Sunday, May 4, 2008

What Kind of Junk Mail Recipient Are You?

business reply mail envelope

Swimming in junk mail? Here are three ways of dealing with it.

1. The practical way.

Recycle it, and get off the mailing lists! If you're in the U.S., here's how. (There are tips for those in Canada and the U.K., too.)

2. The revengeful way.

I first saw this suggested back in 2001 by Jon Carroll, who shared an idea from two of his readers about handling junk mail advertisements:
Most of these include the ever-familiar "business reply mail" envelope. A little research and we confirmed our happy suspicion: If this envelope is returned, the advertiser that sent it must pay postage on it, but they do not pay postage if the envelope is not returned. It does not matter if the sent envelope is empty -- postage is still paid.

So now, before throwing away our junk mail, we remove the business reply envelope, seal it up and drop it in the mail.
More recently, Danny Seo wrote about his own junk mail revenge:
So, I figure if they are sending me these mailing unsolicited, then I can send it right back to them in their own envelope unsolicited, too. I basically stuff those envelopes with everything they sent me and drop it in the mail.
And just a few days ago, L.A. en vie directed me to Send Them Back (which goes a bit overboard at the end).

box holding scratch paper
3. The creative way.

If you're Gretchen in Minneapolis, you create Junk Mail Gems. That's the company's scratch paper storage box above.

Related Post: Junk Mail Management, Dutch Style


John Trosko said...

I knew someone who would take the credit card application (rip off the name obviously) and mail back everything jammed inside the postage paid envelope. They claimed it felt good!

SueBK said...

I have a "no junk mail" sticker on the letter box, which deals with the supermarket brochures (unlike the States, here in Oz we don't have savings coupons).

Anything that is addressed mail usually gets shredded and used to line the guinea pigs cage. After a week or two with the piggles, it goes into the chook (chicken) yard, and eventually becomes compost.

I have on occassion sent stuff back to the sender in their pre-paid envelope. Credit card applications with my scrawl on them - I DO NOT WANT AN INCREASED LIMIT. STOP SENDING THESE NOTICES. My preferred tool is a big thick marker pen :-) Just feels more aggressive than a biro :-)

My understanding is, under Australian law, if you ask to be removed from an unsolicited mailing (or phoning) list the company MUST remove your name. So, if I return stuff I always ask to be removed and sign & write my name.

Anonymous said...


Jeri Dansky said...

John and SueBK: Thanks for your comments. Junk mail does seem to trigger some emotional responses!

SueBK, I'd glad to know junk mail gets such as appropriate use at your home.

Anonymous, I've read that the business-reply-card-taped-to-a-box ploy doesn't work any more.

Blue Yonder said...

Thanks for including junk mail vengeance tips in addition to the practical advice :)

Regarding the junk mail removal services mentioned in your newsletter, I thought I'd point out which ones have fees and which are free. has a $41 fee that covers 5 years of service, GreenDimes has both free and paid offerings starting at $20, and Catalog Choice is free. Private Citizen is another junk mail service with a membership fee starting at $10. They are pretty hardline about protecting their members from junk mail and junk calls. IMO, any of these services can be useful, as is the DIY method, which I've used with good results.

And let's not forget Form 1500, which I call the "scorched earth" method for dealing with junk mailers. I use this as a last-resort technique for the most recalcitrant, unresponsive companies.

Megan @ Disorder2order said...

Jeri - I am laughing that you posted this...

A week ago, I saved all the junkmail envelopes I got that week (17 to be exact), took a picture and was going to do this exact post.

I am the one who sends the empty envelope back to the vendor so they pay postage. The bummer about that (my husband pointed out to me) is that it might be considered mail fraud... I don't know if that is true but it felt good to drop 17 empty envelopes in the mail box that week.

CrystalD said...

I also found a great site called, which will unsubscribe you from all junk mail and catalogs FOR you. I just signed up for it myself, and will let you know how it goes.

Crystal D.,
Sparkleizer and Home Organization Expert

Jeri Dansky said...

Crystald, I'll be interested to know how GreenDimes works for you. I've written about them before, but personally used the do-it-yourself approach of getting off mailing lists, which worked well for me.

Megan, that's a lot of junk mail to get in a week - are you sure you don't want to try the practical approach and just eliminate it? :-)

Lee said...

I called one of the places that is supposed to take names off of junk mail lists. After my name and address, they wanted my SS#. I declined. I'm thinking about my next attempts. The return envelope sent back empty would work for some of them, or at least give me a good feeling.

Clarissa said...

Regarding sending back empty envelopes: I used to work at a nonprofit that sent out letters requesting donations, and we got back lots of envelopes that were empty or full of random papers.

We got the point, but it would have been much more helpful if the person had included their name and address in the envelope, so we could take them off our mailing list. That way, we don't have to waste money sending more letters to someone who clearly isn't interested.

Sending empty envelopes might make you feel vindicated, but it won't do anything to cut down on junk mail.

Jeri Dansky said...

Clarissa, thanks for being the voice of reason!

I've often wished it was as easy to get off a charity's mailing list as it is to get off a catalog mailing list.

For a catalog, I just call the toll-free number on the catalog. The phone gets answered quickly (since it's the number people call to place orders) and the operators are used to handling take-me-off-the-list calls and know just what to do.

For the charities, there is usually no toll-free number, and often no phone number at all. And it's not clear if the people opening the mail are in a position to take you off the mailing list if you write back requesting that.

Jeri Dansky said...

Lee, the one situation where I know social security numbers are required is the telephone version of the credit card opt out.

Here's what the Privacy Right Clearing House has to say about this:

Do I have to give my SSN over the phone to opt-out of pre-approved credit card offers?

Unfortunately, yes. We have received many complaints about this. The phone number in question is (888) 5-OPT-OUT. It is shared by the three credit bureaus whose mailing lists are often used to generate the many solicitations for offers of credit or insurance that you receive in the mail.

When you call this toll-free number to opt-out of receiving offers of credit, the automated voice system asks for the SSN along with your name, address, telephone number, and date of birth. Industry officials tell us that they need the SSN to match your request against the millions of records in their databases in order to make sure they are opting out the right John Smith. To the best of our knowledge, the automated phone system is secure. Remember, the legitimate phone number to call is (888) 5-OPTOUT (888 567-8688).

If you prefer not to disclose your Social Security number over the phone, you can use their online form instead, available at Your Social Security number is not required to process an opt-out request through

However, their web site strongly urges you to provide this information because they say it helps to ensure that your request will successfully be processed.

Blue Yonder said...

Yet another new free service for reducing junk mail has sprung up... From their website: "ProQuo helps you to remove your name and personal information from thousands of marketing lists, data brokers and other organizations that send you unsolicited mail. Our new catalog service helps you choose the catalogs you may want to start or stop receiving."

Jeri Dansky said...

Blue Yonder, thanks for that pointer!