A Massachusetts Consumer Guide:
Stopping Junk Mail And Email

If you've ever had to wade through knee-deep piles of junk mail to answer the doorbell or if you turn on your computer only to find your E-mail inbox crammed with unwanted junk E-mail, or "spam;" you may have wondered why and how these advertisers have targeted you.

Most likely, your name and personal information have found their way onto marketing lists that are sold, "rented," and shared among companies eager to solicit you. Most consumers are unaware of the rights, services and resources available to protect them. The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation has compiled the following tips for combating junk mail and unwanted E-mail "spam."

Turning the Tide Of Junk Mail

The following steps can help stop the flood of junk mail entering your home:

  • Remove your name from national mailing lists.

To remove your name and address from most national mailing lists, contact:

Direct Marketing Association
Mail Preference Service Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512
www.dmachoice.org

You should begin to see results a few months after writing. Compliance with DMA requests is not mandatory, however, and you will continue to receive mail from non-DMA members.

  • Contact the companies that send you mail, junk or otherwise.

Contact the customer service departments of the companies that send you unwanted mail, ask that they remove you from their mailing list. Mailing lists are often sold or rented to other organizations, so, you may have to call the companies first to ask where they got your information.

If you read the code on your mailing label, the company will be able to tell you the supplier of your name. Often, this is a list broker, a company that specializes in selling mailing lists, but it also may be an individual company that rented or sold their membership or marketing list. You will need to call that company and ask that your name be removed from its list.

Contact all organizations/companies that you currently deal with through the mail, and ask them not to rent or share your name. Your credit card company, charities and other non-profit groups to which you send money, all potentially may rent or sell their lists to unrelated companies.

  • Be alert and proactive.

When first subscribing to magazines or ordering from catalogues, demand that the companies not rent, sell, or trade information about you. Be aware of what information you send companies-in most cases, you are the biggest source of information about yourself. For example:

Warranty or "product registration" cards are an easy way for companies to compile information about you and then sell the information. Many product-registration cards include surveys about your income, interests, and even medical history. Most warranties do not require you to fill out a registration card. Read your warranty. If it does not require you to fill out the card, don't do it. Instead, save your receipt as proof of purchase.

Toll free 800 and 888 number services can identify and capture your phone number when you call. The companies you call can use reverse directories to match your phone number with your street address. When calling toll free numbers, you cannot block the display of your number by pressing *67 before you dial. For other calls, however, you can use *67 telephone line blocking.

Discount cards scanned at the register can track your purchases and this information may be sold to marketers. If you have privacy concerns, ask for a written policy about how the information will be used. If you are unsatisfied with their privacy policy, don't use the discount card.

  • Consider having an unlisted phone number and address.
    Companies accruing names for mailing lists make extensive use of regular phone books as well as "crisscross directories," phone books organized by address and phone number rather than name.

    Contact your local phone company to remove your listing from both types of directories. You can also contact the two major directory companies to request that your name be removed. They are:

Haines & Company, Inc.
Criss-Cross Directory
Attn: Directory of Data Processing
8050 Freedom Ave., NW
North Canton, OH 44720
(800) 562-8262
R. L Polk Co.
Attn. List Suppression File
26995 Northwestern Highway
South Field, MI 48034-8455
(800) 464-7655 *
*Ask for the Opt Out Program
  • Opt out of credit bureau mailing lists.
    Credit reporting agencies allow businesses to prescreen your credit report to determine if they want to send you a credit card offer. You have the right to not have your credit report prescreened by other companies. The national credit bureaus have set up a toll-free number so that you may opt out of pre-approved credit card offers with just one phone call. Call 1-888-5OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) for more information.

Canning Spam Artists

The Internet is a great communications tool. Every day millions of Americans use electronic mail for almost instantaneous communication. Unfortunately, often mixed in with messages from business associates or friends, is junk E-mail messages, what is known as "spam." While some of this "spam" is simply unsolicited sales pitches, often it includes fraudulent schemes and pornography.

It is difficult to block out every piece of junk E-mail, but the following tips can help you reduce the volume of "spam" you receive.
 

  • Guard your E-mail address

Prevention is the key to ensuring that you are not bombarded with junk E-mail. To avoid "spam":

  1. Before you register at a web site or before you buy on-line, check out the company's privacy policy. Make sure it has a policy against selling your personal information, including your E-mail address.
  2. Remove personal information from web service directories. Your E-mail address and other personal information may be accessible from the numerous "people-finding" search and directory services available on the Web. These include the major search engines Infoseek, Lycos, and Yahoo, as well as Bigfoot at http://www.bigfoot.com, Infospace at http://www.infospace.com, Switchboard at http://www.switchboard.com, and WhoWhere at http://www.1800whowhere.com. Choose the name-removal option (if available) to remove your name, E-mail address, and other information from the directories provided by these sites.
  3. Open a second Internet account for chat rooms, public posting, subscriptions, and buying on-line. Some Internet providers will allow you a second E-mail address. Use one address for these public activities, and a second private address for E-mailing friends and business associates. This tactic will allow you to keep spam out of the E-mail account you use for communications.
  • Fight back against spammers.
  1. Register a complaint. Most Internet providers also offer E-mail addresses to report junk E-mail complaints. Forward the entire "spam" message to your provider. It may have a procedure for filtering, or "mail blocking" unsolicited E-mail.
  2. Don't reply to the spammer! Most "spammers" not only will ignore your request to be dropped from the mailing list, but they also will interpret your response as a positive sign that the message was actually read. Don't encourage spammers by buying their products or responding to their E-mail.
  3. Consider using a junk E-mail filtering program. Filtering programs can block E-mail from a specific list of addresses, or they will only accept E-mail from a list of users you specify. Some Internet providers have filtering programs already built in to their E-mail service.
  • Be aware of people finders.
    Vast amounts of information about consumers is available through "people finders" or "look up services." These companies use computerized databases to collect and distribute personal identifying information about consumers. The information is used to locate, identify, and verify the identity of individuals.

    This personal identifying information comes from public information sources, such as phone books or public records, as well as non-public sources, such as credit headers. A credit header is the personal identifying information on a consumer's credit report. It consists of a consumer's name, name variations, address, former addresses, telephone number, date of birth and Social Security number. The sale of credit header information is legal and unrestricted.

    Many of these services provide you with the right to "opt out" or request that they not distribute some of the information these "look up services" make available for distribution. Check with each service or company directly for details. See web service directories information in "Canning Spam Artists."

For more information on how you can identify and avoid email scams, visit the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation's Current Email Scams page.