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Making Sharking Sticks and other HOWTOs

Vertical Litter / Bandit Sign Removal

[screaming operator logo46K] [Houston][Houston]

What this is

This is part of the Vertical Litter site. This is an "in the weeds" page describing tools and techniques useful for fighting vertical litter or bandit signs.

The webpage describes "sharking" of vertical litter (poster advertisements placed on the streets) by removing or blacking-out the contact information. (This tactic is the origin for the term "sharking".)

This tactic has mixed advantages and disadvantages, so I would urge that sharking of contact information only if there is a reason to shark contact information instead of the entire sign.

Sharking contact information can be done by cutting, but it's much easer to use a rattlecan of spray paint.

Hereare the pros and cons:

Reasons to Remove the Entire Sign
  • Partial removal is messy. The unsightly sign remains. It leaves vertical litter for someone else to remove.
  • The advertisers don't care (unless the municipality charges them.)
  • There's no advantage to sharking contact information.
  • Efficiency - You don't want to waste the time and effort to shark contact information. Usually just yanking the sign, and throwing it either into your car trunk or a dumpster is a lot easier and more efficient.

Advantages to Sharking Contact Information
In general, sharking of contact information is useful where a damaged sign has significant effects.
  • Municipal fines are a factor (although obviously not a real deterrent). More below.

  • It lets advertisers know their signs won't last in a particular neighbourhood. (That's probably not necessary because in most areas most signs are put up by a few people who quickly learn where their signs disappear from.)

  • Leaving partial signs reminds cleanup crews that the signs are litter. This generally applies to places such as train stations with large pedestrian areas.

  • It lets other posters know that their signs will get like treatment.

  • It devalues the advertising impact of the campaign.

  • Advertising linking websites -- How many times will a customer attempt to jot down a URL?

  • It's fun to spray stuff with rattlecans of spray paint. (If your hobby is tagging, don't waste your Montana paint or German nozzles on this project. Use $1.79 at Home Depot paint, with generic Rusto nozzles.)

In general, the best way to remove a sign is to simply remove the sign. If they disappear from your neighbourhood, those posting the signs will get the idea that the signs don't stay there.



  1. First, following the old SuSE motto, "Have a lot of fun."
  2. Choose a vertical litter "dead zone".
    The idea is that within your area, putting up bandit signs will be a waste of time. This makes it clear to the people who put up the signs that the signs will quickly disappear. D-I-Y "bandit sign" advertisers will become frustrated, and "for hire" sign posters will get to make escuses for their customers.

    Sign sharking is fairly widespread, and people who post these signs are very much aware of these dead zones. They learn to learn to avoid places where signs are absent.

  3. Avoid trying to over-extend.
    Eventually your vertical litter "dead zone" will enlarge itself, but avoid trying to cover too much.

    One exception is paper signs, which are posted at frequent intervals along routes. These paper signs take a special strategy, but if you can identify a full route, they will disappear.

  4. Be careful out there.
    Consider parking the car so it can't be blocked.

    It goes without saying, but be polite to police, etc. If questioned by a random person (not likely), just blame it on ___, whose property this is (nearby property), who is paying you to clean this mess up.

    It's okay to confront people but choose your battles!

  5. Adopt a style.
    Okay, removing signs has one style, but if the signs are such that contact information is removed or munged, it is convenient to know when others have joined in. This also lets vertical litter posters know where to post their signs if they want them to quickly get "sharked".

Paper Posters on Utility Poles

This looks like a low-budget "vertical litter" approach. The signs are essentially free, but the technique requires a large number of signs, and the signs must be frequently replaced. These are two weak points of their strategy - the signs are free but the labor cost is high.

Because of the need for frequent replacement, the signs are generally posted along a route. The people posting these are reluctant to change these posting routes, and know that sign sharks will quickly identify any new posting routes.

If you take out a small portion of the route, the poster will probably ignore it. (It's a good start, however.) Once you identify a substantial segment of the route, go through and try to remove the contact information from the full segment.

Bonus - If you can figure a way to alter the contact information, that can effectively kill the poster campaign. It is one thing for a prospective customer to have to look at 20 signs before finding the contact information from the sign you missed, but if the contact information is wrong, their prospect will likely give up.

Enforcement Exists but Ineffective

Locales With Moderate Fines

These areas are identified by a few signs strategically posted.

In such instances, sharking contact information would be effective. The posters have already determined that the sign must be strategically posted. Perhaps the poster is concerned with the appearance of the town and other aesthetic values.

More likely, there's a real cost to these signs beyond that of the plastic.

Presume that there is an enforcement mechanism, but the owner is willing to pay the cost:
  • Fines which are almost-trivial, but still significant. Paying the fine is just another cost -- no different from the cost of printing.
  • The owner may be required to remove the signs. (They must love having to come back and remove a sharked sign.)

So if your area has a limited number of signs, sharking contact information can be very effective because:

If the municipality charges fees or fines for vertical litter, the advertiser ends up paying for signs which are worthless or detrimental to the campaign. i.e., The owner must remove or pay for a sign that is defaced and worthless.

Vertical Litter Listing Website

If the sign's contact information is a website, it's probably because the owner is sensitive to being identified to local authorities. Regardless of the effectiveness of this tactic, these URL signs are an open invitation to sharking:
  • Few customers are willing to write down a website URL twice. If they get the URL wrong the first time, they lose interest.
So if the sign uses a URL for contact information, shark just enough of the URL to send the customers to not  or a random sex site.

Sharking Tools

These range from a simple 2x4 with a bolt to modifications of telescoping paint roller extension poles. This is for signs mounted "out of reach". Obviously if you live in an area where someone climbing on the back of a truck to post these signs would sooner or later be arrested, a sharking stick wouldn't be very useful -- there won't be many signs that require a sharking stick.

Making a Sharking Stick

1.   Obtain a small paint roller and a curved blade linoleum knife.
(Money is no object - whatever is cheapest.) The paint roller should have a metal rod and the handle should have a threaded handle (inside the handle) to accept the paint extension pole.

A curved blade linoleum knive has a small curved blade, sort of hook-like, ending in a point. These have plastic or wooden handles. (They are sometimes sold as "roofing knives" or "drywall knives", but there are other styles used for those purposes.) Do an image search of <linoleum knife> and you'll see what I mean and you will know what to look for!

2.   Remove the roller assembly, leaving the metal rod and the handle.

3.   Bend the rod to make a hook pointing downward and slightly away from the handle.
The purpose of the hook is to grab the top of a sign and pull it downward. Sometimes these signs are wedged tightly against the telephone pole or are double-stick taped to a flat surface, so the hook should be angled out only enough to reach the back of the sign.

4.   Grind or file the end of the rod to make a dull chisel end.

5.   drill the handle of the linoleum knife so the linoleum knife can be inserted in the hook.
Unless you are intent on literally "sharking" a sign, the hook will be used alone, without the knife, in most cases.

6.   Obtain a convenient paint roller pole.
Some of these are collapsable, which makes it convenient to keep in a car. You may decide you want a quality one if you also expect to use it for its intended purpose.

Here's the "Sharker Image" Tool Catalog at the CAUSS website. This includes various descriptions of sharking sticks ranging from 2x4s with bolts to painter's extension poles modified (in one example) to hold a rattlecan of spray paint.

An Atlanta group, suggests using a sturdy garden rake. There are two problems with that:

  1. Many garden rakes are not.
  2. If used to pull the sign straight down, you are liable to get ka-klunked on the head with the sign. The rake must be used at an angle to avoid the "Get Hit Quick  (by the sign) syndrome.

back to Vertical Litter
back to Counter-Telemarketing Tactics

Comments about this site: email me

site first posted November 3, 1996
This website can be found by searching for "The Telemarketing Scum Page vertical litter" on a search engine.

rev 2-May-2018 copyright 2006, S. Protigal