Is it junk?

While sometimes it's quite clear from looking at the outside of an envelope that the mailpiece is certainly junk mail that you don't want, sometimes companies try to trick you into opening something since they think it's more likely that you'll buy from them that way. So sometimes it can be tough just from looking at an envelope to know whether something is junk mail or whether it's something actually important and just from a person or company you haven't heard of or don't remember. Here are some tips I've discovered work for me.

  • Look at the postage area carefully. Is it being sent "First Class" or "Standard"? Most junk mail is sent at the Standard rate, because it's cheaper. Be careful, because sometimes a sender will use actual stamps to trick you into thinking that it's something more personal and first class when the stamp actually says "Presorted Standard" on it. (The post office offers these stamps to their senders because research shows people are more likely to open mail if the mail actually has a stamp on it.) It is illegal to use Standard mail to mail statements of account, invoices, and other important things. Therefore, even if something looks important, if it's sent via Standard mail, even if it's from a company you do business with, it's at best a general announcement and/or advertisement, and isn't an invoice or statement from that company. Personal Information cannot be included in a Standard mailpiece unless it's directly related to advertising or solicitation in it. (DMM 243 2.2)
  • If mail is sent "ECRWSS", then it's Standard mail that is going to everybody in a given area. That would make it junk mail, although some of it (like community newspapers) you may in fact want.
  • Mail sent via Standard Mail from a company that you don't recognize is definitely junk mail.
  • Sometimes there are what looks like dire warnings that tampering with mail getting to the correct recipient is a federal offense, making it look like the mailpiece is very important. If it's sent via Standard Mail, trust me, it really isn't important, and those warnings are just there to try to get you to open it. If you don't believe me, go ahead and open it up. Then throw it out, since it's junk mail. If you get something that looks official but is sent First Class, then it quite possibly is actually important.
  • Often, you can press the white envelope flat against the paper(s) inside the envelope and hold it in the light just right and read some of the words. That's usually enough to let you know whether it's something worth opening or that should get sent back.