Do-it-yourself: Stop junk mail, email and phone calls
A free guide to reducing unwanted or intrusive advertising
Junk mail may seem as inevitable as death and taxes, but with a little patience
there are effective ways to tackle the problem. This guide provides clear,
simple and proven reduction techniques. About 20 minutes investment now will clear the junk for between two and five years.
Your name, address, and buying habits are a commodity that is regularly sold
& traded on the open market. These days organizations you deal with
virtually all sell your name unless you specifically ask them to stop. Here are some general techniques:
- Whenever you donate money, order a product or service, or fill out a
warranty card, write in large letters, "Please do not sell my name or
address". Most organizations will properly mark your name in the
- Product warranty cards are are often used to collection information on your
habits and income, for the sole purpose of targeting direct mail. They are not
required in most situations - avoid sending them.
- On the telephone, ask "Please mark my account so that my name is
not traded or sold to other companies".
- Your credit card company probably sells your name the most often -- keep reading for techniques to stop it.
- "Contests" where you fill in a little entry blank are almost
always fishing expeditions for names. If you fill one out at a football game,
for example, expect to get a catalog of football merchandise within a few
months. Avoid these if you don't want the mail.
- Select a false middle name or initial for each charity or business you deal with. Keep track of which letter goes with which organization. You can also select a false road designator, "avenue, place, circle, street, highway, parkway, etc.". This step can be very revealing. Some guides recommend
changing the spelling of your name, but this can lead to duplicate mailings.
To stop specific types of unwanted paper mail
The amount of paper junk mail sent each year in the USA is staggering -- some 4 million tons, nearly half of which is never opened. Even if you recycle there are still enormous environmental costs in terms of ink, energy to produce deliver and recycle the paper, recycling inefficiencies and loss of productive forest to create the high quality glossy paper much junk mail uses. The industry tries to "greenwash" themselves, but you probably won't be fooled. Badly targetted junk mail helps nobody, but the industry likes to keep pumping it out.
There is a lot you can do to reduce the cost to the environment and your own time:
- First class mail: Cross out the address and bar code, circle the
first class postage and write "refused: return to sender". Drop in any
mail box, it will be returned to the sender.
- Bulk mail: The post office throws away bulk mail it can't deliver,
so returning it does no good. Bulk mail is the hardest to deal with
because the USPS actively provides addresses, support and encouragement to
mailers. However, if "address correction requested" is written on the
label: circle "address correction requested" and treat like first
- Sexually Oriented Advertising (SOA):The only help you'll get from
the Post Office in controlling junk mail is for explicit stuff. Fill out
USPS forms 1500 if you wish this type of mail to stop. You define what you find to be explicit -- if that's an automobile parts catalog the post office won't disagree with you.
- Credit offers: The major credit agencies all sell aggregate
credit information any bidder. Direct mail and credit companies generate mail
based on demographics including zip code, income band and credit payment
patterns. Stopping this is easy, you just need your address, former address
within two years, and social security number. One call does it all for agencies Equifax, Trans Union, Experian and Innovis. Dial 1-888-5 OPT OUT (or 1-888-567-8688) 24 hours a day. Online visit optoutprescreen.com.
- Call the company's 800 number and have the label handy.
- Write your instructions on the mailing label and fax it to the company.
Mark "ATTN: customer service".
- Tear off the label, write your instructions on it, and enclose in the
postage-paid ordering envelope. Mark envelope "ATTN: customer service".
This method is the least effective.
- AOL (America On-Line): You could pave the nation with the free discs these people send out, call 1-800-605-4297 (24 hours a day) to get off the list. Tell them your first name is "current", last name "resident".
- Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes: You can get the
Clearinghouse to stop clogging your mailbox by contacting customer service at
1-800-645-9242 (8:30 am to 8:30 EST), sending a fax to
1-800-453-0272, mailing to 101 Channel Drive, Port
Washington, NY 11050, or you can send email to
firstname.lastname@example.org. PCH will remove any number of
names from a specific address, but you have to list each name exactly and insist
- American Family Sweepstakes: Ed McMahon and Dick Clark will stop
telling you "You have definitely won 11 million dollars (maybe)
" if you call them at 1-800-237-2400. AFP is a
division of Time-Warner.
- Local business & supermarket fliers: All mailings must be
identified, by postal regulations. Each lose-leaf bundle of fliers, by postal
regulations, must be delivered at the same time as an address card. Locate this
address card; the cards usually have an advertisement and a photograph of a
missing child. You may need to call directory assistance to get the phone number of the sender. Specific senders are:
- ADVO (Mail comes with pictures of missing children). Call 1-860-285-6100 to get off the list. You may have to send a postcard to "ADVO Consumer Assistance, POB 249, Windsor CT 06095-4176".
- Val-Pak Coupons: click the link and copy your mailing label.
- Carol Wright Call 1-800-67-TARGET to get off the list.
- RedPlum / Valassis from One Targeting Centre Windsor CT 06095
Most senders are professional companies which will handle your request
politely. "ADVO Mailbox Values" and "Harte Hanks Potpourri"
are the most common of these mailers. Your local supermarket's monthly coupon
books may be handled by these companies, so be sure to specify if you want to
continue to receive those. Your letter carrier is accustomed to giving each
house a bundle, so you may also need to inform him or her of your action
separately. The post office is prohibited by law from delivering unaddressed
mail, so you should have little trouble convincing the carrier.
- Too much junk to deal with individually: Start by sending a
postcard or letter to
Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY 15012-0643
Include your complete name, address, zip code and a request to "activate
the preference service". For up to five years, this will stop mail from
all member organizations that you have not specifically ordered products from.
Online visit dmachoice.org.
Association estimates that listing with their mail preference service will
stop 75% of all national mailings. They process 50,000 requests a month and
requests are kept active for three years. If you fill out the post office change
of address form, the DMA will track the new address (you'll get a few months of
mailings to the new address before they catch up to you). It can take up to six
months for your request to be fully processed. You can also opt-out online,
but they require a credit card.
To stop mail addressed to former residents, or a former spouse
If you rent you are probably familiar with receiving mail for a dozen or
more former residents of your dwelling. Since you probably don't want any of
the stuff, you can use two powerful techniques that might not be appropriate for
- Bulk mail for "current resident or ...": Start with
sending a postcard or letter to
Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY 15012-0643
Write "please activate the mail preference service", and include the
name, address, and zip code. You must send individual postcards -- the DMA wants
to make this all as inconvienent as possible.
The DMA will ignore requests that don't appear to be from a single individual.
- First class and some bulk mail: If the former residents neglected
to fill out a Post Office change of address card, or it expired, you can fill
one out for them. You must fill out one card for each unique last name. Write "Moved,
Left No Forwarding Address" as the new address. Sign your own name and
write "Form filled in by current resident of the house, [Your Name], agent
for the above". You must write "agent for the above". Hand
this form directly to your carrier, if possible, as your carrier must approve
the form and see that it gets entered into the post service National Change of
Address (NCOA) database. This is very effective.
More ideas on dealing with paper junk mail
For more ideas, link to CSPR's
"How to Get Less
Junk Mail". For very good information about mail/email sent with
fraudulent intent (money making schemes, multi-level marketing, fly-by-night
operators, stock market "secrets", etc.), link to the
National Fraud Information Center.
Expect mail from environmentally sensitive organizations to use recycled
paper, preferably "unbleached" grey or tan-colored paper with a high
post-consumer content. Glassine windows (the "waxed paper" look), or
no windows, are preferred. In areas that accept mixed paper, most junk mail can
be recycled. Remove any plastic wrap, stickers, product samples, and those
pointless "membership" cards. Due to new technology, plastic window
envelopes and staples are ok in many communities.
Even though junk mail can often be recycled, recycling is second best to
reducing need 1. Much junk mail uses virgin paper, often of types
with poor recycling value and toxic inks. Recycling itself takes energy and
resources and has its own impacts on the environment. Reduction, where
possible, is the far better choice.
To stop specific types of unwanted telephone marketing calls
- Federal law prohibits telemarketers from "Initiating
an outbound telephone call to a person when that person previously has stated
that he or she does not wish to receive an outbound telephone call made by or on
behalf of the seller whose goods or services are being offered.".
You may simply interrupt the telemarketer and say "Please permanently
remove me from your calling list". Remember that they just interrupted
you. If the same people call back, they are violating the law. Ask them for
their company name, supervisor name and phone number.
If you wish to quote Federal law to the telemarketer,
you may read it at
Commission: Telemarketing Sales Rule.
- General Telemarketing calls: Send a postcard with your complete telephone
number, area code, address, and names of people receiving calls to DMA
Telephone Preference Service, PO Box 9014, Farmingdale NY 11735-9014.
To stop unwanted electronic mail ("SPAM")
It is very hard to effectively combat junk electronic mail. It costs
nothing to send out a few million email messages, so there is no disincentive
for people to do so. Most SPAM mailers
forge the headers, email return address and sending machine name because they
are sick of reading the thousands of inevitable complaints. The offers to
remove your name from a list are generally untrue, and often result in your name
getting added to yet another list. Many internet providers have policies
against SPAM, and will take action. Unfortunately some providers either don't
care or are SPAM-friendly. There are ways you can reduce exposure and complain:
- Never never never reply to a SPAM email.
- Complaints: SPAMers like to forge email. They forge email, and send
it using innocent computers. The war of forgery has reached a level
where the average person can't sort out who or where mail actually came
from. If you want to complain, use the services of a system like
SpamCop to process the mail.
- Stamp out Get Rich Quick schemes: If you suspect fraud, send a copy
of the mail to the National Fraud Information Center. If it relates to selling stocks, send to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
- Big companies, like eBay, react aggressively to phishing spam. Just forward it to "abuse@" the company name.
- Secure your web page: If you include a "mailto" link, as below,
expect to get junk mail. Remove the "mailto" and force people to
manually enter the email address. State your email address in a way readable
only to humans (e.g.. "recycle" at machine "obviously.com").
- Secure your computer: If your PC is running a mail server (such as
Sendmail or Exchange) it may be used by spammers. Spammers often hijack
innocent machines. Check yourself at ORDB.
- Use care with newsgroup postings: Post to a newgroup these days and you can
be sure of getting both target SPAM (sports messages for posting in a sports
group) and untargeted email. You can use an obviously false return address on
postings: most news programs let you set this to whatever you want. Include
your real email address (coded as above) in body of the message.
- Complain to your Senator or
Representative: Laws will be needed to
regulate the eventual legitimate email advertising industry.
Examples of what marketers know about you
Here is a clip from a mailing list compiler's web page showing address
counts for a just a few of many types of information they collect on all
Americans. The reputable firms will remove your name based on a request made to
the DMA (see above).