Fact Sheet 4:
Junk Mail:
How Did They All Get My Address?


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Copyright © 1992 - 2014
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Posted June 1992
Revised March 2014

  1. How did I get on these lists in the first place?
  2. How can I get off?

3. What if I only want to stop part of my "junk" mail?

4. Final note

5. Resources

Junk mail is advertising of one sort or another that arrives in your postal mailbox along with the mail you really want or need. Facing significant declines in first-class mail volume, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is making deals with businesses to increase the volume of "standard mail", the USPS's official term for junk mail. Read Seeking Revenue, Post Office Plans to Deliver More Junk Mail (New York Times, September 19, 2012).

While it is impossible to eliminate all junk mail, you can take steps to reduce the amount of it that you receive. 

1. How did I get on these lists in the first place?

What we call junk mail is actually the result of direct marketing campaigns designed to get you to buy a product or service. It's called direct marketing because it attempts to match you and your buying preferences with offers that are likely to make you buy a product or service.

When you purchase a product or service and give the company your name and address, the chances are you are being added to one or more mailing lists used for direct marketing. This is true when you buy a car or a house, use a shopping card, sign up for a credit card, subscribe to a magazine, buy something from a catalog, give money to a charity, or fill out a product registration form.

Your name, address, and other contact information, as well as the type of product or service, is entered into a computer database. The business that collected the information will use it to solicit more business from you. They might also rent their list to other businesses so they can send you advertisements. Lists are valuable, and renting lists is big business.

2. How can I get off?

There are a variety of strategies you can use to get off direct marketing lists:

Mailing lists of the major national marketers

If you want to be taken off as many national mailing lists as possible, your first step is to contact the Direct Marketing Association's DMA Choice program.  When you register, your name and address are placed in a "do not mail" file which is updated monthly. DMA members are required to update their lists at least quarterly, and some do it monthly. Businesses who are not members of the DMA may also take advantage of this "do not mail" list, so registering with the DMA will reduce much of your junk mail. You must re-register after three years.

DMA Choice
Direct Marketing Association
PO Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512

  • Register names of deceased: The Direct Marketing Association also gives you the ability to register the names of deceased loved ones with their Deceased Do Not Contact list (DDNC) at http://www.ims-dm.com/cgi/ddnc.php.

Flyers and advertising supplements

Flyers are those ads stuffed in with other advertisements and delivered to your mailbox by the handful. Envelopes containing an assortment of ads are another in this category, as are card decks which are a group of post-card sized bundles of advertising on card stock.

The ads are often from local merchants and may be for carpet cleaning, window replacement, restaurants, cheap electronics and any number of other products and services. They are usually addressed to "resident" or "occupant" at your address.

To reduce this kind of junk mail, do the following:

  • Look for a mailing label attached directly to the flyer. You may see the name of the distribution company near your mailing address. If you don't find a label, you may find a phone number printed on the edge of the flyer itself.
  • Contact the company as indicated below, and request that your address be taken off the mailing list. If you're making a written request, send a copy of your mailing label along with the letter. If you call, chances are you'll have to work through a telephone tree and leave your name and address on an answering machine. It usually takes at least four to eight weeks to be removed. In some cases, the company may have a website that will allow you to remove yourself from their lists.

These are the major residential or occupant mailers:

  • PennySaver in California. You can remove your name and address from these mailings two ways:

Once your name has been removed from the company's mailing list, you may also likely to have to remind your postal carrier not to deliver the advertising flyers.

Catalogs, mail order lists and magazines

When you buy something from a mail order catalog, your transaction is likely to be reported to Abacus. Abacus members, mostly catalog and publishing companies, contribute and exchange information about their customers. Your name may also be sold to other catalog and publishing companies. One way or another, when you ask for one catalog, you're likely to get catalogs from other companies as well.

There are two ways to opt out of the Abacus database. You'll need your name, including any middle initial, your current address, and if you've moved recently, your previous address.

As a DMA member, Abacus subscribes to and suppresses any name and address on the DMA's Mail Preference Service file from its direct mail marketing lists.

Companies that do not participate in the DMA and Abacus opt-out programs must be contacted directly. This includes magazines, charities and many professional associations. It may take some hunting, but you can usually find a toll-free customer service number and/or address on the advertising piece. Let them know you not only want to be off their list, but you don't want them providing your contact information to other companies.

For magazines, it is best to inform them that you do not want your name and address sold to others when you subscribe. Be sure to inform them in writing.

Pre-approved offers of credit

Many of the companies you do business with provide data to credit bureaus about how much you owe and how promptly you pay your bills. The four credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and Innovis.

While the credit bureaus do rent lists, they do not disclose specific financial information to marketers like how much you make, what you owe or to whom. Instead, they compile lists based on consumer characteristics. For example, they might create a list of people with annual incomes over $40,000, who use credit cards and pay their bills on time. If you fall into a category such as this, you might receive "pre-approved" credit card offers in the mail. The insurance industry also uses these lists to solicit business. (For more information on credit reporting, see Fact Sheet 6, www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs6-crdt.htm.)

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA, 15 USC 1681) and some states' laws require credit reporting companies to delete any consumer's name and address from mailing lists if the consumer so chooses. Call or write the major credit bureaus and ask to be removed from their mailing lists made available for credit pre-screening and marketing purposes.

  • (888) 5OPTOUT (888-567-8688) is a single number you can call to opt-out of Innovis and the three major credit bureaus. It is available in English and Spanish.
  • Equifax Options, Marketing Decision Systems
    • By phone: (888) 567-8688
    • By mail:
      Equifax Credit Information Services, Inc.
      P.O. Box 740241
      Atlanta, GA 30374
  • Experian Marketing Lists
    • By phone: (402) 458 5247
    • By mail:
      Experian Consumer Services
      901 West Bond Street
      Lincoln, NE 68521
  • TransUnion
    • By phone: (888) 567-8688
    • By mail:
      TransUnion Name Removal Option
      P.O. Box 505
      Woodlyn, PA 19094

      Include the following information with your request: First, middle, and last names (including Jr., Sr., III), current address, previous address (if you've moved in the last six months), Social Security number, date of birth, and signature.

More about Innovis. Innovis provides identity verification, fraud prevention, and receivables management services to businesses. To opt out of Innovis mailings, call (888) 5OPTOUT (888-567-8688).

To order your Innovis credit report call (800) 540-2505 or go to https://www.innovis.com/InnovisWeb/pers_orderCreditReport.html

 

Many credit card companies compile lists of cardholders for sales promotions based on purchase patterns. California Civil Code sec. 1748.12 requires all credit card companies to provide notice to cardholders prior to disclosing personal information to marketers. Cardholders may prevent the release of this information by filling out a preprinted form or calling a toll-free number, often found on the card itself. Other states either have no law or different laws, but most companies will honor your request not to sell or share your contact information with other companies if you contact them.

Phone books and reverse directories

If you are listed in the White Pages of the telephone book, your name, address and phone number are, for all practical purposes, public record. Mailing list companies collect this information and sell it to mail order companies and telemarketing firms.

In addition to the White Pages, the phone company and other companies compile directories organized by address and phone number rather than by name. If you are listed in the White Pages, you are also in one or more of these "street address directories," also known as "reverse directories".

If you are concerned about keeping your name and address private, consider having an unlisted number. You may incur a monthly charge for being unlisted. One approach to avoid a monthly charge is to ask the phone company to use a phony name in the listing. Or request that the local phone company publish just your name and phone number and omit your address. Ask the phone company to remove your listing from its "street address directory."

Other directories, like the Criss+Cross and other phonebook-like directories gather most of their information from the public telephone book. Most of these companies participate in the DMA's MPS (see number 1 above), but you may get faster results if you contact the directory companies directly. Here is a list of the major directory companies:

  • Haines & Company, Inc.
    Criss+Cross Directory, Attn: Director of Data Processing
    8050 Freedom Ave. N.W.
    North Canton, OH 44720.
  • Equifax (formerly Polk), best known for maintaining credit records, also has a direct mail division. There are two ways to remove yourself from their direct marketing lists:
    • By phone: (888) 567-8688
    • By mail:
      Equifax Direct Marketing Solutions
      P.O. Box 740241
      Atlanta, GA 30374

      Include your name, address, ZIP code and phone number.

U.S. Postal Service and National Change of Address (NCOA) database

When you move, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) provides change of address information to those companies that already have your old name and address if the company subscribes to the USPS National Change of Address (NCOA) database. The NCOA database gets its information when you file a permanent change of address with USPS. The Postal Service's goal is to have less misaddressed mail. However, subscribers to the NCOA include data brokers and marketing companies. This is one way unsolicited mail is able to follow you to your new address.

If this concerns you, you might consider not filing a Change of Address with USPS when you move. You must be sure to contact all your correspondents individually so you are able to continue to receive bills, account statements, correspondence from friends and family, and other important mail.

Another alternative is to file a temporary change of address with USPS.  Temporary address changes are not included in the NCOA database.  A temporary address change can last for up to 6 months and may be extended for an additional 6 months, for a total of one year.  After one year, your mail will not be forwarded.

You can read more about how USPS sells your change of address information to more than 500 companies at http://www.forbes.com/sites/adamtanner/2013/07/08/how-the-post-office-sells-your-new-address-with-anyone-who-pays-and-the-little-known-loophole-to-opt-out/.

Charities and nonprofits

If you have ever donated money to your favorite cause, chances are you have received fundraising solicitations from many related organizations. Charities and nonprofit groups often rent or exchange each other's lists.

When you fill out the form that goes with your donation, look to see if there's a box to check indicating you do not want your name sold or rented. Checking that box will reduce similar solicitations. If you don't find an opt-out box to check, enclose a note requesting that the organization not rent, sell or exchange your name and address with anyone else.

When you receive solicitations from nonprofits, it may take a bit of detective work to be deleted from "their" mailing lists. Because many nonprofits rent lists from other groups, they do not keep the lists themselves and therefore cannot delete your name. (This is true of most mail solicitations, whether a charity or not.) Save the mailing label and the "reply device" from these mailings. They are likely to contain codes that indicate the list your name came from. Ask the organization that mailed you the solicitation for the name of the organization that rented the list. Then contact that organization and ask that your name not be rented, sold or exchanged.

Sweepstakes and prizes

Be aware that when you register to win that grand prize, your name is likely to appear on mailing lists used by other promoters of contests, sweepstakes, and lotteries. These lists are almost always sold or rented.

To reduce mailings by prize promoters, avoid participating in sweepstakes and contests unless you are given the opportunity to "opt out" of any mailing lists that are created. There may be an ìopt outî box on the form, or you may have to look closely at the disclosure notices and other contest literature.

If you received the contest or sweepstakes solicitation by mail, you can be certain you're on a list. Save the mailing label and reply devices, as indicated in number 7 above, in order to find out how to contact the companies which maintain the lists.

To have your name removed from the major nationwide sweepstakes mailers, contact the following:

  • Publishers Clearinghouse
    • By phone: (800) 645-9242
    • By mail:
      Christopher L. Irving, Sr. Director
      Consumer & Privacy Affairs
      Publishers Clearinghouse
      382 Channel Drive
      Port Washington, NY 11050
    • By email : privacychoices@pchmail.com
  • Readers Digest Sweepstakes
    • By phone: (800) 310-6261
      The telephone number for hearing impaired is (800) 735-4327.
    • By mail :
      Reader's Digest
      PO Box 50005
      Prescott, AZ 86301-5005

The elderly and sweepstakes. The Direct Marketing Association provides information to individuals who are attempting to help their elderly relatives and friends to stop receiving mailings for sweepstakes and other kinds of contests. Read more at DMA Choice's Do Not Contact for Caretaker Registration.

A federal law enables individuals to more easily be removed from sweepstakes mailing lists. The Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act requires that the mailer provide its name and address on the solicitation. It must also include an address or toll-free number where the recipient or caregiver may request name removal from the company's mailing list. Unfortunately, fraudulent companies often ignore the law. Further, many sweepstakes and lottery mailers are in foreign countries where this law does not apply.

Product registration cards and consumer surveys

Be aware that warranty or "product registration" cards have less to do with warranties than they do with mailing lists. These cards often ask you about your hobbies, the number of people in your household, your income, and other information the company obviously does not need to guarantee the product.

Registration cards are usually not mailed to the company that manufactured the product, but to a post office box in Denver, Colorado, of Equifax Direct Marketing Solutions (formerly Polk). This company compiles buyer profiles and sells the information to other companies for marketing purposes. Experian also compiles consumer information from registration forms. (See information about removing your contact information from these companies in number 4 above.)

California law requires companies to inform consumers that the card or form is for product registration. The statement cannot state or imply that the form is for warranty registration. The statement must also inform the consumer that failure to complete and return the card or form does not diminish your warranty rights. (California Civil Code 1793.1)

When you buy a product, generally you should not fill out the product registration card. In most cases your receipt ensures that you are covered by the warranty if the product is defective. If you decide to send the registration card, include only minimal information: name, address, date of purchase and product serial number. (For some products you may want the company to have a record of your purchase in case there is a safety recall.)

You should always complete the product registration card for any durable infant’s or toddler’s products such as cribs, toddler beds, strollers, car seats, play yards, swings, and high chairs. This information allows you to be contacted if there is a recall. The information from cards for these specific types of products cannot be used for marketing or other commercial purposes. 

Consumer surveys are another marketing tool to gather in-depth information about individuals' product preferences. The same companies that issue product registration forms also distribute multi-page consumer surveys to households, often by mail or tucked into the Sunday newspaper. Such surveys often promise the respondent free coupons or a chance to win a sweepstakes in exchange for completing the forms. Consumer surveys ask for extensive information on family composition, income, education, health information, and product purchases. They result in unsolicited mail from many marketers.

Consider not responding to the multi-page consumer surveys that you receive by mail or that are included in your Sunday newspaper.

Write these companies and ask to be removed from their mailing lists:

  • Equifax
    • By phone: (888) 567-8688
    • By mail:
      Equifax Direct Marketing Solutions
      P.O. Box 740241
      Atlanta, GA 30374
      (Include your name, address, ZIP code and phone number.)
  • Experian Consumer Services
    • By phone : (402) 458 5247
    • By mail:
      Experian Consumer Services
      901 West Bond Street
      Lincoln, NE 68521

Supermarket loyalty cards

Scanners help businesses keep track of their inventory and speed service at the check-out counter. They can also be used to link your name to your purchases, especially if you are using the store's loyalty card. Most supermarkets offer loyalty club programs.

When the loyalty card is scanned at the check-out counter, the shopper's information is matched against a record of the scanned items. Stores generally offer discounts as an incentive to use the card. The store may use this information to mail coupons and other special offers to you. It may also sell the information to product marketers. So, for example, if you buy one type of soda, you might receive coupons from a rival soft drink company to induce you to switch brands. California law prohibits supermarkets from selling such personally identifiable data to third parties (California Civil Code 1749.60).

If you do not want information compiled about your personal buying habits through the use of price scanners, don't participate in the store's loyalty card program. Or choose to shop at stores that do not offer these programs. Some supermarkets enable shoppers to sign up as ìJane Doeî instead of providing personally identifying information on the application form. If you register as an anonymous shopper, you will not be able to receive offers from the merchant by mail. You may also want to pay cash at businesses that use scanners since technology may allow the company to store your name and address if you pay by check or credit card.

Visit the CASPIAN web site to learn more about the privacy implications of loyalty cards, www.nocards.org.

Public records

Every time you get married, divorced, buy or sell property, or make virtually any major lifestyle change, a government agency records the event. Many such files are open to the public, including: birth certificates, marriage licenses, and home sales records. Public records are one way companies selling baby items, for example, can mail advertisements to new parents just days after the birth of a child. (See Fact Sheet 11 on government records, www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs11-pub.htm.)

You usually cannot have government records about you kept confidential. Instead you must contact companies individually when you receive marketing mailings from a list compiled from public records.

For example, if you buy a house and receive home improvement and insurance solicitations you do not want, write to the companies and ask to be taken off their mailing lists. Envelopes with "Address Correction Requested" or "Return Postage Guaranteed" can be returned unopened by writing "Refused-Return to Sender" on the envelope. The company will have to pay the return postage.

Many companies that purchase public records to compile marketing lists participate in the DMA's Mail Preference Service. Be sure to register with the MPS, and don't forget to renew your registration every five years. (See number 1 above for more information.)

Data compilers and mailing list companies

There are a number of companies that purchase and collect information from government records, telephone books, consumer surveys, product registration forms, and many other sources. They compile consumer profiles and sell (more accurately, rent) them for marketing purposes.

To be removed from the mailing lists of the major data compilers, call or write to these companies. They also subscribe to the DMA's Mail Preference Service.

  • Donnelley Marketing
    • By phone: (888) 979-8580
    • By mail:
      Donnelley Marketing
      4001 South Business Park Avenue
      Marshfield, Wisconsin 54449-9027
  • Equifax (formerly Polk)
    • By phone: (888) 567-8688
    • By mail:
      Equifax Direct Marketing Solutions
      P.O. Box 740241
      Atlanta, GA 30374

      Include your name, address, ZIP code and phone number.
  • Experian Marketing Solutions
    • By phone: (402) 458 5247
    • By mail:
      Experian Consumer Services
      901 West Bond Street
      Lincoln, NE 68521
  • TransUnion
    • By phone: (888) 5OPTOUT (888-567-8688)
    • By mail:
      TransUnion Name Removal Option
      P.O. Box 505
      Woodlyn, PA 19094
  • Homeowners Marketing Services

      If you have just purchased a new home, Homeowners Marketing Services may obtain your address from newly recorded property deeds.  Their new homeowner lists are then sold to businesses for marketing purposes.  If you have recently purchased a new home, you can remove your name from their list by mailing them at Homeowners Marketing Services, 12444 Victory Blvd # 2, North Hollywood, CA 91606-3156 or by calling (818) 506-1507.

3. What if I only want to stop part of my "junk" mail?

Junk mail is only junk when you don't want to receive it. You may want to be on some mailing lists. If you want to receive some of this mail, do not contact the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service. Rather, notify companies individually and tell them you want your name removed from their lists. Also, tell the companies you do business with to keep your name and address private. A growing number of businesses that rent their mailing lists are including statements in their literature to let you know you have this option.

4. Final note

Always look for disclosure notices and opt-out opportunities. More companies realize that offering privacy safeguards is good business. When in doubt, ask.

5. Resources

  • U.S. Postal Service. If you have questions or complaints about mail fraud, theft, tampering, or obscene or pornographic mail, contact the Postal Inspector. To find the nearest office, call the U.S. Postal Service at (800) 275-8777, (800 ASK-USPS), or online at www.usps.gov.

  • USPS Form 1500 enables you to notify sexually-explicit mailers to cease mailing you. Many consumers have used this form to notify other marketers when they repeatedly ignore their requests to be removed from their mailing lists. This form is available at the Post Office or online at https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/pressroom/pubs.aspx

    You can also submit information about mail fraud online at https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/forms/MailFraudComplaint.aspx

NOTE: The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse does not rent, sell, or trade the personal information of individuals who contact us by phone, e-mail or the online complaint center with any other organization or company. Your name and address are kept confidential. www.privacyrights.org/policy.htm

 

 

Copyright © Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. This copyrighted document may be copied and distributed for nonprofit, educational purposes only. For distribution, see our copyright and reprint guidelines. The text of this document may not be altered without express authorization of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.


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