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Dealing with Junk Mail

Individual attitudes toward involuntary "direct mail" advertising varies; however some mailers seem to consider "direct mail" ineffective unless taken to a level of harassment.

Some mailers will discontinue if requested. A few consider it their duty to respond by ignoring requests to stop, sometimes going so far as to "play with" people who make such requests.

I really have no strong feelings about junk mail, provided it's not excessive. But I had some success removing most of it.

The Telemarketing Scum Page isn't specifically an anti-junk mail page. For the most part, people who oppose telescum calls and spam are not especially opposed to the concept of junk mail.

The following is provided in case you wish to reduce the load of generally worthless paper.

skip to Form 1500 (USPS Prohibitory Order)


Junk Mail


Canadian Rules

My understanding is that if you request termination of junk mail, Canada Post will place a sticker stating "No Ad Mail" at the bottom of your mailbox. I suppose that can also be done by the individual without the help of the Postmaster. (In the US, we just use the bottom of our mailbox to store our handguns.)


Junk Mail Circulars

These can usually be stopped by making the appropriate phone call. This sometimes takes several weeks because the mailings are prepared in advance.

For some reason, there's always one who determines they will send their stuff out regardless of your wishes. My first request (on-line form) to Val Pak failed, so after two months I submitted another, which also failed to generate the confirmation email indicated on their form.

At this point, I gave up...

The US Postal Service has a . It's a form for stopping mail. This is intended for obscene material, but the US Constitution prohibits classifying speech (unless it's clearly obscene). Therefore, Form&bsp;1500 merely requires that you find the material offensive.

Well, not exactly. There's the Form 1500 USPS Prohibitory Order.


skip to Form 1500 (USPS Prohibitory Order)

Married Mail

"Married mail" is a technique whereby the mass mailer is able to address postcards or the like and include separate unaddressed bulk material. It's more economical than labeling the larger bulk material. On the postal delivery route, the letter carrier delivers the addressed postcard and includes the "married" material.

The significance of this is that the letter carrier quickly realizes that a particular address typically doesn't receive most "married mail" because that address is typically absent in the set of postcards. Hence the carrier will know not to deliver bulk mail to that address.

Incidentally, the postcard is what carries the junk mailer's address.


Catalogues

Some people love these, but sometimes they can be overwhelming, particularly if the mailer becomes abusive in the number sent out.

One approach is to call the customer service number, and request that the catalogue be terminated. (If the reason for the request is you're getting too many catelogues from the merchant, let them know you think they're abusing you as a customer.)

In one instance I received massive numbers of catelogues from "Williams-Sonoma", addressed to a previous resident "or current resident". After several requests that they stop, I called, identified myself as the previous addressee, and enquired about a pending order for the most expensive item I could find in the catelogue. After they started to input the information, I told them about their refusal to stop sending me catelogues, and that next time I received anything in the mail, I would proceed with my sham transaction until completion. Needless to say, they stopped sending catelogues. Without stating that I would continue to receive catelogues for the next three months.
A less creative approach is to submit a USPS Form 1500 if the mailer refuses a request to quit.

More on Catalogues

Of course, don't provide a complete mailing address to a business unless you want them to have it. If they request it for credit card verification, refuse! (Postal codes or zip codes are okay.)

For on-line purchases, consider using different billing and shipping addresses.

Most credit cards will verify from the beginning of an address, combined with postal code. In some cases you can use the beginning numbers of your address with identifying text such as "USE SHIPPING ADDRESS; NO CATALOGS, PLEASE". (Be sure not to do anything that could be considered fraudulent.)

Example:

actual address:
123 Yasser Arafat Lane, Bethlehem, PA 18017
shipping address:
123 Yasser Arafat Lane, Bethlehem, PA 18017
credit card billing address:
12345 Yaxxxx //USE SHIPPING ADDRESS; NO CATELOGS PLEASE, Bethlehem, PA 18017

skip to Form 1500 (USPS Prohibitory Order)


One Procedure

Most mass-mailers will comply with a request to terminate mailings. Given that presumption, if mailings become excessive or otherwise abusive, I:
  1. Call or otherwise request termination of mailing
  2. File a USPS Form 1500 request for a USPS Prohibitory Order
  3. (after 30 days) file a complaint. -- I had not found this step necessary, except in one case.

The Result

Normally, bulk mail takes a brief amount of time to prepare. I don't really believe two months is necessary to print up a bunch of computer labels, but it does take a few weeks to stop junk mail sometimes.

If a bulk mailer complies with an individual's request, the bulk mail should stop, at least within a month. On the other hand, there are some bulk mailers who take a "f*** you" attitude.

At that point, the individual files a USPS Form 1500 request for a USPS Prohibitory Order. The bulk mailer has 30 days from issuance of the Prohibitory Order to cease all mailing. The individual gets a copy. If the bulk mailer sends more junk mail, the individual will complain, and the bulk mailer knows it!

Now the bulk mailer now must scan every new address collection for that individual's address. If the bulk mailer makes one or two mistakes, the Postmaster may let it go, but the bulk mailer must consider that someone at the Postal Service may not be sympathetic for multiple errors. (Also consider that a particularly aggressive or malicious mailer will have numerous Prohibitory Orders to deal with.)

So one of three things will happen:

  1. The bulk mailer will stop sending you stuff;
  2. The bulk mailer will decide to challenge you and you ignore it (after all, you are probably almost as lazy as I am); or
  3. The bulk mailer will decide to challenge you but you file a complaint.

Isn't this Harassment?

No. It makes no sense to request a USPS Prohibitory Order if the bulk mailer complies with a request to stop. This is really only useful for aggressive or malicious mailers.

There is one other category that a USPS Prohibitory Order is useful for -- bulk mailers with no return address. If they use a permit mail (as opposed to stamps), only the USPS can identify the mailer.

The return address is a requirement for Form 1500. Therefore, instead of the address you can write "Return Address Undisclosed by Mailer; Mailpiece Uses Permit xxxxx."



USPS Form 1500 Prohibitory Order Request

First, you won't find this by searching the USPS website's search engine; however, it readily shows up on a Google search. There, you'll find both a direct link to "Form 1500"(.pdf) and a general index of index of all USPS forms (the numerical list of forms). Form 1500 is immediately above "Statement by Shippers of Firearms", "Pre-Employment Screening" and "Application for Employment". (These later ones are probably all the same form.)

You then fill out the form. It's rather brief, but cryptic. Make sure you initial box 1, check box "a" and fill in the blanks. You do not need to identify children or dead people unless you check boxes "b" or "c". The sample mailing must be attached, and should be opened.

One of the sections in "Form 1500"(.pdf) is the address of the mailer (meaning the person sending the junk mail). This will appear somewhere on the piece which contains your address. If you didn't include the junk mailer's address, you didn't fill in the form correctly. (If there is no return address and they use permit mail (as opposed to stamps), only the USPS can identify the mailer:

"Return Address Undisclosed by Mailer; Mailpiece Uses Permit xxxxx.")
The words of Form 1500 uses the phrase "erotically arousing or sexually provocative matter". Ignore the "sexually erotic" language. (You have a computer for that, if you're so-inclined.) Under the US Supreme Court case of Rowan United States Postal Service, 397 US 728, the addressee has unreviewable discretion to decide whether xe wishes to receive any further material from a particular sender. It is Form 1500 that includes the "erotically arousing" language; this is not the law.

(Come to think of it, if someone wanted to send me something "erotically arousing", I don't think I'd complain. But I find commercial bulk mailings addressing me by first name far more offensive than photos of actors doing rude things in front of a camera.)

But back to Form 1500, here is "Form 1500"(.pdf).

In about a month, you will get a copy of the Prohibitary Order. Keep this in case the bulk mailer does not comply.

Here are instructions from junkbusters.com on how to use the form, (thank you archive.org); includes instructions for submitting the form to the local post office, the regulation to cite (if necessary) and where to mail it if the postmaster refuses. The instructions from junkbusters.com also has a copy of other relevant information about the original statute for those interested.) Note that the link to Form 1500 on the archived junkbusters.com page will not work, because the USPS has moved their link.

A Special Case - Married Mail

"Married Mail" are bulk mail fliers which has no address label. Separate labels, in the form of postcards are used and the bulk mail flier is "married" to that postcard (called the "address piece"). (The postcard typically has a photo of a missing child, but is otherwise easily identifiable with the "married piece" or flier.) This is a convenient way to send bulk mail because it eliminates the need for fixing address labels to the fliers.

This is treated like any other Form 1500 request (based on the address on the postcard). Where it becomes a problem is that the letter carrier automatically places a flier in each mailbox on the presumption that there is an address piece.

This means that after terminating delivery of married mail, you are likely to still receive the fliers. To stop this, you will probably need to put a small sign on the mailbox stating you are not subscribed to most married mail. Then fix a note on the flier stating "No Address Piece". After a few times, the carrier will figure out you are not supposed to receive married mail.

WHAT HAPPENS:
dell-usps

 

What to expect

If you take the form to the post office manager in charge of your delivery route (local postmaster), the manager may or may not certify the form as complete. A more effective alternative is to send the form directly to the mail address listed on "Form 1500"(.pdf).

Why they care

The USPS is unlikely to prosecute a junk mailer. The USPS finds that this business is profitable, and has little interest in protecting customers. (Otherwise, Form 1500 wouldn't be written to describe only sexually explicit material.)

What does happen is the USPS takes the first and second steps of a full response. These are generally insignificant against pornography mailings, but are used for evidence:

  1. Send a notice of non-compliance with the protective order
  2. Follow up if necessary (may take multiple complaints)
  3. Revoke the mailer's bulk mailing permit.
  4. If this were actual pornography, the USPS would proceed to prosecute, although I'm fairly certain the USPS never had to take it that far. But theoretically that's the procedure.
All of this creates evidence of intent to violate the law by a pornography firm. In the case of a mass mailing company, the intermediate step is more significant. Since the entire business reason (the profit motive; not the harassment motive) is to send bulk mail, the loss of a bulk mail permit is a lot more meaningful than criminal enforcement action or the possibility of a fine.

The mass mailer will comply, and in most cases will comply forthwith. They will very quickly terminate the mailing and will terminate their harassment and retaliatory strategies.



An Alternative Approach

I don't recommend this, but it was effective.

Before being aware of USPS Form 1500, I was receiving a large numbers of catalogs from Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, and I believe a now-defunct linens business, apparently using a common mailing list. After several attempts to get them to stop (answered by lies and increased mailings), I called their customer service.

The customer service enquiry consisted of me selecting the most costly item in the catalog, both in price and shipping. I wanted to know when it would be delivered (to the person whose name was on the catalog). About half-way into resolving the "problem", I explained that the real problem was that I had asked multiple times for them to discontinue their large number of catalog mailings, and that my request was acknowledged by increased mailings. If I were to receive one more catalog, I would make another call and follow through with the order.

The customer service person explained that doing so would be criminal. I responded, "Good. If get one more catalog from you, I'll go through with it."

Needless to say, I never had to go through with my threat.

Their problem was that the catalog included the name and account of a presumably good customer who moved. (They probably also sent the mail to the actual customer at the new address.) The problem was that they could not "flag" that customer's account. Instead, they relented and terminated their mailings to me.






Non-Mail Items


General

Some municipalites have laws restricting fliers. Usually they specify a particular form, such as a small sign stating "no circulars". Check out your municipal code. If such a law does exist, include a citation of the code section on your sign, since people don't generally know about these laws.

Harassment Newspapers

These I do find offensive, since their purpose is a combination of harassment of non-subscribers, and providing inflated circulation numbers, accomplished on the backs of non-subscribers.

These are trash newspapers distributed by major local newspapers as a retaliation for not subscribing to their rag. Harassment newspapers also provide artificially high circulation rates for advertisement purposes, even though it is clear that nobody reads the harasssment paper. The newspaper company doesn't deliver these to their subscribers. (The newspaper presumably claims a total weekly distribution approximately equal to the total number of households in the distribution area.)

If the newspaper company refuses to honour your request to either cease delivery or deposit the harassment paper directly into the recycling bin, then it may be necessary to complain about littering. The difficult part is to convince the enforcement authorities to make a (legitimate) phone call on a matter for which they are probably not likely to take other enforcement action. The idea is to convince them that the nuisciance newspaper is in fact illegal and that the phone call is the only thing you're requesting in the way of enforcement.

If your local government is inclined to be helpful or if you intend to request an injunction, it may help to send the harassment newspaper company a certified letter requesting that they stop.

Regarding obtaining injunctions, the court forms for filing for an injunction can often be found in the paperwork given out for requesting a domestic violence protective order. (Protective orders are a type of injunction.)


Fake Local Newspapers

These take the appearance of local newspapers, but have little or nothing of substance. Typical stories are "Taking Care of Your Back" (byline naming a local Chiropractor -- Chiroquacks may be legitimate medical personnel, but why is it that these people promote their services like so much snake oil?)

Usually these are distributed by the US mail and can be stopped with a Form 1500 request.



Moving

The USPS has not implemented a method of complying with the GLBA privacy act, for people submitting "Change of Address" forms. Lists of these submissions go to national distributors which use these as mailing lists.

One approach is to submit a "Change of Address" as indicating a temporary change of address, for less than 1 year (e.g., 9 months).

For new phone service, consider:

  1. listing your address by city only (no street address), and
  2. making your phone number unlisted until you receive your first bill.


A Final Note

I am not really opposed to bulk mail, other than it being a waste of resources. There are, however, times when I don't wish to have my mailbox overflowing. (I certainly don't want my lawn covered with harassment newspapers, however. For one thing, that suggests to prowler when I'm away on vacation.) In fact I do enjoy seeing how many mailings per week Comcast sends me, based on the fact that I'm not a subscriber to their cable TV service.

Regardless, I think I should be able to decline bulk mail if I wish.









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site first posted 3-Nov-1996; This page first posted 29-Sep-2007
rev 28-Mar-09. copyright 2007, S. Protigal

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