One day, you sift through the seemingly harmless pile of mail on your doormat to find a letter or magazine from some peculiar business that you previously didn't know exist. You look closer, and find it's addressed to you. You check your memory carefully – you didn't ask anyone to send you this rubbish, and you certainly don't need a series of non-fiction hardbacks, regardless of the price. But wait. Wasn't there a little tick box on that questionnaire you filled in last month? Were you meant to tick it to not take advantage of their offer to send you tonnes of junk mail through the post, or did it say to tick it only if you wanted the junk? You can't remember: all you know is that you've received this nonsense and you don't want it. Or do you?
How Did They Get My Address?
Don't panic – you probably gave it to them a while ago. Many forms that businesses ask you to complete in return for freebies or website registration come with some tiny text at the bottom that reads something like this:
Some lovely little companies that we're good buddies with might want us to share your contact details with them so that you can find out about their exciting offers! If you don't want to take advantage of this amazing opportunity, tick here:
No [ ]
However, what they actually mean is:
We're going to share your details with other firms to make money. Tick this minuscule box to stop us:
No [ ]
It's a fair bet that some of the less careful form-fillers will miss this box, the paragraph next to it and perhaps even the page it's on. Their addresses end up being put in a big database that gets sold to all sorts of companies, who use the information to send them magazines and suchlike through the post.
Alternatively, someone you know may have given a company your details in order to either amuse or spite you, not that it makes much difference. Beware of these, as you may end up getting a bill for magazines that your friend has fraudulently ordered for you. There is, of course, an outside chance that you actually signed up to pay good money for a magazine, then forgot about it. If that's the case, there's not much this Entry can do to help you.
Of course, this doesn't explain all the unaddressed newspapers, flyers, pamphlets, takeaway menus and minicab cards that come streaming through most people's letterboxes. In the UK, some of these are delivered by the Royal Mail, who offer an opt-out scheme (see below), but others are delivered by hand on behalf of the company itself and are nigh-on impossible to avoid.
It's worth mentioning that three million people in the UK have fallen foul of junk mail scams, with scammers often sharing lists of vulnerable targets such as the elderly and individuals with poor credit histories. Scams will often claim to cure serious illness, make poor individuals rich with prize draw wins, or make offers that are beyond belief. To back this up, they include made-up scientific jargon, success stories from fictional 'satisfied customers', and often include a fake 'money-back guarantee'.
The advice here is simple: if it sounds too good to be true, it's probably a load of horse droppings. If you're not sure what to do, don't reply to the junk mail, don't give away your details and don't send any money. Don't be embarrassed to ask someone you know for advice. If you do end up being sent goods through the post on the basis that you'll be charged if you don't send them back, then go ahead and send them back. Suspected scams in the UK can be checked by Consumer Direct, and help can be sought from the Think Jessica charity, which was formed after an elderly lady was scammed out of a lot of money. Also, consider registering with the Mail Preference Service (see below). In some cases, an elderly or otherwise vulnerable individual may become the target of multiple scams, indicating that the scammers may have added the individual to a so-called 'suckers list'. In these cases, it may help to have the individual's post re-directed to a trusted friend or relative who can filter out scams and other junk mail.
But I Don't Want It!
If you really don't want a magazine subscription, writing to the company in question asking to unsubscribe often does the trick. After all, companies don't want to waste money printing advertising for individuals who won't read it. The same goes for a lot of junk mail, provided it's addressed to you.
If you're really desperate to stop unsolicited post, you can register with the Mail Preference Service in the UK – this will stop 95% of businesses from sending you 'direct mail' (unsolicited post addressed directly to you), and you can also register past occupants in order to stop receiving their junk. Another step you can take if you live in the UK is to opt out of the 'edited' electoral register by ticking the appropriate box when registering to vote. The 'edited' register contains the details of all those registered to vote who haven't opted out, and is a key source of addresses for direct mailing.
It's also possible to 'opt-out' from the Royal Mail's door-to-door delivery of unaddressed mail, and the UK's Direct Marketing Association recently began a similar service. However, if you're receiving papers, catalogues or flyers just addressed to 'The Occupier' or that have been shoved through your door by the owner of the local kebab house, the only remedy is to stick a 'No Junk Mail' sign on your door. For more advice on stopping junk arriving at your door, have a look at the Stop Junk Mail website.
Alternative Uses For Junk Mail
Flyers and leaflets can be used as an endless source of cheap bookmarks.
Some junk mail envelopes are blank and can easily be reused.
Large flyers and catalogues can make good fire-lighters.
For alternative uses of unwanted CDs, see Free Internet CDs.
Alternative Uses for Unwanted Magazines
Read at least one issue of the offending magazine. If you like what you see (you never know), there should be no further problem.
If someone in the house already has a subscription to the magazine and you now get two of each issue, put one in the bathroom or toilet. It provides good reading material, or at least might come in handy during toilet paper shortages.
Move house. They can't find you if you change your address. Note that this is a rather silly option, as it would be much cheaper just to unsubscribe from the magazine.
If you have a friend that you suspect might enjoy reading about motor sports, or cactus gardens, or whatever other completely arbitrary thing the magazine happens to be about, simply give them the magazines.
Many magazines are printed on recycled paper. If your much-despised publication happens to be one of these, then it may be a good idea to think about using them for something like the lining on the floor of a birdcage, or as a place for a small dog to urinate. Alternatively, recycled paper is also good for papier maché (provided the dog doesn't get to it first).
There is a chance, however small, that your magazine is prestigious enough to be collectable1. Just find a large box, put all of your magazines in it until the subscription runs out, and then stuff it up inside your attic and try not to forget about them2.
If all this doesn't work, just give up. Some people out there might contemplate taking the effort to throw their unwanted magazines in the bin or recycle them, but that's far too much effort.