bank/CC statements out in the open not locked in your mailbox while the fliers and spam are? The postal service has to be violating some sort of privacy law on that one?

Suzie
Suzie
12 years ago

@djc

I totally agree with Mike, that’s def. not cool that they would stuff your box with the fliers and then leave your ‘real’ mail out in the open for thieves to grab. That’s exactly how your identity can be stolen.

Regarding opting out of the coupons and circulars, ProQuo does have several of them on their site which you can opt out of such as ValPak, the PennySaver, Red Plum (formerly ShopWise, etc. You might want to give ProQuo a try, its free so it can’t hurt!

Daniel
Daniel
12 years ago

@jd (39) – that sure seems to be the case. I was off all the junkmail and credit card lists, then I moved and submitted a USPS change of address form. Within a few months I was getting credit card offers and junkmail again.

sally
sally
12 years ago

I used to do a few direct mail projects at my job every year and can report that in my experience, sending your business reply envelope back with a bunch of heavy crap in it is totally ineffective. When I got things like that back, I just thought it was pathetic of the person who did it. Those who responded with a note to be removed from the mailing list got the job done. (I cannot speak for what other firms will do when you make this request, but the people I know in the industry respect it.) Anonymous “revenge”… Read more »

anon
anon
12 years ago

Greendimes is great. They really do all the work for you.You can list (I think) up to 5 names per household. If you find you’ve reappeared on a mailing list, you log in and relist the catalog/whatever. Simple.
We’re down to “junk” mail from professional affiliations and academic institutions we’ve attended. Can’t figure out what to do with them.

Nate
Nate
12 years ago

The po box thing looks interesting. I did the opt-out thing and have notice a reduction in mail offers.

ben @ Trees Full of Money
ben @ Trees Full of Money
12 years ago

Not sure if has already been mentioned but you can also call 1-888-5OPTOUT to have your name removed from pre-approved credit and insurance mailing lists.

Also, the fewer credit applications you get in the mail, the less chance thieves have of finding the forms and mailing them back on your behalf. You have the choice of opting out for 5 years or permanently. This one call will cover all 3 national credit reporting agencies.

Will
Will
12 years ago

For an ultimate solution to junk mail, sign up for a national Do Not Mail Registry at donotmail.org . The truly eye-popping facts: Deforestation accounts for 20% of global carbon emissions. US junk mail accounts for 30% of all the mail delivered in the world. That, my friends, is insane. Why are we receiving nearly a third of the world’s mail when we don’t want it and never asked for it? Some direct mailers are refusing to honor catalogchoice requests. The DMA site is….an awful lot like the fox guarding the henhouse. The direct mail industry is going to continue… Read more »

djc
djc
12 years ago

@mike and susie –

To clarify – I have a lockable box that the mail carrier does use, and puts everything inside – however he puts the envelopes on the top of the flyers so sometimes you could wiggle your fingers in and reach the envelopes and pull them out again – that is what I am worried about.

Barbara House
Barbara House
12 years ago

Junk Mail is truly becoming an epidemic. I just spent the last 4 days researching ways to combat Junk Mail – for free. It doesn’t have to be horribly time consuming, if you know where to go.

I just finished publishing a Squidoo Lens on this subject. Check out, but be warned – some of the information could make you as angry as I got researching it.

http://www.squidoo.com/do-not-mail

OiVey
OiVey
12 years ago

We’re on the do not call list and we’ve noticed a slight SLIGHT decrease. The problem is, the computerized telemarketers still call and when you get to a person, they’re VERY rude when you ask to not be called. In order to report them, you have to know the name of the company that’s calling. Often they will simply hang up on you when you ask. I’m not pleased with the Do not call program.

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