10/03/2012 04:37 pm ET | Updated Dec 03, 2012

How to Stem the Tide of Junk Mail

Here's more than you ever wanted to know about junk mail: Each year, according to Catalog Choice, direct mail creates 10 billion pounds of solid waste in the U.S. alone and costs local communities more than $1 billion in collection and disposal expenses -- not to mention putting you at greater risk for identity theft if you don't shred personalized mailings before tossing.

So how can you stop the flood of junk mail you receive? You could try moving or changing your name, but as you've probably noticed, a lot of what's delivered to your mailbox is addressed to "Occupant." In fact, the U.S. Postal Service relies heavily on such deliveries, which now outnumber first-class postage mailings.

Here are a few more practical suggestions for stemming the tide:

A good way to significantly reduce the number of offers you get for new credit accounts and insurance is to register with, a secure website created by the leading credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, Innovis and TransUnion).

By completing a simple online form, you can request to be removed from marketing lists the bureaus supply to lenders and insurance companies for use in firm (preapproved) credit or insurance offers. You'll be asked to provide certain personal information, including your name, address, phone number, Social Security number and date of birth. The information you provide will be treated confidentially.

The electronic opt-out is valid for five years. If you want to opt out permanently, you must mail the form to the address provided. You can also opt back into such mailings electronically through the website. And, if you prefer, you may opt in or out by phone at 888-567-8688.

Although your request will be completed within five days, you may not see an immediate reduction in the number of solicitations because your name may have already been provided to companies that have not yet mailed their offers. You should see a significant drop within a few months; however you still may receive offers from companies that obtain your contact information from other sources besides these four credit bureaus.

Another good method to curb the amount of direct mail you receive is to register with, a program run by the Direct Marketing Association, the leading trade organization for businesses and non-profit organizations that send direct mail. When you register, your name is put in a "delete" file that is sent to DMA's 3,600-plus members to check against their mailing lists.

It's important to note that not all marketers belong to DMA, so registering won't stop all such mailings. Also, it won't stop mailings from companies you already do business with or to which you've made a donation in the past. To get off their lists you'll have to contact them directly.

Check the company's or charity's website for their privacy policy, which should contain information on how to curtail or opt out of future mailings. Also make note of their policy on sharing your personal and financial information with affiliates and other third parties.

You can also register with to stop mail from being sent to a deceased individual or if you want to manage mail being sent to a dependent in your care. And, they have an email preference service where you can opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial emails from DMA members for six years.

A third opt-out option to explore is Catalog Choice, a free service that helps you submit opt-out requests for catalogs, coupons, credit card offers, phonebooks, circulars and more. Catalog Choice also offers several paid services where they do more of the legwork to get you off third-party mailing databases. With one, MailStop Envelope, you simply send them mailing labels from unwanted mail in a prepaid envelope. They even have a free iPhone app where you take a picture of the unwanted mail and upload it for processing.

For information on how to reduce the number of marketing calls you get, read my previous blog, How to Stop Annoying Telemarketer Calls.

One last suggestion: If you've got elderly parents, you might want to screen their mail for an overabundance of direct mail -- especially catalogs and solicitations for money. If they're on a fixed income and susceptible to strong sales pitches, the combination can be devastating to their bank account. You can help them register with the organizations mentioned above.

No matter how diligent your efforts to get yourself off unwanted mailing lists, you're probably still going to get some junk mail. But it's good to know there are ways to significantly scale back the amount.

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.