I Don't Want Junk Mail!
If you're my (old) age, you might remember getting the Sears Wish Book around Christmastime. It was passed from hand to hand, read cover-to-cover, pages turned over, enjoyed. That was in the good 'ol days when catalogs were mailed out once a year (can you imagine?). Think about how many times the Pottery Barn catalog comes to your mailbox. I feel bad picking on Pottery Barn, but nothing has changed since Kramer was buried in the deluge of their catalogs. I actually like their products, but for me, the catalog is a symbol of our throwaway society. For years, I felt like I got the same catalog, week after week after week, and I took it out of my mailbox and put it directly into my recycle bin. I don't know about you, but I suspect a lot of the things that I put in my recycle bin don't get recycled. (A tangential rant. The US Post Office can't make enough money to stay solvent, yet they can deliver those (sometimes heavy!) catalogs day after day. It doesn't take an MBA to figure out how the US Post Office could make more money.)
My war on junk mail began after years of bringing in the mail and dropping most of it straight into the recycle bin. I'm a recycler, and eventually I started to think about the "reduce" part of reduce, reuse, recycle. Why should I have to get these pieces of paper that I don't want, didn't ask for, and don't even look at? And the war began . . .
As I researched the issue, I noticed a lot of naysayers out there in Webland. They said things like, "this doesn't work, just get used to the junk mail, you'll never get it to stop." My experience was very different. I did have make an effort: sending the emails, using Catalog Choice, even sending snail mail letters to the DMA and to Valpak, but it definitely worked for me. I got a lot of unwanted junk mail to stop coming (not 100%, but I try not to let perfect be the enemy of good). So I encourage you to try, especially if you're an environmentalist. Throwing unwanted mail in the recycle bin was not a good solution for me. I'd rather make the effort and get some of it to stop coming, rather than give up. At work, it's another story. I have asked my mail-handling colleague to give me the unwanted catalogs, but she doesn't -- she just throws them away. I'm starting to think she's worried that I'll get rid of something she wants? The number of unwanted catalogs we get at work is insane! Forests of them. Sigh.
How to Get Fewer Catalogs
And without further ado, I bring you the website Catalog Choice. I've been using it for years. The negative is that you have to make yet another new password, and I assume that they're tracking me and facts about me, like my ongoing war with Oriental Trading Company, the bane of my catalog-receiving existence. On the bright side, register, log in, pick the catalog, and click a button indicating that you don't want to receive their catalogs. Most of the time, it works. And if it doesn't work, keep trying. Eventually, I have found that even companies like Oriental Trading Company will stop sending their catalog if you ask over and over (most catalogs are pretty quick about taking me off their list). Catalog Choice makes it as easy as it possibly could be to get off catalog mailing lists.
How to Get Fewer Direct Marketing Advertising Mailers and/or Shopping Flyers (Valpak, Advo, Valassis, Harte Hanks, etc.)
I wish Catalog Choice would open a subsidiary to deal with these guys. These come in the mail, a thickish 5" x 8" (or thereabouts) envelope containing a bunch of paper coupons and/or advertisements for local businesses. More fodder for my recycle bin. Here are the links I can find to the direct marketing companies (unfortunately, you'll need to go to each link, register, and ask to get off their lists):
The DMA (formerly the Direct Marketing Association) is a voluntary organization for companies who are trying to sell you things. They try to set guidelines for ethical data-driven marketing. If a company is a member of the DMA, they're supposed to follow the guidelines. The DMA maintains lists of people who don't want to get mail and/or email. (I just read through their report on compliance and found out that I'm one of the small contingent of consumers who don't want to see ads. Hmm.) Anyways, since this group is actually trying to get marketers to behave, I think it is important to register on this one and to indicate that you want to be removed from the lists. Removal lasts for five years. Of course, they make it annoying to register and they want a lot of info. Why? Probably to annoy people so much that they give up. Additionally, scammers and even some legitimate marketers aren't members and probably won't comply with the DMA's ethical guidelines.
One more thing. I registered to opt-out my email address. When you register, they tell you that you'll get a confirmation email, and I did. Here's what it looked like in my email inbox:
That email looks like spam -- I contend it looks like crude spam. It makes me suspect that it is designed to make you think it is crude spam, delete it, and not confirm your registration for the do-not-email list. It's obvious that they've got degrees in marketing! But what do I expect? And I shouldn't criticize the DMA -- they are trying to do the right thing. Yes, I know, I'm running Google ads on this very page! Unfortunately, I need to pay my bills. After I win the lottery, I will remove all my ads.
My DH didn't want me to opt out of this, but it seemed like we were getting their stuff every day. I buy lottery tickets, but lottery tickets don't come in the mail and fill my recycle bin.
I couldn't find an opt-out page for Harte Hanks, and if you want to feel like Ron Swanson, take a look at their (absolutely no) privacy page. They say you can opt out with an email to their contact us page, so that's what I'd do if you get stuff from them. In the "requests or comments" box, type in something like "I do not want to receive mail or email from you and I do not want you to share or sell my information with anyone."
How to Stop Getting Offers for Credit Cards
Go to Opt Out Prescreen and register.
This website looks so cheesy -- to me it looks designed to make consumers so suspicious that they'll never register and opt out. It's the only way to get credit agencies to stop selling your information to credit cards and insurance companies, though. So if you're getting mail from a credit card company asking if you want a new credit card, opting out here should stop those offers. Of course, they want information from you, including your social security number. If you'd prefer to make a phone call, you can call 888-567-8688.
How to Stop Newspaper Ads in the Mail
My war on junk mail began with the newspaper-affiliated sheet of ads (it looks like the ad inserts that come in a newspaper) that I got in my mailbox every week. I believe it is addressed to resident, but it has my street address on it. Straight from my mailbox to my recycle bin for years. To get rid of this one, I email the customer service email address for the newspaper associated with the advertising. Unless you live near me, your advertising is coming from a different newspaper, and you'll have to look up that paper's feedback or opt-out page. Give them your name and address, describe the ads you want to stop getting, and in my case, they take me off the list. However, every two years, mine starts back up so I email them again.
Junk Emails: Spam vs. Marketing
You may get a lot of junk email in your email inbox. First of all, you need to suspicious about whether it is truly spam and not a "legitimate" email from a store where you've shopped. You DON'T want to open it or click on any link (including "Unsubscribe") if it is spam. But if is from a legitimate business, you can click on "Unsubscribe" and they should stop sending you marketing emails. How do you tell the difference?
In my email program, if I hover my mouse over the sender's name, my browser shows me the email address of the sender. So there are three questions to ask:
- Have you shopped at the store? So there's a reason they'd have your email address.
- When you hover over the sender, do you see an email address that ends in the store's name?
- Is the spelling correct? Spammers use mispellings to confuse us.
If you can answer "yes" to all three questions, open up the email, scroll down to the very bottom, and click on the "Unsubscribe" link if you want to stop getting emails from that company.
For example, I've got an email from Anthro and I shop at Anthropologie much more than I should. When my mouse pointer hovers over the sender's name (Anthro), my browser pops up an email address of firstname.lastname@example.org. I look at the end of the email address. The "anthropologie.com" is spelled correctly and that tells me that the email is from them.
Now, if I got the same email, and my mouse hover reveals a sender's email address ending in "anthropology.com" or "anthropolgie.tv" or "nigerianprince.com," then I know NOT to open the email and just delete it. It was probably spam.
The Bay Area Junk Mail Reduction Campaign has a bunch of tips.
Consumer Reports published a great article about privacy (November 2016).
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