Last updated June 2020
Do Me a Favor! LOSE MY NUMBER!
Tired of being inundated with mail, messages, and calls from credit card and insurance companies, retailers, political candidates, charities, scammers, and the rest? Want to minimize the pitching and the waste of piles of junk mail? Here’s what you can do:
The most effective and easiest way to curb telemarketing calls is to post your landline and mobile phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry. Created in 2003 by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), as of 2019 the registry had 239.5 million numbers on it, with more than 4 million of those added in 2019 alone. Sign up online or call the FTC’s toll-free hotline to register: 888-382-1222. Within 31 days you should notice a reduction in unsolicited calls. Your number will stay on the list until it is disconnected and reassigned, or you request that it be removed.
The Do Not Call Registry doesn’t guarantee all calls will stop. That’s because a lot of companies are exempt from the do-not-call rules, including charities, survey researchers, political campaigns, companies that have an existing business relationship with you, and companies you have given consent to call you. You may not even know you gave consent; some marketers obtain it surreptitiously by sending solicitations or emails with fine print indicating that if you click or respond, they can call you.
Crooks don’t respect the Do Not Call Registry. Scammers are able to phone you from all over the world, often using phone number masking technology that disguises their numbers and locations, making you more likely to pick up. A familiar area code (often, a number that looks close to your own) tempts you to answer. Often the number that shows up on your phone is a real number, while the person who owns the number has no clue it’s being used by scammers. Con artists also “spoof” people by making your caller ID read, for example, “Social Security Administration.”
Call blocking or call labeling is your best bet to stop scam calls. Each type of phone (mobile, landline, VOIP) has its own call-blocking options. Some phone companies offer call labeling, which will warn you on the caller ID that this is likely a call you don’t want to answer (e.g., “Possible SPAM Caller”). The FTC has a comprehensive guide to call-blocking options here. It’s a great starting point for protecting yourself.
To stop even more solicitations, you can ask a company or organization that calls you to put you on its company-specific do-not-call list. This means they’re not supposed to call you, even if you have an existing business relationship or if it is otherwise exempt.
If you want to get off as many national mailing lists as possible, first contact the Mail Preference Service of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). The association’s members are bound to honor the request of consumers who ask to be removed from mailing lists, and many other marketers who are not DMA members also honor these requests.
The quickest (and least expensive) way to see results via the DMA is to register online. The site will ask you which type of mail (if any) you still want to receive. There’s a $5 fee for online registration, and you have to reregister every five years. If you’d rather register by mail, you can print and fill out a form available on DMA’s website and mail it to DMAchoice, Consumer Preferences, P.O. Box 900, Cos Cob, CT 06807, along with a $3 check or money order.
While signing up for DMAchoice should be your first line of defense, there are other things you can do to banish junk mail. Valpak, which sends those blue envelopes of coupons, has an opt-out form on its website. CatalogChoice.org, run by nonprofit The Story of Stuff Project (mission: “Stop junk mail for good”) will connect you (free!) with a company’s opt-out registration process; or if it doesn’t have one, it will send a request to remove you from the company’s catalog list.
To stop unsolicited credit card and insurance offers you can opt out by signing on to a list operated by the four major credit-reporting bureaus. These bureaus, which are a source of mailing list information for banks and others marketing credit cards and insurance, will then no longer be able to provide your name to these marketers. To sign up, visit optoutprescreen.com or call 888-5-OPT-OUT (888-567-8688). You’ll have to supply certain personal information—phone number, Social Security number, birthdate, etc.—to verify your identity, so make sure you’re using a secure connection to do that (in other words, don’t sign up while using public Wi-Fi at a coffee shop). You can opt out for five years or forever.
Opting out this way won’t stop all credit offers, however. You may still get solicitations from companies you do business with, such as your current credit card companies, charities, and alumni associations.
DMAchoice.org, mentioned above, also allows you to register for DMA’s Email Preference Service (eMPS) to reduce your unsolicited commercial email. Although registration with eMPS will help reduce the number of emails you receive, it will not stop all commercial emails. You may continue to receive emails from groups or advertisers that do not use eMPS to clean their lists.
You can also reduce unwanted emails by eyeballing the emails you’re getting and clicking “Unsubscribe” at the bottom of messages from parties you no longer want to hear from. Spending even 10 minutes doing this can significantly reduce the flow of email. When you sign up for online accounts from stores, airlines, and other companies, carefully read registration forms, and click or unclick whatever is needed to opt out of email marketing. You will still get emails that relate to business transactions, like order confirmations and travel itineraries.
Today’s email filters are much more effective than they were even a few years ago. Some junk messages and attempted scams still get through, but you can smarten up your junk filters. When you find spam in your inbox, don’t delete; instead, select it and flag it as spam. Then block the address or the domain. How you do this depends on your email provider, but it’s usually easy to figure out with a quick look or a “help” search.
Be careful when handling any email. A common ploy of scammers is to send an email or text posing as a government agency, bank, retailer, or other well-known entity (for example, Amazon or your cable TV or internet service provider) to manipulate victims to hand over their user IDs and passwords. These messages often look legit—and might even send you to a website that also looks like the real thing. Don’t open emails unless they come from an expected source. Then, don’t click on links embedded in emails or texts, or download any attachments, unless you’re certain they come from a legitimate source.
If, after these efforts, you are still getting too much unwanted mail, too much email, too many calls, etc., and have the time and energy to take additional steps, you can contact your phone company to ask that your data be taken off any lists it sells; avoid store loyalty cards (or don’t provide an accurate address or phone number when you sign up); and notify marketers, magazine publishers, charities, and others that you don’t want your name and address to be sold or exchanged.