Junk Mail Revenge: Taping Pre-Paid Business Reply Envelopes To Packages Works?

This Instructable covers the time-honored art of sending refuse back to junk mailers in their own pre-paid business reply envelopes. What’s interesting, though, is in the comments on the Instructable one guy says that you can take the business reply envelopes and tape them to boxes and the post office will accept it! This greatly increases the scope, range, and weight of the objects that you can send back to junk mailers. Broken lightbulbs, bricks, this week’s trash, your imagination is the limit. (Don’t forget to visit optoutprescreen.com first to get yourself permanently off 95% of junk mail lists).

How to get some revenge on the credit companies [Instructables]

UPDATE: Actually, this only worked up until the mid-90′s. Now they’ve changed the rules. According to Post Office Domestic Mail Manual code 8.4.6, “BRM may not be used for any purpose other than that intended by the permit holder, even when postage is affixed. In cases where a BRM card or letter is used improperly as a label, the USPS treats the item as waste.”

Comments

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  1. kris in seattle says:

    I have an aunt who used to do this very thing. She said it works like a charm!

  2. Jean Naimard says:

    Sorry to bust your bubble, but Uncle Cecil dealt with the question 23 years ago, and his verdict is that it won’t work.

    Sorry.

    ([www.straightdope.com])

  3. DeeJayQueue says:

    I don’t care so much about the credit card offers, since my credit is so borked I don’t get them. What’s bugging me lately is all the letters I’m getting (2 at a time) from companies denying me credit. I just bought a car and apparently they had to shop me to every bank in the country to find one that would finance me. For 2 weeks I got 6-8 letters a day from different banks explaining why they weren’t going to offer me credit. It’s slowed down to once a week or so, but it’s still annoying.

    Seriously though, what do I have to do to get off of the Val-Pack, grocery store and CVS shopping lists? I hate those circulars. I don’t shop there and I never use coupons. It’s such a waste for one, and for 2 it blocks up my mailbox. I came home from a weekend away to find my *actual* mail soaking on the ground while the grocery flyer sat nice and dry in the box. I live across the street from the post office, maybe I can go have a chat with them.

  4. babaki says:

    @Jean Naimard: did you even read the article you posted? they arent the same. this one states, tape the letter to a BOX, not directly to a brick. you tape it to cardboard shipping box, and put whatever you want INSIDE the box. thats the difference.

  5. hypnotik_jello says:

    Wow, a comment from instructuctables.com is a news source? Consumerist has sunken to a new low.

  6. FREAKHEAD says:

    Yes, this is not a new concept. I have read where people have put a variety things in a box to see what could get through. This was popular around the time of the AOL CD outrage.

  7. MonkeyMonk says:

    Someone needs to start marketing envelope-sized lead plates for just this purpose. I’d be tempted to buy a few for a few egregious junk mail offenders.

  8. fluiddruid says:

    @babaki: @babaki: I think Jean did read it, but you don’t seem to have caught this part: “According to rule 917.243(b) in the Domestic Mail Manual, when a business reply card is “improperly used as a label”–e.g., when it’s affixed to a brick–the item so labeled may be treated as “waste.” That means the post office can heave it into the trash without further ado.”

  9. Steeb2er says:

    Forget the direct mail company … you’re punishing the mail carrier. That’s just cruel.

  10. ry81984 says:

    @fluiddruid:
    What if I was returning a brick?

  11. DallasDMD says:

    If you want to get revenge on the junk mailers, don’t do something silly such as taping the return envelope to a brick or a box. The Post Office discards those.

    What most companies have are these automated mail processing systems that open and scan the contents of mail.

    My hypothesis is that you could put something very sticky and messy inside the envelope that would require manual intervention to repair the mail processing system. I have no experience with this, so its a YMMV scenario, but I think its a more sensible idea.

  12. melmoitzen says:

    @Jean Naimard: Cecil is of course correct, but his reference is outdated as the Domestic Mail Manual has since been updated.

    View it in the current DMM at 507.8.4.6: “BRM may not be used for any purpose other than that intended by the permit holder, even when postage is affixed. In cases where a BRM card or letter is used improperly as a label, the USPS treats the item as waste.”

  13. alfista says:

    environmental impact anyone?

  14. getjustin says:

    I used to get the same offer about 3 times a week when I lived in Texas. Every once in a while, I’d open it at the mailbox and put a small rock in the reply envelope and drop it in. It didn’t take me but 10 seconds and made me fell better knowing they were going to pay extra for the weight and the thickness.

  15. DeeJayQueue says:

    @DallasDMD: Yes because sending unidentified and improperly packaged sticky messy substances through the mail isn’t going to get noticed by anyone at all at the post office.

  16. vanilla-fro says:

    what about the stupid newspaper type things they throw in my drive way?
    How do I stop that? or at least find out where they come from so I can drop about 1000 of them off there one day?

  17. DallasDMD says:

    @DeeJayQueue: Where did I mention anything about sending improperly packaged mail?

  18. vladthepaler says:

    I’ve done this for years. But it doesn’t have any effect; I keep getting junk mail from the companies I send it back to.

  19. ptrix says:

    there must be better, more logical ways to voice your displeasure with those companies than by doing something stupid and causing Nice Mr/Mrs Mailperson to needlessly strain themselves while carrying a box full of bricks, (which will probably be tossed out anyway if the other posters here are correct.) That sophmoric prank won’t even bring your “plight” to the awareness of anyone who’s in a position to do anything about stopping it, UNLESS you happen to put your name and address on the back of the business reply card (you know, so that they know who NOT to send materials to in the future). HOWEVER, that’s a catch-22, because you’re tampering with the mail syatem, and that same info could be used to identify you (especially if your brick-box causes an injury, damagess mail sorting equipment, etc..)

  20. homerjay says:

    The problem with this is that you can do it and do it and never know if you ever actually did anything.

  21. ronzo911 says:

    You can get letter size lead plates from China.
    Code:MATTEL

  22. DeeJayQueue says:

    @DallasDMD: “very sticky and messy inside the envelope that would require manual intervention to repair the mail processing system.”

    Sounds pretty improperly packaged to me.

  23. Landru says:

    I’m not absolutely sure, but I think they pay the post office by the piece, not by the weight.

  24. mgyqmb says:

    I read that entire thread. A lot of people were suggesting putting glitter, hole-puncher scraps, and even powdered sugar in the envelopes, which ends up just causing a huge mess for the lowly employee charged with processing your application. They’re undoubtedly the ones who are going to have to clean it up, and they probably are losing money for the time they have to spend wiping it up.

    This puts no pressure on the company to stop harassing you with their junk, and accomplishes a net total of nothing. Consumerist is usually very good at suggesting ways to fight back against large corporations…unfortunately, this is not a very good method.

  25. velvetjones says:

    @Steeb2er: I drop mine at a mailbox.

  26. DallasDMD says:

    @DeeJayQueue: The text you quoted doesn’t say anything about how you should package the contents. The mail processing system is designed to open up the actual envelope and remove the contents. How someone packages the contents is up to whoever might try this idea.

    @mgyqmb: If enough people did those things, they would actually stop sending junk to people who didn’t want it. If you don’t like the consequences of your job, then tough. War is war!

  27. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    Does it really matter? It’s all bulk rate postage anyways. It costs the marketing company the same, whether it’s a 1 ounce envelope or a 1 pound box.

    A smart consumer will just shred those credit card offers and toss the remains in the recycling bin.

  28. timmus says:

    Does anyone actually know if such envelopes are weighed and the recipient billed for this weight? I checked some of the links and there’s no citation about this. Snopes didn’t do a very thorough job.

  29. Pixel says:

    I doubt the box of brick thing would work, but for years I’ve been taking advantage of pre-paid envelopes.

    I stuff everything they sent me (including the original envelope) back into the pre-paid envelope. Sometimes I add other junk paper I don’t want. Then mail it back. They then get to pay for the postage, and get to throw out their own trash. I don’t know if this is the cause, but I now only get maybe 1-2 pieces of junk mail a week, TOPS.

    Even if you put nothing in it, at least send them back the empty pre-paid envelope. Then they have to pay for it.

  30. Shadowfire says:

    @mgyqmb: That’s like discouraging people from playing pranks on telemarketers. What’s wrong with you? It’s like… it’s like you’re not even one of us anymore!

    Seriously, though? Being upset about the “lowly employee” in these companies is foolish. They know who they’re working for, it’s not like they’re any less guilty.

  31. djanes1 says:

    Don’t mail powder, or something that makes the paper look oily or moist. That looks anthraxy, and will get you in trouble if found out.

  32. Buran says:

    @DeeJayQueue: I think there’s an optout on the Valpak website. It took a bit of time to take effect for me but at least I don’t get those damn things anymore.

  33. Buran says:

    @ptrix: If they can’t handle the replies they get, maybe they shouldn’t be sending people junk mail. That, of course, being the point.

  34. INconsumer says:

    why waste your time doing this? life is too short to do these things that no one on here seems to be sure if they even work. i’ll save my time and effort for a better cause.

  35. Buran says:

    @hypnotik_jello: Hey, when it’s your website you can pick what goes on it. Until then, well, if you don’t like the story, just skip it.

  36. Jasmo says:

    people, just write “refused” on the envelope without opening it and leave it for your mailman to pick up. This method of returning unwanted mail is in the domestic mail manual, go look it up.

    There’s no need for this childish brick/lead/goop bullshit that doesn’t do anything but massage your own ego and cause a lot of heartache for wage-slaves in either the post office or some mailroom somewhere.

  37. cbartlett says:

    As one who has used direct mail effectively for his own business, I can’t condone this. There are legitimate channels for opting out of this stuff.

    I myself cut my junk in half by opting out of “prescreened credit offers”. It’s really not that hard and a lot more effective then antics like this.

    Handling junk mail isn’t time consuming: Make 3 piles by the front door:
    1.) Bills / letters / important / etc.
    2.) Interesting unsolicited stuff.
    3.) Uninteresting unsolicited stuff. This pile should be in the trash can.

  38. extracrispy says:

    Thanks for the link to OptOutPrescreen.com. Haven’t seen that site before.

    I find it odd that on that site they list “benefits” of receiving credit card offers. Wouldn’t it make much more sense to list the dangers of credit card offers, particularly ID theft?

  39. I love massaging my ego.

    I rip up whatever application they send me and stuff it back in the envelope, then mail it. That way there’s no question about who sent it back.

    Correlation: no more credit card offers. Haven’t received one in ages. Don’t know if it was my send-back method, but maybe? Hopefully?

  40. hypnotik_jello says:

    @Buran: Thanks for the tip! I’ll take it under advisement.

  41. TurboWagon00 says:

    An oldie but a goodie – this was against MCI junkmail

    [www.vertical-visions.com]

  42. neithernor says:

    But what do I do about the flurry of postcards RCN keeps sending me about their terrible deals?

  43. kris in seattle says:

    @marisol: whoops! What I meant to say was that my aunt would save up all her junk mail and put it all in one of their envelops and mail it back to them. Fight fire with fire approach.

  44. INconsumer says:

    it must be halloween….dissapearing comments……spooooky!

  45. ifixit says:

    re:jasmo: I believe bulk mail won’t be returned by writing refused on it.

  46. There are legitimate channels for opting out of this stuff.

    @cbartlett: I never opted to get it in the first place.

    I sent a bunch of destroyed CC applications back at one time but I don’t know if it was that or the fact that I’ve moved that accounts for the decrease in applications in the mail.

  47. hypnotik_jello says:

    What the hell is going on here with the comments – they keep disappearing and reappearing

  48. bohemian says:

    Some of these companies now put a tracking number on the back of the envelope and also on some of the paper junk inside. We were getting at least 3 a day from the various card companies at one point. I really ticked me off since these had credit card apps in them, potential ID theft fodder. I started out opening them to shred the app but finally got sick enough of it I started shredding the apps only. Then use a sharpie to block the tracking code on the back of the envelope and shove the paper junk from another card company in the return envelope.

    They can throw this crap away on their dime.

  49. INconsumer says:

    HOW I GOT REMOVED FROM CC JUNKMAIL LISTS: by INconsumer,

    first thing you’ll want to do is call the card company itself. next, ask for a supervisor (as the usuall csr is too incompetent to perform your request). then tell the supervisor to remove you from their mailing lists. then PRESTO! i stopped recieving said cc offers. AMAZING! but i guess i just like doing things the hard way since this process here seems WAAAY easier….NOT!

  50. dirk1965 says:

    Stopping credit card offers is one thing, but ‘bulk’ mailings are much worse. I wish the USPS would not to deliver bulk mail if we request it stopped. I doubt that will ever happen because its probably the majority of their revenue now since the advent of the internet.

  51. dirk1965 says:

    Some of the credit card companies have even gone as far as printing on their envelope that its a criminal act to send back their material using their bulk mailing envelope…. NOT!!!

  52. vex says:

    I wonder if we can X out the addressee and write in whoever we want. Why wouldn’t this work? I need to try it. Free prepaid envelopes for all!

  53. majortom1981 says:

    Question why would you send back something that has all of your personal information on it. Isnt that just asking to get your identity stolen?

  54. extracrispy says:

    @INconsumer: You did this for every credit card company? Wow, you have far more time on your hands than I do. Maybe you could come over and mow my lawn sometime?

  55. marsneedsrabbits says:

    Nothing stops the credit card junk mail.
    Nothing.
    Nothing I have done, including signing up for the “opt-out” list, actually works.
    The worst offender is Capital One.
    I don’t know anything at all about them, but would never do business with them on the basis of the frequency of junk mail alone, especially since the opt out thing didn’t work (read: they ignored it).
    The other “worst offender” is Comcast, who sends tons of slick, glossy mail pretty much weekly now that I’m no longer a customer. If they had spent half as much effort on decent service, I’d still be a customer.

  56. INconsumer says:

    @extracrispy: yeah all two of them that was mailing me! and would still be far less time than trying to mail them back some junk mail clippings.

    and sure i’ll come mow your lawn…..just give me your address.

  57. INconsumer says:

    @vex: hey if this works i’m going ape sh*t with it. guess who wouldn’t be buying stamps for all of those x-mas cards this year! lol.

  58. nardo218 says:

    @Jean Naimard: So you can’t send bricks, but the post office might allow shredded paper through. How do they know it’s not legit mail?

  59. Jay Levitt says:

    Sure the post office “accepts” it. As Ned’s Used Cars says, “All credit applications WILL be accepted and processed!”

  60. WV.Hillbilly says:

    @Jasmo:
    You cannot refuse third class or bulk rate mail. It will not be returned to the sender. Go look it up in your domestic mail manual.

  61. AD8BC says:

    I have to admit that there is some bulk mail that I would want to receive. Unsolicited? No. But there are some that I request. Like a few catalogs I enjoy reading.

    Also, if you are the member of a club or organization that many times they get a bulk mail permit to mail newsletters and such at a great discount (but more work for them because they need to separate by ZIP code, anyway).

    So if you ever have an opportunity to cancel all of your bulk mail be careful, you may lose out on mail you actually want to receive.

  62. maxmax says:

    Yeah, this has been around a while:

    [nitricacid.blogspot.com]

  63. @majortom1981: You black out and shred the application first.

  64. redstarr says:

    Sending stuff back doesn’t work a lot of the time because the people who receive the things you send back aren’t the people in charge of sending things out. The paper or bricks or sticky stuff or whatever that you send back just makes the day a little more unpleasant for some poor workaday mail room guy, not the guy who is responsible for getting your name on or off the mailing list. Chances are, the person who could get your name off the list will never even hear about your antics. You’d be better off wasting your time calling the senders and escalating the call until you get removed. That doesn’t always work, but it has a better chance is more environmentally responsible than mailing things for no reason.

  65. bunnymen says:

    I send mine with angry/rude anonymous letters. Nothing more satisfying than a little passive aggression…

  66. UpsetPanda says:

    @vex: I don’t think you can. It’s like if you put a stamp on an envelope, mess up on the address, then take the stamp off to use on a new envelope. If it is obvious you used the stamp before, they won’t mail it, and will return to user.

    If you put a label over the return address, it might work.

  67. rdm24 says:

    Those of you opposing junk mail from an environmental perspective, consider this: You are increasing waste and CO2 emissions by having the post office re-sort and mail the reply cards.

    For those of you who don’t really care about the environment, carry on.

  68. Skiffer says:

    Since no one has bothered to mention this yet…

    I could see how using any business reply envelope for other than its intended purpose (shreds, brick, delivered or not) could be interpreted as mail fraud…

  69. INconsumer says:

    @rdm24: were already at the point of no return as far as saving the planet. we are going to be the cause of our own extinction. how ironic.

  70. Douglas7 says:

    These have changed, in the 90′s essentially you could tape the reply envelope to a REFRIGERATOR and have the sender pay for it, but the direct mail company I was associated with didn’t want this…they saw bricks, adult content from magazines, and even bible verses, so now they have a weight and size limit that they will pay for.

  71. Dorgon says:

    If you really want to eliminate junk mail, go to http://www.dma.org and join the Do Not Mail registry. It’s not officially legal, but most companies (including mine) will eliminate your name from solicitations if you sign up.

  72. Dorgon says:

    Sorry, that’s http://www.the-dma.org

  73. BigNutty says:

    I return everyone of these sealed and empty. I just like to screw with the company.

  74. retech says:

    I did this for a while until I stopped receiving junk mail. I had three house cats and had a box outside where they discarded litter went. I’d take an old box line it with a plastic bag and fill it with the soiled cat litter and sh*t. When it was at about 10-20 lbs I sent it off. I asked my local post office of the charge to the return company for a 10lb box (back in ’93) and it was over $60. There is a processing fee for a return mailer, a license fee and full first class postage. Do it a couple of times and EVERYONE miraculously removes your name from their lists. It’s a great way to clean the house, just keep a box for all that stuff you’re going to toss and mail it to them. I’d even include a small note that said: “you like to send me sh*t from your place so here’s some from mine, enjoy.”

  75. trollkiller says:

    The USPS has a police department and they are not afraid to use them so I would not tempt fate by sending bricks, goo, cat crap or anything that can be viewed as a threat.

    Your best bet is to follow the advice on getting removed from mailing lists. The list companies are happy to remove you from the list because it takes a nonproductive name out of the mix. The client is happy, the list company is happy and you are happy. Win-Win-Win.

    Before hating too much on direct mailer, remember we keep your postal rates low. We make up the bulk of the postal revenue and do a good bit of the work for the post office by sorting, labeling and paperwork. All they really have to do is grab a labeled tray and toss it on the right truck. (and it was this way long before the internet)

  76. caj11 says:

    Um, just a thought here and I’m surprised no one really pointed this out yet. As satisfying as it would be to screw the junk mail sender if I taped the reply envelope to a brick or other heavy package or just filled it with cat litter, if there’s NOTHING identifying that it came from me, then how would the company KNOW it was me that sent it back to them that way so they could remove me from their lists? Unless that little barcode on the front of the envelope would connect them to me, but I doubt it.

    As a side note, what I do with mailings that have prepaid reply envelopes is write in black magic marker all over the reply card “REMOVE ME FROM YOUR LIST”, with my address still showing so they can identify me, but no boxes or anything marked that would allow some computer to enter me into their system as having acceped their offer. I also drop in a few extra pieces of paper to throw their machines off track so somebody will see what I’ve written. Don’t know if it works but its worth a shot.

  77. Nick says:

    @vex: No, you can’t. Business Reply Mail can only be delivered to a specific ZIP Code. Otherwise you could just use Microsoft Word to print out an official-looking “Business Reply Mail” envelope and address it to whomever you liked every time you wanted to mail something.

    For example, Illinois State University has been assigned various ZIP Codes for their prepaid reply mail, which are listed at [www.msc.ilstu.edu]

  78. Nick says:

    @caj11: You are absolutely correct and raise an important point. There is absolutely no way passive aggressive ego-boosting mail rage behavior can cause any change in the amount of junk mail you receive if you mail anonymous bricks, junk, or blank envelopes. (I would also argue that your potential impact even with identifiable “remove me from you list” requests is only marginally better, if that).

    The black barcode on the prepaid reply envelope is simply to guide the mailpiece through the system to the correct ZIP+4 accepting the Business Reply Mail (IOW, it identifies the sender/who will be charged).

  79. jbelkin says:

    If you want to stop receiving the Val-packs and Penny savers and the weekly circulars, you can actually write to them and tell them – the address is on one of the forms they have to mail out. Unlike email spammers, they will stop – they don’t want to waste postage on someone who is clearly not interested (and of course, they already have you address so it’s not like you’re giving up any privacy).

  80. hobnob says:

    Might I leverage some Maddox linkage?
    [www.thebestpageintheuniverse.net]
    “There are two types of junk mail that everyone gets: coupons for stupid bullshit that you don’t want, and credit card applications for credit to buy stupid bullshit that you don’t need. Here’s how to take care of all your junk mail in one fell swoop: use the postage-paid envelope that credit card companies send you with their applications to send them the OTHER junk mail you receive. It’s just that simple.”