Moms

Fort Worth senior deals with a mountain of junk mail

A Fort Worth woman is more than a little concerned about her 87-year-old father.

"My father," she said, "is being buried alive."

To substantiate her claim, the woman opened the front door of a modest south Fort Worth home and guided a visitor past the cluttered living room and down a dim hallway.

A bespectacled gray-haired man sat in the kitchen.

"See what I mean?" the daughter said.

Her dad, a retired World War II veteran who lives alone, can no longer eat at his breakfast table.

The table is piled with envelopes of all sizes, a 31/2-foot mountain -- an avalanche -- of unopened junk mail. Some of the mailings had slid from the precarious and growing heap and lay scattered on the yellow linoleum.

That day, the man had received 56 more items.

"And 98 percent of it is junk," said the daughter, who, along with her father, is not being identified by the Star-Telegram.

Donation requests. Unwanted credit card applications. Address labels. Political fliers. Petitions. Catalogs. Calendars. Magazines. Newsletters. Mail-order scams. It keeps coming, a relentless and overwhelming snowstorm of advertising, signs of a consumer culture run amok.

"Urgent Notice!" "Immediate Response Requested." "Sign and Date Within the Next 10 Days."

Boxes crammed with envelopes blocked the back door. Junk mail resting along the baseboards of the entry hall created what the daughter recognizes as another safety hazard.

"Daddy, you could slip on this and fall," the woman said.

She knelt and gathered up the litter.

During one visit, the daughter said, she discovered the gas stove top covered with mail.

Knowing that this situation can't continue, and aware that her father needs help, she raked the material covering the stove into boxes and took them to her home to sort and shred. Two weeks ago, she carried out five more loads.

Belatedly, she has begun the time-consuming task of calling or writing the senders and requesting that her father's name be removed from the mailing lists.

Meanwhile her dad methodically dates each item.

One letter came from an organization called White House Watch. The envelope shouted, "Authority to Impeach Barack Obama."

"He got six of those -- in one day," the daughter said.

A "Notification of Emergency Dues" from the American Criminal Justice Center. Something from the National Retirement Security Task Force. The Campaign to Save Social Security and Medicare. National Senior Action Council. Americans United. Citizens United.

Humane Society International. (Save the seals.) The Alaska Wilderness League. (Save the polar bears.)

An offer for seven FREE issues of Vogue.

"Here's another I don't see much point in," the man said in a rusty voice. He handed his daughter a donation plea from the Civil War Preservation Trust.

About a year ago, the man began receiving far more mail than the U.S. Postal Service carrier can fit through the resident's mail slot.

Her father, the woman said, is a giving man. He sends about $2,500 a year to various charities. Now everyone, it seems -- from The Amazing Kreskin to a self-described clairvoyant with a Sparks, Nev., mailing address -- is hounding him, persistently, hoping to benefit from the octogenarian's generosity.

He receives more than 40 pieces of junk mail daily.

"It's out of control," his daughter said.

Her dad looked up from a stack of envelopes resting on his lap.

"One Monday," he said, "I got 110."

Quite a haul

Each year, American households receive more than 100 billion pieces of direct or advertising junk mail. Junk mail distributed in the U.S. accounts for 30 percent of all mail delivered worldwide.

Consumers 65 and older are targeted with the most unwanted direct mail, according to a survey conducted by StoptheJunkMail.com and Harman Research.A person who responds to one mailing may end up on lists that are sold and resold.

Junk mail can become an endless merry-go-round.

In 2007, a Zogby poll reported that 89 percent of Americans support creation of a Do Not Mail Registry that gives people the choice to opt out of wasteful and unwanted junk mail. In the past three years, at least 19 states, including Texas, introduced legislation that would create a Do Not Mail Registry similar to the Do Not Call Registry established in 2003 by the Federal Trade Commission.

None of those bills passed.

The Postal Service needs direct-mail revenue. Postmaster General John Potter told Congress in 2008 that do-not-mail efforts "threaten the viability of the mail."

According to a Congressional Research Service report, the Postal Service estimates that it could lose $4 billion to $10 billion annually in revenue if all states passed a Do Not Mail Registry and all consumers registered for it.

The report said the Direct Marketing Association estimates that in 2007 almost 460,000 people were directly employed by direct-mail marketing. An additional 3.1 million were indirectly employed in jobs affected by direct-mail marketing -- including manufacturers, customer service employees, mail deliverers and warehouse workers.

"It's the economic engine that allows the Postal Service to provide universal service at affordable prices," said Sam Bolen, a USPS spokesman in Austin.

He dismissed a comparison between telemarketing calls and junk mail.

"That's apples and oranges," he said. "With mail, you have an option to review it at your leisure."

Founded in 2000, ForestEthics is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect endangered forests. According to the New American Dream, another environmental group, more than 100 million trees' worth of bulk mail arrives in American mailboxes each year -- the equivalent of deforesting the entire Rocky Mountain National Park every four months.

In 2008 ForestEthics launched a website (DoNotMail.org) that listed the problems spawned by direct advertising and included a petition supporting a Do Not Mail Registry. The petition has more than 115,000 signatures.

"Many people don't realize how easily their names and personal information are bought and sold," said Will Craven, a ForestEthics media officer. "It's quite easy to buy a list that targets very specific groups, people who are most vulnerable."

About 35 percent of the 25 million people in the U.S. who are 71 or older have mild cognitive impairment or dementia, according to a 2008 Duke University study.

Craven said his group is working to hold some of the largest junk mail offenders accountable. The list, he said, includes Geico, Bank of America, Chase, American Express, Discover and Capital One.

"Our supporters are really frustrated due to the quantity of mail and the lack of respect for people with whom they already have a business relationship," Craven said.

ForestEthics reports that in 2005 the Postal Service processed more junk mail than first-class mail for the first time.

"Third-class mail is now called standard mail," Craven said, "which says it all."

More boxes for more junk

The typewritten letter misspelled George's first name.

My dear Aeorae, it began.

In just a few days, on the night of Aug 10, 2010 to be exact, something very special is going to happen. It wouldn't surprise me ... if, over the days that follow that special night, you write me a letter telling me that your financial woes are finally over because you have just won a very large sum of money.

The six-page letter was from Maria Duval with the Destiny Research Center. Enclosed was a thin, gold-colored disc, identified as a talisman.

And, you, Aeorae, you are going to be able to profit from it!!!

In her letter the psychic offered to perform "The Grand Ritual of the Black Moon" on the Fort Worth retiree's behalf, after which love, luck and most of all money, may finally be part of your life!

Just send $10, by check, money order or credit card.

"My father is a Christian man," the daughter said. "He serves his church. Where does she get sending that demonic stuff?"

On Monday, 96 more pieces of junk mail arrived at her dad's doorstep.

Their messages sounded alarms.

"The Social Security Trust Fund is in deep trouble!" "The ACLU is trying to outlaw the Ten Commandments." "Our nation is plunging into debt at the rate of $2.7 million a minute."

The man set his latest stack of mail aside.

"I'm pretty patient," he said, serenely, referring to his problem. "I used to build model airplanes."

But his loved one is at wits' end.

She needs more boxes.

"How many others is this happening to?" the daughter asked. "This isn't right. Our seniors shouldn't be treated this way."

DAVID CASSTEVENS, 817-390-7436

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