Thursday, April 16, 2015
Trash and treasures in the mailbox
Going to the mailbox used to be one of life’s pleasures. In a more personal and un-computerized society, we corresponded across town and around the world with pen and paper. Telephone calls were expensive but postage stamps were not. A treasured note from someone saying ‘hello’ was usually tucked in among the inevitable bills. Those cards, notes and letters always made my day.
Today, just about the only people saying ‘hello’ to me by snail mail are not people at all. The mailers are automated computers deep in the bowels of marketing offices all across the nation. There, clever ad agencies put together enticing, colorful offers that are mass mailed to millions of people. At my house they go right in the trash/recycling.
This past year our mailbox has been bombarded with a ridiculous amount of unwanted catalogs, coupons, credit card offers and donation requests. Some charities send one or two solicitations a week. Many add stamps and coins to entice a donation. They are seldom opened. In an effort to stop the flow, I tried marking them “return to sender.” It made things worse and they keep coming.
One day I couldn’t stand it any longer. I opened a solicitation and found a phone number to call and (hopefully) stop the onslaught. I was told they would be happy to do so but “Mrs. Kaiser, you must understand that these mailings are prepared months in advance and will take up to 12 weeks to stop.” I hung up before I said something that I shouldn’t.
Eventually, the mailings dwindled down to once a week communications. As I stand over the trashcan, slicing and dicing them, I no longer wonder what some banking institutions are doing with our money. I know. They’re spending it on soliciting more customers and keeping the post office in business.
I am an avid magazine subscriber and thanks to some very nice ‘two-years-for-the-price-of-one’ offers, I often get good deals. Especially nice are the ‘buy-one-give-one’ gift offers. Obviously (as you will see) these are cash flow bonanzas for the companies and cash cows for the long haul.
A couple of years ago I noticed that the due dates for my Reader’s Digest magazine subscriptions were coming closer and closer together. December bills for family gift subscriptions were arriving in July. When I didn’t pay them, the bills kept coming. So I decided the subscriptions must be expired and wrote a check. The next year I did the same thing.
Guess what? By the time that I caught on to their advance billing game, everyone still had two years left on subscriptions. I finally called Customer Service and got it all straightened out. Now I keep a list of expiration dates.
“Final Notice!” offers without an actual expiration date are common. An offer to renew my three-year AARP membership was really annoying. My membership was only one year old when I received a notice to confirm that I wanted to renew my AARP membership and receive a Free Travel Bag! I called and complained that the offer was deceptive and they apologized. Yea, right.
Of course, these solicitations are not just limited to snail mail. Oh, no. They also come via telephone (email spam is another subject).
Last winter, in one of March’s wild winter storms, our power was out about 24 hours. As soon as our telephone service was restored, the phone rang. The caller inquired if everyone was okay and if we were interested in purchasing a Personal Emergency Response System (PERS) in case this happens again. In a different state of mind and a different time, I might have been cordial. Instead, I just told him to remove our name from his calling list and hung up.
My husband has a product in his workshop for which he purchases parts on the telephone. When he needs something, he calls and orders it. If he doesn’t need anything, he doesn’t call. The problem is that if he doesn’t call every 30 days, they call him — night after night at dinnertime. He asked to speak to their supervisor and be removed from their call list. They agreed but still the calls came.
Finally, I got online and ferreted out email addresses for the corporate office customer service division. A distinctly worded message protesting their sales tactics resulted in corporate calling me. They assured me that the sales solicitations would stop. And they did.
Still, in spite of our enrollment in the “Do not call” program, the other calls continued. So, we threw in the towel and subscribed to our phone company’s feature that blocks unwanted calls. For a small fee its message annoys everyone who calls—but it does what we pay for—a great job of filtering out solicitors and scam artists!
In a last ditch effort to opt out of the trash mail offers that kept coming, I Googled for some help. I started with http://www.usa.gov/topics/family/privacy-protection/junk-mail.shtml. Their site suggests that we tell the companies directly to remove our name (an on-going chore) or call the credit reporting agencies notification system at 1-888-567-8688. This required giving one’s Social Security number.
A final suggestion was to visit the Direct Marketing Association’s website at: https://www.optoutprescreen.com/opt_form.cgi
I decided to sign up with this one even though it doesn’t get rave reviews and must be renewed every three years (without an expiration notice). It was quick and simple and hopefully it will work.
Now, if I could just get friends and family to fill the mailbox with hand-written treasured notes—I would be a happy girl!
Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.