Q: My mailbox is constantly stuffed with catalogs and credit card applications. Is there a way to stop all these unwanted solicitations?
A: The short answer is no.
You won't ever be able to stop all the solicitations coming your way, but there are ways to cut down on the number reaching your home.
Direct marketing is a big business in the United States. Sales from catalogs and solicitations from Internet companies, financial institutions, publishers, manufacturers and nonprofit groups topped $1.3 trillion in 1998, according to a study for the Direct Marketing Association by the research firm The WEFA Group in Eddystone, Pa.
Direct marketers, however, have been criticized for sharing private consumer information to build their customer base. Many companies rent out or exchange their lists of customer names.
That's why when you sign up for a new credit card, you might begin to receive unwanted solicitations from catalogs or charities you haven't heard of before.
But consumers should know there are ways to curb the amount of junk mail filling their mailboxes and telemarketers calling during dinner.
To start, you can register with the mail preference service, name-removal program run by the DMA, a New York-based trade group with more than 4,500 members.
Send a note with your name, address and signature to Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008.
Once your note is received, your name will be placed in a "delete" file and thousands of companies will then be required to remove your name from their mailing lists.
The DMA says registrants typically notice a decrease in the amount of advertising mail about three months after their names are entered in the file.
To stop solicitations from a specific company, the DMA suggests you write directly to that company and ask to be taken off its mailing list.
In addition, you can inform your favorite catalogs, charities, credit card issuers and magazines that you do not want your name "rented" for use to other direct marketers.
The DMA also runs a telephone preference service, which helps decrease the number of telephone solicitations. You can follow the same procedure as with the mail name-removal service, but send the note to Telephone Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 9014, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9014.
The DMA recently started requiring its 2,600 members that do business in the United States to disclose to consumers when they plan to share their private information with other marketers.
In addition, companies also must tell consumers they have the option not to have their information shared. Those failing to abide by the new policy risk public expulsion from the DMA.