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You go out to open your mailbox. You don't
know it, but an unseen evil lurks behind that aluminum door and red plastic
flag, waiting to ambush you. Unaware and optimistic of receiving REAL mail,
whistling a tune, you put your fingers around the latch and pull. POW!
Your feet are covered in a pile of discordantly-coloured envelopes from
people you don't even know...not people...--corporations, computers-- touting
the latest advance in foot-fungus technology or begging you to try their
latest revision of pantyhose. Publishers Clearinghouse notices fly everywhere
and coat your lawn. No letters from your best friend. No invitations to
parties, or intriguing perfumed letters from that special someone. Just
Why You Get It
The answer to this is short and not too sweet. Basically, they'll get your name on a list as someone who is on record as having bought a such-and-such, and assume that since you bought one, maybe they can entice you to buy another one! Same goes even if you haven't bought, but only requested information or subscribed to a magazine, etc. To them, someone who has expressed an interest in such-and-such will probably be likely to buy one! This fits in with the other ploy they use to determine who to junkmail, which is trying to finagle demographic information out of their records (see below) and try to guess at what you might buy considering your race, marital status, income, etc. Even from your name alone, they can take a good crack at your gender and nationality: "Just your name gives their computers a pretty good idea of whether you're a white male or a Hispanic female." (Junkbusters). On a related note, see below about the use of "test mailings" to assess your susceptibility to junkmail ads.
Or, you may not have even "given" out your address at all. It has just as likely been misappropriated from Post Office or public records, or bought/rented from another company.
Where They Get Your Name & Address
Shutting The Junk Valve
Pretty much everyone agrees: staying off a list is next to impossible. The less lists you get on, the less junk you'll get (assuming these lists aren't merged or traded around too much), but remaining entirely unlisted is a lost cause. So, aside from avoiding the biggest and nastiest name-sellers and list brokers, your best bet is probably to get on companies' "do not mail" lists as you receive junk from them. A short checklist of ideas for limiting your exposure to junk:
Direct Marketing Association Mail Preference Service
P.O. Box 9008
Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008
Much junkmail comes in the form of supermarket flyers and coupon-clipper rags--the most common are ADVO "Mailbox Values" and "Harte Hanks Potpourri" (depending largely on where you live). These are normally just dropped into each and every mailbox down the line. As postal regulations prohibit unidentified or unaddressed mail, these flyers "must be delivered at the same time as an address card. Locate this address card; the cards usually have an advertisement and a photograph of a missing child. Call directory assistance to get the phone number of the sender, and call to get off the list." (
Once you're not getting the address card, you shouldn't be getting the
junk flyer that accompanies it--you may need to point out the lack of this
card to your postal carrier, but it is against postal regs to deliver the
flyer without it.
Craine, a mail carrier, writes in the following:
"Another thing is your carrier is your best defense against unwanted junk. You touch on the cards, what we call third bundle. These are universally hated by ALL carriers. I have seen ppl get off these lists but it only works if your regular carrier knows about it. If People could get to know their regular carrier it will go a long way to stop junk mail."
If you're really sick of getting crapola from a particularly ambitious junk factory, all it takes is one short form to place a prohibitory order on their mail. According to Junkbusters, "A U.S. Federal law gives you the power to stop any non-governmental organization from sending you further mail." Just ask for a copy of Form 2150 or
(Application for Listing and/or Prohibitory Order). While this mechanism
was originally aimed at stopping pornographic come-ons by mail (the form
may even make reference to "pornographic and undesirable material"), the
Supreme Court has ruled that it applies to any mail you find objectionable,
in this case junk solicitations. You can grab a copy of the magic papers
your post office, and send it along with a sample mailing to:
Prohibitory Order Processing Center(You can presumably write there to request the form, too, if you'd prefer that to calling.) Your complaint will be added to the Post Office's reference list. Thirty days after appearing on the list, anyone sending you mail in violation of the order "may be subject to civil and criminal sanctions." (usps.gov). The listing is valid for 5 years.
US Postal Service
Post Office Box 3744
Memphis TN 38173-0744
Return To Sender
unopened mail can be marked Refused, and the post office must pick it up.
First class mail refused in this manner will be returned to the sender,
while bulk-class mail will be thrown out or recycled by the Post Office
itself. However, if a piece of bulk mail has "Address correction requested"
printed on it, you can circle this and treat it like first-class mail.
Some methods that might not help you out in getting less junkmail:
When you get junkmail you may see some numbers by your name, sometimes with innocuous names such as "Priority Code" or "Customer Number". According to Junkbusters, these are to help asses the results of a form of psychological experiment in which they subtly modify the contents of the mailing, wording, etc. to see which combinations make people buy more:
|"Direct mailers perform experiments on you using
the same methodologies as telemarketers, but they conduct them more slowly
and quietly. The only clues that you might notice are the two numbers above
your name and address on your junk mail:
that they are so careful to collect all this information is because they can use it to create lists that can be rented to someone else. The laws in most places allow
everything that their awesome high-tech data-gathering machines learn about you to be sold, rented, bartered, carelessly disposed of, or given away to anyone they want, unless you tell them that you don't permit them to do so. (Most companies won't give it to taxation authorities however, unless they are forced to.) "
Who Sold My Name?
A number of junkmail haters discuss an easy method of knowing what companies are selling your personal information: When providing any company with your mailing address, use a different middle initial each time, e.g. Give your name to ABC Corp. as John A. Doe, and give your name to XYZ Corp. as John B. Doe, etc... and make a note of which you give to which. When Publisher's Clearinghouse starts sending you junk addressed to John L. Doe, you know exactly who sold your name! A similar tactic involves using a meaningless/bogus road designator (street, place, avenue, parkway, circle...), or supplying a descriptive "room number" or "apartment number", "office number", etc. with the address (assuming you live in a residential home, most of which don't have room numbers). If you DO live in an apartment, try adding extra letters to your apartment number--if you live in Apt. 12, try Apt. 12B next time a suspicious company wants to know.
Knowing who is divulging
your information without consent gives you an extra edge in making these
companies afraid to mess with you, or even collecting damages from them
(see below). On his anti-junkmail page
Convissor writes: "[G]ive them a slightly misspelled version of your
name AND tell them not to give your information out to others. You should
keep a list of who you gave what name to, so you can spot violators and
hound them. These steps especially apply when registering software." Sometimes
the numbers printed on the mailing label can identify (to the company,
anyway) the list your name came from.
Some states and provinces may have laws that can be put into use to prevent junkmailers and other direct marketers from exploiting you commercially. To some people, the worst part of direct marketing is the enormous profits certain corporations make off the backs of hard-working citizens, without consent nor compensation, by selling materials which do not even belong to them. For example, the state of Virginia has the following on the books:
"Any person whose name, portrait, or picture is used without having first obtained the written consent of such person... for advertising purposes or for the purposes of trade, such persons may maintain a suit in equity against the person, firm or corporation so using such person's name, portrait, or picture to prevent and restrain the use thereof; and may also sue and recover damage for any injuries sustained by reason of such use. And if the defendant shall have knowingly used such person's name, portrait or picture in such manner as is forbidden or declared to be unlawful by this chapter, the jury, in its discretion, may award exemplary damages." Code of Virginia, Section 8.01-40While most people don't take the time to up and sue a company "for sending one or two little letters", the laws exist and a number of junkmail recipients have actually tried to cash in on them.