How To Stop Getting Credit Card Offers In the Mail
If you’re like most people, your mailbox is stuffed with “pre-approved” offers for credit cards. This may just seem like an annoyance, but in fact it’s worse than that; it’s a direct risk to your financial well-being. Why? Because these offers are treasure troves for identity thieves; by simply rifling through your mailbox or your trash, they can get everything they need to open up a credit card account in your name — or, if the company is particularly dumb, pick up identifying information like your date of birth, social security number, etc. that they can use in other scams.
The first thing you should be doing is shredding these letters before you throw them out — but that doesn’t protect you from someone grabbing them out of your mailbox before you do, plus it means a giant volume of shredded paper you have to deal with. It’s a much better idea to simply turn off the firehose and stop the letters from being mailed to you in the first place. Here’s how to do that.
As it turns out, the big credit bureaus (of whom we’ve already spoken earlier) are the source of the vast majority of this junk mail. That’s because they sell lists of credit-rated consumers to the people who send all the mail. Using these lists, lenders target the type of consumer they want, and then bombard them with unsolicited offers. Some percentage will eventually break down and take the offer.
That’s another reason to hate the credit bureaus. But, perversely, the fact that they are the ones enabling this abuse also made it easier to solve; instead of a consumer having to opt out with every potential lender, they can simply tell the credit bureaus to stop including them in the lists they sell and the mail will dry up.
What’s more, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) banged the heads of the credit bureaus until they agreed to all have a single, common opt-out list — so there’s only one place you need to go to get off the lists of Experian, TransUnion, Equifax, and a couple of others too.
To opt out of credit card mailings, call 1-888-5-OPTOUT or visit http://www.optoutprescreen.com/. These are the gateways to the FTC’s unified do-not-mail list. They’ll ask you for some information to process your request; don’t be spooked when they ask you for your Social Security number, these are authentic government resources and can be trusted with that information. (A good strategy to avoid identity theft is to never give out your SSN, but in this case, it’s OK.)
Then you’ll be asked what kind of opt-out you want to do. In their inimitable style, the credit bureaus have designed the choices to maximize the potential that you’ll choose the wrong one. The first option is a so-called “Electronic Opt-Out”, which they can process right then for you on the phone or the Web site. The other choice is the “Permanent Opt-Out By Mail”, which requires you to get a paper form (either by printing it from the site, or having them mail it to you), fill it out, and mail it back to them to be implemented.
“Electronic Opt-Out” probably sounds convenient, but there’s a catch — it’s only good for five years. After that, they’re free to start spamming your mailbox again, unless you remember to call up again and re-opt-out. Which, let’s be honest, you will probably not remember to do until your mailbox starts getting jammed again.
“Permanent Opt-Out By Mail” is what you want. This takes longer to process — there’s the delay in mailing the form back and forth, plus another delay after they receive it for processing, during all of which you’ll still get credit card come-ons — but once it’s processed, you’re off the lists for good. Which means almost no more credit card offers by mail. (You’ll still get a few, from organizations like alumni groups and your current bank that get their names from other sources; but the volume will drop dramatically. As an example, I went from getting 1-2 credit card offer letters a day, to 1-2 a month after opting out.)
Want more info? Here’s the FTC’s page on opting out of pre-screened credit and insurance offers. But now that you’ve read this piece, you have all the information you need to turn off the firehose once and for all.
April 14, 2014
If you’re going to go to the trouble, I’d also recommend opting out of the DMA (direct mailing association) which is very easy to do as well.