This screed is a response to some local folks who were having some trouble with over-stuffed mailboxes, among other issues.

First, the magic words, to repeat with every company and other organization that you are in touch with, if you wish to minimize your mail:

Can you please opt me out, from everything that I can opt out of, including third party mailings, second party mailings, and everything else. I really appreciate your help.

Use no substitutes. The rules are clear and you must use the term “opt out.” (Well, they might get the idea if you say something else, but why chance it?) Put the request in the form of a question, with at least one of the real magic words (which, to the uninitiated, are please and thank you). Maybe that is unnecessary, and it stems more from the southern gentleman in me than from any sort of effectiveness, but why not err on the side of caution, and be as nice and polite as possible?  They don’t really have to help you after all.  They could just pretend to.

If you currently have a deluge of mail, then you are in for a treat, because now you can join this hobby. It will be worth it. You don’t have to do it all at once. Just do one or two things at a time. Pick the worst offenders first. (These are the ones who sell your contact information far and wide.)

Find the toll-free number (800, 888, or what-have-you) for the subscription service within the magazine, catalog, or flyer, call them, and use the magic words. As noted above, politeness goes a long way here. The clerks who take these calls don’t have to necessarily help with this, but, being human, and probably getting mail themselves, and probably being tired of the junk mail they get, being human, they are usually very happy to help. It’s usually in their job description to help, as opting out is required by law (I don’t have a citation for that, but the truth is out there). Have a mailing label ready to read them the numbers from above the address, if necessary.

Sometimes, it helps to be very specific, saying things like “On your computer screen showing my account information, are there any boxes you can check off, please, for opting me out from everything that I can opt out of?” This approach can work when the clerk seems really lost, not understanding what you are asking for.

When I order something from a company I’ve never used before, I make it clear before ordering that I want to be opted out, please, from everything that I can opt out of, such that I’ll receive no additional mail, including mail from them (unless they have good policies and I like their stuff and they only send a catalog or two a year, etc.). This approach applies to all telephone orders of all kinds, even if I already am on their list, or am a subscriber to their magazine, or a member of their outfit, etc. (It pays to repeat the magic mail words, if only to confirm that the opt-out still is in the system.) If they can’t provide these assurances, then politely decline to order.

It can help to explain the expected result of this opting out, just in case the clerk is not up on the exact terminology. Say you want to keep junkmail out of your mailbox. They’ll usually understand, and are sympathetic. But they can’t help unless you ask.

If you are interested and want to read on, some advanced opting out techniques follow:

–NEVER send in one of those mailer post-cards to subscribe to a magazine, request further information, or to join a non-governmental organization or other group such as the AARP.  (The AARP is famous for making sure that your mailbox is stuffed to the gills with stuff you don’t want, unless you join them following the method described here.) Find their toll-free number (within the magazine, or find it on the internet), and phone them, and use the magic words.

–Quite often, the people you speak with about opting out will bring out that tired old saw about the Direct Marketing Association in Farmingdale, New York. This is a cagey way of trying to get rid of you fast (which is often the main objective of people not only in the boiler rooms of mail-order sweatshops, but especially in the executive offices upstairs). The appropriate response is to explain that you know ALL about the DMA, and you are on their list (more on that below), but that they are basically powerless in the face of marketers, who often have their own rogue operations within a company). Then repeat the magic words

–It sometime pays to let the clerks know that you understand it is not their fault that you are getting this deluge of junk mail, that marketing people are like vermin, living in the soft underbelly of an organization, eating out its entrails from within (or perhaps softer words to that effect, depending upon how graphic and/or cynical you want to be).

–On the DMA, here is their website for signing up for what they call DMA Choice: http://www.dmachoice.com. The idea is that, once your are on their list, companies that run marketing campaigns will, out of the goodness of their hearts, use that list to strip out your name and address from their mailings. They don’t have to do it. And, as noted above, their marketers often blatantly ignore company policies one this approach, and develop work-arounds (independent databases, etc.).

But it’s certainly worth a try to sign up with the DMA. Just don’t believe their propaganda that they will really help reduce your junk mail and that they really are on your side. They only got set up as a way in an attempt to avoid direct regulation, given how many people don’t like junk mail. They claim to give you a choice as to what mail you receive. If only that were true, but it simply is not, because it does not work.

–What do you do if a previous tenant or owner of a house is still getting mail at your address? The post office might help, but often they just keep on delivering that junk mail addressed to someone who owned your house 15 years ago. Why? Because the junkmailers use that catch-all phrase “or current occupant.” One way around that one is to try and phone the company that sent the junk mail and politely explain that the person no longer lives there and ask them to stop.

–What about ordering from a TV ad? Here’s a trick that has worked for me. The people you order from have two separate screens, one for the order, and another with highly secure (one hopes) access to your credit card information. These two screens have two different addresses. For the address for receiving the item, try the magic words first, telling them you are probably not going to order if they don’t have opt-out procedures/boxes to mark. If they don’t, my advice is to just tell them you’d rather not order and say goodbye. (The store, Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and Walgreens, I believe, among others, have special sections on the way in called “As Seen on TV.” Buy it there.) But if you must have the item by ordering on the phone, have it sent to the person named Resi Dent, or Occu Pant, at your address.  Give them your real address for billing, or else it will not go through. Then after you start getting junk mail for Resi Dent or Occu Pant, you will know where to call to stop it. Some companies are wise to Risi Dent and Occu Pant and will stop sending you their junkmail, if only because they think there’s something wrong with their mailing list.

–Never, ever return a warranty post-card for an item you buy. Just save the receipt. The warranty holds, regardless. You may want to check the firm’s website for recall information for things like baby cribs, but in the main, its best to not send in your personal information. It just begets junkmail. (If you really want to get on a company’s recall list, so they can let you know about product problems, phone them and ask for this alone, and use the magic words.)

–Faxing can be very effective, and easy, for people who have a fax machine. Of course, you’ll need the company’s fax number. (The fax number for “Customer Relations” is often the best one to use, but first just try the one on the catalog or order form, if there is one.) Simply use the page of the mailer that has your address, circle it, write the magic words, and then write “Thank you,” followed by a scrawled signature, and fax it. This approach can even be taken for mail addressed to a previous tenant…I did say scrawl the signature, right?

–Advanced opt-out techniques, in the event of hitting a brick wall, include trying to speak with (or faxing) “Customer Relations.” These are the people who sometimes have the power to stop junk mail for you. They can be hard to reach. You can ask the initial contact people for their number, and that might work.

Sometimes it is necessary to google the name of the company and the words “customer relations” in quotes, to reach them. This search method can bring up long lists that others have developed for various purposes, including lodging complaints of various sorts. Publicly traded companies usually have a “Customer Relations” office, as a way of shielding their executives from the public.

–Be ready to respond to the people who swear to you that they do not send out mailings to people who do not ask for them, or maintain they do not share or sell their mailing lists, or say that all you have to do is contact the DMA, as above. Explain to them what you know about marketers who operate rogue operations, that you already are signed up with the DMA and that is not working, and how much you would very much appreciate your help with … repeat the magic words.

–Another advanced technique if nothing else works is to contact the CEO’s office, by phone or fax. For publicly traded companies, at least the names of the executives are publicly known. You can find their names at Yahoo Finance, or the company’s web site, or within an annual report from their website. If their name is not a common one, you can sometimes find their office telephone number via an internet search engine.

Executives usually have private bathrooms and private jets, so they’ll also have a coterie of staff to shield them from the public. Often, they’ll have a front-office person who is savvy and skilled, and if you show that you are equally savvy and skilled (by explaining politely that nothing works, the DMA is a flaccid vestige of anything that it represents itself to be, that marketers are evil rogues, etc., and by repeating the magic words), these people may actually root out the marketing rogues making their firm look bad and put a stop to their activity.

You might also do the same via email. CC the email to others within the company, as well, including the investor relations head. PR people sometimes are concerned with a company’s image, particularly a negative one stemming from rogue marketers. Be sure to include everything (every last thing) on your mailing label, with the email.

A bit of googling might even result in the home address of the CEO. Why not send them a copy of the offending junkmail, with a note asking them if …. use the magic words?

(I wouldn’t think that signing up the executives for junk mailing lists would be effective. They don’t open their own mail, anyway. Also, it’s probably not legal to do it if it involves misrepresenting that you are them. But I suppose it’s been done before.)

–In my view, people could run for congress, and win, on an anti-junkmail platform. It’s one of the things that bothers everyone, but everyone feels powerless to do anything about it. In England, they have an “opt-in” only approach. Anyone you do business with must presume that you do NOT want junkmail unless you actively tell them. The postcards that are mailed in to subscribe to a magazine, for example, have a box to check if you DO want to join their junkmail program. Maybe some people do join.

–I could go on about how junkmail may at first glance look like it is a good thing for the US Postal Service. But if you think about it, if we could move to an opt-in only policy, radically reducing junkmail, then the USPS could streamline and become far more efficient than they are today. And our mailboxes wouldn’t fill up so fast, and we would not be cutting down so many trees, and so forth.

–On a final note, for now: there are private companies that track our every move, where we live, and what we buy. They sell this information at a profit. They use this information to sift it and figure out what motivates us and how to get us to buy their stuff, whether we need it or not and whether we want to hear from them or not. Who owns this information? Us or them? We have a government that says that these private companies own it. Something has got to give on this issue.


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