When the mail arrives, do you race out to check it in hopes of a letter or card? Or do you go a few days, or a week, before bothering with it because you know it’s most likely junk mail?
If you’re like most people, you’re not in a hurry to check the mail. Junk mail like catalogs, credit card offers, flyers, coupons, etc. make up a large portion of the mail delivered these days.
Why So Much Junk is Delivered
Junk mail, also known as direct mail or standard mail, is basically any unsolicited mail. It shows up regularly in your mailbox, and it seems there’s no way out. The companies that send these mailings have negotiated reduced rates with the postal service to send large quantities of paper through the US Postal Service (USPS).
While that certainly keeps the carriers employed, it has downsides, too.
The Problems with Junk Mail
First, junk mail impacts your quality of life. How much time do you spend sorting and disposing of unwanted flyers, catalogs, coupons, and the like? We’re willing to bet it creates a fair amount of clutter in your otherwise neat home as well.
According to EcoCycle.org, one of the nation’s largest non-profit recyclers, you could spend up to eight months of your life sorting through junk mail! Think about what else you could do with that time that would be more joyful and productive.
Plus, all the junk mail puts your personal data at risk. Marketers across the country share your name, address, and buying habits with others, and all those credit card offers leave you open to identity theft.
All of that paper whizzing around and mostly being tossed in recycling bins or trash pails isn’t good for the environment. To understand the true environmental impacts of junk mail, check out these facts from the New York University School of Law:
- 5.6 million tons of direct mail and other unsolicited paper mail wind up in US landfills each year
- 44% of junk mail is thrown away without ever being opened, but only half that is recycled
- On average, each American household receives 848 pieces of junk mail per year. This amounts to 100 million trees. To put that in perspective, it’s the equivalent of deforesting all of Rocky Mountain National Park every four months!
- This deforestation means that junk mail manufacturers create as much greenhouse gas emissions each year as 3.7 million cars.
Where Junk Mail Comes From
Companies who use direct mail as a marketing strategy send coupons, flyers, catalogs, and other paper advertisements to mailboxes across the country. Each of these companies gets your name from public records, phone directories, club memberships, credit applications, and the USPS.
Assuming proper postage is attached, the USPS is legally obligated to deliver all mail. However, that doesn’t mean you’re powerless to stop the onslaught of junk mail.
Ways to Stop Getting Junk Mail
Opt-Out of Pre-Screened Offers
Some of the most common junk mail includes pre-screened offers for credit cards or insurance. Thankfully, you do not need to call each of these companies individually. Let’s be honest; that would be a headache and likely not very successful.
Instead, you can opt-out of these offers. There are two choices: five years or forever. To start the process, visit optoutprescreen.com or call 1-888-567-8688. Note that the website and phone number are operated by the major consumer reporting companies.
When you use either of these methods of opting out, you will be asked to provide personal information such as your home phone number, name, social security number, date of birth, and address. It is confidential and will be only be used to process your request.
If you’d rather opt-out of pre-screened offers by sending some snail mail of your own, use the following addresses for the major reporting companies. You will need to provide them with the same information listed above.
P.O. Box 919
Allen, TX 75013
Name Removal Option
P.O. Box 505
Woodlyn, PA 19094
P.O. Box 740123
Atlanta, GA 30374
Innovis Consumer Assistance
P.O. Box 495
Pittsburgh, PA 15230
Opting out of prescreened offers will have no impact on your credit score or ability to obtain a loan.
Opt-Out of Direct Mail Offers
If you’re familiar with the National Do Not Call List, the idea behind Direct Mail’s opt-out is that it’s like a “Do Not Mail List.” It’s easy to sign up online. There is a $2 fee to do this.
You also have the option to mail in your opt-out form. There is a $3 fee for this option. To use the mail-in option, send your opt-out request (“I do not wish to receive any unsolicited advertising, sales or other mail solicitations at this address”), along with your name (and all variations thereof), address, and signature along with the $3 processing fee (check or money order payable to DMA) to:
Data & Marketing Association
P.O. Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that your name will be removed from every mailing list on which it appears.
Other companies sell your information to people who send junk mail, so you’ll need to check out these other places as well:
- SKUlocal, formerly Cox Target, which is responsible for sending you those promo-coupon-filled Valpaks, among other things
- RetailMeNot, formerly RedPlum (another promo-coupon mailing)
You should also pay attention to other unwanted mailings that seem to have slipped through the cracks despite your best efforts, and then contact the senders of those mailings individually.
Opt-Out of Catalogs
If you’ve ever ordered anything from a catalog, the chances are that your name, address, and buying information were given to Abacus. To be removed from Abacus’s database, contact them with your name (including any middle initial), current address, and previous address if you moved recently. Abacus can be reached either via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by mail (Abacus, Inc, PO Box 1478, Broomfield, CO 80038). Abacus also has a website that can help remove you from some (but not all) of their catalogs.
Catalog Choice also provides a free service that allows you to opt-out of specific catalogs and paper mail. Do a quick search on their website to see if the ones you want to stop are listed.
Another option is PaperKarma. This easy to use app makes it simple to remove yourself from mailing lists with just your mobile phone. Using the app, snap a picture of the mail, enter the name and address you want to be stopped, and you’re done!
According to their website, PaperKarma has 10x as many mailers in its database compared to Catalog Choice and is the largest, most comprehensive Do Not Mail registry service in the country. They’re a non-profit service and claim a 90% success rate. There is a small fee to use this service, which they reinvest to improve the product. Visit their website for more info.
Opt-Out of Magazine Subscriptions
When you subscribe to a magazine, again, the chances are high that your information will be shared with other magazine subscription services. You can request they not do this, but the request is often ignored, so it’s best to contact them again in a few weeks to follow up.
Opt-Out of Charitable Requests
We highly encourage philanthropy. But just because you’ve made, one donation doesn’t mean you want to make more or want every charitable organization banging down your mailbox for money.
To curtail this, when you donate, enclose a note requesting they not share your information. You can even make future donations conditional upon them following this request. Another option is to ask the charity to decrease or stop the mailings they send. Finally, if you no longer wish to support a charity, you can ask them to remove you from their database.
Refuse Delivery of Promo Mailings
Look for any of the following phrases on any promotional mailing sent to “resident,” “current resident,” or “current occupant”:
- return service requested
- forwarding service requested
- address service requested
- change service requested
- First Class Mail
Mark these “ REFUSED, RETURN TO SENDER,” and put them right back in your mailbox.
Sure, entering Publisher’s Clearing House can be fun, but they’re also another source of junk mail. And they likely share your information, too. To opt-out, contact Publishers Clearing House online, via email, or by mail to Consumer & Privacy Affairs, Publishers Clearing House, 300 Jericho Quadrangle #300 Jericho, NY 11753.
Keeping Junk Mail Out of Your Mailbox
The final step of this process is to contact your banks, credit card companies, and utilities. Tell them not to release your name, address, Social Security number, email address, or phone number to anyone for any type of marketing or promotional reasons. If you decide to do this in writing, do so without giving out any information other than the name on your account. Keep a record of when you made this request and follow up if necessary. Find out your rights as a consumer here, FTC.gov.
Bonus: Opt-Out of Online Searches
While not directly tied to getting junk mail, being able to be found via an online search isn’t appealing to everyone. If you value your privacy and want to add a layer of protection, check out these tips for removing your name from online searches.