Fact Sheet 4b:
Junk Mail FAQ
Send to Printer
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
- Why do I get so much junk mail?
- Can I stop marketers from getting public record information about me?
- Why do I get so many offers for new credit cards?
- How do I stop mail for pre-approved credit card offers?
- Do I have to give my Social Security number over the phone to opt out of pre-approved credit card offers?
- Will I stop getting applications for new credit cards after I call 1-888-5OPT-OUT?
- I removed my name from the pre-approved credit card mailing lists. How do I reduce other types of junk mail?
- I am receiving catalogs with my name misspelled or with some else’s name at my address. Could this be a sign of fraud or identity theft? Who should I contact?
- I am getting junk faxes. What can I do?
- I receive mailings from nonprofit organizations, political parties, and charities. Can I stop these mailings?
- I own a business. Can I opt out of pre-approved credit card offers sent to my business address?
- I am receiving junk mail addressed to a deceased person. How can I have the person’s name removed?
- How can I stop receiving junk mail that I consider to be pornographic?
- Can I find out which companies I do business with sold my name to another company?
The answer is simple: The sender hopes the mailing will persuade you to do something such as buy, donate, subscribe or invest. The closer the mailing comes to matching your consumer “profile,” the more likely you are to respond to what the sender has to offer.
Target marketing lists are developed through numerous data sources. Public records, magazine subscriptions, charitable donations, buyer loyalty programs, “consumer” surveys and product warranty forms all provide a rich source of information about you. Unsolicited mail you receive may be as general as an announcement for a pricey new restaurant if you have a high-rent ZIP code. Other mailings like ones that mention a physical ailment, a certain prescription drug or choice of pets may be directly aimed at you.
PRC Fact Sheet 4, Reducing Junk Mail, www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs4-junk.htm discusses several ways you can end up on mailings lists as well as steps you can take to reduce unwanted mail.
Unfortunately, once your personal information is included in public records, there is no way to permanently or completely remove it (for example, birth certificates, marriage certificates, home ownership documents, court records, and in some states voter registration). Even if you request removal from the information resellers' sites, they regularly refresh their data and it will reappear when they purchase the next batch of public records.
PRC Fact Sheet 11 explains public records, including how and why companies can (and do) access information about you from government agency files. www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs11-pub.htm
We encourage you to contact your elected officials and also the Federal Trade Commission to complain about the practices of having your personal information available for sale online. You can go to the FTC Web site at www.ftc.gov, and click on the "Consumer Complaint" button near the top of the page.
3. Why do I get so many offers for new credit cards?
Many offers for new credit cards or insurance result from information companies receive from screening your credit report. Federal law allows credit reports to be screened by companies to make you “firm” offers for new credit or insurance. Prescreening and the mailing of pre-approved offers do not require prior consent to obtain information from your credit reports. Creditors and insurers may screen credit reports for prospective customers in one of two ways. They may either ask the credit bureaus for a list of people with a certain credit score or submit a list of names to the bureaus requesting that the names be identified by certain criteria.
Unsolicited offers for credit or insurance should be accompanied by a notice clearly stating that the offer resulted from prescreening. For more on prescreening and these notice requirements, see PRC Alert, New Look for Prescreened Credit and Insurance Offers, www.privacyrights.org/ar/FTC-OptOutPrescreen.htm
Call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) to use the automated system to request removal from lists that are sold by the consumer credit reporting companies (credit bureaus) -- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion -- to creditors or insurers. You can choose to remove your name from the mailing list for five years or permanently. If you choose permanent removal, you will be mailed a confirmation form within about five business days. You must sign and return that form to be removed permanently. You'll begin to see a dramatic reduction in these mailings within a few months.
You can also request removal over the Internet at: www.optoutprescreen.com/opt_form.cgi.
For more information, see FTC Facts for Consumers, Prescreened Offers of Credit and Insurance. www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre17.shtm
Yes. Since these offers originate at the credit bureau level, you will need to provide your name, address, telephone number, Social Security number and date of birth. According to the credit bureaus, this is the only way to match your request to the entries in your credit records, and not the records of an individual with the same name. We are told that the automated system is secure and is the legitimate one for making these requests: 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688).
If you prefer not to disclose your Social Security number and date of birth, you can try to process the request using the online form available at www.optoutprescreen.com. Your Social Security number is not required to process an opt-out request through OptOutPrescreen.com.
However, the Web site strongly urges you to provide this information because it helps to ensure that your request will be processed successfully. The Web site’s security protocols and measures are designed to protect the personally identifiable information you provide from unauthorized access or alteration.
No. When you call this number and follow the opt-out procedures, this will only stop offers that result from screening your credit report. For example, your bank or existing credit card company may send you endless solicitations for new credit products. Your information may also be freely shared among your financial company’s corporate affiliates, resulting in still more offers.
Your bank or other financial company may also share information about you with non-affiliated companies such as direct marketers. This, too, may result in more unwanted mail you’d probably call “junk,” including offers for new credit cards. You have some — but not total — control over information sharing by financial companies.
For more on how to limit data sharing by banks and other financial institutions, see PRC Fact Sheet 24, Protecting Financial Privacy in the New Millennium: The Burden Is on You. www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs24-finpriv.htm
Membership in an association, trade group or other organization may also result in new credit offers.
You can remove yourself from many national mailing lists by contacting the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Mail Preference Service (MPS). This opt-out lasts for three years and can be renewed.
To remove your name from mailing lists:
- https://www.dmachoice.org/register.php. There is no charge for registering online.
- Mail Preference Service, PO Box 643, Carmel NY 10512. Include $1 check or money order.
PRC has a sample letter available at: www.privacyrights.org/Letters/letters.htm#Junk_Mail.
Because some mailings are prepared far in advance of when you receive them, allow 90 days for your request to take effect.
When you buy something from a mail order catalog, your transaction is likely to be reported to Abacus, which compiles a cooperative database of catalog and publishing companies' customers. Your name is then sold to other mail order companies that send you catalogs and offers. This explains why you are likely to receive several unsolicited catalogs after ordering from a mail order company.
To opt out of the Abacus database, write to Abacus, P.O. Box 1478, Broomfield, CO 80038 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your full name and current address (and previous address if you have moved recently). For more information, visit www.abacusoptout.com.
Companies that do not participate in the DMA and Abacus opt-out programs must be contacted directly. Notify the customer service department and request that your name and address not be shared with other companies. Contact magazines, charities, nonprofit organizations and professional associations to which you have either donated money or joined.
There are a number of possibilities. Identity theft could be behind it, although it's not the most likely cause.
If you haven't ordered your credit reports recently, we encourage you to do so. Federal law allows you to obtain one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus each year. Order by calling 1-877-322-8228. When you receive the reports, examine them very closely for any accounts you don't recognize.
Also review the inquiries section which shows what companies have requested copies of your credit report. This may reveal attempts at identity theft. If everything appears normal, then it's likely that one of databrokers or other mailing list companies made an error when entering your name into their database. If the entry was made incorrectly, companies that bought an address list would have incorrect information.
There are several Fact Sheets on the PRC Web site that offer additional possibilities:
- Fact Sheet 1, Privacy Survival Guide has a lot of great general tips and suggestions: www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs1-surv.htm
- Fact Sheet 4 covers junk mail: www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs4-junk.htm
- Information about online data vendors who sell your personal information is available at: www.privacyrights.org/ar/infobrokers.htm
- PRC has several sample letters that might be useful, as well: http://www.privacyrights.org/Letters/jm1.htm
Until recently, the law was simple and clear regarding unsolicited faxes. No one could send you a fax advertisement without your prior consent. That was before Congress created an exception to the “no fax” standard when the sender claims an “established business relationship” or EBR.
Details of the rules on junk faxes are discussed in PRC Fact Sheet 5(a), Junk Faxes: No Relief in Sight, www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs5a-JunkFax-061219.htm.
For additional information, see the FCC’s consumer guide, Fax Advertising: What You Need to Know. www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/unwantedfaxes.html.
This Web site will also give you information about junk faxes. www.junkfax.org/
When you donate to your favorite cause or chosen political party, look for an opt-out opportunity, that is a chance to tell the organization not to share your information with groups that promote a similar cause. If you see no means to choose, include a note with your donation saying you do not wish to have your information shared. Still, if you have ever donated to a special cause, it is likely you’ve received donation requests from groups with a similar interest.
It may take a bit of detective work to be deleted from special interest mailing lists. Many nonprofit organizations and political campaigns 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" (the envelope enclosed for mailing a donation) from these mailings. Labels are likely to contain codes that identify the origin of your name and address. 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.
No. The prescreened opt out is only for insurance/credit offers that come from a review of an individual’s credit reports. This does not apply to a business.
The Direct Marketing Association now gives individuals the ability to register the names of deceased loved ones with a new service called the Deceased Do Not Contact list (DDNC). The DMA initiated this service because it has often received requests from family members, friends, or caretakers seeking to remove the names of deceased individuals from marketing lists. Go to https://www.ims-dm.com/cgi/ddnc.php to register.
If you are receiving unwanted sexually oriented advertisements in mail addressed to your home or business, the Postal Service's Prohibitory Order program provides a deterrent to continued mailings by a specific mailer advertising a product or service you consider sexually provocative. To participate, you must complete USPS Form 1500, available at most Post Offices. The order prohibits the mailer from sending any further mail to the applicant 30 days after the mailer receives the order.
If you are a California resident you can. A California law gives you the right to know who sold your information. To find out how to exercise this right see our Fact Sheet 4(a) available at: www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs4a-shinelight.htm.
Browse Privacy Topics
Background Checks & Workplace
Banking & Finance
Credit & Credit Reports
Harassment & Stalking
Identity Theft & Data Breaches
Online Privacy & Technology
Privacy When You Shop
Public Records & Info Brokers
Social Security Numbers
Who We Are
We are a nationally recognized consumer education and advocacy nonprofit dedicated to protecting the privacy of American consumers.