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as seen on phillyBurbs.com

Leave me alone
How to stop junk mail, telemarketers and spam.

Her phone call woke me up out of a dead sleep Tuesday night to offer a "free" funeral plot.

I told her I wasn't interested, that I was on Pennsylvania's do-not-call list and she was violating the law. She countered that she wasn't telemarketing, she was merely giving the plots away on behalf of a graveyard in New Jersey.

Yeah, right.

I shouldn't complain, really. I've had dramatically fewer of these calls since I signed up on the state list late last year. It's worked out so well, that I fully plan to sign up for the new national do-not-call list.

And this is without the use of a TeleZapper, an electronic device selling for about $40 which electronically eliminates your name from telemarketers' databases. (I bought a handful of them for family members last Christmas, but didn't keep one for myself.)

In one month of operation, more than 30 million Americans have signed on to the national list, according to The Associated Press. It's been so successful that The American Teleservices Association, an industry trade group, has sued the Federal Trade Commission to stop it, arguing that the list will devastate their business and cost up to two million jobs.

My heart bleeds for them.

I'm also encouraged that Congress and the FTC are interested in cutting down on the large volume of spam that inundates my e-mail inboxes every day. How many offers for penis enlargement, breast enhancement and letters from the former president of a small country's bank do I really have to delete?

Anti-spam efforts have worked so far in Europe. However, I'm not really holding out too much hope here.

Congress made a stink about the volume of third-class or junk mail clogging mailboxes back in the early 1970s. But the lawmakers never did anything substantial about it, in part because junk mail helps keep the U.S. Postal Service afloat financially, according to the General Accounting Office.

Instead, the only real way to get off the mailing list of junk mailers is to contact the Direct Marketing Association directly. That's sort of like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

On top of that, the junk mail trade association wants you to pay $5 to complete an online form.

Mailing it to them is free, though. Go figure.

What I'd really like to do is mail them back the pounds of mail I get on a weekly basis that fills up my recycling bin and my trash can.

Here's how to get them all to leave you alone:

STOP TELEMARKETERS

Pennsylvania residents have been able to sign up for a list maintained by the state Attorney General's office since last fall. Joining the list is free and only takes a few minutes by phone toll-free at 1-888-777-3406 or online at www.nocallsplease.com/. There's some lag time between when you sign up and when telemarketers must stop calling. For instance, the Web site says that anyone who signs up before Sept. 15 should see a reduction in calls beginning Oct. 1.

New Jersey residents do not have a lit of their own yet. However, Gov. James McGreevey signed a measure that's "stricter than the national list" into law on May 21. The state's Division of Consumer Affairs now has a year to implement the program. Until then, the agency's Web site recommends that residents join the national list.

The National Do Not Call Registry is free and already available to East Coast residents. Joining the list is free. You can call toll-free at 1-888-382-1222 or register online at www.donotcall.gov/. Like the Pennsylvania list, there is also a lag before it takes effect. The Web site says anyone who registers before Aug. 31 can expect to see their telemarketing call curtail by Oct. However, register on or after Sept. 1, and you'll have to wait three months.

STOP JUNK MAIL
 
When I was growing up, I was taught that it was supposed to be a federal crime to place anything in a mailbox that was unsolicited. But apparently my teachers were wrong.

On any given, this is what my mailbox looks like. If the postman would just leave me the bills and stick the rest in the recycling basket, I'd be much happier.

In 1970, a group of telemarketers challenged a federal law aimed at stopping sexually explicit solicitations from being mailed to you unsolicited. The law had required the U.S. Postal Service to create a list of people who wanted out of the junk mailers' address list. The Supreme Court not only upheld the law, but found that Congress had the right to permit "a citizen to erect a wall . . . that no advertiser may penetrate without his acquiescence."

The law also directed the U.S. Postal Service to create a form that citizens could fill out to block junk mail. But to date, the Postal Service still requires you to fill out a form for each company sending you junk mail. Great, now your junk mailing the government.

Why would the Postal Service create such red tape?

Consider this:

In March 1988, a group now known as the Advertising Mail Marketing Association requested that the Postal Service suspend the federal statutes for third-class mail and let them use private carriers to deliver catalogs, according to the General Accounting Office.

"The Postmaster General responded that the requested suspension would not be in the public interest. The Service's principal argument against the suspension was that third-class mail, which ranked second to first-class in revenue and volume, was too important to the Postal Service as a whole," according to a 1996 GAO report. 
 
In addition to the postal charge, the U.S. Postal Service also raises revenue by selling your address to direct marketers.

DIRECT MARKETING PAC

The Direct Marketing Association's political action committee (PAC) direct voice, made nearly $364,000 in federal campaign contributions during the last three election cycles including the following:

In the 2002 election cycle, the pac donated $87,750 to federal candidates (40% Democrats, 60% Republicans). To see which candidates received money, click here.
In the 2000 election cycle, the pac donated $146,900 to federal candidates (41% Democrats, 59% Republicans). To see which candidates received money, click here.
In the 1998 election cyle, the pac donated $128,944 to federal candidates (45% Democrats, 55% Republicans). To see which candidates received money, click here.

To see online portable document format (PDFs) copies of the pac's filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), click here.

SOURCE:  OpenSecrets.org

In other words, junk mail is subsidizing the Postal Service, and without the millions it rakes in, mailing an envelope would cost you a lot more than 37 cents today.

It's a cost I'd be willing to bear. Can I suggest a check box on our income tax form, like the one supporting presidential candidates?

How effective is junk mail?

Over 44% of the junk mail we receive enters the waste stream before it has ever been opened or read. In fact, according to the EPA, junk mail produces over four million tons of solid waste every year.

Yet, the industry's largest trade group, the Direct Marketing Association, claims "40% of the American population - more than 80 million adults - buy direct each year."

Ironically, the association has supplanted the Postal Service's duty as a way out of junk mail through its Mail Preference Service (MPS).

The MPS consists of an online form you fill out and either submit electronically (at a $5 charge) or print out and mail in.

I recommend mailing it in because while the association's "do not mail" file is updated monthly, it's only distributed four times a year - January, April, July, and October.

STOP SPAM

Cat and Mouse interactive -- How spammers and foes do battle

By some estimates, junk e-mail or "spam" costs American businesses billions of dollars, The Associated Press has reported. Microsoft alone has to block more than 2.4 billion junk e-mails a day and is having trouble keeping up.

Congress is considering empowering the FTC to create a do-not-e-mail list. But, some argue, even a federal law won't stop what has become a world-wide problem while stifling legitimate American commerce.

The Top 10 Spammers

So, once again your only alternative is the Direct Marketing Association, which has an E-mail Preference Service. The service is free by simply filling out this online form. However, registration only last two years and will only curtail the flow of spam into your inbox, the association warns.

"You may continue to receive e-mails from groups or advertisers who do not use e-MPS to clean their lists. E-mail of a business-to-business nature received at your place of employment is also not affected through registration with e-MPS."

SCHMIDTY LEADS THE LIST OF INDUCTEES

Last week I asked readers to help me select the first 15 inductees into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame. After 436 votes cast, here are the totals:

Mike Schmidt (32)
Wilt Chamberlain (31)
Richie Ashburn (31) 
Julius Erving (30)
Steve Carlton (28)
Bernie Parent (26)
Chuck Bednarik (26)
Bobby Clarke (24)
Robin Roberts (22)
Connie Mack (21)
Joe Frazier (20)
Harry Kalas (19)
Steve Van Buren (17)
Billy Cunningham (15)
Pete Rose (14)
Jimmie Foxx (14)
Tom Gola (13)
Lefty Grove (11)
Del Ennis (7)
Chuck Klein (6)
Sonny Hill (5)
Dave Zinkoff (5)
By Saam (4)
Paul Azrin (4)
Willie Mosconi (3)
Bert Bell (2)
Jack Kelly Sr. (2)
Dawn Staley (2)
Bill Tilden (2)
Eddie Gottlieb (0)
Billy Hamilton (0)
Glenna (Collett) Vare (0)
Bill Campbell (0)
Cathy Rush (0)
Ray Didinger (0)

Dave Ralis' Pave The Grass column appears on Mondays. You can send him an e-mail at  or call him at 215-269-5051. To read his previous columns, click here.

Aug. 18, 2003