In the days of direct marketing, businesses prepared a single mail piece, sent it to virtually everyone and then waited for consumers to buy. Today, most companies develop a description of their ideal customers and then tailor unique sales offers to fit those customers' needs. This approach is called target marketing.
The right mailing list helps a business reach only those consumers who are likely to be most interested in its products and services. Target marketing reduces "junk" mail — advertising mail that does not relate to your interests or needs.
By eliminating consumers who don't fit a specific description, a company can mail fewer but more effective offers, lower its marketing costs and pass on the savings to you.
How You Get on a Mailing List
There are three main ways your name might get on a mailing list:
- Magazines, credit card companies, clubs and organizations, charities, manufacturers and retailers make lists of their subscribers, customers, members and donors available to other businesses for a rental fee.
- Companies purchase information from various public and private sources to develop consumer databases for specific marketing purposes. These companies are called list compilers. Nearly everyone's name appears on compiled lists.
- Credit reporting agencies (including Experian), under legally specified conditions, provide lists of creditworthy consumers to companies so they can offer them credit. These are called prescreened lists.
Why You Receive Preselected Credit Offers
From a credit grantor's perspective, prescreening is a cost-effective way to secure new customers who are most likely to use credit wisely and repay their debts on time. It allows a credit grantor to define an "ideal" consumer, decide how much credit to give that potential customer, and then send a preselected offer to thousands or even millions of consumers who match this description.
If you receive a preselected credit offer, all you have to do to accept it is sign your name and provide a few other limited pieces of information. You will be given a line of credit if you still meet the predetermined criteria. However, the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act allows creditors to review your credit history when you accept the offer. If you no longer meet the criteria, your application may be denied.
Protecting Consumer Rights
The entire process of ordering lists, generating mailing labels and sending offers to consumers is automated by the use of computer tapes and computer processing. Large numbers of names — from a few thousand to many millions — are processed at one time.
Marketers don't review individual records. In fact, they rarely even see consumer names. Third-party companies generally print mailing labels, attach them to the advertising mail and take the mail to the Post Office™.
The prescreening process contains additional consumer protections:
- Consumer credit information is summarized and coded for confidentiality.
- Federal guidelines require that consumers who are selected by the prescreening process receive a "firm offer" of credit or insurance.
- Federal law requires credit grantors to extend credit in a fair and consistent manner. They cannot consider such factors as your sex, marital status, race or religion.