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Unwanted Communications 

Getting Rid of Junk Mail

The excitement of receiving your mail can easily be diminished when you realize that most of it is unwanted junk mail. Every American averages about 700 pieces of unsolicited mail every year, which produces 40 million tons of trash. As a result, over 60 million trees and 28 billion gallons of water are used to produce and promote each year's crop of slick catalogs and come-ons, according to consumer activist Ron Rogers. Meanwhile, the direct mail industry takes in over $200 billion a year from their endless barrage of promotions.

Direct mail organizations have a variety of ways of getting your name and personal information. They usually purchase lists of names from credit bureaus, credit card companies, banks, magazine subscription lists, warranty information cards and from other commercial services. Telephone companies sell lists of new subscribers, and the U.S. Postal Service sells lists of recent movers.

"Few people outside the list field have any idea of the pervasiveness of the government in providing the essence of mailing lists," says Ed Burnett, author of The Complete Direct Mail List Handbook, the industry's 744-page bible. Burnett goes on to say that the only way to avoid unwanted junk mail is to be careful not to buy a car, rent a club, use a credit card, or subscribe to a magazine. In other words, it's impossible.

One of the best ways to reduce unwanted mail is to get on as many of the direct mail companies-do-not-mail lists as possible. One way to do this is to contact the Direct Marketing Association and request that your name be placed on their list of consumers who have asked not to get junk mail or telemarketing calls. This list is regularly distributed to hundreds of members who are in the direct mail business. Write: Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008.

Another excellent way to remove your name and address from dozens of direct mail and telemarketing lists is to contact an organization called Junkbusters Corporation. They have a sophisticated Internet site that provides a junk mail removal form that lets you specify which types of product mailings you do or do not want to receive. As part of their free service, they will help you get this removal form to many of the direct marketing companies.

"Junkbusters' mission is to help consumers define what is junk to them. This information then becomes available to direct marketers so that everyone can avoid the waste of unwanted communications. Consumers will get the power to reduce unwanted solicitations, companies will have access to up-to-date information directly from consumers who are interested in offers from them, and the world will be a better place with fewer interruptions and wasted trees," said Maia Oja, executive vice president of Junkbusters Corporation. The best way to reach Junkbusters is through their Internet site at http://www.junkbusters.com/.

When you subscribe to a magazine, become a member of a group, apply for a credit card, etc., be sure to state that you do not want your name, address or phone number released to anyone else. Don't send in product warranty cards, since they are not usually required. If you do send in such a card, rest assured that your name will be sold.

Try writing to your credit card companies, your long distance carrier or frequent flyer programs, and any organizations that you belong to, telling them not to release your name, address or phone number to anyone else for marketing, mailing or promotional purposes.

Since many companies obtain your name, phone number and address from the phone book or from CD ROM telephone databases, you may want to consider getting an unlisted telephone number. Don't call 800 numbers from your home phone if possible. The provider of the 800 service can use a caller ID device that displays your phone number and helps them trace your address.

A more drastic measure is to obtain a copy of Form 2150 from any major post office. This form was originally intended to stop pornographic junk mail, but can also be used to stop any other unwanted mail. If the company continues to send you mail or sell your name they risk being prosecuted as criminals. Attach Form 2150 to one of your unwanted solicitations, and give it back to the post office.

Another source of aggravation for homeowners is unwanted telemarketing calls. Many people just hang up without saying a word as soon as they realize that it's a sales call. This will not necessarily stop the company from calling you again. A better approach is to ask them to take your name off their lists. The telemarketing organization is actually required by U.S. federal law to put your number on a do-not-call list and to keep this information in their databases for 10 years.

The Direct Marketing Association and Junkbusters Corporation both accept requests to be placed on their do-not-call lists that are distributed to telemarketing agencies. The Federal Trade Commission's 1996 regulations provide fines of up to $10,000 for telemarketing offenses such as the company not telling you up front that they're trying to sell you something. The Attorney General in your state may also have anti-telemarketing resources available.

Other forms of junk communications include unwanted faxes and e-mail. Sending an unsolicited advertisement by fax is illegal in the United States and many other countries but still happens often. One response is to fax them back a note telling them that unsolicited faxes are illegal and that you want them to stop. Avoid filling out any Internet or e-mail surveys since this information is often resold.

With enough patience and perseverance, you can dramatically reduce the volume of unwanted mail and telephone messages. With the increased sophistication of the direct marketing industry, you may want to combine several methods to get maximum results. A further strategy for reducing junk mail is to write directly to the large database companies that sell your name and ask them to stop doing it. One company boasts a database of 300 million names and addresses that they can sort by name, address, social security number, birth dates, maiden names and previous addresses. Several of the large organizations include:

Database America, Compilation Department, 100 Paragon Drive, Montvale, NJ 07645-4591

Metromail Corp., List Maintenance, 901 West Bond, Lincoln, NE 68521. (800) 228-4571.

R.L. Polk And Company (Attn: List Compilation and Development), 6400 Monroe Blvd., Taylor, MI 48180-1814. 800/873-7655.

Donnelly Marketing, Inc., Data Base Operations, 1235 North Ave., Nevada, IA 50201-1419. 515/382-5441.

To reduce your amount of financial-related junk mail, contact the three largest credit bureaus and request that they remove your name from their marketing lists.

Trans Union, P.O. Box 390, Springfield PA 19064-0393. 800/ 680-7293. Their phone system records your details, which they say they share with the following two companies.

Equifax, P.O. Box 105873, Atlanta GA 30348. Send them a letter requesting that they remove you from their marketing list.

Experian, P.O. Box 949, Allen TX 75002-0949. 800/422-4879.

  • Strategies for reducing your junk mail.

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