Thursday, October 18, 2007

Cutting up the credit card (offers)...

With an estimated 850,000 tons of waste generated annually, credit card companies are the bane of my mailbox's existence. I have two Citi cards and receive a credit offer almost daily for each card, even though both offers are identical!

So once a month my wife and I put on our oven mitts and gather around the shredder, the motor burning lava-hot as it wheezes through the No Annual Fees! and Low Interest Rate! offers. Four hours later, we walk out to the mailbox and begin our collection again.

Will the cycle ever stop?

Well, there are many options to attack the credit card companies, some more extreme than the next.

1. OptOutPrescreen
I originally ran across this site less than a year ago and was stoked to learn that I could opt out online. However, I never filled out the form because it asked for my SSN and that turned on my panic alarm. Further digging assuaged my concerns and as of today, I am electronically opted out for the next five years (you can also call toll free 1-888-5-OPTOUT). The site is 128bit SSL encrypted, but make sure you type in the URL yourself, seeing as phishers might set up fake URL's similar in look.

2. Green Dimes
Purchase a Junk Mail Reduction Kit from Green Dimes ($15) and you'll be prompted to enter the names of yourself and everyone in your household. Two to four weeks after it's activated, you'll receive some customized cards that you can direct to snailmail spammers that flood your mailbox with Resident or Occupant letters. They'll also register your name with catalog mailers. Additionally, for every junk mail reduction kit that's purchased, they'll plant ten trees!

3. Change your preference listing with the Direct Marketing Association by sending a postcard or letter to:

Mail Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association
PO Box 643
Carmel, NY 15012-0643

Include your complete name, address, zip code and a request to "activate the preference service". For up to five years, this will stop mail from all member organizations that you have not specifically ordered products from. They process 50,000 requests a month and requests are kept active for five years. If you fill out the post office change of address form, the DMA will track the new address (you'll get a few months of mailings to the new address before they catch up to you). It can take up to six months for your request to be fully processed. You can also opt-out online, but they charge $5. The best way is to fill out their online form, then mail them a printout.

4. Catalogs
Catalogs are easy. Just call the company's 800 number listed on the catalog and get their fax number. Tell the CSR that your would like to opt-out from receiving catalogs. Be sure to get their name and keep it as a reference. Now, look on the label of the catalog. There should be an identifying box like Customer # or Source Code. Circle your customer number and write your instructions to Opt-Out on the mailing label and fax it to the company. Be sure to note "ATTN: customer service". Additionally, you can tear off the label, write your instructions on it, and enclose in the postage-paid ordering envelope. Mark envelope "ATTN: customer service". This method is the least effective.

5. Val-Pak Coupons
Click the link above and fill out the form, but don't give them your email address.

Other Tips:
-Whenever you donate money, order a product or service, or fill out a warranty card, write in large letters, "Please do not sell my name or address". Most organizations will properly mark your name in the computer.
-Product warranty cards are are often used to collection information on your habits and income, for the sole purpose of targeting direct mail. They are not required in most situations - avoid sending them.
-On the telephone, ask "Please mark my account so that my name is not traded or sold to other companies". Your credit card company probably sells your name the most often. Call them and ask them to stop.
-"Contests" where you fill in a little entry blank are almost always fishing expeditions for names. -If you fill one out at a football game, for example, expect to get a catalog of football merchandise within a few months. Avoid these if you don't want the mail.
-Select a false middle name or initial for each charity or business you deal with. Keep track of which letter goes with which organization. You can also select a false road designator, "avenue, place, circle, street, highway, parkway, etc.". This step can be very revealing. Some guides recommend changing the spelling of your name, but this can lead to duplicate mailings.

-Return the postage-paid envelopes blank/empty and make them eat the cost of postage.

Want to do some good with plastic?

Barclaycard Breathe
Through this UK-based credit card, 50% of all profit will go to carbon reduction projects around the world, such as Solar4Schools, renewable energy and forest preservation in Brazil, a hydropower and wind project in China.