Created: 1995. Updated: 2004


The U.S. Post Office

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

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is not your friend when it comes to junk mail. It makes significant revenue by promoting bulk mail and is geared toward servicing that industry.
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Change Of Address

Permanent Change of Address update information is provided by the USPS to anyone who has your old address - specifically junkmailers. If you move, fill out the Post Office's standard Change Of Address (COA) form, but don't make it a permanent change. Instead, make it a temporary address change lasting less than a year (perhaps 9 months).
If you do not check either the permanent or temporary box on the COA form, the USPS COA unit will enter it as a permanent move. To make absolutely certain that the COA clerk doesn't mistake the type of address change, highlight and circle the "temp" box and even write in red letters across the front of the card, "temporary". By submitting only a temporary change, the information will not be entered into the permanent Change Of Address database and released to others.
You should double check the new address labels on forwarded mail. It should be a temporary label and not a permanent one. A permanent label will state above the customer's new address, "Please notify sender of new address:". A temporary label will not say this, presumably because the customer will eventually be returning to their old address. Here is more information on how the USPS handles your change of address. Be sure to read this excellent article on junk mail and The Illegal U.S. Postal Service National Change of Address Program by Michael Worsham.
You may be able to be removed from the NCOA list by writing to the following address:
          National Customer Support Center
          United States Postal Service
          6060 Primacy Parkway - Suite 201
          Memphis, Tennessee 38188-0001

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Junk Mail

There are several types of Unwanted Ad Mail (UAM), more commonly known as Junk Mail:
  • First, there are catalogs and material sent specifically to you because you are on a specific firm's database. In this case, contact the individual company to be removed. See the section on general guidelines, and follow up with additional action.
  • There is material sent specifically to you because you are on someone else's database, and another company purchased that database for one or more mailings. See hot tips, DMA List Suppression, and contacts and details.
  • If you ever receive a chain letter, the USPS makes it quite clear that they are illegal, whether distributed via snail mail or the internet. For more information, see the US Postal Service page on chain letters. USPS customer service can be reached at 800.238.3150.
  • Then there is saturation mailing, where the Post Office helps bulk mailers send mail to every address in an area (with addresses only - no names - on the mailings). The bulk mailer has to build up a list containing at least 90% of the addresses in a carrier-route. The Post Office will then supply the remaining 10% for a small fee so that the bulk mailer will reach everyone on the route. (See Domestic Mail Manual A920.4.4).
    (Here's how the master database of addresses for each carrier route is prepared: Each carrier prepares an "edit sheet" of all addresses on their route, and sends it to Atlanta for inclusion into the master list or addresses by carrier route. This database is updated every 90 days. So even if you were to be removed from this list, you would end up back on it three months later.)
    As reported by a mail house, the post office hates saturation mailings. Ever since they invested billions into automated sorting equipment, they have realized that automated mailings are much easier for them to process. The idea behind a saturation mailing is that the post office doesn't have to sort the mailers at all. The mailing service actually prints the mailers out in the same order that the carrier walks (referrred to as "walk sequence"), and the mail house trays or sacks them by carrier route. So, the carrier gets their first class and automated mail all neatly banded together by address, but has to lug around a big tray of mail and "add one" as they get to each address. With the July, 2002 postal rate change, the post office is now requiring mailers to prepare saturation mailings as automation compatible - meaning that they will be sorted on machines, just like the higher priced automation mail! The only reason this rate class even exists is because of companies like Advo and Val-pak exercising their lobbying power. The discounted postage rate certainly has no operational justificiation!
    • There is no way the Post Office will allow you to be removed from this list!
    • Saturation mailing works as follows. Each list by carrier route is provided by the USPS as a single block of addresses. In order for a bulk mailer to get the lowest bulk mail rate, the USPS says they have to mail to 100% of the addresses on the list. Thus, junk mailers are stuck - they can't delete your address from the carrier route list because their item counts would change and postal charges would go up.

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What you can do

  • Write your local Postmaster at your local post office. Be sure to ask them to forward your comments to their superiors. Call 800.275.8777 /7 for more information or visit
  • Write the U.S. Postal Service Consumer Affairs department expressing your dissatisfaction with junkmail policies:
        Consumer Affairs Policy & Program Development
        USPS - HQ
        475 Lenfant Plaze SW
        WA DC 20260-0004
    You can also call 800.275.8777 /7 to leave a voice comment, but written letters carry more weight. They will probably respond with a standard reply about how junk mail provides them with ongoing revenue. Don't give up - write back! See Mark's observations and recommendations at He believes it necessary to get carriers and post offices to return junk mail to the sender when you mark it "refused".
  • The Capitol Switchboard will connect you directly to your Senator or Representative: 202.225.3121.
  • Find out who your Senators and Representatives are at - just enter your zipcode. Then write them with your concerns.
  • The Government Reform Committee oversees the U.S. Postal Service. Do write and/or call them with your concerns:
        Government Reform Committee
        Room 2157
        Rayburn House Office Bldg.
        Washington DC 20525

Form 1500
According to U.S.C. Title 39 - Postal Service section 3008. Prohibition of pandering advertisements, you can fill out Form 1500 to stop delivery of any material that you find offensive. All you have to do is fill out a USPS Form 1500 and attach the opened mail piece to it and turn it in to the Post Office. The USPS will issue an order that no more mailings be sent to you by that mailer.
Form 1500 states that the mailing contains pornographic material that you find offensive. (The law says the determination of what is offensive or pornographic is at the sole discretion of the recipient). The two-sided form is available at any Post Office, and photo copies of it are acceptable. It is easy to fill out and takes only a minute or two. The USPS will send you a letter with a case number, stating when the cease and desist order was issued to the mailer. If you receive mailings after a grace period you can report them to the enforcement office - instructions provided in the letter.
Contact Private Citizen at 800-CUT-JUNK. They have a very successful strategy for getting off junk mailing lists, using Form 1500. If you run into resistance from a postmaster when submitting Form 1500, Private Citizen can do a little arm-twisting, representing you as your attorney.
JUNKBUSTERS also provides information on how to gain control of your mailbox.
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Other Resources

You can obtain a copy of the Domestic Mail Manual (DMM) or view it online See sections on Forwarding and Address Sequencing. You can buy a copy for about $37 from the Government Printing Office. Write to:
	Superintendent of Documents
	PO Box 371954
	Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954
Also see the Postal Rate Commission web site.
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Illogic - what junk mail supporters say

Supporters of junk mail say:
"The Postal Service would go bankrupt if not for junk mail".
Response: The Postal Service did quite well for decade upon decade until Congress mandated that it attempt to make a profit or at least break even. Roads and schools are completely paid for by taxes and there is no reason for the Postal Service to generate a profit. Taxes could certainly be used to cover operational costs of this service that benefits everyone.
"Without junk mail, a first-class mailing would cost more than a dollar".
Response: The Postal Service is in fact a service that is offered by the Government to society. There is no mandate to make it profitable, only a Congressional directive. The true cost of mail could be born by postal customers, or the cost could be shared by taxpayers.
"Consumers want to receive junk mail. Those who don't can opt out from receiving it."
Response: The Direct Mail Association (DMA) has been instrumental in lobbying Congress against opt-in legislation to protect consumers against unwanted junk mail. Opt-in means if you want junk mail you have to ask for it.
By forcing people to receive junk mail they don't want, there is a tremendous waste of:
  • People's time,
  • Natural resources - timber to make paper,
  • Energy to make paper, transport junk mail to mail boxes, and transport junk mail to trash dumps or to recycling centers and recycle it.
This is not the way to run a sustainable society.
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How about a Mail Preference Postage Discount?

If you think the following idea is feasible, please support it with letters (see above).
Every year USPS would insert a mail preference check-off sheet with the IRS tax package. The sheet would list 10 to 12 categories of ad mail -- computers, home entertainment, food, men's/women's apparel, etc. -- based on a sampling of the previous year's ad mail volume. The individual could check off interest in any (or none) of the categories. Mailers would submit mailing lists to USPS prior to a mailing. Mailers would not have access to the file since it would be confidential. USPS would place markers in the mailer's files indicating the individuals interest in some mail and not others, or none at all. Mailers who do this would get a 1-2 cent per piece discount for lists that that have been so processed -- its use would not be mandatory. No names would be added, but matching names would be data enhanced. The object would be to take a list and reduce a mailing based on the recipient's actual preference rather than demographic guess work.
The advantage to mail recipients (like you) is that they would get far less junk mail, and the mailers would not only benefit from the discount, but would receive a higher response rate and lower mailing costs. The USPS would benefit from increased revenue (the charge for mailing non-filtered junk mail could be increased) and reduced delivery cost.

This has been suggested to the USPS and direct marketers. Both are extremely conservative with regard to anything relating to list and mailing access. Also, this idea doesn't fit inside the normal concept of how postal discounts work -- it's hard to prove the economic benefits before it's tried. Yet a Mail Preference Postage Discount might be a good idea for everyone involved.
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Opt-out of Unsafe Mail

The United States Postal Service won't stop delivering junk mail. They tell us to contact each sender individually, but of course, that doesn't work with "resident" junk mail. This does not come as a complete surprise since the USPS makes millions of dollars each year delivering junk mail. However, it is wasteful, annoying and now, with the anthrax scare of 2001, potentially deadly.
U.S. Citizens should not have to receive mail that is not specifically addressed to them. We should not have to receive unsolicited junk mail that has been sent by someone who has purchased our name and address from a list broker. Just because someone -anyone- decides to mail something to us does not mean we should be forced to receive it. What is to keep a terrorist from purchasing names and addresses from a list broker and sending anthrax tainted "junk mail" to recipients, or just sending mail addressed to "resident", "occupant", or "box holder"?
Since the USPS has now admitted they can not guarantee that our mail is safe, the USPS should honor anyone's instructions not to deliver to their home, business or Post Office Box, any mail that is addressed to "resident", "occupant", etc., or mail without a return address. We do have a right to protect ourselves, and the USPS, an arm of the Federal Government, has an obligation to to place safety of U.S. Citizens above profit.
Now is the time to send your letters of concern to the USPS and Congress. (See above). You can also use Form 1500 to reject unwanted mail. (Thanks to Robert McGee for the above).
"We therefore categorically reject the argument that a vendor has a right under the Constitution or otherwise to send unwanted material into the home of another. If this prohibition operates to impede the flow of even valid ideas, the answer is that no one has a right to press even 'good' ideas on an unwilling recipient. That we are often 'captives' outside the sanctuary of the home and subject to objectionable speech and other sound does not mean we must be captives everywhere. (cite omitted) The asserted right of a mailer, we repeat, stops at the outer boundary of every person's domain." - Justice Burger, for the majority, in ROWAN v. U. S. POST OFFICE DEPT. , 397 U.S. 728 (1970)

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Horror Stories

A nightmare of bureaucracy posted at Mark Ferguson's
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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.