Ask Stacy: How Can I Stop Robocalls, Junk Mail and Spam?

Robocall
Photo by studiostoks / Shutterstock.com

Every day my cellphone rings multiple times with a call from either a real or robotic voice bent on trashing my schedule and derailing my train of thought. They want to lend me money. They want me to move me up in search engine results. They want me to vote for them or against their opponent.

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

Great question! Here’s your definitive guide to cutting down annoying calls, mail and other intrusions into your life. Look it over, save it, then share it with your friends by using the “share” button above or below this story.

Let’s start with the easy stuff: junk snail mail.

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 our Solutions Center, 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 won’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. You can learn more about the Do Not Call Registry here.

Unplugging robocalls

Nearly all robocalls are illegal, whether or not your name is in the Do Not Call Registry. Unless you’ve given written permission to the caller, or the call is from a nonprofit, school or political campaign, it’s against the law. If you get a robocall, you can report it, although if you get as many robocalls as I do, you’ll spend all day reporting calls and they won’t stop anyway.

A better idea is to fight back with a call-blocking app. There are tons on the market.

If you have a VoIP phone, Nomorobo is a free tool you can use to block robocalls. You tell it who your carrier is, provide an email address and, from that point forward, an algorithm blocks robocalls. It’s available for most large VoIP providers; you can see the list here. Unfortunately, it isn’t yet available for cellphones.

There are cellphone apps, however, that can help. CTIA (formerly known as the Cellular Telephone Industry Association) has a list of apps for Android phones here, Apple phones here, Windows phones here and Blackberry phones here. Some cost, but most are free.

I began using one of these apps a few weeks ago, and have had some success with it, but I’m still getting robocalls.

Maybe you’ve wondered, as I have, why lawmakers and the big phone companies aren’t doing more to stop the flood of illegal robocalls. Consumer groups, notably Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports) are pressuring congress and companies to act. Add your voice and join more than 600,000 fed-up consumers by signing the Consumers Union petition 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. Like the robocallers, spammers are willing to ignore the law in hopes of selling you something or ripping you off.

There’s no way to eliminate all spam, 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 [email protected], create a new email address called [email protected] 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.

What solutions have you discovered for blocking unwanted communication through mail and devices? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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.

About me

I founded Money Talks News in 1991. I’m a CPA, and have also earned licenses in stocks, commodities, options principal, mutual funds, life insurance, securities supervisor and real estate. Got some time to kill? You can learn more about me here.

Got more money questions? Browse lots more Ask Stacy answers here.

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