Hundreds of companies gather names, mailing addresses, and email addresses to sell to direct marketers. Those marketers then send unsolicited credit card offers, catalogs, and other junk mail, as well as, in many cases, unwanted commercial emails (called "spam") to thousands of people.
While it's nearly impossible to get off all direct marketing registers, you can remove your name from many mailing and spam email lists. By knowing exactly where to go and what steps to take, you can significantly cut down on the number of bulk mailings and spam emails you receive.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) (15 U.S.C. § 1681 and following), credit reporting agencies are allowed to include your name on lists that creditors and insurers use to make offers to you, even though you didn't initiate the process. (15 U.S.C. § 1681b(c)). The FCRA also provides you the right to opt out of receiving these offers (called "firm offers"), which prevents the agencies from providing your credit file information for these offers. (15 U.S.C. § 1681b(c)). You can opt out for five years or permanently.
How to opt out for five years. To opt out for five years, register online at the OptOutPrescreen.com website, which is managed by the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and another credit company (Innovis). You can also call 888-5-OPT-OUT (888-567-8688).
How to permanently opt out. To opt out permanently, you must print and fill out the form from the website and mail it to the address provided. You'll have to give some certain personal information, like your telephone number, name, Social Security number, and birth date. This information is kept confidential and is used only to process your opt out request.
The agencies will implement your opt-out request within five business days, but you might still get some credit offers because your name could have already been provided to companies that haven't mailed their offers to you yet.
To reduce the amount of other types of junk mail you receive, you can sign up for the Direct Marketing Association's (DMA) Mail Preference Service (MPS) opt-out program. This program gets you off the lists of all DMA subscribers, which include many national direct marketing companies.
The DMA opt-out option lasts for ten years and costs $3 or $2 as of late 2019, depending on how you register.
According to the DMA website, processing your request by mail will take longer than online registration.
To reduce the amount of catalogs and other marketing mail you receive, you can opt out of the Epsilon database. This database compiles customer information from catalog companies and retailers. Epsilon subscribes to the DMA, so registering for the DMA Mail Preference Service should reduce the number of catalogs you get in the mail. But if you want to stop receiving catalogs and still receive other types of unsolicited mail, you can register for Epsilon and not the DMA program.
Here's how to register:
To stop junk mail from companies that aren't on lists that the major credit reporting agencies, the DMA, and Epsilon maintain, you'll have to contact those companies individually. Send a letter to the customer service department of the company that sends you catalogs or other unwanted mail and ask it to remove your name from its mailing list. Be sure to provide the company with all spellings of your name, and the names of any additional household members on the mailing label. If you're receiving junk mail for previous occupants at your address, provide those names too.
Getting lots of unwanted spam emails is extremely frustrating. To block many of these messages, register online for DMA's eMail Preference Service (eMPS). Your registration will get you off email spam lists and reduce the overall number of messages you receive.
By registering with eMPS, you'll remove your email from United States-based lists. All DMA members who send unsolicited commercial emails have to purge their email lists of the individuals who've registered with eMPS. But you'll continue to get emails from groups or advertisers who don't use eMPS to scrub their lists.
If a reputable company sent you a spam email, you can unsubscribe from that company's messages by clicking the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email. Taking this action might take your name off the list immediately, or it could take you to a website where you have to click a confirmation button.
Some shady companies, however, will continue to send you messages even after you try to unsubscribe. You can report spam email to your email provider and also to the sender's email provider (if you can tell who the sender's provider is). Be sure to include the entire spam email and say that you're complaining about spam.
To get personalized advice about the laws covering unwanted junk mail and spam, talk to an experienced consumer protection lawyer.