As a child, I used to get so excited when I received something in the mail. Maybe it was because the only time I would get mail was either around my birthday or Christmas and it usually contained a check from my grandmother. Now, as an adult, my relationship with mail is quite the opposite. The only correspondence I receive is either bills or junk, neither of which I look forward to receiving.
While there is not much anyone can do to eliminate their bills, there are a few things you can do to get rid of junk mail. In fact, scams and spam seem to be on the rise via most methods of communication these days. Taking steps to declutter your mailbox and protect your phone number(s) can greatly minimize your frustration and reduce your vulnerability to fraud and identity theft.
How to Opt Out of Junk Mail
The first step toward eliminating a large portion of one’s junk mail is to participate in the DMAchoice program from the Data & Marketing Association (DMA). This program was created to give you control over what mail you receive and help the DMA’s more than 3,600 members avoid mailing to uninterested customers.
The categories of mail you may opt out of receiving include credit card offers, catalogs, magazine offers (such as subscription offers, newsletters, periodicals and other promotional mailings), donation requests, bank offers, retail promotions and more. You can choose to opt out of specific direct mail categories like the ones above or all of them. Once registered, the DMA forwards your preferences to the appropriate members.
To register, visit www.dmachoice.org and enter your information. There is a $2 fee to register online, but this registration lasts for 10 years. Caregivers also have the option to register on behalf of their care recipients to prevent them from receiving junk mail as well. Just visit the DMA website’s Do Not Contact for Caretakers page and follow the instructions. There is no cost for removing a vulnerable senior from the DMA’s databases.
Cancelling Pre-Approved Credit Offers
In the same way that DMAchoice works with member organizations to streamline marketing and promote consumer satisfaction, the OptOutPrescreen program works directly with the credit bureaus Experian, Equifax, TransUnion and Innovis to allow consumers to opt out of pre-approved and pre-screened credit and insurance offers.
To register for the program, visit OptOutPrescreen.com or call 888-567-8688. If you register online or by telephone, your registration is valid for five years. To opt out permanently, you will need to print, sign and mail back a permanent opt out election form. This form will be emailed to you when you register online or be mailed to you if you register by telephone.
Doing Away with Unsolicited Mail
In order to opt out of generic mail (the type that says “Dear Occupant” or “Current Resident”), you must directly contact the organization that sent you the solicitation. If you’d like to send a written request, provide your name and mailing address and state clearly that you wish to opt out from receiving future mail.
“Junk” Can Overwhelm Your Phone, Too
While junk mail is a nuisance that can literally pile up, unsolicited telephone calls can be equally as annoying but even more dangerous. Scammers will often call pretending to be from a legitimate organization in an attempt to get you to send them money or share your sensitive financial or identifying information.
One common scam is where the caller pretends to be from the IRS. He or she states that you owe money and if you do not pay within a certain timeframe you will be arrested. They use fear and intimidation to get the victim to do what they want.
But how can you tell which calls are legitimate and which are scams? It is often difficult to make that determination based on the call alone. One way to reduce, if not eliminate, legitimate solicitation calls is to register both your home and cell phone numbers on the Federal Trade Commission’s national Do Not Call Registry. Once you have registered, solicitors are prohibited from contacting you.
However, this does not apply to organizations with which you currently conduct business (known as established business relationships or “ERBs”) or tax-exempt organizations. You will still receive calls from entities you have given permission to contact you, like your bank, charities soliciting donations and—everyone’s favorite—political calls.
To register for this free service, call 1-888-382-1222 from the telephone number you wish to register. You can also register online at www.donotcall.gov. Keep in mind that this registration does not expire, so there is no need to ever re-register.
Telemarketers have 31 days from your registration date to remove your information from their call list and cease contact. If you receive a call after this 31-day period, notify the caller that you are on the national Do Not Call Registry and ask to be removed from their contact list. If they continue to call you, then you can report them online at the FTC’s complaint website. By law, organizations that are not tax exempt must remove a consumer’s contact information from their call list upon request.
This will not eliminate all calls, but it will greatly reduce the number of legitimate, unsolicited calls. You should be wary of whatever calls continue to come in from unknown sources. Here are a few indications that you’re talking to a scammer on the phone:
- Caller is asking you to provide sensitive information
- Caller is threatening or bullying you
- Caller demands money, especially in the form of a money order
- Caller refuses to remove your information from their call list
- Caller claims to be from the IRS or another “official source” and demands money or sensitive information
- Caller threatens your arrest if you do not comply
Also, don’t be fooled by what appears on your caller ID. Caller ID can easily be manipulated using free online tools. This process is called “spoofing.” I could call you and have the caller ID read “IRS” or “police station.” It really is just that simple.
If you are in doubt when you receive an unsolicited telephone call, simply hang up the phone. If you get a call from someone claiming to be from your bank or credit card company, hang up and call the official telephone number printed on your bank statement or the number printed on the back of your credit card. If they claim to be from the IRS, you can visit the IRS website (www.irs.gov), and call them at the telephone number listed there. You get the idea. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Tackling Unwanted Text Messages
If you receive spam-type text messages on your cell phone, you can typically report it to your carrier by forwarding the text message to 7726. This works for AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and Bell customers. They will then add this to their identified spam messages list and attempt to block the sending number. This process is similar to identifying an unsolicited email as spam or junk mail. Once you have labeled it as such, your email provider will block future emails from that sender from getting into your inbox.
The same handling rules for spam emails apply for text messages as well. Don’t reply to the sender, click on any links in the messages or provide any personal information. Legitimate businesses will not ask for your account or login information via text. The next safest thing after reporting the message to your carrier is to delete it immediately.
While you may not be able to block all potential frauds and scams, these tools will help you to eliminate most legitimate solicitors, making it easier for you to identify the remnants as fraudsters and scammers. At that point, you can simply toss the mail, hang up the telephone or delete the text.