No, we’re not talking waistlines! If you’re bogged down with unsolicited offers from email, snail mail or telephone, learn how to lose that weight. We’ve done the searching, you take the action: save time and frustration, help prevent identity theft, and be kinder to our environment.
No, we don’t mean your waistline. Unsolicited offers—whether via snail mail, e-mail, or the phone—not only create clutter and waste your valuable time, they can lead to problems as serious as identity theft.
You’ve probably seen hundreds of ads for products and services that claim to reduce the load. But do they really work? Follow these simple steps and resolve to lose the weight in 2008, once and for all!
Step 1: Stop the Snail Mail
paperkarma.com (fromerly 41 Pounds)
If you’re like most Americans, you receive 41 pounds of junk mail every year. That translates into 70 hours of sorting, organizing, and shredding unsolicited offers. That credit card offer you toss may also be easy prey for identity thieves, who scour mailboxes and dumpsters for pre-approved solicitations.1
Ferndale, Michigan-based 41Pounds.org contacts direct marketing and catalog companies to stop 80 to 95 percent of your household’s junk mail—including “credit card offers, coupon mailers, sweepstakes entries, magazine offers, insurance promotions, and catalogs2 – for 5 years. The service costs $41 and covers all household members, regardless of whether members move, get married, or change their names over the 5-year period. 41Pounds also allows you to specify which catalogs you would like to continue receiving.
Stopping your snail mail also benefits the environment. 41Pounds reports that reducing your junk mail for 5 years conserves trees, saves 700 gallons of water, and prevents 460 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.3 In addition, over one-third of the $41 fee is donated to environmental and community organizations.
This website, authorized by Equifax, Experian, Innovis, and TransUnion, allows you to opt-out from receiving offers of credit or insurance that are not initiated by you for either a period of 5 years or permanently (the site also offers an “opt-in” feature if you change your mind). While this site will reduce all unsolicited credit card offers, including some not covered by 41Pounds, please note that it does “strongly suggest” that you submit personal information, including your social security number and date of birth, to ensure success.4
Step 2: Can the Spam
Unlike junk mail, e-mail spam is much more difficult to manage because spammers often resort to illegal and evasive tactics, such as refusing to remove names on request or providing fake return addresses.5 Making the situation even worse, “spammers constantly attempt to outwit filtering and spam-blocker programs.”6 But spam doesn’t have to make your inbox an unmanageable nightmare. Follow these tips to shelve your spam:
Select a Filter Program
Hundreds of spam-filtering products are available on the market. But do they actually work? And do you have to spend a bundle to get real results? One option is SpamBully, a filtering program for Outlook, Outlook Express, and the new Windows Mail in Vista. SpamBully has been recommended by Wired Magazine, USA Today, the Chicago Sun-Times, About.com and other reviewers for its Bayesian filter, which quickly adapts to new types of spam. The program also offers cellphone forwarding, a multi-language interface, auto-delete options, and graphing and statistics to track how well the program is performing. A free 14-day trial is also available for download on the website.
In addition, recent testing of other filter programs7 found the following:
- Security suites: Suites are packages of anti-virus, anti-spyware, and spam filtering programs that are also available independently. Suites typically add additional features not available in independent programs, and some can be used on multiple computers.8 However, they are not recommended for computers with less than 1 gigabyte of memory. Suites such as Trend Micro, Check Point, and McAfee were highly rated for both their performance and value.9
- Stand-alone programs: Stand-alone programs provide anti-virus, anti-spyware, spam filtering, or other services independently. Among anti-spam programs, Cloudmark, and Smith Micro SpamCatcher were highly ranked in both performance and value.10
- Free programs: Although free programs tend to require more management time and did not perform as well as the best for-pay programs in trials, they can provide effective protection in a secure computing environment. SPAMfighter standard, Microsoft Outlook, and Windows Mail with Junk Mail Filter may help reduce inbox clutter for the budget-minded.11
Control Unwanted Email from Legitimate Sources
Still receiving emails from the Ohio Sierra Club—even though you now live in Phoenix? Most of us are subscribed to dozens of email lists whose newsletters and updates we no longer read. Do yourself a favor and review all of the lists you belong to, unsubscribing to any that are irrelevant. Unlike spammers, these organizations will remove you from their lists, saving you from hundreds of unwanted emails each year.
Stop Spam Before It Starts
When ordering online, haste makes waste—wasted time sorting through junk emails, that is. Watch for pre-checked boxes that offer “special discounts from our partners” or “updates on new products,” and be sure to uncheck them if you do not wish to receive them. Other websites require you to check boxes if you do not want to receive their offers. These websites hope that you will ignore the checkboxes in your hurry to place an order. The few seconds you save, however, will result in hundreds of unwanted emails. Pay attention when ordering online, and stop spam before it has the chance to flood your inbox.
Step 3: Tune Out Telemarketers
Join the Do Not Call Registry
The most effective way to stop sales calls and protect yourself from telemarketing fraud is to add your phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry. The Registry is managed by the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, and requires telemarketers to stop calling you within 31 days (however, the Registry does not stop calls from political organizations, charities, or telephone surveyors).12 You may register up to three personal phone numbers, including both cell phones and land lines. Until Congress reaches a decision on whether to make registration permanent, the FTC will not drop any telephone numbers from the registry.13
Switch To A Cell Phone
If you want to be sure to block all telemarketing calls, you might want to consider dropping your land line entirely. It is illegal for telemarketers to call a cell phone, and in spite of recent rumors, there are no plans to release cell phone numbers to telemarketers.14 It is still a good idea to register your cell phone with the Do Not Call Registry. In case you do receive illegal telemarketing calls, many cell phone companies will credit the minutes used by these calls, and the FCC offers complaint mechanisms to report offending telemarketers.15
Keeping the Weight Off: Other Resources
Making a resolution to “lose the weight in 2008” is a smart move not only to save time, but also to guard against fraud and identity theft. Following the tips described above will send you well on your way to curbing junk mail, spam, and telemarketing in the long term. Keeping the weight off, however, requires an ongoing commitment to staying informed. For more information on “losing the weight,” please see these sites:
- Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility Provides detailed information how companies get your address, how to track the spread of your name, ways to reduce junk mail and spam, and actions that won’t help.
- Federal Trade Commission Spam Tips Summarizes general tips to reduce the amount of spam you receive, report spammers, and avoid spam scams.
- Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email Offers a daily blog with updates on spam schemes and news, a discussion forum, and opportunities to become involved in community and governmental outreach activities.
- FBI List of Common Fraud Schemes Learn the most common warning signs of fraudulent emails, telemarketing schemes, insurance offers, and other forms of fraud. The site also provides tips for protecting yourself from identity theft.
- National Consumers League Fraud Center This helpful site provides consumer tips to identify and protect yourself from telemarketing fraud, internet fraud, and scams against businesses and the elderly.
141Pounds. 2007. Frequently Asked Questions. www.41pounds.org/faq
341 Pounds.2007. Impact. www.41pounds.org/impact
4OptOutPrescreen. 2008. Frequently Asked Questions. https://www.outputprescreen.com/faq.htm#14
5Levine,John. Why Is Spam Bad? spam.abuse.net/overview/spambad.shtml
6Foley, John. 10 January 2008. “Spammers Up To New Tricks.” Startup City Blog, Information Week. www.informationweek.com/blog/main/archives/2008/01/spammers_up_to.html
7Consumer Reports. September 2007. “Best Security Software.” Pp. 35-39.
8Ibid, pp. 35-36.
9Ibid, p. 36.
10Ibid, p. 39.
11Ibid, p. 35.
12Federal Trade Commission. 2007. Q&A: The National Do Not Call Registry. www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt107.shtm
14Federal Trade Commission. 2007. The Truth About Cell Phones and the Do Not Call Registry. www.ftc.gov/opa/2007/02/dnccellphones.shtm
15Digital Key To. 28 July 2007. Bad Business Practice – Telemarketing to Cell Phones. digitalkeyto.info/business/bad-business-practice-telemarketing-to-cell-phones.html
About the Author
Audrey FlackContent Creator
Audrey Flack has worked with Top Of The List since 2007 using her expertise in writing for the web. She lives in Hastings, MN with her husband and two sons.
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