Snail-mail spam

Like most people, I hate spam, I hate the people that send it, and I feel sorry for the poor people who get duped by it.

But I hate "snail mail" spam even more.

(This is a rant, if you haven't already figured that out. Feel free to stop reading now 🙂 )

These days, most electronic spam is either caught by e-mail servers (such as Hotmail or the new Exchange Intelligent Message Filter) or by client-side filters such as Outlook's spam filter or the plethora of 3rd party / open source solutions. Stuff that isn't automatically killed by the software is usually pretty easy to catch by just looking at the subject or the first few lines of the body.

But paper spam is much harder to spot. I can't just throw away letters that look suspicious because, if I throw away the wrong ones I could really lose money, or have my driver's license cancelled, or get fined by the IRS, or kicked out of the country, or any number of other nasty things. So I have to open each and every one of the stupid things, even though virtually all of them are complete rubbish.

People hate electronic spam because the sender never pays for the distribution or storage of the e-mail, whereas at least with paper mail the advertisers pay some nominal rate to have it delivered. But paper mail sucks up more of my time, and it wastes a large number of "real world" resources, too (paper products, petroleum products, land-fill space, etc.). I think the only useful thing it might do is subsidise the cost of postage for the rest of us.

Horrible thought: Presumably, at some point in the not-too-distant future e-mails will be recognised as "legally binding" in some sense so that you will get all your official financial information, legal information, etc. through e-mails, and it will be a crime for you to not read them. Then the spammers will have a field day, because everyone will be forced to read the junk mail just in case it has something to do with their tax return or speeding ticket or whatever. The zero-cost delivery of electronic spam with the guaranteed readership of "official" paper spam -- what more could a scoundrel ask for?

Actually, I think some of the paper spammers are just as guilty of misleading people as their on-line counterparts. The other day I received a piece of mail that had in it a five dollar cheque made out to me. Being suspicious, I of course read the fine print and basically the deal was that if I cashed the cheque they would have automatically enrolled me into some perpetually useless service that I obviously didn't need (I think it was life insurance, but I can't remember now).

I wonder how many people thought "Wow, five dollars!" and rushed to their local bank, only to be charged tens or even hundreds of times that amount in useless fees for something they never asked for, never wanted, and were effectively duped into buying via deceptive advertising practices. If it were sent in an e-mail, they'd be sentenced to nine years in prison!

It's a crying shame, I tell you.

And then of course there's the constant steam of government-mandated spam that I get every time someone passes wind at a mutual fund my 401k happens to invest in.

(Although I do find it kind of funny -- in a sad, sad, way -- that the American Express sign-up forms I get sent every couple of months
look like they rolled off a 1980s typewriter... hello, proportional fonts anyone?)

Comments (7)

  1. Uwe Keim says:

    I rather throw it away than opening. If it is an invoice, they will re-send it. The side-effect is that I have to pay my bills later 🙂

  2. Ron Atkinson says:

    With junk mail, the best thing to do is save it all up, and when you’ve got some pairs, return company x’s junk to company y inside company y’s envelope, and vice versa.

  3. Brendan says:

    More often than not, you can ‘fight back’ against snail-mail spam, much more maliciously than with the e variety.

    The most you can do with e-mail is keep it from hitting your inbox, maybe reporting it and more often than not, letting the issue die… with snail-mail spam, it costs them money to send the ‘offer’ and costs them again for them to receive your application for said ‘offer’.

    The solution often is simply mailing em back, I love the credit card ones especially, they always have a postage paid envelop inside, so, I tear the contents of the original envelop (and often it too) in half, throw em in the return, I’m even sure to leave my contact information on the original letter in the delusional hope that they’ll take a hint.

    Providian for example for some reason sees fit to send me on average 1 of these offers a week… over the summer I just let em pile up on the floor, until I mailed back 20 in one sitting… now I make my weekly trip to the post office and drop what ever offers I got into the slot… and yet they still keep coming.

    It’s a shame bricks are so expensive… it’d be nice to increase the return cost by increasing the letters weight beyond the normal 1st class rate.

  4. Anon says:

    I’ve often wondered what the legality of sending X’s mail back to Y is… I’ve also heard that people fill out the entire forms with subtly incorrect information so as to waste more resources at the processing end.

  5. I once read that if they were to stop sending bulk snail mail (as spam is called when the letterman delivers it), that our stamps would triple in cost, as people are paying money to send us that ‘junk’. They of course get a discount, but since the Post Office is making money on the junk mail and the consumer is saving money, no one really complains.

    However, I could rent a server for 50 bucks a month, put some freeware software on it and send 3 million spams in a few hours. Spam won’t be going away until ever. We can pass all sort of state laws and country laws, but then the spammers will just go to some small third country and do the spamming from there.

  6. Jo Ann says:

    Just today I received a piece of mail that was disquised as my 1040 form. Had the same tear off sides, privacy paper, and, it had 1040 in big black letters on the outside. It also said personal and confidential. I didn’t think it was my actual 1040 because they had my address slightly wrong but I really couldn’t just toss it, I was obligated to open this official piece of mail. On the inside was a solicitation from a debt counseling organization. Here’s what I wonder, who would ever do business with a company who has to resort to such underhanded and sneaky tactics to get your attention?

    Not me.

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