Ask Stacy: How Do I Stop Junk Mail and Spam?

Photo (cc) by faith goble

I’ve spent the last few weeks gradually chipping away at all the accumulated stuff I’ve collected and stored for the last 10 years. That means digitizing paper, cleaning out my storage room, digitizing the nearly 3,000 news stories we’ve produced over the last 20 years, and generally cleaning up my act.

My goal? Start 2012 as a clutter-free, organized, 21st-century man. It’s an uphill battle, but one I’m determined to win.

Today’s question follows along those lines. This reader is also trying to eliminate junk, but she’s more interested in junk mail – the kind that hits you in both the inbox and the mailbox. Here’s her question…

Stacy,
Someone told me it was free to have your name taken off the (paper) junk mail registry by using the “MoneytalksNews” website. Is this true? I notice it cost $41 or even more to get your name taken off the registry. I’d like to get my email address taken off the junk mail registry, also. How much would that cost?
– Cheryl

The first thing to realize when it comes to junk mail is that you’ll never eliminate it entirely, primarily because the rules are few – and few players in the unsolicited mail space (particularly the email space) play by them.

The following is a news story I shot in 2009 about stopping junk. Check it out, then read on for more…

Stopping junk snail mail

To stop junk snail mail for credit and insurance, you either go to OptOutPrescreen.com or call 888-5OPTOUT. Note this only covers credit and insurance solicitations. You can choose to stop them for five years or permanently. You can opt out for five years online, but to opt out permanently, you’ll have to sign and return a Permanent Opt-Out Election form. There’s no charge to do this.

When you go to OptOutPrescreen, you’ll notice there’s as much space devoted to trying to get you to stay in the database as there is allowing you to leave. That’s because this website is operated under government mandate by the big three credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

Since they make tons of money selling your personal information to those doing the soliciting, they don’t want you to leave. Among the reasons they want you to opt in is that doing so allows “consumers to comparison shop, which may increase a consumer’s buying power.”

Hogwash.

Waiting for unsolicited credit card offers is no way to comparison shop. If you’re looking for credit cards or insurance, use online tools like our credit card and insurance comparisons.

To reduce other kinds of junk snail mail, you’ll use the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Mail Preference Service (MPS). This lets you opt out of getting unsolicited mail for five years. Register here and your name will be deleted from the mailing lists of the 3,600 direct-mail marketers that use the DMA’s MPS. You can choose the mail you receive, so if you like to get some catalogs or solicitations, you can remain on their mailing lists while eliminating others. Registering online is free, but if you’d prefer to do it by mail, it’s going to cost you a buck. Mail your request with a $1 processing fee to:

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

Stopping junk email

The DMA also has an Email Preference Service (eMPS) that’s supposed to help stem the barrage of spam you get. To register, go to the same website – dmachoice.org. It’s free and lasts for six years. But while they may be a major contributor to your mailbox, DMA members probably aren’t the problem in your inbox.

Most of the spam you get comes from jerks who don’t care that sending unsolicited email is often illegal. Unlike the companies who send you snail mail, spammers are hard to trace and thus hard to stop.

Best solution? Sign up for a personal email account to share with people you trust and a different one exclusively to use online when you shop or post. Then don’t ever give out the private one. Ever. This doesn’t eliminate spam, but having a “disposable” email address allows you to lose it if it becomes inundated with junk without having to give a new email address to your inner circle every time you do it.

Stopping junk phone calls

Your defense here is the “do-not-call list.” Put your name on it by going to DoNotCall.gov or calling (888) 382-1222. And if someone does call you after your name is on that list, report them to the BBB or FTC. Note, however, that politicians, charities, companies you’re doing business with, and some other categories are exempt. You can read more about it on this page of the Federal Trade Commission site.

Last but not least…

Once a year, you’re going to get notices from lenders and other companies you do business with asking if it’s OK for them to share your personal information with other companies. These often come during the holidays, since companies long ago learned that’s the time of year you’re most likely to be busy and least likely to open and read these notices.

Don’t ignore these things. Instead, say no and return them. It’s not OK for any company to make a profit by selling something that doesn’t belong to them – your personal information.

To learn more about what to do to stop unwanted mail, email, or phone calls, as well as what to do if companies ignore the rules, see this page of the FTC’s site.

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

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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