VIEWPOINT: GOING POSTAL

By Published on .

I got a Rate Overpayment Notification in the mail a while ago. It said "Rate overpayment notification" right on the front of the envelope, above the window that had my correctly-spelled name and address, along with a whole bunch of very official-looking bar code and a picture of the Statue of Liberty. The return address was a Funding Office in Reston, Va., and it even had a room number. True, it was one of those bulk rate, postage-paid pieces of mail, but I'm sure I've been doing some serious rate overpaying, and I see no reason why some nice nerd in Virginia wouldn't drop me a line to set the record straight, maybe even enclose a check. I opened the envelope eagerly, and began to tremble as I realized it was a check . . . for $43,950. Yes! I'm finally getting my cable bill straightened out! Then I noticed the horrible words at the top: "This is a not check." And more horrible words under the box with the fat, juicy sum of money in it: "Non-negotiable coupon." And way at the bottom in smaller type: "Non-transferable." I was trembling now with rage, and I calmly turned around, took a deep breath and kicked my Dachshund, Rolfe, who squeaked in pain and ran under the coffee table to cower. Non-transferable? Too bad. I wanted to fly to Reston, Va., and transfer it to the ass of one William Carter at the Community Bank of Northern Virginia, who was trying to sell me on an Equityplus debt consolidation loan.

I'm better now. Some say it's the medication, but I've done a careful study of junk mail, I know my enemy and I have conquered him. No longer am I tricked into opening his envelopes. This is war, a war of nerves, and to be fooled into opening an envelope is to lose.

But I never lose anymore. That's why I'm writing this. To tell my enemy, the junkers, that they need to improve their weaponry and strategies. To make the war interesting again. Most junk mail envelopes are obvious, amateurish tricks. I process these bottom-feeder solicitations into the trash automatically. My brain has been attuned to pick up certain clues -- dot matrix printed address, screaming bursts of ad copy, bulk mail permits. I grin as I throw them into the garbage, while Rolfe wags his tail happily at my feet. Then there's the less obvious stuff. These are envelopes I used to have to study closely before deciding to open them or not. For a while, these stealth junk mails were slipping past my radar almost 25 percent of the time, and it was damn embarrassing when I had to take Rolfe to the vet and explain he broke his leg scampering down the stairs. But my pattern-recognition wetware has detected all the tell-tale clues needed to tip me off, and now I'm nearly faultless.

Here are some stealth junk mail methods that no longer work on clever, little old me: The Fake Check. The fake check comes in an envelope colored an appealing shade of IRS-refund tan. Behind a cellophane window there's the titillating text "Payable to:" printed on a creamy blue-green piece of paper -- the exact color you'd expect on a check for thousands of dollars. The meter imprint looks for all the world like something out of a Pitney Bowes machine -- it's slightly askew, and the red ink is uneven. It's a popular method of camouflage. I get several of them each week. Most of the time, they're invitations to open a line of credit at twice the current prime lending rate of interest.

The Fake Threat. Nothing motivates envelope-opening as fast as the promise of easy money. But the threat of losing money works nearly as well. These brown envelopes have warnings insinuating that they're from the Federal Government, and that I am being told to appear for an income tax audit. The bulk mail permit is the tipoff, as well as the lack of a recognizable government entity in the return address.

The Fake Friend. This type of junk mail looks like it was sent from a friend or colleague, often using hand-lettered typefaces. Some contain what looks to be a page hand-torn from a magazine. On the page is a Post-It note, with what appears to be a hand-written note from somebody so intimate he only needs an initial to identify himself. Since I haven't got any friends, now that the vet spread the word around that I'm an animal abuser, I know these are filthy rotten tricks.

When someone tries to pull a fast one on me like this, it doesn't put me in the mood to do business with them. It makes me want to conduct monkey business with them. So I stuff the stealth junkers' postage-paid response envelopes with notes containing other junk business phone numbers. I put clippings from livestock journals in the envelopes, with my own Post-It notes attached ("See! I told you!").

In fact, I've got to head out now, I have some junker-retaliation letters to mail. Rolfe! Walkies! Come on! No, I'm mailing these, Rolfe, I didn't just get them. Get out from under there, dammit! u

Otto Matik is the nom de plume of a California magazine editor and reformed

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