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Dear Att. Gen. Carter: Is there anything you can do about junk mail?

About a year or so ago, I registered our home telephone number on Indiana Att. Gen. Steve Carter’s Telephone Privacy list.
I’m so glad I did, because that simple act has saved us countless irritating trips to answer the phone. Then we’d get that split-second pause, a sure sign a friendly telemarketer was lurking on the other end of the line.
When Virgil answered, he would simply hang up before the computer-generated caller asked to speak to the “man of the house.” But the mother in me would never let me do that, always thinking perhaps one of my children was calling and needed me. (I should know by now that since all the kids are grown, I don’t have to worry anymore, right? Hah!)
Anyway, now the telemarketers all across the nation no longer call every evening between 6 and 7, usually just after we’d sat down at the supper table.
(If you’d like to get your number on the privacy list, call 1-888-834-9969, toll-free.)
Carter’s last project is aimed at “spammers,” those who send unsolicited, deceptive commercials via e-mail, the ones who jam electronic mailboxes. According to an announcement on his Web site, Carter has testified before the legislature, which is considering ways to reduce spam.
Hopefully, we’ll hear more about that later.
In the meantime, I have another pet peeve I wish the attorneys general across the land would go after. That’s junk mail, the old-fashioned, non-electronic type.
Most of it doesn’t usually concern me, but then the mailperson delivers one of those envelopes designed to confuse, actually mislead, the gullible. One big piece of junk mail came last week, in a legal-size envelope stamped on the front with a large yellow sticker. Big black letters proclaimed a message that must be true. “OFFICIAL DIRECTIVE FOR BULLETIN NO. S-020.” And, it was from Todd Sloane, senior vice president of Publishers Clearing House, Port Washington, N.Y.
The “bulletin” goes on to say: “the winning number for $10,000,000.00 is to be issued in an approved notice prior to February 7, 2003. A valid SuperPrize Number is contained in this Bulletin, and you could be announced the winner of Ten Million Dollars on Friday, February 14th, 2003. YOUR OFFICIAL PAPERS ARE ENCLOSED … ”
Now I ask you: Could we ignore this? Would we throw this $10 million offer in the trash, or would we open the envelope, which just happened to hold a bunch of discount offers along with that magic number?
Of course, we opened it.
And while I was thumbing through all the papers, I found the disclaimer that said buying any of those items wouldn’t increase the chance of winning $10 million. Whew. I’m so glad.
To be fair, I must admit there was nothing that demanded immediate attention (like a phone ringing), and there was nothing to stop me from throwing that thing in the garbage. Except human nature.
My fear is that some other people will hurry to the post office with entries in hand (and orders for $14 ball point pens), then wait patiently for Ed McMahon to show up at the front door.
What’s the difference between junk mail and spam? Free enterprise and privacy rights? I don’t know. These aren’t the weightiest issues in the world, to be sure, but perhaps they are solvable. These problems do have solutions. Not much you can say that about these days, is there?

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