Ask Stacy: How Can I Stop Junk Calls, Mail and Emails?

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Seems like every day my cellphone rings with a call from some company trying to sell me something or a politician dying to dish the dirt on an opposition. And somehow they all call when my arms are full of groceries or I’m in the middle of a meal.

It appears I’m not the only one. Here’s this week’s reader question:

How can we get on the “do not call” list for those annoying political and advertising calls? — Frank

I did a TV news story on this topic a few years ago. It’s called “Stop Junk Mail and Spam.” Let’s start with that, then pick it up on the other side.

Now, here’s your definitive guide to narrowing down those annoying calls, mail and other intrusions into your life. Look it over, save it, then share it with your friends by using the “share” buttons above.

Crushing the credit offers

Hopefully you don’t pick your plastic by responding to “preapproved” credit card offers you get in the mail. The way to get a credit card isn’t to fall for a sales pitch, it’s to invest a few minutes and shop them. Do that by going to the Solutions Center to the left of this article, clicking on “Credit Cards,” then comparing competing offers.

Any unsolicited offer saying you’re preapproved is most likely a lie anyway. Banks buy lists of people with certain credit characteristics, then send them all offers saying they’re “preapproved.” You’re not preapproved. You still have to apply, and the bank can still turn you down.

There are two ways to stop this mail. You can either opt out for five years, or forever.

  • To opt out for five years: Call 888-5-OPT-OUT (888-567-8688) or go to OptOutPrescreen.com.
  • To opt out forever: Go to OptOutPrescreen.com and jump through an extra hoop by completing a form, which you’ll then have to mail in.

In either case, you’ll have to provide personal information, like your name, phone number, Social Security number, and date of birth. Not to worry. According to the Federal Trade Commission, your information will be kept private.

If you’d prefer not to use the Internet, you can send a written request to permanently opt out. But you’ll have to send it to four consumer reporting agencies, which will otherwise sell your name. You’ll need to include the same information required online: name, phone number, Social Security number, and date of birth. Here are the addresses:

Experian
Opt Out
P.O. Box 919
Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion
Name Removal Option
P.O. Box 505
Woodlyn, PA 19094

Equifax
Options
P.O. Box 740123
Atlanta, GA 30374

Innovis Consumer Assistance
P.O. Box 495
Pittsburgh, PA 15230

Freezing the cold calls

The good news: You can stop many unsolicited calls simply by registering your phone number (cell or landline) with the National Do Not Call Registry.

The bad news: You can’t stop them all.

Political organizations, charities, telephone surveyors, business to business callers and debt collectors aren’t affected by the Do Not Call Registry. This is also true of companies you have a current business relationship with, although they’re required to stop if you request it. The other category of caller you can’t stop unless you request it is those you’ve given written consent to call you.

Stop other calls by going to donotcall.gov and registering your personal number(s). You’ll only need to provide a phone number and email address. Your number will appear in the registry forever, or until you remove it. If you’d prefer to register by phone, you can call 888-382-1222 from the number you’re registering.

Your number will show up on the registry the next day, but telemarketers have 31 days to stop calling.

If you’ve forgotten whether you already registered your number, it’s easy to check. Just go to the website, put in your number and email address, and they’ll send you an email confirming your status. If you get unauthorized calls after you’ve been on the registry for 31 days, file a complaint here.

Also keep in mind that nearly all robocalls are illegal, even if your name isn’t on the Do Not Call Registry, unless you’ve given written permission. So if you get a robocall, report it. (Automated calls from nonprofits, schools and political campaigns are exempt.)

You can learn more about the Do Not Call Registry here.

Slowing snail mail to a crawl

Like unsolicited sales calls, you can slow, but not stop, junk mail.

A private organization, the Direct Marketing Association, maintains a kind of “do not mail” list. It’s called the Mail Preference Service. Putting your name on the list will keep DMA members from sending you unsolicited mail for five years. Mail from nonmembers, however, will continue.

There are two ways to register with DMA’s Mail Preference Service. Either do it free at dmachoice.org, or send a written request, along with $1, to:

DMAchoice
Direct Marketing Association
P.O. Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512

Banning spam

In addition to snail mail, the DMA also has an Email Preference Service. You register at the same site and it’s good for six years.

As we all know only too well, however, we get unsolicited email, also known as spam, from lots of companies that aren’t members of DMA or any other reputable organization.

According to a survey from privacy site Abine, the average person gets 105 spam emails daily. There’s no way to eliminate it all, but there are two things you can do to reduce the flood to a trickle.

1. Rev up your spam filter. Nearly all popular email programs have filters for spam that can be adjusted. If you’re getting a lot, check your settings and see if you can increase the sensitivity. To learn how, use the help function of your program, or simply search online for “reducing junk mail with (the name of your email program).”

2. Use “disposable” email addresses. A lot of spam comes from using your email address at websites that turn around and sell your name and other personal information. (In case you’re wondering, Money Talks News doesn’t do that.) Solution? Have one main email address for friends, family, work, etc., but have another for everything else. For example, if your regular email address is JaneDoe@gmail.com, create a new email address called JaneDoeShops@gmail.com. If you start getting a lot of spam to that address, simply delete it and start again with a new one. 

As for the spam you’re already getting at your main address, use the “help” on your email program or search the Web for instructions on how to block the sender of offending emails. (On Outlook, it’s as simple as right clicking on the email, then clicking “junk.”)

If you’re subscribed to email newsletters or get other regular emails you no longer wish to receive, the law requires that they contain an “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of every email. If they do, unsubscribe. If they don’t, they’re illegal. Block them.

Got a question you’d like answered?

You can ask a question simply by hitting “reply” to our email newsletter. If you’re not subscribed, fix that right now by clicking here.

The questions I’m likeliest to answer are those that will interest other readers. In other words, don’t ask for super-specific advice that applies only to you. And if I don’t get to your question, promise not to hate me. I do my best, but I get a lot more questions than I have time to answer.

Got any words of wisdom you can offer for this week’s question? Share your knowledge and experiences on our Facebook page.

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Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.

  • pennyhammack

    Dirty trick…I was getting a lot of bank solicitations, insurance sales pitches and general garbage in the mail. I started gathering up all the paper, marking it “Not Interested, Take me off your mailing list” and stuffing everything back into the prepaid return envelope. Apparently having to pay for all that stuff to be returned gets their attention. I’m not getting nearly as much junk mail now.

  • SickOfFools

    I have to agree about getting on the DNC list. Calls increased instead
    of decreasing. I have also done the same thing withthe junk mail and
    their prepaid return envelopes. I took care of most of the calls calls
    by dumping my AT&T landline and going with Ooma voip. Their premier
    service is less than $12 a month and includes community and personal
    blacklists to block the unwanted calls.

    • ponce

      Are the number of callers you can block limited with Ooma? I have Comcast phone and can only block 12.

      • SickOfFools

        With Ooma Premier you can block 256 on your personal blacklist, and if you enable the community blacklist also, numbers listed by other Ooma users are also blocked.

  • marketfog

    I found the DNC list to be worthless. Unless the govt gets thousands of complaints, they won’t do anything. This is the caller I want to get rid of. I get live and robocalls for the person who had my phone # more than 5 years ago. Apparently debt collectors buy bad debts from creditors and use robocalls. When they don’t have any luck, they sell the debt list to another collector and a new round of calls start. I think the person who used to have my phone # continues to use my phone # for her business purposes. I am even getting a new first name with a familiar last name now. I wish these computer hackers would do us a favor: develop an app that I could back feed through the phone which would ruin the robocall computer. Congress would do us a favor if they passed a law which said that when a creditor sells a list, that it must be returned to the creditor within 3-6 months and that no further attempts could be made to contact the deadbeat by phone. Make it punishable for violation with a $25000 fine per incident.

  • Judy

    Since becoming “involuntarily retired” in December, 2014, I am stunned at the number of phone calls I get wherein the line is obviously open but no one is there. This happens at least 5-6 times a day. Some times a call comes in that takes a few seconds for the human to realize that I’ve answered the phone; when they ask for me by name, I never identify my self and simply tell them that “This call is being recorded”. Another thing I do for my own amusement is to immediately press and hold a numbered button on the phone and trust that it is annoying to a human caller or will disrupt a robo call. They hang up, but that does not keep the calls from coming. Caller ID is no help, nor is there anything the telephone company can do. Now it’s started on my cell phone, as well.