Created: 1995. Updated: 2004

General Guidelines and Tips

(EcoFuture How to Get Rid of Junk Mail, Spam, and Telemarketers)

Basic Facts

  • The majority of household waste consists of unsolicited mail.
  • 100 million trees are ground up each year for unsolicited mail.
  • It wastes 28 billion gallons of water for paper processing each year.
  • More than half of unsolicited mail is discarded unread or unopened; the response rate is less than 2%.
  • The result is more than 4 million tons of paper waste each year.
  • It is difficult to recycle, as the inks have high concentrations of heavy metals.
  • $320 million of local taxes are used to dispose of unsolicited mail each year.
  • It costs $550 million yearly to transport junk mail.
  • Scarce landfill space disfigures rural areas and pollutes ground water.
  • We each get about 40 pounds of junk mail a year, more than a tree's worth per family!
Here are some fast facts on junkmail waste by the Native Forest Network.
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General Guidelines

A Federal law passed in 2000 says that you have the right to tell companies not to sell your name. But the law was written in a way that allows financial institutions to hide notices of your rights in fine print legalease. The U.S. Senate's leading privacy advocate, republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, has called the law's "opt-out" policies a "sham." See this Newsmax article exposing the law and promoting your rights.
  1. Write the Direct Marketing Association Mail Preference Service, and also write the major credit bureaus.
  2. Contact all of your banks and credit card companies and tell them not to release your name, address, social security number, email address, or phone number to anyone else for marketing, mailing, or promotional purposes. This is very important, because of the 2000 privacy law.
  3. Similarly contact your credit union and mortgage company.
  4. Contact all magazines you subscribe to.
  5. Contact mail-order companies you have done business with.
  6. Contact all organizations you belong to, universities, and schools.
  7. Contact airline frequent flyer and hotel programs you belong to.
  8. Contact your cable TV company and long distance telephone carrier. Just about anyone who sends you a bill will sell your name.
  9. If you move, don't fill out the Post Office's permanent change of address (COA) form. Make it a temporary (10 month) change and then notify companies and friends. This way, the information will not be entered into the permanent COA database and released to others. Permanent COA information will be provided to third parties, but temporary COA information won't.
  10. Contact your phone company and change your listing in the phone book. Request that your name only be listed without your address (most phone companies do this without charge).

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Additional Action

It takes 3 to 6 months for deletions to become effective. If you still get junk mail:
  • Contact the company mailing you the junk. Here's a form letter you can use, or better yet call and ask for a supervisor and insist that they delete you from their list. Give them the exact codes, name, and address from the mailing label. Then insist that they tell you where they obtained your name. Be persistent - its very important to follow up on this.
  • Contact the company that provided your name and have them delete you from their database. Usually this is a list broker, a company that specializes in selling mailing lists. Sometimes it is an individual company that has sold their membership or marketing leads list. Insist they tell you where they obtained your name.
  • Contact the company that originally sold your name.
  • Some people claim success with sending the entire contents of junk mail envelopes back to the originator in their postage-paid reply envelopes. This probably does little good - the originator will most likely simply throw out the returned junk.

Good Advice Press publishes a 20-page booklet as a community service. It explains how to stop junk you're already getting, and how to keep it stopped. It also discusses telemarketing calls, how list brokers get your name in the first place, and costs in dollars, wasted resources, and the environment. It's the $320 million wasted dollars that got them focused on the issue in the first place. U.S. taxpayers spend that amount of money every year to cart around all that junk -- after the direct mailers and the post office have made their fortunes off it.
Stop Junk Mail Forever costs $4.50 and is only available from: Good Advice Press, Box 78, Elizaville, NY 12523. (Worth every penny; EcoFuture doesn't get a commission.)
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Hot Tips

  1. Don't give out your address or phone number, especially to telemarketers. Be careful when calling firms in general, and also when contacting them to get off of lists. Try not to give them any more personal information than they have.
  2. When you have to give out your address to a company you think might sell it, make it unique. For example, use "unit 301" or "#301-A" as opposed to "apartment 301". If you live in a house, add something like "#1" after the street address.
  3. If you can, use a unique middle initial or a unique spelling of your first name. This is particularly helpful when subscribing to magazines. This will allow you to later track who is selling your name.
  4. When you subscribe to a magazine, become a member of a group, apply for a credit card, etc, be sure to state that you do not want your name, address, or phone number released to anyone else. However, they usually ignore the initial request. So contact them again a few weeks later.
  5. Don't respond directly to junk mail solicitations, even if you write on it to delete your name from their database. The reason is that lists are often rented for one-time use, with the agreement that if someone responds in any manner, that name and address become the "property" of the company that rented the list and sent you the mail. Also, don't expect the company to do much with your request to be removed when you write it on returned junkmail.
  6. The only way to deal with junkmail is to call the company that sent you the junk and find out where they bought your name from. Be persistent! Often a company will have a website, even if their phone number is hard to obtain. Use the internet and send them an email insisting they delete you from all databases.
  7. Don't send in product warranty cards. They are not required, except in unusual situations. If you do send in such a card, rest assured that your name will be sold.
  8. Get an unpublished phone number or at least an unlisted number, so that it won't appear in the phone book. Many companies obtain and distribute your name, phone number, and address from phone listings. If you just get a non-listed number, the phone company will still sell your phone number to companies on CD-ROM. An unpublished number will not be sold. If you want to remain listed, request that your name only be listed without your address (most phone companies do this without charge). Or - have your listing published under a pseudonym. Also, be sure not to list your phone number on your voter registration form. For details, see the Telemarketing page.
  9. When you call 800 numbers and standard phone numbers of large corporations, assume that the company will be provided your phone number. The provider of the 800 service automatically gets to see who is calling. The rationale for this is that when you call their 800 number, they are paying for the call. The rationale for this when you call their standard number is that there is no law against obtaining your phone number. The providers usually use an ANI device (Automatic Number Identification, like caller ID) which displays your phone number, and more. This information is often captured by their computer systems, and could be sold to other firms, although the FCC deems this "Customer Proprietary Network Information" which is supposed to be kept private without your consent.
  10. Your state may not have privacy laws guarding public information. If you own a home, chances are that you receive junk mail on refinancing. Junk mailers often purchase name and address lists from public records. In June of 2000, Congress passed a law making it illegal for states to sell drivers' license and motor vehicle information. Check with your county clerk, motor vehicle division, and voter registration department. Usually you can still fill out a request insisting on confidentiality.
  11. Attach conditions to release of confidential information such as your social security number - state that your permission to use it expires after a year. When filling out medical insurance forms, strike out, change and initial the clause stating that your medical information can be disclosed to nearly anyone - make your permission specific to only your insurance company and your doctor, and add a time limitation.

More Hot Tips

Most of these are from the Anti-Telemarketing Program.
  1. Never provide your full name on your personal telephone answering machine. The only message that should be provided is, "You have reached, (your telephone number), at the tone, please leave your name and number and we will return your call".
  2. Do not allow a company to call you back. What they really want is your phone number.
  3. Never enter contests that require your phone number. This is one of many ways, that Telemarketers use to get your name address and phone number. Remember, there is no such thing as a "Free 18 x 20 foot Photo" or "Exotic Trip." (I know of several people who love these fake contest gimmicks. They sign up their ex-spouses for them all the time.)
  4. Never give out your real address and phone number to a company. For example, Radio Shack and Micro Center always ask for your address and phone number - for marketing purposes. It is none of their business. Provide nothing, or use a fictitious address and phone number when making cash or credit card purchases. (Micro Center regional stores apparently will let you opt out of their junk mail, but their mail order center will not honor your request for privacy).
  5. Ask to inspect your medical and credit records and correct any errors.
  6. Be cautious about placing your picture, address, and phone number on the internet and never post your date of birth or social security number on the internet.
  7. If you use a personal check to pay for purchases, it contains your address and phone number which could be entered into a database. Retailers probably don't spend the time and energy to do this at the end of the business day, but watch the clerk to see if they enter your information at the time of purchase.
  8. Store "club" cards are used with price scanners to track your purchases and send you junk mail. This is especially easy for the store to do if you are using their proprietary "club" or "member" card. Avoid using these cards if at all possible.
  9. When paying bills by mail, ink out your phone number on any personal check used before mailing it.
  10. Shred documents with account and social security numbers on them - or tear in half and throw out each half on alternate weeks in order to prevent "dumpster diving".

More Ideas

  1. When a store clerk asks for your address, phone number, or social security number, ask for theirs! Seriously, though, your SS# is your private information. Don't give it out, and by all means, never give out your mother's maiden name. If you need a special code word for an account, make one up!
  2. See how much a personal 800 number will cost. Give out your 800 number to anyone you don't want to call. Then when a telemarketer calls, you get their phone number! Don't put your real address on your check, just your 800 number.
  3. Have "Endorsee agrees to pay $500 for any junk mail sent to Your Name" printed in the endorsement block.
  4. Write "Addressee Deceased" on the envelope of junk mail and return it unopened to the originator. Tell your carrier so they don't think that all mail to you should be returned, including bills.
  5. Get your name removed from your credit/debit cards. Your bank can (some won't) send you a card with just your account number on the strip. The computer at the store can put your name together with your address and phone number, but not with only your card number.
  6. Copyright your name! Simply tell credit bureaus and catalog companies that you have a copyright on your name (copyright your name and address if you have a common name). You don't have to file any forms! To be valid, your copyright notice must contain three elements: the symbol ©, "(c)" or the word "copyright", the year of first publication, and the name of the owner of the copyright.
  7. Some states such as Florida have a $10 charge to initially place you on the Department of Agriculture's No Telephone Solicitation list. The fine is $10,000 if a company calls you twice.
  8. The Australian Solution got quite a bit of media coverage in Syndey. In frustration, one individual added a sign stating that any non-solicited mail placed into his mailbox would be assessed a $75.00 processing fee.

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Copyright 1995-2004 Fred Elbel. This material may be freely used and distributed only for non-commercial purposes, with credit. Nothing in this web site should be construed as legal advice. This web site is provided for information purposes only. Opinions presented are those of the author (or of other contributors as indicated). Trademarks and copyrighted items remain the property of the owner.