Lately, I’ve been feeling listless — and that’s a good thing! At the end of the year, after successfully tunneling out from the colossal pile of holiday shopping catalogs and spending way too much time shredding up a sizeable stack of credit card offers, charity appeals, insurance quote invitations and other junk mail, I finally got fed up and decided to do something about these piles of unwanted paper. I decided to go listless. Heres how I did it.
Squelching Credit Card & Insurance Come-ons
If you have a credit card, you likely receive lots and lots of junk mail — including other credit card offers. This is because all of the major credit card issuers sell their customer information to any other company that’s willing to pay for it. It’s legal. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Consumer Credit Reporting Companies (Equifax, Experian, Innovis and TransUnion) are allowed to include your name on lists used by creditors or insurers to make firm offers of credit or insurance (in other words, preapproved and not initiated by you).
You probably get at least a small pile of these each week. Since pre-approved applications often contain private information, I always feel obligated to shred them before discarding. If you spend 20 minutes weekly dealing with junk mail, that’s more than 17 hours yearly that you’re not doing something better with your time! Life’s short — get rid of junk mail!
You can opt-out of receiving these prescreened credit card and insurance offers via telephone or online: call 1-888-567-8688. Among other things, youll be asked for a current address (and former address if you’ve been at the current one for less than 2 years), date of birth, and social security number.
Visit www.optoutprescreen.com. After reading the page, click on the Click Here to Opt-in or Opt Out button. Then click in the radio button next to either Electronic Opt-Out for Five Years or Permanent Opt-out by Mail and then on Submit. Regardless of which opt-out option you choose, provide the requested information and then click Confirm. If you chose the five-year option, you will be done. If you choose the permanent option, you will be asked to confirm your request in writing by printing out the completed form, signing it and then mailing it in. (A small inconvenience, true — but it’s a once-and-done experience!)
If at any time after opting-out you wish to begin receiving these offers again (ha!), use the same telephone number or website to opt back in. Note that, if you have any joint credit relationships (mortgage, car loan, etc), you may continue to receive some offers unless both of you have opted out.
It will take both time and patience to stop the onslaught of unwanted catalogs that arrive through the US mail: You must call each company individually and request to be removed from their mailing list. I started the process in early November by throwing one copy of each catalog I no longer wished to receive in a box. By the time the holidays were over, I had a very heavy box!
On a cold winter morning, I poured myself a steaming cup of Earl Grey and installed myself on the couch under a comforter with my box of catalogs and a telephone. One at a time, I picked up each catalog and called the customer service phone number (it’s usually the same number you’d use to order). Some companies have had the foresight to add an automated process for getting off their mailing list; with others, you will have to speak to a customer representative. You will likely be asked why you no longer wish to receive the catalog. I alternated my answers between, Al Gore’s my brother-in-law and The voices in my head said so. (OK, not really…but I did mention saving trees and preferring to shop online.)
Note that, even after requesting to be removed from a company’s mailing list, you may still receive one or two additional mailings, since this type of direct mail is usually planned several months in advance.
Investing Dollars Instead of Time
If the thought of working your way through all of the above gives you more agita than the junk mail you are receiving, you can pay somebody else to do it, instead. For $19.95/year, Boulder, Colorado-based StopTheJunk.com offers a 100% guarantee that they will halt your unwanted catalogs, credit card offers, postcards, magazines and other direct mail.
Once you create an account, you can select the companies you no longer wish to receive mail from in the organization’s enormous database. Easy!
Do Not Call List
While I was busy getting list-less, I decided to get call-less as well.
The National Do Not Call Registry is managed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency. It is enforced by the FTC, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and state law enforcement officials. You can register your phone numbers via telephone or online: call 1-888-382-1222.
Multiple phone numbers will require multiple calls to this line as it only permits you to register one number during each call. Note that you have to place the call from the number you are registering.
Visit www.donotcall.gov. Three phone numbers can be registered at once online. An email address is required as you will receive one confirmation email for each number registered. Each email will contain a link that you must click on to complete the registration process. Most telemarketers should not call your number once it has been on the registry for 31 days. If they do, you can file a complaint on this website.
Coming Soon: Do Not Track List
If you’ve ever been on a website and noticed that some of the advertising seems designed just for you, it’s not your imagination. Plenty of sites track your moves (what you are clicking on, searching for, looking at) and display ads targeted just for you. Soon you will be able to be track-less as well as list-less and call-less.
A coalition of privacy and consumer advocacy groups have petitioned the FTC to establish a “Do Not Track” list that would allow you to block online advertisers from surreptitiously recording your browsing habits. The anti-tracking measure being proposed is loosely modeled on the National Do Not Call Registry discussed previously in this article. However, the proposed list would work a bit differently than the Do Not Call Registry.
Advertisers that track user behavior would have to report what servers they use to do so. Then you and I would have to update our web browsers to include a plug-in that could download that list of servers and click some or all of the tracking cookies.
While the above may seem like an awful lot of effort, the idea of protecting my privacy, saving some trees, and having more free time made it all worthwhile!