Like most people concerned about identity theft, I occasionally gather up any documents with sensitive personal information I’ve accumulated over time and run them through the paper shredder. As usual, most of it was junk; courtesy of the United States Post Office. Of course, this always leaves me wondering how to stop junk mail. In fact, during my most recent “shredding party,” the Honeybee presented me with a plastic grocery bag loaded up with an astounding number of nothing but credit card courtesy checks and pre-approved credit card promotions.
Now I know what your thinking: What is the numerical equivalent of “astounding?” Um, that would be 44. In four months.
I’m not kidding. Here’s a detailed breakdown of all the mail offers we’ve received over that time:
- 2 MasterCard applications affiliated with my college fraternity.
- 2 Discover applications.
- 10 VISA applications affiliated with Southwest airlines.
- 4 American Express gold card applications.
- 13 VISA applications affiliated with Marriott.
- 2 American Express applications.
- 2 VISA applications from Disney.
- 1 VISA application affiliated with the American Auto Association.
- 1 VISA application from Chase.
- 7 credit card courtesy check offers (16 checks in all).
As a visual aid, here’s a photo of all those applications and courtesy checks spread out on my loft floor.
You know, I really wanted to include in the photo all the envelopes, brochures and supporting paperwork that came with a lot of the offers, but I don’t have a wide-angle camera lens. Or a big enough loft for that matter.
Anyway, upon looking at all those credit card offers and promotions I immediately came to two conclusions:
- While shredding pre-approved credit card applications and courtesy checks into confetti before putting them into the trash can virtually eliminate the risk of theft, it can’t prevent a thief from stealing them while they sit in an unguarded mailbox.
- Forget plastic grocery bags. If I don’t get this junk mail issue under control now I’m going to have to start investing in potato sacks, because the day won’t be far off when I’m going to need them to store all these unsolicited credit card offers.
With that in mind I figured it’s better to be safe than sorry, and just stop their delivery altogether. So I did.
Regaining Control of My Mailbox
Thankfully, the entire credit card offer opt-out process turned out to be, well, small potatoes. It was no trouble at all and, if I can do it, you can do it too.
To stop receiving credit card courtesy checks:
- Simply call your credit card company — I used the number on the back of my card — and ask them to stop mailing them to you. It’s as simple as that! In my case, the credit card company said it may take up to 30 days before the request becomes fully effective.
To keep those pre-approved credit card applications from clogging your mailbox:
- Go to OptOutPreScreen.com and make your request online. You can choose to opt out for five years — or even permanently. If you choose the latter, however, you will need to print and mail an additional permanent opt-out election form. I went with the five-year option. In this case, though, I was advised that it could take “several months” before I finally see the last of the credit card mail offers. Still, that’s fine with me!
Finally, for those of you interested in stopping all of your junk mail, good luck! However, a good place to start might be a website called Catalog Choice. Folks who sign up for a free account there can opt-out of selected junk mailings including catalogs, phone books, coupon books and other unwanted postal flotsam and jetsam.
Does it really work? To be honest, I’m not sure, but Catalog Choice claims to have helped 1.3 million people avoid more than 20 million pieces of junk mail.
I bet the potato sack industry isn’t too happy about that.
Photo Credit: erix!
I did the permanent opt-out and it worked like a charm. Bear in mind that it won’t stop banks you already do business with from sending this nonsense, but it’s a lot better than it was! As you noted though, just calling them will stop the rest.
Generally, those catalogs don’t bother me. All the nonsense catalogs are chaff for my real catalogs. Sometimes getting nothing is the best policy, other times, obfuscation.
Len Penzo says
I would have done the permanent too, but I hate to admit, I was just too lazy to fill out the paperwork! Oh well, it was such an easy process doing it online, I’ll just opt out again in five years.
I hate those courtesy checks. It seems so ripe for stealing. I’ll see if the link will help with the junk mail.
Len Penzo says
That’s why I hate them too. The good news is most credit card companies have policies that protect victims from any liability (not even the $50 liability typical for CC losses) should those courtesy checks get stolen.
We did the opt out too, but we still get several per week in the mail. I started keeping the envelopes that come in the offers and send lunch money, etc to school in them. It makes me feel better about them and I never have to search for an envelope. I just use a Sharpie to write over the pre-written address.
Barb Friedberg says
I’ve stopped these offers previously, but nothing seems to change!!! Junk mail is keeping the postal service in business!!
j smith says
one thing i found out about keeping junk mail at bay is 1) go paperless & receive bills online 2) whenever you move never fill out the usps forms 3)contact only those companies or organizations you receive mail from you wish to continue and the junk mail just seems to magically disappear 4)never fill out surveys 5) be careful with loyalty cards, use only your email address. most companies are okay with that. i now only receive snail mail letters from elderly relatives without computers. hope this helps your dilemma len.
Len Penzo says
Great tips, jan. Thanks for sharing those!
Eventually, they will find you. Just wait. It may take a few years but they will find you.
I worked at the post office. I watched it happen year after year. The post office even provides address verification of you to lawyers, child support offices, and legal jurisdictions. I had to fill out those forms every day for decades.
I write “no thanks” and send it back in their pre-paid envelopes. The post office needs money and I did not ask for your junk mail so I send it back.
I can tell you how to get off a mailing list, anyones in fact, real quick….Cost them money.
All that mail has some sort of Business Reply Envelope where they pay the postage for its return. Contracts with the post office, they HAVE to pay for any return mail using those prepaid envelopes. And the amount is higher than regular postage.
The max amount the postal service will take is 70 lbs with a combined width, height and gurth of 108 inches..
So simply take one of their business reply envelopes, use some shipping tape and apply it to a cinder block, which are still fairly cheap. That will run them $30.00 or so in return postage.
Do that a couple of times, and they will get the message.
You can write them all the letters you want to get off of a mailing list, and that never works.. this does…
If the keep sending you stuff, switch to using an old bald tire..
a Pickup truck sized one..they get the message fairly quick.
Not only does it work, it gives one a feeling of satisfaction.
Also considering that these places all sell mailing lists back and forth, believe me.. it will get you off of a lot of other people’s mailing list real fast..
a bald 31 x 10.50 truck tire costs them about $75 or $80.. and by postal contract, they have to pay for it..whether they like it or not.
I’ll guarantee this works real well..
I learned this off of a lady who was a customer of mine about 10 years ago. She was trying to get off of some company’s mailing list, and after a zillion letters to them, nothing worked.. her son who worked for the Post Office told her about this.
So she tried it several times.. Not only did she get off that mailing list, but a whole bunch of others..plus she was rewarded with a scathing letter from that company’s president.
Which she promptly framed and put on the wall in her office.
gotta love happy endings like that one.
You’re an idiot. REPLY mail is meant just that, a reply.
Only a dumb blonde chick would think someone would see a cinder block with an envelope taped to it and actually think it was anything but a cinder block with an envelope taped to it.
Business reply mail is limited to envelopes weighing less than one ounce. So your cinder block scam won’t work. No letter carrier will accept it as postage, and you can’t put it in a street side mail box.
I too have no idea why people think Elaine’s fabricated story holds any merit.
Her story reeks of “pay attention to me” internet comment desperation, and tropes such as “her son worked at the Post Office” are the equivalent of “My Dad works for Nintendo” etc.
There is a big difference between Elaine’s whimsical story of mailing cinder blocks and truck tires to people and the more common (and possible) story of using the reply envelope to send the mailer a torn-to-shreds application or a friendly note tell them to stop (generally much less friendly than that, but you get my drift).
If anyone can actually PROVE that they mailed a flipping truck tire with a business reply envelope, I would love – love – LOVE to see that proof.
Otherwise please regard Elaine’s story for what it is, a work of fiction in a comment section.
Karen Kinnane says
Dear Elaine, Thank you! I’m going to try this with AARP. I would never in a million years have thought of this, but will give it a try. Will post what happens. Thanks also for a huge laugh, am picturing the brick, cement block, bald tire reaching the sender of the junk mail and the idea makes me chuckle. I hope it works!
Let me guess, nothing happened? Or more realistically you never did it in the first place?
As fun as Elaine’s comment might sound, it’s pure fabrication and a classic example of a “Never actually happened” internet story.
Karen Kinnane says
Of course I never did it! This is on the list of things which are too good to be true (But I wish they were true!). I may look like I just fell off the turnip truck but it ain’t so! This sounds like such a fun thing to do that only picturing doing it makes me smile. I do fill ALL the prepaid return envelopes with cut up bits of the annoying contents. If everyone would do this it would slow down junk mail but most people do not bother.
Karen Kinnane says
Mr. Penzo, Thank you for your useful ideas also. They don’t make me laugh like Elaine’s idea, but will try them also.
David C. says
Elaine, That is brilliant! I learn something new everyday.
It also won’t work. So there’s that.
Please do tape your business reply envelope to a cinder block and see what happens (hint: nothing).
Do you know anything about this company at https://www.optoutprescreen.com/
They ask for your name, social and DOB. Your worried about identity theft but mention this site without doing any background check. No way I would place my personal info on that site.
Len Penzo says
I know that OptOutPreScreen is the only Internet website authorized by Equifax, Experian, Innovis and TransUnion for consumers to opt out of credit and insurance offers. It is also endorsed by the US Federal Trade Commission on their website.
That is good enough for me.
By the way … if you’d like to learn more, you can read their FAQ.
you do not have to include your SSN (which I would never give out considering how many sites are being hacked). I called 1-888-567-8688. I got that number from bottom of American Express offer. The automation ask for SSN a few times…I just stayed silent and eventually they move on to your DOB, Name, Address. Thats all they really need to remove you.
Len Penzo says
Good to know. Thanks for the tip, Dom.
Phroogal Jason says
I always recommend to people to opt-out of credit card offerings online using the link you provided. This is a good actionable step to lessen temptations to get or use credit.
Does anyone tear off the name and address label on their junk mail, and then shred that, too? My brother does this. FWIW, the catalogs are a welcome addition to the BLC (Bathroom Literature Center).
Appreciate the recommendation, Len! I’m gonna try it out.
AARP members (current/past) receiving medicate mailers – AARP.org/foundations/listsharing or email your removal request to Giving@AARP.org (include membership #)
Non-members – call 888-687-2277 or 877-659-0970
Before you open it, write refused on it, and place it back in your mailbox. “Standard Class” mail goes to a recycle plant. It stays out of the landfill. Before the post office started the process, the local one had two huge dumpsters. After they started the process, they went down to one regular sized dumpster.