NEW YORK (CNNmoney) - As people increasingly worry about receiving mail tainted with anthrax, many would rather not open more envelopes than they absolutely have to.
Half the mail the average American household gets each week is direct marketing material - what's commonly termed "junk mail". (The Postal Service calls it advertising or A-class mail.) Heightened fears of inhaling anthrax spores from a contaminated letter already have hurt the direct marketing industry.
"A common tactic in direct mail is to disguise the nature of the solicitation and send you something that doesn't indicate what's inside, to make you open the envelope. People aren't opening the 'mystery envelopes' right now," said Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters Corp., a Boston-area company that tries to stop all unwanted consumer solicitations.
"Responses to direct marketing are dropping in general," Catlett said. "More and more people just throw mail away - especially unmarked mail - without opening it."
It's extremely unlikely that junk mail would play any part in bioterrorism.
But if you feel nervous and want to handle less mail (or you're just tired of receiving coupons and sweepstakes entry forms), consider taking steps to ensure you receive less junk mail.
Where does it all come from?
How do these people find you, no matter where you move? It's because businesses that have your name and address frequently sell lists of contact information to direct marketers. Your name and address come cheap, too. According to the Consumer Research Institute, the going rate for names is typically between $30 and $175 per thousand.
"People mistakenly think one or two places have their name," said an independent Website consultant working with Stopjunk.com. "But think about all the times you give out your name and address. Credit card companies, credit bureaus, catalog orders and phone surveys all sell your name."
How to hide
First of all, send a letter or postcard to the Direct Marketing Association, the largest trade group for direct marketers, asking them to activate the DMA Mail Preference Service. They'll put your name in a "delete" file that's sent to their members and kept active for five years. You should see a drop in the amount of junk mail you receive after about three months.
To stop solicitations from credit card companies and financial planners, write the three main credit bureaus - Equifax, Experian and Transunion. They sell lists of cardholders with favorable credit histories. Request that they take your name off any list they share.
Finally, write to the big list brokers, like DataBase America, Donnelley Marketing and Info USA. These companies don't send junk mail, but they sell lists of people considered likely to respond to mail solicitation. Tell them to remove your name from any list they have.
These first three are among the main steps recommended in the "Stop the Junk Mail" Kit, available online at http://www.stopjunk.com/, and should reduce the amount of junk mail you receive by well over half. See below for relevant addresses.
Whenever you buy from a company, or give to a charity or business, tell them not to share your contact information. Otherwise, their catalogs and mailings will follow you for years to come.
Monthly utility bills, credit card statements and billing statements may have an "opt out" box in the corner of the mailing or provide an 800 number to call. These delete you from any customer lists they rent or sell.
Registration cards and warranties will make the junk mail gods smile on you till the end of your days (or maybe longer, as death does not seem to stop direct marketers from targeting someone's business). Leave your new toaster oven unregistered and anonymous. If you must send in the card, write "please do not rent or share my name and contact information" on it.
If you're tired of receiving mailings from a particularly stubborn company, you can enlist the help of the U.S. Postal Service. At any post office, you can fill out Form 2150, a simple form that prohibits a particular company from sending you solicitations in the mail. It is illegal for them to send you anything 30 days after the form is filled out and sent.
The form was created to stop pornographic junk mail, but the Supreme Court decided someone could use it to object to mailed solicitations of any kind. In short, you decide what you consider objectionable.
Finally, use common sense - be careful when giving out your name and address. Give it only to someone if you absolutely must.
Mail Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association
P.O. Box 9008
Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008
Consumer Products Manager
100 Paragon Drive
Montvale, NJ 07645-0419
Donnelley Marketing, Inc.
Attn: Database Operations
416 S. Bell Avenue
Ames, IA 50010
TransUnion LLC's Name Removal Option
P.O. Box 97328
Jackson, MS 39288-7328
Experian Consumer Opt Out
701 Experian Parkway
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 740123
Atlanta, GA 30374-0123
Source: "Stop the Junk Mail" Kit, www.stopjunk.com