Consumers can protect themselves against identity theft and also protect the environment by taking steps to reduce unwanted mail, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises.
“Some forms of unsolicited mail can put consumers at risk of identity theft,” said Nancy B. Cahalen, BBB president and CEO. “Consumers can take control of their mailboxes by opting out of credit card offers, coupon packs and other types of unwanted mail.”
Reducing the volume of mail you receive can make a big difference in the amount of solid waste a household generates. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that Americans throw away more than 4 million tons of mail a year. That garbage can be a gold mine for identity thieves.
Pre-approved credit card offers can be an easy target for identity thieves. They can steal incoming mail and use the offers to open fraudulent credit card accounts. Consumers can opt out of credit card offers for at least five years by calling 1-888-567-8688 or by visiting www.optoutprescreen.com
. Your Social Security Number and birth date are required, but they are encrypted for your protection. The service is offered by the three major credit reporting bureaus.
Unsolicited mail that is addressed to children under 13 years old can be a sign that identity theft has occurred. If a child is getting unwanted mail, parents should contact the three credit bureaus and inform them of the situation. The credit bureaus and their numbers are:
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285.
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742.
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289.
Catalogs can easily overrun a consumer’s mailbox. Some catalog companies hand your address over to others, resulting in an avalanche of mail. You can ask individual companies to stop sending you catalogs by contacting them directly, or you can stop mass mailings by e-mailing Abacus, an alliance of catalog and publishing companies, at email@example.com
or by writing to Abacus Inc., P.O. Box 1478, Broomfield, CO 80038.
Some mail can be stopped by contacting organizations that represent direct marketers. In some cases, codes or addresses from the mail may be required to process a request.
The Direct Marketing Association, a trade group representing 5,200 companies that use telephone, mail and the Internet to pitch products directly to consumers, gives consumers the option to opt out of mail. Consumers can go to www.dmachoice.org
. It can take six months for the solicitations to stop.
Consumers can stop mailings of coupon packs by filling out an online request at www.coxtarget.com/mailsuppression/s/DisplayMailSuppressionForm
or by contacting the sender of the packs.
To stop “resident” or “occupant” mailings, consumers can contact Valassis, formerly known as ADVO Inc. by calling 1-888-241-6760, by sending a written request to ADVO Inc. Customer Assistance, P.O. Box 249, Windsor, CT 06095 or by going to www.advo.com/consumersupport.html
For more advice on protecting yourself from identity theft or to check out a business or charity, go to www.bbb.org
or call 314-645-3300.