Source: How to get off ‘lists,’ reduce junk mail, email, clarionledger.com
When I talk to people about the work I do in this column, one of the most-asked questions is how they can get off the “lists”. If you’re tired of the constant barrage of junk clogging your mailbox and inbox, there are ways to stop the madness — or at least slow it down. So, every now and then, it’s a good opportunity to refresh ourselves on this topic.
Everybody knows the feeling of opening your mailbox and getting a handful of mail — only to find out most of it consists of solicitations to try a new satellite TV provider, buy a new car or sign up for a credit card. Email users are familiar with the constant barrage of spam that clogs their inboxes.
The first thing to remember about these lists is that your name got on them in some way. And in some cases, that holds the key to stopping or slowing future solicitations. Sometimes, it’s in your control, but most often, it’s not. Many companies collect and sell information about consumers, and any company can buy a list of names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses to fit their needs. Want to zero in on consumers ages 50-60 in a certain neighborhood? It can be done. Want to find people who bought cars in the last year with certain income levels? It’s available.
Often, these companies buy lists from other companies that have sold you something. If you have provided any information about yourself (for example, if you filled out a warranty card), that information may be bought and sold. If you visited certain websites, your browsing information might go to a company that installed a “cookie” to track your activities. It would be nearly impossible for someone to remain “off the grid” completely (though that hasn’t stopped people from trying).
If you think direct mail is dead, think again. In the past few years, the rising costs of printing and competition from other media have challenged the direct mail industry, but it’s not going away anytime soon. Technology is helping companies make better investments in their solicitations; the last thing any company wants is for its expensive printed piece to go directly into the trash or recycling bin.
The good news is you can cut down on the number of unsolicited mailings, calls and emails you get. Here are a few suggestions for cutting down on the clutter:
- “Prescreened” credit offers: Credit card and insurance companies love to find new customers, and they often do it by purchasing lists of “prescreened” consumers. These are people who haven’t really “prequalified” for offers, but would be likely candidates.
You can opt out of these for the next five years, or permanently. (The opt-out service is operated by the major credit card reporting companies.) To opt out for five years, call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com. If you want to make it permanent, you can start that process at the same website, but you’ll have to sign and return a Permanent Opt-Out Election form. Keep in mind you’ll have to provide some basic information including your Social Security number. This is one of the rare times it’s OK to give out your Social Security number over the phone.
- Direct mail/email: The Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service lets you opt out of receiving unsolicited direct mail from many national companies for five years. Within a few weeks, your mail volume should drop. However, you should remember that companies aren’t required to use this service. To register, visit www.dmachoice.org. This is also where you can register your email address to opt-out of receiving commercial emails, but it’s not likely to put a significant dent in your spam folder. The best way to do that is to use a good filtering system; most major email providers have some tools to help you identify spam emails and keep them quarantined in a separate folder (or not letting them through in the first place).
It’s important to note you’ll never be able to completely stop the bundle of flyers and solicitations that come to every mailbox (believe me, I’ve tried). You can, however, cut at least some of the catalogs and flyers. Catalog Choice (www.catalogchoice.com) and PaperKarma (www.paperkarma.com) are two services that promise to let you take control of direct mail. Catalog Choice is web-based; PaperKarma is a smartphone app that allows you to take a photo of the mail piece and submit a request to stop. And some companies, like ValPak and RedPlum, have their own opt-out services. To stop getting Redplum coupons, visit http://bit.ly/1FvtPKx. To stop ValPak coupons, visit http://bit.ly/1Lf7YxG.
If you’re really diligent, you may find your mailbox is largely empty soon; in the process, you’ll have saved companies some money, reduced the trash going into landfills, and perhaps saved a tree or two.