Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Junk Mail

There are probably very few advertisement mediums loathed more than unsolicited email. They waste time, energy and inbox space to an extraordinary degree. Not to mention that a good number of them can serve as embarrassing billboards to your unhealthy habits and vices, should someone peep over your shoulder while you're rifling through your email.

It's become such a nuisance that Fortune 500 companies have broken into the brotherhood of money because of their elaborate spam eliminating mechanisms. Corporations invest millions on weapon grade spam filters and governments have invested even more in tracking down and punishing those who would dare defile our virtual mailboxes with smut, offers for prescription drugs and stock "advice."

Even in the age of six gigabyte inboxes and spam filters intelligent enough to run a small nation's power grid, people still whine and complain about one or two flirtatious advertisements slipping in under the radar. I believe this is a little absurd. Unsolicited email does indeed drain a lot of money from our pockets, both willingly and unwillingly. But there's an even greater danger out there than that.

Unsolicited postal mail. On any given day, chances are you will receive far more cold hard, physical junkmail than you will its virtual counterpart. Think about it. Which one upsets you the most? The one that you can quite easily delete in a fraction of a second, or the one composed out of non biodegradable dyes and the shredded remnants of a Maine forest? You'd be surprised at the number of people who wouldn't chose the ladder.

Why is this? Because we've grown accustomed to unsolicited snail mail showing up in our mailboxes day after day after day. It's been going on for decades upon decades. Unsolicited email on the other hand has only been around for a relatively short time. We've become complacent with paper junk mail, essentially rolling over while the wave over takes us. Because after all, all we have to do is toss it in the trash and that's the end of it. But what happens to it after that? Will we haul the trash bag to the curb and pay the sanitary worker to haul it away for us? Will it sit in a landfill for the next ten years, releasing those lovely dyes into an already struggling wetland?

Or will the odd piece of junk mail catch our eye and lure us into making a purchase we never thought of, don't need and don't really want? Living an eco-frugal life style is difficult. It's nigh impossible when you're lost in a sea of brightly colored pamphlets, made of the pulped remains of a maple tree, commanding you to spend sixteen low, low payments of $19.99 for a new recliner. With no interest for one year nonetheless!

I recently received an offer for a Mastercard. The card itself was rather mediocre with its crummy interest rate and rewards program. But I had opened it on a whim. Within it, quite to my horror I found a significant quantity of the application already filled out for me, in a nice printed font. I guess they figured it'd encourage me to sign up, since all I had to do was plug in a couple of fields and off it went.

But the problem was, many of the prefilled fields contained personal information. Such as my home phone number, my birth date, my mother's maiden name, the last four digits of my social security number and a whole slew of other sensitive bits. What if I had thrown this out without opening it and some unsavory character found it? Granted, it's not outright identity theft, but it would have given a potential crook a lot of material to work with, should I become a target.

Suffice to say, junk mail is dangerous. It's wasteful, leads to unnecessary spending and can be a potential platform for identity theft.

How do you stop junk mail before it hits your mailbox? Easy.

  • Everyone under the sun will sell your contact information. Whenever you fill out anything from a warranty card to a donation pledge write "Do not sell my address" in clear print somewhere visible on the card, envelope or invoice.

  • When filling out warranty cards, do not fill out "voluntary" questionnaires that involve your income, age, race and other easily sold market niche preferences. They don't need the information to provide you with support should their product decide to become faulty.

  • Credit card corporations sell your contact information more than they sell credit card subscriptions. When signing up for a new card inform the representative that you only wish to receive your billing statement, nothing more.

  • America Online is still clutching to the old days of mailing you upgrade and free trial discs. Call 1-800-605-4297 to opt out.

  • When donating money, filling out a warranty card, or filling out any other piece of information that you suspect may be sold without your consent, make a deliberate error. Add an incorrect middle initial, switch "drive" to "street" on your address, spell your first name in a strange fashion (i.e. Johnny becomes Johnee, et cetera.). Keep a spreadsheet as to what you do and what junk mail you receive. You'll be able to figure out who is selling your address the most so you can rectify the issue.
Are you already receiving your own fair share of unsolicited snail mail? There are a couple of ways to get out of the vicious cycle. And a few less than useful ways that'll make you feel a little better about the situation.
  • Contact the DMA (Direct Marketing Association) and opt out of mailers.

  • Cross out the bar code and your address on the offending junkmail. Write "Refused: Return to sender" on it and put it into the out bin.

  • Open the offending junk mail. If it's a credit card offer or magazine subscription they will include a prepaid envelope to mail any associated paperwork back. Stuff the envelope with garbage (such as other pieces of junk mail) and send it back. They'll be forced to pay postage. While they won't stop, if you send them back regularly you'll cost them a significant amount of money in postage.
Have some other ideas as to how to handle junk mail? Post it in the comments section!


Anonymous said...

Glad your back... it had been awhile since you posted! Good suggestions! A nice thing to do, if you have preschool age children, is to let them play post office with junk mail. This was always one of my preschool classes favorite centers to play at.

Ed said...

Thanks! I ended up working 89.07 last week between my two jobs. So needless to say there was extremely little time to sleep and eat, let alone blog!

Good suggestion!

Joan said...

Sometimes I use pieces of junkmail as scratch paper or a shopping list. Its especially bad in my town. I have to buy special bags for trash and I'm only allowed 2 a week or I get fined. My home office trash gets filled really quick. every other week or so I have to haul it to the curb. which prevents me from bringing a bag of stuff that really needs it!

it wastes so much space, time and money.


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