A conspicuous contemporary trend in “traditional” dead-tree junk mail (the snail-mail equivalent of online spam) is to follow the basic format of phishing e-mail: it comes in disguise as legitimate “important” mail, to trick you into
clicking on opening it.
And so for a while now, we’ve been amassing a collection of what we call “Envelopes That Claim to be Important.” Here are a few prime examples of what to watch out for.
Often times, these envelopes are quite well done. Above is an example that might cause a genuine double take— with its “FINAL NOTICE ENCLOSED” — and bank-PIN style tear tabs on the sides.
And then, there’s the fine print, so that you really take it seriously. A $2,000 fine or 5 years imprisonment(!) are threatened under §1702 should you fail to deliver this
fine specimen of junk mail letter to its intended victim. (This penalty is true but somewhat misleading; the law refers to obstruction of mail in general, not this “final notice” in particular.)
To complete the illusion, envelopes like this often come complete with security printing on the back side. Is this really for privacy, or just so that you can’t quite as easily make out the advertisement lurking within? (Also, our bet is that everyone gets the exact same red-printed number on the back side.)
Another sleazy trick is to make the envelope look like the work of some (generally implied but unspecified) government agency. Official looking seals, IRS style typography, or an implied return address in the state capital aim to create the impression that this is a critical document, to be stored with your important papers. Sprinkle on a few §1702 threats here and there to complete the picture.
This time, it’s personal. And confidential. And, what exactly is a “secured document,” anyway?
“Registered Documents” is probably meant to be evocative of Registered Mail (which tends to actually be important), but comes off more like the previous “secured document” instead. Again with the security printing, too!
And nothing shouts “Important Information” more clearly than the words “… or Current Resident.”
We have not yet noticed any envelopes with both the §1702 threat and the address of “Current Resident,” but it stands to reason that they’re out there.
And finally, here is a truly over-the-top example of (yes) presorted first class mail. In their defense, printing technology has come a long long way, and all those printed permanent marker marks look pretty darned real.
29 thoughts on “Envelopes That Claim to be Important”
You can buy these online, in case you want to send VERY IMPORTANT MAIL of your own. Here are some of my favorite (i.e. completely absurd) designs:
They’ve got eagles on ’em! That’s how you know it’s really important!
If you’d like to save your maibox, you can also opt-out of nearly all junk mail at: https://www.dmachoice.org/
Hahaha oh my oh my! What the * is wrong with people?? This is so crazy, I’ve never seen anything like these ones before! (I’m from Germany). Thanks for the links Jered and thanks for the warning ecil mad scientist. I’ll be aware when (if) this trend comes to Germany! :P
Some of these types of correspondence will come with envelopes that have those “no postage necessary” stamps on them. What is fun is getting a bunch of these and stuffing the contents of one into the envelopes of another. Might as well let them pay to spam each other.
Stuffing envelopes into the envelopes? Eh. A former roommate would stuff them with pebbles and pennies, lots of them, because he believed (probably true) that the Post Office would charge by weight.
I mailed one with a slice of pizza.
My husband stuffed one with cat fur. The return address: MEOW!
I wish I could sue these companies for every grey hair they have produced for me by scaring the shit out of me.
My favorite, which I’ve seen quite a lot, is the fake tarnish in the shape of a credit card, as if the letter had been scuffed past some newsprint or a dusty sorting table and picked up a little dirt impression that tells you there’s some lovely, lovely plastic inside.
These usually contain a paper replica of the credit card you’ve definitely already been approved for. And the scuff looks real. But my wife and I would often get the same one on the same day and comparing them it was clear they must have been printed – they were identical down to the smallest detail.
I’ve actually gotten some with a plastic card in the shape of a credit card including raised printing so that if you fell the envelope it does feel like a credit card is inside.
Since real credit cars come in bland envelopes without all the “Here’s Your New card!” stuff that made stealing them so easy, these do get opened.
They also get mailed back in the prepaid envelope minus any identifying info…check carefully, some of these campaigns tuck ID numbers in odd places and even on the envelopes themselves. I once got two of the same thing and they had what appeared to be tracking numbers that differed in a couple of places.
I think the PO won’t deliver the ones with bricks enclosed and so on nay more. The DMA has an excellent relationship with the PO and usually gets what it wants.
Of course they have an excellent relationship. They’re the only ones who still use USPS…
I keep getting mail like this warning me that my bumper-to-bumper manufacturer’s warranty is about to run out on my vehicle. I have b-to-b through my insurance, so it’s not a big deal. My manufacturer’s ran out over a year ago, and I think I’ve gotten about 10 “Final Notices!” about it informing me of how to renew. The envelopes have the fine notice on them as well.
i love it when i get those “yourinsurance is about to expire” when i dont even have a car!
The USPS should drop all bulk rates and charge 1st class postage on all mail. It would get the post office out of the red one way or the other–less crap to deliver or crap to deliver that pays full freight. Either way, the USPS wins and we get less crap.
I absolutely agree with this. In fact, I think that bulk mailings should pay MORE than first class mail, as it is nuisance mail that is not necessary or wanted by the receiver, and (my own personal view) junk mail it is an abuse of the postal system. You are most likely right that it would raise millions in capital for the post office.
I really like the ones about my mortage, I got these for years, all the time I was renting.
I used to get a lot of these except it was always “important information about your VA loan”. My mortgage is a VA loan. Inside the letter had the VA and the FHA logo on there to make it look authentic. Then one day I found it was against the law to use to misuse the VA logo so I reported them to some government agency. I never hear anything back. Then I went to the DAV and showed them a stack of these envelopes and told them these are designed to defraud veterans can you do something about it. They must have because I don’t get those anymore.
That first piece of mail, which had so much attention paid to it, is actually printed on a fairly standard heat-sealing paper with security features. We used to use them to print payroll statements at City Hall: You laser print onto them, then run them through the folding machine. The combination of heat and pressure seals the edges during the folding process. I think the red numbers are sequential within a pack (like when you order checks or buy a receipt book). I’d say it’s the least convincing of the bunch.
Look for the word “Standard” in the postage area. If the word is there, you can be certain that it is not any of the following:
– Bills, grade reports, statements of account, and checks
– Matter having the character of actual personal correspondence
Because US Postal regulations explicitly required the above to be sent by First Class mail and not “Standard” mail.
To all companies who send out this type of mail: I will NEVER buy your product or service. NEVER. By sending that type of mail, you’re admitting that you’re manipulative and completely untrustworthy. If your advertisement starts that way, it’s obvious that the rest of your business practices will be just as manipulative. May your business fail.
I love the ones with addressed to my apartment, with someone else’s name on it (sometimes with ‘or current resident’). Yeah, *right*, it’s important. So important that you’re using fake addressees.
(Some of my fellow residents haven’t figured out that these are junk mail and can be tossed.)
Please don’t opt out. I work in printing, the bulk of what we do is this sort of stuff, and it’s one of the few areas of the industry that is not circling the drain. That junk mail keeps me and mine living indoors!
More reason to get removed from all mailing lists, including catalogs and credit card offers. They just sell your info on and send you more and more junk.
(I am in no way affiliate with the above site, I just find it very useful!)
My husband and I used to go through these and collect any “thisisnotachecks” they contained. Whoever collected the most fake wealth in a month got to pick the restaurant for a night out.
The tell on junk mail is the postage notation “presorted standard”. If the sender doesn’t bother to pay first class postage, I don’t bother opening, regardless of it’s appearance.
Be careful throwing out all mail that appears as junk mail. Rebate checks are sent out in envelopes that resemble junk mail in the hopes that you will throw it out without opening the envelope.
I’m happy to get junk mail if it means that the USPS stays in business and some of my old friends in the printing industry get to stick around just a little bit longer…
I was immediately reminded of the Joel Spolsky classic essay
How Many Lies Can You Find In One Direct Mail Piece?
The sec. 1702 warning is aimed at the mail carriers, who have to lug around several pounds of this crap every day. The temptation to dump it in the nearest landfill must be ferocious.
I really liked the story of the person who received mail addresed to “redisent”. He sent it back “Redisent not known here. Try Oppucant.”
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