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August 7, 2007 / cdsmith

When Deception and Lies Became Acceptable

This is not a technical post; I realize it will probably appear on several syndication sites where people expect to read technical content.  Sorry about that;you can skip it.

I’m really amazed at what people will put up with in old-fashioned post office style mail.  With email, everyone and their mother knows that spammers are scum and that it’s immoral to do business with them.  By regular mail, perfectly respectable companies don’t just send unsolicited mail (snail-spam); they send deceptive and dishonest snail-spam, and people take it in stride and don’t think anything is out of the ordinary.

I just checked my mail today.  In addition to regular junk mail, here’s what I found:

  • A letter from Chase, a bank and credit card provider.  On the front, it says “Important Information Enclosed” and “This may be your only notice.”  It’s an advertisement, but they didn’t want me to think that, at least until I got a little ways in.
  • A letter from Solstice Capital, a home loan company.  The envelope has official-looking notices warning the postmaster (yes, the postmaster!) not to bend or tear the letter.  On the inside, the letter is designed to look like a court filing.  The second sheet has something that looks so much like a check that they had to write “Not a Check” twice in inconspicuous places around the edge.  (The “looks like a check” deception is among the favorites of the less ethical snail-spammers.)

I sat back and wondered how we got to this point; where a respectable gentleman will swear about spam, but will ignore the lies and scams in their regular mailbox.  It’s probably because no one pays attention, and no one says anything.

Here’s my commitment: from now on, when I receive deceptive snail-spam, I will call, speak to the highest-level supervisor I can, and let them know exactly why I will never do business with them again.  I’m also keeping a list of companies that do this, and I encourage you to help me maintain the list.


Leave a Comment
  1. MH / Aug 7 2007 2:57 pm

    I don’t put up with direct mail garbage — I’ve taken myself off the lists.

    I’m assuming you’re in the US — land of deception and lies at this time. Just write a letter to the Direct Mail Marketing association and request to be removed from their list (or added to the do-not-mail list, I’ve forgotten which it is). Also contact the three credit reporting agencies, and let them know that you do not wish to get pre-qualified credit lines. Etc., etc., etc. There’s lots of things you _can_ do to decrease the amount of junk mail you get. (a web search will help greatly with that effort). Do the same with unsolicited phone calls, too — there’s a 800 number for that.

    Contacting the supervisor won’t help — he won’t care what you think, and be unable to change it anyway.

    What would make me happier is if the direct mail people had to pay the full rate for first-class postage — then maybe the post office wouldn’t have to raise the rates on us so often! :-)

  2. Fritz / Aug 7 2007 4:48 pm

    When I got something like this a while back I considered the idea of opening some sort of fraud claim with the post office (“Important Information Enclosed”), but of course they (the PO) don’t have much motivation to find fault. I think you can force them to eat some cost by returning it postage due or somesuch, but I have never tried (and ti would be even more a bother).

    But my favorite approach to these problems is one suggested by Peter Denning (in the CACM, back in ’83 or so) for cutting down on email (he foresaw the problems even then, since he got so much as ACM Pres.): put a price on your inbox, and keep the “profit”. For email (Denning’s original proposal), this could be a highly tuned “gray list”: no cost for friends, very high for known abusers, etc. (we’re assuming some sort of broad payment system were in place).

    For physical mail, it would be hard to fine-tune, and it would need to be a surcharge over and above the mailing cost, but it might be workable via some sort of reusable stamps.

    I had plans to promote a grass-roots movement along these lines, under the slogan “Pay (for) Attention!”, but it never got off the ground (plus it would only benefit people, not corporations, so it would never work in the US).

  3. Adam / Aug 12 2007 1:40 am

    If they are dumb enough to pre-guarantee postage on the return envelope you can always send it back stuffed full of as many paper items as you can find (makes the return postage really expensive). Go grab one of the free coupon mailers at the supermarket and go to town. If they contact you about it claim it was a mistake and ask them to send the coupons back or reimburse you. Either way you’ll probably end up on a “pain in the ass” list that stops the mail coming.

  4. Barak Pearlmutter / Dec 13 2007 9:57 am

    What would be nice would be if some enterprising DA would take some companies to court for fraud. After all, the claim on the envelope “important information enclosed” is fraudulent! This would pave the way for a similar approach to email spam. We don’t really need new laws; we just need to interpret old ones appropriately.

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