How to slow the flood of junk mail

Akron Beacon JournalDecember 26, 2012 

Eileen and Frank Field have special causes that are close to their heart.

So, over the years they have made donations to various organizations.

But this fall, the Fields felt overwhelmed by the mountain of mail that would arrive at their Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, home daily.

After a two-week vacation, they arrived home to find a large postal bucket of mail — most of which was junk or solicitations from organizations they’d never heard of.

“For one thing, my husband has a very hard time saying no to anybody who sends him a hard-luck story,” said Eileen Field. “Everybody you say ‘yes’ to sells your name and then you go to events and they say ‘Oh, just right your name down.’ You think you’ll be polite and fill it in and there it goes again.

“I have become that nasty old lady that wouldn’t give to anyone but my special charities,” she said.

During the political season, the already huge piles of mail that the Fields receive swelled even more. Last Christmas, Eileen Field estimates they received 100 cards from organizations.

This fall, the Fields enlisted the help of their local consumer affairs agency to reduce junk mail. It offers a free service to the county’s senior citizens and disabled residents or their caregivers. The free service is aimed at seniors and those with disabilities, but the advice is available for all consumers.

Charity solicitations are a big problem, said Cynthia Sich, director of the Summitt County (Ohio) Office of Consumer Affairs.

“Let’s say you sent $5 to one of them. If you read the fine print on a lot of these solicitations, they do say they’re going to share your information with counterparts or with other agencies they work with. So what happens is you give to person A and they send the information to affiliates B, C, D and B, C, D can also send your name off to their affiliates. That’s how it starts multiplying,” said Sich.

It’s not just charitable donations that will get you on so-called “sucker lists,” said Sich. “If you participate in a sweepstakes, a lot of that information will get you onto what they call a ‘mooch list’ or lists that are traded,” she said.

Shopping catalogs can share lists. Sich wasn’t sure whether manufacturers share lists of customers from product warranty cards, but offered a good suggestion.

“Just know that your name is going on a list. If you sent it, the trick to do here is to drop a letter out of your name. For example, if your name is Sandy, to try to know who is selling what names, put “Sndy.” If you see solicitations are coming in, you can narrow it,” she said.

Sich also suggests that you open the junk mail, even if you are not interested in the product. You want to make sure there isn’t something that you might want to shred.

Also, catalogs have order forms, many with your information that would be good to shred, Sich said.

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