It’s no secret that marketers are only getting more and more aggressive as they compete for your attention (and the green foldable materials in your wallet), as they analyze your behavior and track your every movement. Your latest online orders, your Google search history, and even your text or social media chats are all veritable gold mines for data specialists, looking to sell you more and more and more. The result? Your inboxes (both physical and digital) are likely inundated with a endless onslaught of junk mail.
Yes, in the grand scheme of things, junk mail is a minor issue; just hit a quick “delete” button or toss an unwanted envelope in the recycling bin, and your problem is instantly out of sight and mind. But, frankly, there’s no reason to suffer a minor issue—especially if it’s one that can be halted in minimal time with minimal effort.
If you’re looking to dam up the river of spam, look no further. We spoke with direct marketing and consumer protection experts about what steps you can take to mitigate the mess. Think of their tips as your very own laser-targeting defense system against the scourge that is junk mail.
Contact the DMA.
Sometimes it helps to go right to the source. According to Lisa Schiller, director of investigations and media relations for the Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin, whenever they get questions about cutting down on junk mail, they always advise consumers to reach out to the Data & Marketing Association (formerly the Direct Marketing Association), which serves the direct marketing (i.e. junk mail) industry.
Schiller’s advice: “Contact the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) either by mail (at a $3 cost) at DMAchoice, DMA, P.O. Box 900, Cos Cob, CT 06807,” says Schiller. “Or on their website www.dmachoice.org (at a $2 cost).” When you make contact, tell them you’d like to be added to the Do Not Mail list for any of these four categories of junk mail: Credit Offers, Catalogs, Magazine Offers, and Other Mail Offers. This will keep you junk-mail-free for a decade.
Opt out of credit card mail.
“To cease receiving those pre-approved credit card offers in the mail that arrive unsolicited—which can lead to problems if a stranger gets their hands on them—call the Consumer Credit Reporting Industry Opt In and Opt Out number at 1-888-567-8688,” Schiller advises. This will remove your name for a five-year period or permanently, depending on your preference. Those preferring to take care of it online can go to optoutprescreen.com.
Avoid sharing your address.
Junk mail marketers get your address from somewhere—often because you included it on a registration or filling out surveys or product warranty cards. When ordering something online, opt to “Check out as guest” and avoid providing your address whenever possible, or even write a note next to it along the lines of, “Do not sell or distribute my information or add me to mailing lists.” (That second tip goes double for physical, in-person questionnaires, too.)
Ask individual senders to remove you from their lists.
It might seem time-consuming, but it’s often the most effective way to deal with the most persistent junk mailers. Look at the mailers you received for a return address or phone number and contact them directly to be removed. For example, the common offender of Publisher’s Clearinghouse can be contacted at 800-645-9242 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remove your name from the county tax database.
A number of junk mailers target specific areas based on home values or neighborhood subdivisions, which they can pull from county and state databases. If you contact these sources and ask that your information be kept confidential, it will keep your address from appearing on their radar when they do these searches.
Shift to paperless with as many bills and statements as possible. While these are not what you might consider “junk,” they do clutter up your mailbox and getting rid of them helps reduce waste and the costs of the mailing.
Unsubscribe at large.
When it comes to junk email, the simplest and most obvious solution is to make consistent and frequent use of the “Unsubscribe” button on the bottom of the spam emails you get. “All emails are required by law to have an unsubscribe button,” says Milad Hassibi, director of content for personal loan company CrediReady. “These buttons are always located at the bottom of the emails.”
Better yet, you can use a service like Unroll.me to instantly unsubscribe from all emails blasts you don’t want any part of. (In fact, one Best Life editor tried it and purged herself from a whopping 135 email lists.)
Use an email filter.
Confirm that your email account provides a tool to filter out likely spam or that directs it into a designated email folder—most major services do. You should also keep these points in mind when selecting an internet service provider. If this is not being offered by your email provider, consider using a different service.
Don’t open obvious spam.
Most email service providers—such as Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail—often use a Baynesian filter: a spam-scoring system that tracks the user’s behavior and how you deal with spam emails. Sometimes, things make it through, however.
“As such, do not open spammy emails—and always mark the emails as spam,” says Hung Nguyen, marketing manager for Smallpdf. “The filter will track similar incoming emails containing similar content as these and flag them as spam as well. Essentially, you will need to train your spam filter to manage your inbox and stay clear of spams effectively.”
Get a software spam filter.
For work emails, one software solution that Nguyen recommends is Freshdesk, which allows him to set rules for his company’s general (that would the email@example.com format you’re likely familiar with) email, automatically closing incoming emails containing phrases such as “free,” “giveaway,” and “sale.”
“I also set it to block senders that include ‘noreply’ in their email,” says Nguyen. “And lastly, this method is useful to filter out OOO (out of office) emails as well. Same procedure, different keywords.”
Email the FTC.
To help not only cut down on your own junk email but to help others, consider emailing the FTC at firstname.lastname@example.org. By sending unwanted or misleading spam to that address, the FTC will add it to its already massive database, which it can use to help build cases against those using spam to spread false or misleading information about their products or services.
Create a “spam” email.
Whether attempting to access WiFi at the airport, trying to buy something online, or engaging in any other miscellaneous online activity, many vendors require you to give an email address in order to get something you need. But you needn’t use your primary address.
“If you know you won’t want to hear from those companies, services, or providers, create a completely separate email address for spam and get into the habit of using it,” advises Valerie Donohue, founder of iOS app ChatterBoss. “It’s one you might never open, but you should have access to in case you do need it. This will save a lot of time unsubscribing later on.”
Keep your address private.
When purchasing a domain, a common way to be slammed with junk mail comes as a result of your administrative email address being set as public, meaning that a Google search of your name will cause it to pop up. “Purchasing a domain makes your email public information unless you choose to pay the extra fee to keep it private,” says Donahue. “Always choose the private option or get in the habit of associating those purchases to an admin account that you keep separate from your main inbox.”
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