Troubleshooter: Junk mail

July 16, 2010 4:33:55 PM PDT
Kim Clark says she got concerned when she saw how much mail her 85-year-old grandmother got in just two weeks.

"I was concerned that she had responded to them just because I know her age and kind of where she's at - and the fact that she is lonely," Clark explained.

When she opened the mail, her fears were confirmed. Most were solicitations.

"You know, 'You've got to send us money!' And these are the way that a lot of them are. They're begging or they send pictures of their families," said Clark.

Clark said she doesn't know if any of the mailings are legitimate or not, but the slogans catch her grandmother's attention. Her grandma sends money to many of them, despite not knowing anything about the cause or organizations. Why? It's because of what's inside the envelopes.

"This one, for instance, has a quarter in it. It may have more than that. Some of them have half dollars in them. These have return labels, which she feels obligated to send them money because they have sent her something. This one has a dollar bill in it," said Clark.

After opening the two weeks of mail, Clark found more than $16 worth of free postage and a of couple bucks in cash.

Some envelopes even had matching contribution checks in them. Clark says she speaking out hoping others will watch out for their loved ones.

"That this could be happening to their grandparent, their parent. A lot of people don't have somebody to look after their best interest. And if you've got a parent or grandparent that lives alone or is elderly, you know, check on them and find out what is really coming in the mail because they could be spending their Social Security," she said.

The Better Business Bureau of Eastern North Carolina has some tips on how to protect yourself from identity theft and how to protect loved ones from direct mailings:

1. Pre-Approved Credit Card Offers

Pre-approved credit card offers are an easy target for identity thieves. They can steal incoming mail and use these offers to open fraudulent credit accounts. Stopping these pre-screened credit offers can help reduce the chances of identity theft.

To "opt-out" of receiving pre-approved credit card offers for at least five years, and perhaps permanently, consumers can call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (567-8688) or visit: www.optoutprescreen.com. This service is offered by the three major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Consumers will be asked for personal information, including their name, address, birth date and Social Security Number. This information is only used to process requests and will remain confidential. This procedure will need to be followed for each adult family member.

2. Solicitations Sent to Children

If a child under age 13 is being mailed advertisements or credit card offers, it could be a sign that identity theft has occurred. Parents should contact the three major credit reporting bureaus, listed below, and inform them of the situation.

a. Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
b. Experian: 1-888-397-3742
c. TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289

3. Catalogues

A consumer's mailbox can often be overrun with catalogues, even if they've never shopped with the company before. This is likely because the consumer has, at some point, made a catalogue or online purchase with a company that handed over their contact information to Abacus, an alliance of catalogue and publishing companies. To stop individual catalogue deliveries, consumers can contact the specific company in question. To stop mass mailings, consumers can e-mail, optout@abacus-us.com, or write to Abacus, Inc., P.O. Box 1478, Broomfield, Colorado 80038.

4. Direct Mail Offers

Direct Marketing Association is a trade group with 5,200 member companies that use telephone, mail, and the Internet to pitch their products directly to consumers. To stop receiving mailings from DMA members, consumers can go to www.dmachoice.org. DMA regularly updates its list, but the companies it notifies to remove names from their mailing lists may not be as prompt to act. It may take as much as six months before solicitations from all DMA members stop.

5. Coupon Packs

To stop receiving coupon packs, consumers can fill out an online request form at: www.coxtarget.com/mailsuppression/s/DisplayMailSuppressionForm. Other requests can be directed to the sender on the printed envelope received.

6. "Resident" and "Occupant" Mailings

Consumers can remove their address from "resident" and "occupant" mailings that offer various goods and services by contacting Valassis—formerly known as ADVO, Inc.—either by phone 1-888-241-6760, or through an online form at www.advo.com/consumersupport.html. Consumers can also send a written request to ADVO, Inc. Customer Assistance, P.O. Box 249, Windsor, Connecticut 06095.

“Opting-out of unnecessary junk mail is a simple step to take toward identity theft protection,” says Beverly Baskin, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau serving Eastern North Carolina. “Taking action today can save consumers future trouble and prevent the loss of money or other valuables.”

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