Is it Junk Mail?
One of the challenges of just refusing junk mail is that you need to determine whether it’s junk before opening it. While sometimes it’s quite clear from looking at the outside of an envelope that the mailpiece is certainly something that you don’t want, other times companies try to trick you into opening something since they think it’s more likely that you’ll buy from them that way. So 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.
- The main technique is to look at the postage area. Junk mail is usually sent at the “Marketing Mail” rate, which used to be called the “Standard” rate (so sometimes you’ll see one name and sometimes the other, but they’re the same thing). The postage might be labeled as “PRSRT MKT”, “PRSRT MKTG”, “PRESORTED STANDARD”, “PRSRT STD”, or something similar, but they all mean the same thing: it’s junk mail. Be careful, because sometimes a sender will use actual stamps to trick you into thinking that it’s something more personal when the stamp actually says a rate like “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 the Marketing Mail rate to mail statements of account, invoices, and other important things. Therefore, even if something looks important, if it’s sent via “Marketing” (or “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 Marketing Mail mailpiece unless it’s directly related to advertising or solicitation in it (per DMM 243 2.2).
- If mail is sent “ECRWSS”, then it’s Marketing mail that is going to everybody in a given area. The mailing doesn’t have anything specific to you in it. Although some mail sent this way (like community newspapers) you may in fact want, most of it is junk mail.
- Mail sent via Marketing 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. While tampering with mail is a crime, if it’s sent via Marketing 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’s much more likely to be actually important.
- Often, you can press the 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 refused.