Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Send it back

Every day it floods in... offers for digital cable, home mortgages and more. If only there were some way to stem the tide, some way to identify the senders and block the spam. If only everything went through a single source so this stuff can be tracked.

Oh... wait... it does. Our government.

Yes, that's right, I'm talking about our United States Postal Service. While there's all this talk about "Do Not Call" and CAN-SPAM, I find the biggest offense is the daily innundation of crap mailed to my house.

I get 3-5 mortgage offers a week, at least one piece of garbage from Adelphia, and for a few days straight, the offers for representation were pouring in. Apparently a former resident was recently apprehended for some pretty major crime.

(Hey, Adelphia - I don't even have cable at the house - I wound the cord up in a tree in the backyard so I didn't have to look at it marring my view of the sky as it uselessly hung across my backyard. The satellite dish's shadow is much less of a detractor from my view.)

So all the mail is funneled through a single source and yet for all the things we complain about with e-mail and our phones -- forged return addresses, caller ID blocking, unsolicited contact -- our federal government has printed themselves a ticket to spam us in the worst possible way.

When we moved from Glendale, we did not have our old phone number give out the new phone number. And we put a post office box in Pasadena as the forwarding address for mail. Then we closed the post office box in Pasadena and put the old address in Glendale as the forwarding address.

As a result, our phone has been nearly silent. The worst offender, Chase. We had to ask at least half a dozen times before they put us on their "Do Not Call List." To compensate, they seem to have upped the frequency of their postal mailings. But with any unsolicited telemarketer, we need to simply utter the words "No thank you." If that doesn't work, we add "Please end this call now or we're going to report you to the Do Not Call list." and that usually works. As a last resort, "I'm hanging up the phone now. Thank you." and then hang up the phone.

Spam has never been a huge problem with e-mail. Years ago, I had a really cool AIM name, but I forgot the password and was forced to quickly come up with a new one. To simplify, I used that new name as my e-mail address at Hotmail and others. It's been virtually spam-free for years. It's just my first name, the year I graduated and the initials of the school I graduated from. To a dictionary spammer, it's too random to guess, and I've avoided posting it anywhere on the internet or using it to enter contests. (I have other addresses for that.) Besides, Hotmail's done a great job with spam control and I just press "This is junk." and it's gone. My work address, that's another story. But even still, it's easy enough to highlight all the spam e-mail subject lines and hit delete. Problem solved in 5 seconds.

But mail is an entirely different problem.

First, the government doesn't check to see if the person even lives here, just put any old name and address on a piece of mail and the post office will blindly, efficiently, see it to its destination. Nevermind if it's wrong or not. I get mail for at least five or six different last names other than my own. I'm only the house's fourth owner.

Secondly, you don't always know what you're getting. At least with e-mail, you can usually quickly identify spam by the sender and/or subject, or for legitimate e-mail, see who the sender is and get some idea of what it's about. Not so with mail. It's legally ok to put only an address and a stamp on an envelope and send it off. No return address, nothing. (That seems to indicate that the sender doesn't even care if they have the correct address... even AOL's Postmaster demands that you monitor your inbox and quickly take care of bounced address/unsubscribe requests when you send to the wrong address or the person who got the e-mail doesn't want to receive future e-mails from you.)

Thirdly, there's no laws to help you stem the tide. I tried calling the 1-800 number published in one of the offers from Adelphia. I was told that I would probably need to go, in person, to an Adelphia office three or four towns over and that maybe somebody there would be able to help me get my name off the mailing list.

Lastly, it's a much more time consuming process to protect my identity and keep my life organized when it comes to postal spam than it is with e-mail or phone. Again, click-click-delete and the spam is gone. Click and the phone is hung up. The closest thing I have to a saving grace is that my mail is delivered through a mail slot into my house, so it's more secure. But I don't like how daily someone can send me a piece of mail and tell me about myself, true or not. They can include my name, my age, my social security, you name it. Now I've got to sort through, open, and shred all of this stuff. Thankfully, no one's sent me anthrax.

Well, no more. I have begun sending it back.

Washington Mutual? "Do not have a relationship with this entity. Return to sender."

Adelphia? "Refused - this is spam. Return to sender."

BMG, Columbia House, etc.? "Return to sender - remove from mailing list."

Unrecognized name? "Sender unknown to recipient. Return to sender."

If the government is going to profit by helping companies to spam me, I'm going to make sure they profit just a little bit less. Join me...
send it back.
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