Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Junk Mail Redux

Once again I have let my junk mail pile to an absurd level due to the fact that my paper shredder has been packed away for a good year and a half now, but I've pulled it out and set out on the daunting task of sifting through the heaps and shreading each and every last piece.

Unlike most people I can't just settle on tearing up my junk mail and throwing it away anymore. Between all the reports of identity theft barraging us every day and the military protecting me from such horrors by keeping its members informed of the threats of throwing away blank credit card applications, I've become incredibly paranoid about throwing away pretty much anything without shredding it first. You never know when some opportunistic con artist might decide to sift through your trash looking for discarded credit card offers or writings and art to steal and claim as his own.

Plus, I just really, really like shredding things. I'll shred pretty much anything that is remotely composed of even trace elements of tree and has a fair chance of not jamming up the motors. Not only do I shred the important pieces of junk mail, such as the credit applications and introductory checks, but I'll also shred that little booklet listing the terms of the offer, the return envelope, and even the envelope that the whole package came in. I'll shred discarded writings or poorly executed artwork. I'll shred outdated homemade CD labels. I especially love colored paper as it adds a dash of vibrance to an otherwise white bucket of paper scraps. I even love the occasional credit card for added variety. Whenever you get recycled paper and it has those waxy spots in it, you can thank people like me for shredding the plastic addressee windows on junk mail envelopes and the occasional credit card. Yes, we are the assholes of the recycling world.

Anyway, as always when catching up on shredding a ridiculous amount of past junk mail, I found myself astounded by the sheer amount of junk mail I've collected. It doesn't even have to be a year and a half. It can be a month. Save all the unimportant mail you get for a month. You'll be surprised by how much you accumulate. You'd think, if we are supposed to be getting so environmentally conscious, something would be done to reduce the amount of junk mail the average person receives on any given day. Environmental groups don't like people to read books because each book that gets printed lays to waste an entire rainforest or some absurd statistic, yet how much paper is getting wasted on junk mail every day? If you receive, say, three pieces of junk mail, keep in mind that probably upwards of 100 million or more people and businesses are simultaneously receiving the exact same pieces of junk mail. Sometimes my ex and I will receive the exact same pieces of junk mail on the exact same day. First of all, wouldn't it save the companies a little bit of money to only send one piece of mail to each address per day? Second of all, she's my ex. She doesn't even live at my address anymore, but you can be guaranteed that she's getting two pieces of the same mail at her address, too, one for her and one for me.

Congress and software companies goes through great lengths to prevent spam emails because they're unwanted and sometimes do harm to people's computers and wah wah wah, yet they do virtually nothing about junk mail. Likely, it's because junk mail makes up probably well over half of the United States Postal Service's annual revenue, so it's just something we have to tolerate if we want to continue having a reliable shipping service in the U.S. for goods we buy over the Internet, because by all indication both UPS and FedEx are entirely composed of incompetents. So instead of kibbitsing about it like I did
last time, I decided to amuse myself by saving some of the most irritating things I find about junk mail as I was shredding it all, and post about those.

Click on the tiny icons to see the full pictures. Names and addresses have been blurred out to protect the identity of, well, me and my ex. The issuing companies can rot in Hell.

Sometimes credit card companies get clever and hide their junk mail in a nondescript envelope that you might have to actually open to make sure it's junk mail and not a billing statement or change in the terms of service. That's why I like envelopes like this one. It starts advertising right on the envelope that this is going to be something you can drop directly into the shredder without opening. Another more subtle, but no less valid, indicator is when the envelope is blank except for the words "Dated material enclosed." If it reads "Do not discard," this is pretty much a direct warning to discard without prejudice.

And what is it with Chase? Chase, Capital One, and now WaMu send me several offers per week, and I have yet to do anything with them beyond shredding the living hell out of them. You'd think if they have yet to receive a single response from me in the entirety of my adult life, they'd have caught on after a decade. I don't know if I want to do business with a corporation that absolutely clueless.

Whenever someone at the post office is confronted with one of these "Business Reply By Mail" envelopes, I wonder if they laugh at the loser who actually fell for one of these offers or weep for them. Or pray for them. Also, why does the company pay for people to send in an application, but we have to pay to mail them our payments? That hardly seems fair. Where is their interest rate going, anyway? You'd think the cheap bastards could pop for 42 cents or however much it is to mail stuff now if 98% of the minimum payment is just covering interest rates and processing fees.

I enjoy the festive and colorful advertisements that show anonymous stock models smiling about how happy credit has made their lives. They're always smiling with sunlight beating down on their face as they spiral into horrible, depressing credit debt, which, let's face it, is the primary purpose of credit cards. Sure companies reward you for spending within your means and paying off your balance in a timely manner, but what they really want is for you to get so far in debt that you can only afford to make the minimum payments every month because that guarantees they'll be making interest off of you until the day you die. Unfortunately, I shredded a perfect example of this before I got the idea to make this post, and the only other thing I could find is this picture of a beautiful insurance agent happy to help some middle-aged fucktard with all of his questions. You know it never works out this way. It's always the other way around. You're always the gorgeous person talking to some middle-aged fucktard insurance agent, but whatever.

Then there's the opposite side of the spectrum. They didn't lure you in showing the smiling, happy, nonthreatening, light-skinned African-American woman. It must be because you're a serious person who understands that credit is serious business, so you need a serious advertisement. Nothing says "professional" like an elaborate border printed silver ink and cursive font. This credit card company will treat you like the serious, successful business professional that you know you are while you're charging a hundred bucks' worth of Flamin' Hot Cheetos and cases of Budweiser at Wal-Mart.

Oh, look! This company took the extra time to scribble a personalized message in red ink and even highlight it on my application form! Except that it's just as preprinted as the rest of the form letter that got sent out to a hundred million lucky recipients. I've actually had offers come with scribbled Post-It notes that were preprinted onto the letter. Who the fuck do they think they're fooling with this shit?

I don't get these little 4" by 6" inserts that seem to come with every credit card offer, listing additional details. If this information is that important, couldn't it just be included on one of the three or four full-page sheets that explain the offer and conditions? Or, if the entire offer can be summarized on an index card, why not just send a post card with a phone number or web address instead of all the ancillary crap?

Wow, I'm pre-approved! Except not. Every company boasts pre-approval, but they always put that pesky asterisk next to it. When you take the time to read the Terms and Conditions, you'll find out that your "pre-approval" is dependant on your actually being approved. Of course, who reads the terms and conditions anyway, right? That shit is boring; it doesn't have pictures or even colors.

I just love the ones that include a sample credit card. To me, this is another automatic indicator that I can toss it directly into the shred pile. This is another sales pitch that I don't get. Do people actually need to hold a fake, sample credit card in their hands to feel empowered to fill out the application? Do they need a tactile aid in case they don't fully comprehend what a credit card actually is? Might they think this is the actual card and go out shopping with it? Because I would love to see that. I would love to be the one who has to explain to the poor, beguiled customer that it's not a real credit card. Of course, they'd be indignant as the ignorant always are and ask me how I can be so sure it's not a real credit card, to which I could calmly smile satisfactorily as I ease back on my feet a little and then lurch forward to punctuate my enraged blast of "BECAUSE YOUR NAME IS NOT 'YOUR NAME HERE'!!"

This is the thing that troubles me the most about junk mail. I hate, hate, hate the companies that send several-thousand-dollar checks to random recipients. In a perfect world, these checks might be going to the proper recipients who promptly send them through the paper shredder, but we all know that this is not a perfect world. People routinely move from one residence to another, completely forgetting to send every company they don't do business with their forwarding address. No matter how honorable their intentions, the postal service is flawed by human error and sometimes even properly addressed mail doesn't reach its intended destination. And, of course, not everbody shreds their junk mail, making checks like these the ideal target of trash-picking scammers. It's not difficult for even the most amateur of identity thieves to find someone gullible enough to cash the check for them, and boom, all of a sudden you have an automatic $3500 credit debt you never knew about.

What's even worse are these blank checks that creditors routinely send you to pay off your other cards or do whatever with, which will automatically lock you into an agreement with them upon use. It would be nothing for anyone to get these checks, fill them out, and mail them to some company that has nothing to go by as far as proof of identity but the good word of the average identity thief. As far as I'm concerned, these are probably the most financially dangerous things to be routinely sent through the mail. Maybe it's just me because I don't just look at any situation and hope for the best. I look at every situation and consider the potential worst-case scenario. I mean, hell, they're sending blank checks to anonymous people through the mail, and only the intended recipient is responsible for their accountability. What could possibly go wrong there?

Hey, this place cleverly disguised their envelope as a priority mailing envelope from the post office. I'll admit they even had me fooled long enough to consider, "Hey, I wasn't expecting any packages today..." Then I realized that this was in no way a typical postal mailing envelope. "Ah-ha! A clever ruse, but not clever enough!" Anyway, out of curiosity, I open it up anyway and find...

. . .

ANOTHER GODDAMNED CHECK!! What the fuck is it with these places and sending free money through the mail just hoping it gets shredded by its intended recipient and not intercepted by some crafty identity thief who could in minutes render a convincing fake ID with my name on it and no one who doesn't know who I am would be any the wiser?

Eh. I'm probably just being too paranoid, but I enjoy my paranoia. I revel in it. It keeps me safe, if not a little socially anxious. Plus, it gives me the excuse to use my paper shredder to shred everything from credit card offers to video rental advertisements to my own botched artwork.

np: Tea Party - "Great Big Lie"


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