Let Your Fingers Say "Fuck You"

How to Opt Out of Phone Books, Telemarketing Calls, Junk Mail, and More.






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Publication: The Stranger
Author: Burbank, Megan
Date published: May 11, 2011

Last week, I put my name on the National Do Not Call Registry, opted out of junk-mail delivery, and told the yellow pages to piss off. It took about 30 minutes.

Will it work? Last year, Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien told the yellow pages and SuperMedia to stop delivering to his home, only to be rewarded with a new phonebook delivery six weeks later. At the time, the companies that maintained those opt-out lists were the same ones that delivered the phone books, so they had a fi nancial incentive to keep delivering ads we don't want. And let's be real: The yellow pages isn't a convenient digest of phone numbers, it's a doorstop made of ads.

Fortunately, stopping phone-book delivery is more effective now. Back in October, the city council passed an ordinance to create a registry for Seattle residents to opt out, the fi rst city-run registry in the United States-it went live on May 5. During the fi rst 12 hours, 8,800 households opted out of 59,600 phone books. That's barely a dent in the two million books delivered each year in Seattle, but that was only the fi rst 12 hours.

"What's different about the city's site is that it's actually enforceable," says O'Brien, the ordinance's sponsor. The city will fi ne companies up to $125 for every phone book sent in violation of the list.

So I put my name on that list and several other centralized registries to stop advertisements I don't want. Here's how you can do the same thing.

Phone Books

First, get online (if you can take this fi rst step, it's particularly obvious why phone books are obsolete). Go to www.catalogchoice.org. After entering your zip code, the site generates a list of all of the phone books you're "eligible" for-mine turned up six. Then cancel all of them. There's a 30-day turnaround from the date you opt out and when the phone-book companies are notifi ed. So if you want to preempt Dex's June delivery, take action by May 16.

Unsurprisingly, the companies aren't happy about this. They tried to stall the city's registry with a lawsuit back in December and fi led for an injunction to freeze the registry the day it went live. But a federal judge ruled on May 9 that the phone-book companies "failed to demonstrate that a preliminary injunction is in the public interest."

O'Brien remains unrepentant as the lawsuit proceeds (the publishers contend that leaving phone books on your doorstep is a free-speech right). "We estimate that the city spends $300,000 a year recycling phone books," O'Brien says. "We don't let people come dump garbage on your front porch."

Telemarketers

When my grandfather Jack gets calls from telemarketers, he talks over them real loud in his old-school New England drawl about his melanoma or how the other "inmates" at the assisted-living facility are trying to escape. This is a fail-safe way to get a telemarketer to hang up on you, it turns out. But not all of us can be verbose curmudgeons, so we must register with the National Do Not Call Registry, a list run by the Federal Trade Commission. You can register cell phones and landlines at www.donotcall.gov or 888-382-1222 (call from the phone number you want registered). Most telemarketing calls will stop within a month.

Junk Mail

To opt out of junk mail, you're dealing with so-called direct marketing companies, which target you for insurance and credit card offers. To opt out of these, the Federal Trade Commission gives you two options: You can opt out for fi ve years by either calling 888-5-OPT-OUT or fi lling out a quick form at www.optoutprescreen.com. To opt out forever, you have to print and fi ll out an additional form and send it in.

For other junk mail-such as tanning salon coupons, sweepstakes offers, trial memberships, cheese of the month clubs, etc.-you're dealing with the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service. To opt out for fi ve years, you can register at www.dmachoice.org. The FTC says that doing this will reduce "most" of the junk mail you get, but companies that don't use the Mail Preference Service can still send you unsolicited mail.

Phone Hell

Unless you pine for some time in a phone maze, or you enjoy assurances that "your call is important to us," recited in steady, cheapening repetition, you don't want to be stuck in phone hell. When in a phone tree, madly pressing zero to reach an operator doesn't always work. A better solution is visiting www.gethuman .com, which compiles specialized instructions for navigating Byzantine phone trees. And www .lucyphone.com helps you in a different way-on the website, you type in the number you want to call, followed by your own number. Lucyphone then waits on hold for you and calls you back when someone has picked up your call. It's free, and also downloadable as a smartphone app.

Street Canvassers, Girl Scouts, and LaRouchies

I love Planned Parenthood, okay? I love it. But I don't love being accosted by canvassers for Planned Parenthood in front of Westlake Center who want me to sign over credit card information. And then there's WashPIRG, the ACLU, and those people who save children. Your fi rst line of defense is to keep walking. Be prepared to say "no" at least three times (as you briskly maintain course), and don't give some lame excuse. This will just get you into a conversation.

Sometimes you're stuck waiting to cross the street next to a table of volunteers. When you see Girl Scouts, try crying "Vegan!" as a defense (if you are okay with lying to children). Finally, if you see the Lyndon LaRouche for President people (the ones with posters of Obama wearing a Hitler mustache), do not make eye contact. Those people are certifi - ably evil. Maybe if you're feeling generous, give 'em a phone book.

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