October 6, 2016
The Hidden Dangers of Junk Mail
Getting unsolicited mail in your mailbox is annoying, but if you throw it out without shredding it first, it can become downright dangerous.
Whether that mail comes from a national credit card issuer or a local business, chances are there’s a reason you’re getting it. Either you live in an area the organization wants to target, or your name got added to a mailing list as a result of some past action, including:
- Making a purchase
- Subscribing to a service or publication
- Entering a sweepstakes or contest
- Making a charitable donation
- Using or joining a loyalty program
- Filling out a survey
- Submitting a product warranty form
- Signing up to receive mail, offers, or information
- Filing a change-of-address form at a U.S. Post Office
- Buying a home
- Setting up utilities such as phone, electric, and cable at a new address
- Registering to vote
The data brokers that manage these lists collect a vast amount of personal information about you, from the basics of where you live and work down to details such as what type of cat food you buy. They then sell your name to companies and services similar to the ones you’ve used, in hopes of getting your business.
Because data brokers are selling more than just your name, the junk mail you receive can contain a great deal of personal information about you.
Pre-approved credit card offers are perhaps the most dangerous, because they preprint your name and address on an application form. If you throw it away without shredding it first, someone who finds it could easily use it to apply for the credit card in your name, and change the address so you never see the bills.
Other solicitations can also contain personal information that make shredding smart. These include:
- Membership offers in groups such as AAA and AARP
- Charity solicitations
- Coupons or offers to try local services
- Free quote offers from insurance or other services
- Political campaign flyers
No matter what type of junk mail you receive, shred it—just to be safe.
How Do I Stop Getting Junk Mail?
If you’d rather stop the junk mail altogether (or at least try to), there are some specific steps you can take:
- Visit the Direct Marketing Association’s DMA Choice website to set up a mail preference account, which lets you take your name off the national mailing lists used by the 3,600 members of the DMA, which account for about 80% of marketing mail in the United States. Your preferences are good for three years.
- To stop receiving unsolicited offers from creditors and insurers of which you are not already a customer, visit www.optoutprescreen.com. Your own bank, or associations or clubs of which you are a member, may still send you offers.