What to do when you’re buried in junk mail

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David Donovan doesn’t know what to do with the charity requests that target his 90-plus year old mother every day. Like many other older people, she is swamped by junk mail. The physical stuff delivered by the mail carrier, not email.



“She has received anywhere from 26 to 60 pieces of mail per day,” he said. He took a photo of her struggling with one day’s delivery at her retirement home, from groups like “the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Food for the Poor, Freedom for Christians,”  said, “even well known names like the American Red Cross and ACLU.”

Almost all of these are legitimate charities, and there is nothing wrong with donating to them. The problem is  when you receive requests by the hundreds.

So what can the Donovans do, or you do if you are in this situation?

The US Postal Service says it cannot filter out junk mail. It has no way of telling a charity request from a legitimate bill or important check without opening the envelope, which it is not allowed to do.  If USPS simply tosses your loved one’s bulk mail, it could inadvertently throw out an important credit card bill.

However, there are two things you can do:

  • You can opt out of most junk mail, by signing up at the website DMAChoice.org. NOTE: Some antivirus programs may flag this as questionable, but it is a legitimate site, run by the Direct Marketing Association. And Donovan learned it has a catch. “The problem is that doesn’t shut off the mail you are getting,” he said. If you are on a charity’s mailing list, they will continue sending you requests until you ask them to stop. That’s fine if it is just 3 or 4 groups, but not if you are receiving mailings from dozens of groups.
  • Divert your elderly relative’s mail to your address so you can sort through it first and just hand them their important letters and bills. That’s especially important if they are getting sweepstakes letters, because you don’t want them sending their life savings to sweepstakes scams. Once you send money to a sweepstakes, they will sell your name to dozens of other sweepstakes companies, as a “hot” address. One caution: your elderly relative will have to agree to this and sign off on the mail diversion. You cannot simply go to the post office yourself and change their mailing address.

David will try diverting his mother’s mail, hoping she no longer has to deal with a bursting mailbox every day.

That way you don’t waste your money.

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