(3/30/01) Imagine my horror when this message appeared in my box actually advocating the start of a new chain letter! Can we really strike back at companies by using their pre-paid envelopes against them? Will it do any good to reduce the amount of junk mail you receive?
SAMPLE CHAIN LETTER TEXT
This is actually a pretty good idea! ;o)
This could be fun!!!!!!
Here's the deal: Tired of getting all those Pre-approved letters in the mail for everything from credit cards to 2nd Mortgages, and crap like that? If the answer is, "Yes!". Read on. If "no," read on anyway, since most of us don't care for banks anyway. Well, most if not all of those letters come with a postage "PREPAID" envelope. So why not get rid of some of your other junk mail and put it in these cool little envelopes! If you didn't get anything else that day, then just send them their application back (TOTALLY BLANK)! Just make sure your name isn't on anything you send them. Heck, you can send it back empty if you want. Keep 'em guessing that way. Let's turn this into a chain letter. Eventually, The banks will begin getting all their garbage back in the mail. Let's let them know what's its like to get junk mail, and best of all they're paying for it! Twice! Only in America! Send this to a friend or two or three.....or ten.....or twenty!!!!!
END CHAIN LETTER TEXT
The post office didn't have much to say when I contacted them about this gem back in 2001:
"The Postal Service has no control over the insertion of information in prepaid envelopes supplied by companies. It is first-class mail and first-class mail is sealed against inspection. It would be the receiving company, who would consider discontinuing the use of business reply mail based on the quantity and quality of responses they received."
An astute chain-breaker, Laryn (of larynandjanel.com) spoke with a local post office representative, who explained how business reply mail works. In Laryn's words:
"It is possible that bulk mailers who send in such high quantity can get a $0.02 mail-back fee for their business reply envelopes, but this fee is added on top of the regular first class postage rate.
"So while it may cost them a penny to mail you the junk, it'll cost them at least 39¢ to receive it back... On top of this, I wanted to double check that adding additional papers into the envelope would increase the amount that they pay, since I've heard conflicting versions of that, too. It will."
Doing what the chain letter suggests may give you some sort of satisfaction from giving the system a taste of its own medicine, but will likely do very little to reduce the amount of junk mail you receive. In fact, it may increase. Mail solicitation is effective and businesses spend billions of dollars on it annually. Another chain-breaker who works in a mail processing center for several of these companies reports that, whether filled with a complete application or with your trash, each envelope that is returned is counted as "a success" to the company. These "successful returns" are used to determine the effectiveness of the mail solicitation.
The chain letter cautions you not to include your personal information in what you mail back - this is good advice, not just to avoid being enrolled for a credit card or program you don't want, but also to avoid identity theft. Collecting discarded junk mail has become a common tactic of identity thieves. "Dumpster diving" refers to these crooks sifting through companies' and even individuals' garbage looking for anything they can use to get credit or a loan. It is for that reason that privacy experts recommend you shred all of the unsolicited mail you receive.
There are several things you can do to significantly decrease the amount of junk mail you get and, thus, lower your risk of identity theft.
Tell the major credit-reporting agencies to not share your info with prospective bulk mailers. Call 1-888-567-8688 to opt out of pre-approved offers of credit or insurance.
Contact each of the banks and financial institutions with which you do business and ask them not to share your credit information.
Register with the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service
Register on the Federal Do Not Call Registry (yes, I know it's for telemarketers, but it also helps reduce junk mail).
Buy a paper shredder and use it to destroy all unsolicited offers you receive.
These steps may not sound as exciting or make quite the statement the scheme proposed above does, but I can attest from personal experience that they are quite effective and have reduced the amount of junk mail I receive significantly (from 3-5 offers a day to 1-3 per week). Break this Chain!