Junk mail is an overwhelming nuisance. You have enough paperwork in your life without having to sort through piles of mail, looking for the correspondence you actually want to keep. Then there’s the business of filling up your recycling bin with the junk mail and/or shredding it (sometimes it actually contains semi-personal information, like when it’s from a credit card company you actually have a card from). It’s an extra chore that wastes natural resources – and it costs a lot of money. Who will those costs get passed onto? Customers and consumers like you.
It takes a little effort to stop junk mail, but probably less than you think. Once you get it stopped, however, it stays stopped. Even when you move to a new address. My crusade to stop junk mail began in 2007 and it’s now 2011, so I can tell you which tactics have worked for me.
Note: there are two main categories of junk mail: mail which actually has your name and address, and mail which comes to “resident” at your address. The first kind comes from companies selling mailing lists. The second kind is usually in the form of circulars, or envelopes full of local coupons, and those companies have no idea who lives at which address – they’re sending something to “resident” at every address they can find. Your tactics for stopping these will vary a little.
10 tips for stopping your junk mail
I recommend following these steps in this order, because the first steps are the “nuclear options” that will stop most of your junk mail with very little effort on your part. The other tactics take a bit more work, but will catch any stragglers who ignore the first tactics. Or if you like some circulars and not others, for example, you’ll have to deal with each company individually.
- To get your address off circular and bulk mail lists, write to “Mail Preference Service, PO Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735.” A postcard or hand-scribbled note will do: just let them know that no one at your address wants to receive any circulars. This completely removed my address from all circular databases. But my carriers still often unthinkingly stuff in a circular for my neighbor’s address. I just pop it in the outgoing mail, and this time they have to look at the address to see where it needs to go.
- To stop credit card offers, dial 1-888-567-8688. Most of this mail comes from lists sold by the credit card agencies (Equifax, Trans Union, Experian and Innovis) and that call will remove you from all lists. You’ll have to give them your addresses for the past two years and they will ask for your social security number (they already have your social security number, they just want to make sure they’ve got exactly the right person). Note: this will not necessarily stop junk mail from your actual credit card providers. For that, use Step 7: “Take me off your mailing list.”
- OptOutPrescreen offers a web form that lets you opt in or out of receiving credit card offers for 5 years or permanently.
- DMA is one of the top mailing list providers. To opt out of being included in any databases they sell to businesses, click here and fill out the form.
- Services like 41pounds are not free, but they will get you off every mailing list you want. I used a free service called Proquo back when it was around. 41pounds costs $41 for five years. I’m not sure why they price it by years, because once you get off the lists, if you exercise a little caution you won’t get back on them.
- “Refused: Return to Sender.” If a piece of unwanted mail says “return service requested”, “forwarding service requested”, “change service requested” or “address service requested,” write “Refused: Return to Sender” (exact words) on the unopened envelope and pop it right back in the outgoing mail. This forces the USPS to return it, and when most businesses get back mail like this, they remove you from their mailing list rather than keep wasting money on you. Some people recommend also crossing out your address and circling the postage (I’ve never bothered, and it’s still worked for me).
- “Take me off your mailing list.” Some companies actually take you off their mailing lists if you just call them or email them and make that request. This is important when you deal with companies that send you junk mail as well as useful correspondence. While you’re at it, let them know you want your contact information used only by their company, and only for them to send you necessary correspondence. That eliminates them sharing your data in any way with other companies for their mailing lists.
- If you’ve already opened a piece of junk mail, but it has a postage-paid return envelope, write your return address and name on it, seal the postage paid envelope, empty, and pop it right back in the mail. That’s worked for me on many occasions. You could also include a note asking them to remove you from their mailing list, but they usually get the hint anyway.
Following these steps can actually stop all junk mail. They did for me. If you want to keep some circulars but not others, you must contact the ones you don’t want and ask them to remove you from their list.
- To get rid of Valassis/Red Plum, use this page.
- To dump Penny Saver or Val-Pak, follow the specific instructions on this page.
- Call Publisher’s Clearing House at 1-800-645-9242 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org to get off their lists.
- Call ADVO at 1-860-285-6100 to stop their junk mail.
And stay off those lists!
How did you get on these lists in the first place, and what can you do to avoid getting back on them?
Getting something for free in exchange for submitting your address online often results in your contact info being used by that company, and maybe by any others they share data with. Of course, sometimes these quotes are really helpful. For example, it’s never been possible to get an insurance quote by phone or by internet without then getting deluged by unwanted mail from these companies, and yet you need quotes.
- If there’s no way to add a note when submitting an internet form, phone them up instead and tell the customer service rep “Don’t put me on your mailing list, and don’t give, rent, sell or trade my info to anyone else.” Since they’re trying to get your business, they’ll honor that request.
- Use an altered name when submitting your information, so you’ll at least know where the unwanted mail is coming from. For example, if you usually give your name as Joan Smith, try “J.B. Smith” for when you suspect your information’s going to be used to send junk mail.
- To get rid of mail coming from these sources, try Steps 6 and 7 above.
When junk mail gets through anyway, you can re-use it instead of just recycling it. Make a really cool little notepad out of your junk mail.