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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Junk Mail Ethics II

In my last post, I covered junk mail marketing surveys, which was listed in the Direct Marketing Assn.’s (DMA) article, “DMA Releases latest Ethics Report; Refers Listing Service to FCC,” as a priority in their ethics agenda. My blog pointed out just how much of your personal data is requested in these questionnaires, and how rich the junk mailers get from selling it.

Another DMA issue from the article was “teaser” copy; those alluring statements on the front of junk mail envelopes designed to get you inside. The DMA states that they, “…should not cross the line into deceiving a consumer about the nature of the promotion.”

One only needs to remember the sweepstakes mailing received by an individual not too long ago that indicated they were a winner. The person paid their own way to Florida, if I recall correctly, to redeem the prize, only to find out they had won nothing.

My wife just received a mailing from the AAA; we both are members. The envelope has two pieces of “teaser” copy. First, the “Club President” has authorized an upgrade in our membership, “free of charge.” Second, on an oval black and gold seal: “Courtesy Upgrade, FREE, To AAA Plus.” We are instructed to confirm by return mail.

Not until you get inside the envelope and carefully read all the literature, do you find out that it’s only free for one year. Then it costs you $58.00, and that’s in addition to the $73.00 we already pay. Although the letter mentions a $58 renewal after one year, you must go to the “Return Receipt” to find out your grand total is going to be $131 ($58+$73). There are additions to the coverage but the only thing we have used AAA for in the last year is maps, so I’m not sure of the value.

Junk mail auto insurance company, 21st Century, sent us a mailing recently soliciting our business. The envelope says: “Think you have the best auto insurance just because you’re with one of the biggest companies? You’re in for a surprise.” That got me inside, because I was curious just how they knew I was with one of the “biggest companies.” They didn’t.

That was just another ploy to tell me four things my “big company” insurance agent won’t tell me: 1) I can save $300 switching to 21st; 2) No other company offers the important policy features 21st does; 3)No other company is as accessible and easy to work with; 4) They are rated A+ by Fitch Ratings. As to one through three…questionable. And for number four, my “big company” is rated AA+ by Fitch.

Finally, probably the fastest known data acquisition known to man: when you buy or refinance your home. Your name, and a bunch of private information, is made available to a host of predators, not the least of which is the very company with whom you bought or refinanced. You told them at closing you didn’t want all the extra insurance, but apparently they didn’t believe you. Add to that a number of companies you’ve never heard of, and you begin to understand the true meaning of “junk mail.”

Envelope messages like: “Important Information concerning Your Mortgage!,” “Personal and Confidential,” “Protect Your Home.” Here’s my answer. I would like to protect my home from the inane junk mail I receive, or, give me a piece of the action and pay me every time my name and personal data is sold.

Next issue of concern: do junk mailers make a profit from your shipping and handling charges?

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