Junk mail is an overwhelming nuisance. You have enough paperwork in your life without having to sort through piles you don’t even want. And some of it contains so much personal information that you really need to shred it. Here’s a complete 8-step plan for how to stop junk mail and keep it stopped.
It takes a little effort to stop junk mail, but probably less than you think. The good news isL once you get it stopped, it usually stays stopped. Sometimes it starts up again when you change addresses. But then you just repeat the relevant steps below and it stops again. I’ve been using these steps since 2007, and I get very little junk mail.
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.
How to Stop 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 minimal effort. 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.
1. 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 a circular for my neighbor’s address into my box. 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.
2. Stop credit card offers
Dial 1-888-567-8688. Most credit card offers from lists sold by the credit card agencies (Equifax, Trans Union, Experian and Innovis). 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, disturbingly, 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.”
This is a web form that lets you opt in or out of receiving credit card offers. You can choose between a period of 5 years or permanent removal.
4. Opt out of DMA
DMA is one of the top mailing list providers that companies buy addresses from. To opt out of being included in any databases they sell to businesses, click here and fill out the form. The link to it is at the bottom, and it’s a popup window.
5. Opt out of CatalogChoice
CatalogChoice is a free service that helps you opt out of catalogs you don’t want. If you’re getting a lot of catalogs from shops where you have rewards cards, these guys can help you navigate the complicated opt-out process.
6. “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.
7. “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.
8. The postage-paid envelope trick
I used to get junk mail from companies I used. Like, my bank would send me an unwanted credit card offer, but I couldn’t tell from the outside what it was. So I’d open it and then realize it was junk mail. If you’ve already opened a piece of junk mail, but it has a postage-paid return envelope, here’s a good trick. Write your return address and name on the postage-paid return envelope. Seal the postage paid envelope, empty, and pop it right back in the mail. I’m not sure why it works, but this has gotten me off quite a few mailing lists. Maybe it’s the fact that the company had to pay the postage.
Does it Work?
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/RetailMeNot, 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.
What About Apps?
I used PaperKarma for a couple of years. It probably worked 60% of the time for me. It’s certainly worth a try, especially if you’ve tried the other steps and a few companies are still sending junk mail. But it’s not a primary tool for me. I don’t even keep it on my phone anymore.
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.