The following information has been provided to the PRIVACY Forum by the
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC). In some cases, the items have been
reformatted locally for online presentation. Index descriptions for
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formatting and index descriptions, all information below in this file is the
responsibility of the PRC, and any questions regarding that information
should be directed to the PRC at:
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Fact Sheet #4
Junk Mail: How Did They All Get My Address?
While your mother may have told you that a person's mail is
private, in this day of computerized mailing lists, your name and
address certainly aren't. Chances are, your mailbox is
overflowing with catalogs, sale notices, prize offers and other
"deals" which you never requested and may not want.
If you do not want others to have access to your name, address
and buying habits, or if you are tired of throwing away unwanted
mail, there are several steps you can take to get off mailing
lists. You must be persistent, and you won't get rid of it all.
But you can substantially reduce the amount of junk mail you
How did I get on these lists in the first place? How can I get
Every time you provide your name and address to receive a product
or service, there's a good chance you are being added to one or
more mailing lists. When you buy a car, have a baby, make a
purchase from a catalog, give money to a charity or fill out a
product registration card, your name is likely to be entered into
a computer data base.
Public records. When you make virtually any major lifestyle
change, a government agency records the event. Many such files
are open to the public, including: birth certificates, marriage
licenses, home sales records, and the Post Office's change of
address form. Public records are one way companies selling baby
items, for example, can mail advertisements to new parents just
days after the birth of a child.
Mail-reduction tips. You usually cannot have government
records about you kept confidential. Therefore, contact companies
individually when they put you on a mailing list compiled from
public records. For example, if you buy a house and receive home
improve-ment and insurance solicitations you do not want, you can
do three things: (1) Write to the company and ask to be taken off
its mailing list. (2) Envelopes with "Address Correction
Requested" or "Return Postage Guaranteed" can be returned
unopened by writing "Refused--Return to Sender" on the envelope.
The company will have to pay the return postage. (3) If there is
a postage-paid return envelope, put all of the information in the
return envelope with a note that you wish to have your name
removed from the mailing list.
The Post Office makes its change of address file available to
major mailing list companies. To avoid receiving solicitations
aimed at "new movers," contact friends, family and companies with
whom you do business directly and do not fill out the Post
Office's change of address form.
Mail order, credit cards and magazines. If you are on the mailing
list of one mail order company, you are likely to be on the list
of several. Most mail order firms "rent" their mailing list to
other businesses. Many credit card companies also rent their
mailing lists, as do magazines. Therefore, if you subscribe to a
cooking magazine, you may find yourself receiving mail order
catalogs for kitchen supplies and food specialties.
Mail-reduction tips. Write to the Direct Marketing
Association's (DMA) Mail Preference Service, P.O. Box 9008,
Farmingdale, NY 11735. Tell the DMA you do not want to receive
catalogs and other promotional material through the mail. They
will put you into the "delete" file which is sent to the DMA's
member organizations four times a year.
Companies that do not participate in the Direct Marketing
Association program must be contacted directly. Notify the
company's customer service department and request that your name
and address not be provided to other companies. Be sure to
contact magazines to which you subscribe as well as charities,
nonprofit organizations and community groups to which you have
either donated money or joined.
Many credit card companies will delete your name from the lists
they rent and sometimes even from the list they use to send their
own promotional materials to their customers. (They will,
however, continue to send you your bill.) Write to the customer
service department and request your name be removed from the
lists they rent to others and from their "in-house" mailing list.
Credit bureaus. Companies with whom you do business provide
information to credit bureaus on how much you owe, how promptly
you pay your bills and the types of purchases you make. While
many credit bureaus rent lists, they do not disclose specific
information such as what you owe or to whom. Rather, they compile
lists based on consumer characteristics. An example would be a
list of people who have an income of over $30,000 a year, use
credit cards and pay their bills on time. If you fall into a
category such as this, you may receive "pre-approved" credit card
offers in the mail.
Mail-reduction tips. The three major credit reporting firms
are: Equifax, Trans Union and TRW. Write to each and ask to be
removed from their marketing mailing lists.
o Equifax Options, Equifax Marketing Decision Systems,
Inc., P.O. Box 740123, Atlanta, GA 30374-0123.
o Trans Union - 555 West Adams St., 8th Floor, Chicago,
o TRW, Target Marketing Services Division, Attn: Mail
901 N. International Parkway, Suite 191, Richardson, TX
Registration cards. Be aware that warranty or "product
registration" cards have less to do with warranties than they do
with mailing lists. These cards may ask you what hobbies you
have, how many people are in your household and your household
income--information the company obviously does not require to
guarantee the product.
Such registration cards are generally not mailed to the company
that manufactured the product, but to a post office box of the
National Demographics and Lifestyles Company in Denver, Colorado.
This company compiles buyer profiles and sells the information to
other companies for marketing purposes.
Mail-reduction tips. When you buy a product, don't fill out
the product registration card. In most cases your receipt ensures
that you are covered by the warranty if the product is defective.
If you decide to send the registration card, include only minimal
information--name, address, date of purchase and product serial
number. (For some products you may want the company to have a
record of your purchase in case there is a safety recall.)
Also, write to National Demographics and Lifestyles and ask them
to delete you from their mailing lists: National Demographics and
Lifestyles, List Order Department, 1621 18th Street, Suite 300
Denver, Colorado 80202.
Price scanners. A new way of compiling mailing lists and buyer
profiles is through price scanners. Scanners help businesses keep
track of their inventory and speed service at the check-out
counter. They can also be used to link your name to your
purchases, especially if you are using the store's "buyers club"
When this card is "swiped" through the card reader at the check-
out stand, your name and address, stored in the card's magnetic
strip, are matched against a record of the scanned items. Stores
generally offer product discounts as an incentive to use the
The store may use this information to mail coupons and other
special offers to you and share the information with product
manufacturers. So, for example, if you buy one type of soda at
the grocery store you might receive coupons from a rival soft
drink company to induce you to switch brands.
Mail-reduction tips. If you do not want information compiled
about your personal buying habits through the use of price
scanners, don't participate in the store's "buyers club." You may
also want to pay cash at businesses which use scanners, since
technology may allow the company to store your name and address
if you pay by check or credit card.
Phone books. If you are listed in the White Pages of the
telephone book, your name, address and phone number are, for all
practical purposes, public record. Mailing list companies collect
this information and sell it to mail order companies and
marketing firms. In addition to the White Pages, the phone
company and other companies compile directories organized by
address and phone number rather than by name. If you are listed
in the White Pages, you are also in one or more of these "street
Mail-reduction tips. If you are concerned about keeping your
name and address private, consider having an unlisted number. Or
request that the local phone company publish just your name and
phone number and omit your address. In addition, ask the phone
company to remove your listing from its "street address
directory." Also, write to the major directory companies and
request that your listing be removed:
o Haines & Co., Criss-Cross Directory, 2382 East Walnut
o R. L. Polk & Co., List Compilation & Development, 6400
Monroe Blvd., Taylor, MI 48180-1814.
o Rueben H. Donnelley Corp., 287 Bowman Ave., Purchase,
Mailing list companies. There are a number of companies which
purchase and collect information from government records,
telephone books, association membership rosters and other
sources. They compile mailing lists and sell them for marketing
Mail-reduction tips. To be removed from the lists of the
major companies that sell mailing lists, write to these firms:
o R.L. Polk & Company, List Compilation & Development,
6400 Monroe Blvd., Taylor, MI 48180-1814.
o Donnelley Marketing, Inc., Data Base Operations, 1235
"N" Ave., Nevada, IA 50201-1419.
o Metromail Corp., List Maintenance, 901 West Bond,
Lincoln, NE 68521.
o Database America, Comp. Dept., 100 Paragon Dr.,
Montvale, NJ 07645-0419.
o Dunn & Bradstreet, Customer Svc., 899 Eaton Ave.,
Bethleham, PA 18025.
What if I only want to stop part of my junk mail?
Junk mail is only junk when you don't want to receive it. You may
want to be on some mailing lists.
If you want to receive some of this mail, do not contact the
Direct Marketing Association and ask to be taken off all mailing
lists. Rather, notify companies individually and tell them you
want your name removed from their lists. Also, tell the companies
you do business with to keep your name and address private. A
growing number of businesses which rent their mailing lists are
including statements in their catalogs to let you know you have
For more information
Join the Stop Junk Mail Association. The SJMA provides a mailing
list name deletion service for its members and lobbies on behalf
of postal privacy rights. For more information on SJMA services,
write to: 3020 Bridgeway #150, Sausalito, CA 94965. (800) 827-
Order the informative 16-page booklet "Stop Junk Mail Forever" by
sending $2.00 to Good Advice Press, P.O. Box 78, Elizaville, NY
The Direct Marketing Association has free brochures on direct
marketing practices. Contact the DMA at 11 West 42nd St., New
York, NY 10036-8096.
For more information on junk mail and other privacy-related
issues, contact the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse hotline at
NOTE: The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse does not rent,
sell or trade its mailing list with any other
organization or company. Your name and address are kept