Jean Barker

'Just throw it away'

2016-05-13 09:02

Jean Barker

The US post office does a brisk business sending out tons of completely unsolicited junkmail, every day.

Once your address winds up on a list at any company, the chances are someone who works at that company is going to sell it, to pretty much anyone they want. You have no way of finding out how people got it. Then, they’ll start harassing you. And it’s all perfectly legal.

Even the “good guys” do it. When I first arrived in the USA, I naively made a small ($10) donation to KPPC, the local NPR news station. I was grateful for their relatively open-minded coverage of the news, and fantastic podcasts, and though I didn’t have much to give, I wanted to support what they do. Big mistake! I watched as, over the next six months, they spent the entire donation (or more, if you count manpower hours) harassing me for a further donation, although I never consented to receive mail from them.

I was outraged the first time I received this real-world spam, believing it was illegal to send it out, but soon learned that there’s no law against it here. In fact, it’s one of the chief revenue streams of the post office, who deliver it, whether you want it or not.

Landfill and tree trashing

‘Just throw it away’ doesn’t work.

Firstly, that’s exactly what America already does. The environmental effects of junkmail (aka “outbound marketing”) are hideous, as this blog explains. Junkmail kills 2.6 million trees a year, and produces one billion pounds of landfill yearly in the USA. And then there’s all the environmental damage that making paper, coating it with kaolin, and printing it with toxic ink,  to think about too.

Secondly, most of the junkmail I get has sensitive personal information in it, because the bulk of it consists of fake “pre-approved” credit card offers, from banks to whom I have never given any information in my life. Where they got it is anybody’s guess, though my own bank, Wells Fargo, is one of the worst offenders. “You have been pre-approved”, they say, and include a fake credit card, which I would never be granted if I actually applied.

These credit card offers can’t just be tossed, because if someone found them, they could fraudulently apply for a card on my behalf, and scam me. Credit card fraud is rife in the USA, and the onus is on the victim whose life was destroyed to prove innocence. So, every week, I sit with a pair of scissors and cut up my junkmail from Capital One, Discover Card, American Express, Wells Fargo, Chase Bank, divide the papers into separate trash bags, and throw them away. Recycling’s too unsafe. I do the same with my junkmail from every company I’ve ever purchased from: AT&T, Geico, three health care providers I’ve never used, and Time Warner Cable.

‘Please DM us your address’

Every now and then, I’ll post a picture of my junkmail, and name and shame my most persistent spammers on Twitter. Soon, the marketing department will demand my contact information so they can “remove me”. The first time I wasted my time doing this, they said: “It’ll take two weeks for you to stop receiving offers”. And it did. It stopped for a week or two.

But then, it soon began again. All I’d done was be idiotic enough to confirm that my address was real, and their junk was reaching me at this address - even if not at my two other last known post boxes, which they’re undoubtedly still stuffing with dead forests, while putting my privacy at risk.

But say, just say, I were able to achieve the impossible, persuade these people to pay attention to the fact that I am on the do not mail list, and get everybody who currently sends me offers in the mail to stop?

Even then, I’d still get junk delivered to me, because in addition to the spam addressed to me by name, I also find an envelope shamelessly addressed by DirectTV or Time Warner Cable to “Los Angeles Neighbor” in my mail - every single week, without fail, as well as junkmail addressed to the previous three tenants at my address.

Jean earned an MFA in Directing and Screenwriting and works in the LA film industry. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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