Junk Mail revenge part 2 - It's WAR!

by Paul Michael on 12 July 2007 33 comments

war!

In my last article about the dreaded junk mail, I showed you how to make some easy money from a ValPak coupon. Hopefully, a few of you have already taken advantage of that. Well, now it's time for the next stage of my anti junk mail campaign. This one is a lot of fun, and if enough of us do it the junk mailers will be out of pocket by many thousands of dollars.

The video I have posted below explains it all, but in a nutshell here's the process. When you get junk (usually from credit card firms) they enclose a handy, pre-paid envelope. This helps the potential victim customer get over the hurdle of sending back the application form. If it's free, it's easy.

Now, those envelopes have not actually been paid for yet. The credit card company pays the postage only if it's used. And as a good response rate from a campaign is just 2%, 98% of that postage is never actually paid for. You can see where this is going.

Next time you get a piece of junk mail, take the handy pre-paid envelope and stuff another piece of garbage inside it. Maybe a competitor's offer, or a pizza coupon. Be sure to remove any identifying marks from the envelope (the video shows you how). When you pop that envelope in the mail, you have just cost the credit card company 41 cents. Pah, only 41 cents?

Well, if everyone does it, and the average junk mail blast is 2 million households, you can see how that adds up. In fact if only 100,000 of you take the time to do it, you've just taken $41,000 out of their pockets! If a million people do it, that's $410,000. And that's a whole chunk of change. Here's the "how-to" vid.

So, join me in my junk mail war. It's a great way to make a point in an effective way. And it won't cost you one cent.

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Guest's picture
Guest

I heard about this a long time ago and in the 80's I actually did this for awhile. Of course, that was before they included the tracking marks on the back. It was a kind of devilish pleasure to "stick it" to them since I did nothing to request their information. Then I just got bored doing it and recycling became very big. But I'm now inspired to go at it again.

Guest's picture
P. Morratto

The measures suggested here hardly go far enough to get bulk trash mailers' attention.
You need to securely affix the business reply envelope to the top of a beer carton containing about 40 pounds of busted concrete or rocks (note: 70-pound postal weight limit).
I have been doing this to the so-called "non profit" Republican Party which actually spends only 8-cents in postage (!) to send me their crap; but they'll spend a LOT more to get it back!
And guess what. They STILL haven't got the sense enough to take me off their lists, so the revenge will have to continue until their postage bill begins to resemble the federal debt (not that they care about either).

Guest's picture
Barbara

I worked at Capital One for a few months, and heard some horror stories. Story goes that when the anthrax/mail scare went around (5, 6 years ago?), a lot of employees were called on to help sort the incoming mail. My manager said she would find bricks, toy trucks, all kinds of stuff attached to the envelopes (either with rubber bands or a tie of some sort).

I thought she was exaggerating, but there were a handful of other people standing around with us who confirmed it because they had helped out too. So apparently the post office has to deliver it, and Cap1 pays for it based on it's weight, not whether it's actually in the envelope!

Guest's picture
Jon

Why not just call the opt out number that is listed on the credit card offer and never have to receive them again. Yeah you will still get some other junk mail, but the majority of it is always credit card offers.
Plus it's usually less than 41 cents they are out because I'm sure they get bulk discounts for prepaid stamps.
It's a good idea. My dad actually does this. But for me, my time is worth more than what they lose out. How long would it take you to go through that stack, making sure to cut all bar codes off and mail it back to them?

Guest's picture
Guest

The opt-out number only works for pre-approved credit card and insurance offers. It doesn't work for non-pre-approved credit card offers that require you to fill out the application and mail it back. However, your identity is still up for grabs if someone can get hold of your personal information.

I have had my name on the opt out list since its inception and have just renewed it for life (this requires sending in a signed form), otherwise the opt-out preference expires after five years.

Just thought I'd mention it as I still get boat loads of non-pre-approved credit offers. I've taken to calling each bank individually to get our names removed from their mailing lists (mine as well as my husband's) and request that they do not share our information with others. The only one to have refused was some dimwit rep at Chase, who told me that my husband had to call them directly. However, since I will be on the line for any credit that my husband (or any garden variety identity thief) takes out and vice versa, I do have the option of requesting that both our names be removed from their mailing list. So I hung up on the twit and called back to speak to someone with some sense. We'll see if they keep sending the junk. Thanks for the tip on returning stuffed envelopes to them. Think I'll do that from now on. Sounds like a heap of fun.

Guest's picture
chasmyn

Except then won't they just raise the rates and fees to the consumer to cover costs?

Guest's picture

That is pretty interesting, and kind of evil. I even kind of like it.

Lynn Truong's picture

On some of the prepaid envelopes now, i see a little disclaimer that seems to warn against people "misusing" them. I'm not sure what they can really do though.

Guest's picture
Guest

Every envelope has the same "tracking" number. It's a deterrent, but they can't really "find" you and prosecute. Just make sure your name or any other identifying papers aren't put IN to the return envelope.

Paul Michael's picture

IF you remove any tracking information, it can't get back to you anyway. Junk mail is a tremendous waste of money and resources, maybe we can make things better by giving these companies a taste of their own medicine. And I have tried taking myself off lists, it doesn't seem to work. In fact, I got more mail when I tried that.

Guest's picture
jodie

hahahaha i just came across this and i luv it!!!!!! gonna start doing it and i shared on my facebook..too too funny and very smart! ty :o)

Guest's picture
Guest

Why stick it to the CC companies for a lousy 41 cents? Do what I've been doing for years! I have a little pile of Valpack coupons, etc. by my desk that I save. They fit perfectly into those larger return envelopes. I stuff those envelopes as full as I can, sometime I even have to tape them shut. The CC companies have to pay based on the weight. So if I'm stuffing them that full, I'm guessing it will cost them between $3-4 for each one they receive from me. I get a naughty little thrill every time I do it. I've dumped off as many as 12 at a time at the PO. And under that very scary sounding warning stating that tampering with this envelope might lead to prosecution, I occasionally write "SO SUE ME".

Guest's picture
mapgirl

I opted out with the Direct Marketing Association. It stopped a lot of crap, but not everything. My supermarket flyers still arrive, but nothing with a returnable envelope.

Opting out only goes so far. And trust me, when you need to replace your tires, you'll be fishing through your recycling for a Goodyear tire coupon. (I didn't find one, but it felt good to at least try a little.)

FWIW, about once a month, I fill a large brown paper grocery sack of junk mail. It's a lot, but it's better than before when I hadn't opted out.

Guest's picture
Rebekah

My first thought was that this seemed kind of petty, and a waste of resources.

My next thought was to check Snopes, the urban legend site. (I should have thought of it first; I must be slipping.)

This idea was credited to Andy Rooney and collected on the Internet in 2004, but I was getting it in email "forwards" for years before that, when my friends first started using email for pleasure (as opposed to work only).

http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/telemarket.asp

Snopes says:

"Returning junk mail to direct mailers on their dime (by stuffing it back into their postage-paid return envelopes) may cost them some money and provide you with a bit of personal satisfaction, but it won't cut down on the amount of junk mail you receive. In fact, it may actually *increase* your junk mail load, since the primary metric used to gauge the effectiveness of many direct mail campaigns is the number of responses received (even if those responses are negative)."

Lovely. Following the posted trick will only make things worse??

Snopes had SOLID advice as to how to flog the junk mail dead horse:

"The best way to decrease the amount of unsolicited mail you receive is to register with the Direct Marketing Association's (DMA) (http://www.dmaconsumers.org/cgi/offmailinglist) Mail Preference Service (MPS). The DMA
maintains a "do not mail" file of MPS registrants which they regularly update and send to their members, who are required to remove the listed entries from their rosters of prospective customers targeted for mailings. (The file is also made available to non-DMA members, but they are under no obligation to use it.)"

They go on to say:

"Taking advantage of the "one-stop" opt-out option [by calling (888) 567-8688 or visiting the (https://www.optoutprescreen.com) Opt-Out Prescreen web site] to prevent the major credit reporting agencies from making your credit information available for pre-approved offers of credit or insurance will also go a long way towards significantly reducing the amount of junk that ends up in your mailbox.

I copied this for anyone not familiar with Snopes and not wanting to look up the information. I personally have called the people at the second place, and have stopped getting credit card offers. The information is given to the credit companies and you ARE removed from the list. (The information was on the envelope I received with one of my mailings.)

For anyone who enjoys writing, here is my favorite, simple research trick, which I learned on planetfeedback.com during a forum discussion: if you're double-checking a fact, go to go to Google (this doesn't yet work with Yahoo!-based search engines) and type

[the key words] site:snopes.com

This will search within Snopes.com (an urban legend megawarehouse!!) for those key words. By typing "site" + colon, followed by a URL looks only within that URL.

If you use MySpace or any community site with bulletin boards, you'll be amazed at how often you'll find out that stories (and, often, Amber alerts) include incorrect data.

Guest's picture
Guest

I used to get swarms of junk mail, American Express and Geico were by far the worst offenders. I called the number and opted out. The volume went down a lot, for a while I got barely anything. Eventually I started getting stuff again, mostly from Geico. With this new wave of trash, I noticed they were addressed to me 'or current resident'. This must be some loophole they found and are exploiting, targeting the street address instead of the specific person.

Guest's picture
Guest

It's a good article but since I work for the post office, I can't agree. I hate delivering junk mail just as much as you hate getting it :(

So imagine delivering 1000 pieces of junk mail, and then having to re-deliver them back :(

But hey I'm only a kid with a summer job. Job security right?

Guest's picture
Guest

This is a TRUE story as I know the person who did it. It happened in 2002.

My husband's roomate in college got a lot of junk mail and often from the same credit card company, even after he had called them to get off their list. So one day he did just what people have mentioned above, EXCEPT he filled the envelope with change... a lot of change. I think it was several dollars in coins (to add weight), sealed it up well and sent it on it's way. Well, to say the least the credit card company was very unhappy about it. I think they even called him to complain about abusing the use of their prepaid envelope. His reply was that he did not want their credit card, had already called to get off their list and if they were going to continue sending him offers, he would continue sending them back stuff in their prepaid envelope. As I recall the representative on the other side was not happy at all, they might even have hung up on him. Anyways, a few weeks letter he got one last piece of mail from the credit card company, it was a check for the amount of change he had sent in the envelope. Hey, at least it wasn't another offer.

Guest's picture
Guest

Do you honestly believe that tagging credit card companies for even as much as $400K hurts them in any significant way? And, if it does, don't you think it'll be passed onto consumers as another poster pointed out? They always win.

When I get junk mail the first thing I do is head to the company's web site, find their contact page and zip an email off to them. I also do a "cc" to myself so they can't say I never sent it.

With the exception of BMG Music, most have been very cooperative. A few needed a reminder or two. My junk mail is nearly nil these days.

Paul Michael's picture

Many posters have written from a point of view that they researched on the Internet. That's all well and good, but I would first ask that you at least consider my own personal experience as an advertiser who has actually worked with credit card companies on these 'junk mail' pieces (yup, not my finest hour but I had to do what I was told in the ad agencies I worked for). First, negative responses have a huge impact. I can't tell you the number of time I was called into board meetings with clients because just a few people had complained, let alone thousands. Second, money is money. You may think the cost would get passed onto the customer, but that stops the CC company from being competitive. So, they usually have to eat those costs. And $400k may be a drop in the ocean, but trust me when I say they notice every single drop. Once our agency was fired from an account because it underperformed by $150k compared to the previous campaign. The Internet may be a great resource, but I'm speaking from hands-on experience here. As hard as it may be to believe, this can work. And if you don't believe that, as Gandhi once said (I'm paraphrasing here) "whatever you do my be insignificant but it's important to do it anyway." 

Jessica Okon's picture

It will keep the postal service employees employed!

Guest's picture
Jody

I love doing this. I put the heaviest pieces of junk, like cardboard, that I can in those and sometimes write them notes, or ask them to do things for me, like send me a donation for the cat spay/neuter volunteer work I do. I feel they owe me favors and donations in return, because they risk my personal ID security when they send credit card applications in the mail to me. That's not nice. ID thieves love to steal those credit card applications, pre-filled out with your personal information, from mailboxes, just after the mail has been delivered.

They never send donations, however. I never feel their love in return. Sometimes, I get disappointed in people. But I keep trying.

Guest's picture
juice

The idea is about as well thought-out as the video was produced.

Guest's picture
Guest

Taping it to a brick supposedly won't work:

http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a2_356.html

but I like the idea of stuffing the envelopes as fat as they can get with other pieces of junk mail. Whether or not it stops the problem, it's cathartic.

Guest's picture
miscell

Used kitty litter.

Guest's picture
Guest

hello.

Guest's picture
Guest

u know what? u suck.

Guest's picture
Guest

just try to send me some junk emails
just try!

Guest's picture
Guest

I sent a brink one time attached to a label, but it was in 1996 so perhaps the laws were different back then. I handed it directly to a postal carrier, he looked at it and shrugged, "Yeah, we can mail this". I have no idea if it actually made it to its destination.

Also, and I can not stress this enough, check out Postal Form 1500, the form to eliminate erotic/obscene mailings. You can actually use this form with any mail that YOU find to fit that category...so basically any mail. It means that it becomes a felony for the person sending you mail to keep sending it to you for something like 7 years. Works like a charm.

Guest's picture
P. Morratto

C O R R E C T I O N
Please disregard my previous post (above). While it was true at one time, things have changed. Now the Post Office's Domestic Mail Manual (see 1.2 regarding insufficient or missing postage, and 8.4.6 regarding Business Reply Mail) contains a new rule (917.243(b)) that lets them treat your box of rocks like dead mail or waste. So I'll be keeping all these boxes in the tool shed until next election time, when the R Party opens a local headquarters somewhere around here.
Anyone with a better idea, please let us all in on it.

Guest's picture
Guest

Sounds good I hate getting junk mail. But what you really need to do is to start a war on email spam! I think it is just as big, if not a bigger problem.

I have a spam email address that I give out when I sign up for something, just loged onto it the other day, over 4,000 spam emails. holly molly!

Guest's picture
L Keefe

Why can't one (after destroying all ID material on envelope)
Just paste a new address on it and use it to mail personal stuff?

Guest's picture
impnode

read about this trick in a book of responding to life's PITA's-take the back from a non-coded envelope, using a glue stick splice with CC envelope-then stuff with non-addressed junk, broken paint sticks[used], magnetic business cards, etc.-the CC companies pay 1st class postage PLUS a handling fee; it always costs them more than a 1st class stamp!-use the coded envelope and offers from them will cease!

Guest's picture
Guest

I'm sorry I'm only just now discovering this. If you do this, be sure to fill every envelope with glitter, sand, or whatever. Maybe then they'll get the hint on how annoying it is to get something you don't want all the time.