A lot of you might be getting political junk mail. It’s an election year, and political action committees, and other policy organizations are ramping up fundraising efforts. There’s one demographic that’s affected more than others, though — the elderly. Seniors are being targeted. They spend their lives taking care of you, teaching you right from wrong, and protecting you, but when you’re grown and gone, who’s left to protect them? Better Business Bureau CEO and President, Jim Stalls, says “it’s unfortunate that there are so many of our senior citizens, that their family hasn’t deserted them, but might not be paying attention to them. Especially if the individual is living alone. So sometimes, mail is their only source of contact from the outside world.”
The average American household receives 848 pieces of junk mail per year. Most of us just throw it away, but when you’re elderly, alone, possible suffering from dementia, and the headlines appear to threaten your social security benefits, or tell you immigrants are going to destroy the United States unless you help, it’s hard to ignore it. “Hopefully they’re alert enough to realize, and not get caught up in those that are schemes or scams to rip them off,” says Stalls. That’s not always the case, though. 97 year old Betty Barnes found herself at the center of a junk mail barrage, and with scary claims and personal pleas for help, she made some donations to make America better. Writing a check to these organizations is one of the worst things you can do though, according to Stalls. He says “anybody that makes a contribution or responds to any of these unwanted mailings, their name goes on a list, and that list is sold.” From political action committees, and sweepstakes, to more sinister mail about the state of America from organizations like Citizens United, The National Center for Public Policy Research, The Seniors Center, once they have your name, address, and an inclination that you’ll donate, the solicitations never stop.
There are some things you can do to either get your name, or an elderly loved one’s name off of these lists. Stalls says, from experience, that “the best source of trying to get your name off the list is the Direct Mailing Association in New York (dmachoice.org). That website can give people instructions on how to get their name off that list.” You can also contact each mailer directly, either through email, or through the pre-paid envelopes that many of them include with their mailings. Keep in mind, this isn’t a quick fix. Most direct mailers send out their material up to 12 weeks in advance, and it can take months to see a reduction.
If you are still getting scams and junk mail after that, it’s time to file a complaint against the company through the Better Business Bureau, the FTC, or the postal service. So why are the elderly targeted? Stalls says it has to do with their mindset. “So many people in that age group still think that when you give a handshake, that’s your bond, and you’re giving them your word you’re going to do it, and they still live by that premise and they’re very susceptible.” If you’re having problems with your mail, and you need help or have questions, call someone. If you know an elderly person needs help with their mail, offer to go through it with them. You can always call the Better Business Bureau to find out if your mail is legitimate, or if it’s a scam. The library, the Council on Aging, senior centers, and AARP can also help seniors figure out their mail in person.