mail-5PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE! Stop mailing your misleading SH*T to my 85-year old dad!

Last week I bagged up (for disposal) six 30 gallon garbage bags of junk mail. I spent a couple of hours sorting through the mail my dad had accumulated because it was just too overwhelming for him to sort with any kind of speed. Why is my 85-year old father having trouble sorting this mail?

First, my dad comes from a time when snail mail meant something. If something came in the mail it was usually important. Sure, there were solicitations and “junk mail” back in the day, but they were typically more obvious and less overwhelmingly abundant. I’ve been at my dad’s house when the mail arrives and there are days when it does not fit in his mailbox–the mailman leaves it in a bin by his door.

mail-6Just a couple of days ago I was at my dad’s when the mail arrived. I went through the more than 60 envelopes with him. There was not a single piece of “legitimate” mail–a bill, a statement or other official documents. But there were plenty of solicitations, pleas and “gifts”–“gifts” that were “thank you’s” for the numerous small donations they had already scammed out of my trusting father with their manipulative tactics.

To call most of this mail is misleading would be a gross understatement. I’ve noticed several “tactics” that are being used.

  1. Blank Envelopes: If there is no indication of who it is from or what it’s about, of course you need to open it, right?
  2. Official-Looking Packaging
  3. “Urgent” Packaging
  4. Official-Sounding Text/Language
    1. “Confidential Checking Account Information Enclosed”
    2. “For Addressee Only”
  5. No Return Address/No Name of the Organization
  6. “Handwritten” Pleas
  7. Any combination of the above

In addition to these basics that you may see in your own junk mail, these criminals use particularly heinous methods to scare and manipulate the elderly. They use misleading and inflammatory language on topics relevant to seniors in their mailings:

  1. Social Security
  2. Medicare
  3. Retirement Benefits

Instead of actually helping–protecting the rights of seniors and their limited incomes–these leeches are bleeding away the elderly’s finances one $5, $10, $20 or $25 check at a time.

mail-1If you have an elderly parent (or grandparent), I highly suggest you start examining and talking to them about their mail–NOW. If they are receiving more than 10 pieces of junk mail a day–take a closer look. If they are starting to experience any type of (even mild) memory or cognitive issues, take an even closer look–and, find a way to examine their checkbook to see if they might be succumbing to the manipulative pleas and actually writing checks to these criminals.

The elderly often think that their donations to these organizations are tax-deductible contributions going to “charities”–but many are 501(c)(4) organizations (not 501(c)(3))and the contributions ARE NOT tax-deductible. Of course, you only see that if you can read past all the inflammatory language and make your way to the very fine print inconveniently located in just one place on their materials.

There is a blog I found specific to junk mail: ARE YOU DROWNING IN JUNK MAIL? I’ve found it useful–particularly as I go through my dad’s mail and try to get him off mailing lists one organization at a time. It has links to many of these junk mail offenders.

What these organizations are doing may or may not be illegal, but rest assured it is unethical and immoral. I encourage everyone to engage their parents, grandparents and legislators in this discussion and help end this travesty of elder abuse.


~ by kipwkoelsch on February 10, 2017.


  1. Nice job

  2. Kip, I hear your frustration and feel you pain. When I finally had to move down to live with my Mom (she was going on 97, lived to 98), I also was surprised to see all the mail she was getting, how it was worrying to her, and how bloody much money she was sending off, and then not remembering she’d done it.

    I’m an instructional designer by profession so I decided to get down into the details and do some basic research. I developed data bases and tracked her mail everyday. In one year she received over 860 pieces of mail from more than 200 different organizations. I focused on 501c(3) and (4) mail. This seemed to be the bulk of what was being targeted to her. Because she was a kindhearted woman and was from the generation who trusted that anything that arrives in the US Mail must be legit, she was getting taken to the cleaners. Even to the point where she wouldn’t have enough money in her bank account to pay utilities.

    I looked into each business IRS 990 form, unraveled the umbrella structure of some of the businesses, tracked their relationship (if any) to the major charity watch dog organizations, checked to see if it had registered with the state of Florida and saved samples from each organization.

    Then I analyzed the tactics used to suck the seniors in. How they get on mailing lists, how the lists are sold, who some of the worst offenders are. I have examples of every category of tactics they use so folks can recognize them. As you know, the people who run these ‘non-profits’ aren’t stupid and they are usually within the legal parameters of the IRS. So, I concluded, there indeed is legal fraud alive and thriving in the US. Thriving being the key word.

    I worked with the Florida Dept. of Commerce to put on a workshop to outline the problem. But it is so far under the radar that seniors don’t recognize it; when they are cognitively impaired, they are afraid and don’t know how to deal with it; caregivers don’t have the legal power to stop or intercept the mail; most information is available on the internet but if you look at research of seniors and computer use…guess what, not many use the internet. This is improving as the aging population moves through the process.

    After mom died and we moved back to Indiana, I wanted to continue the research in order to show it isn’t just a Floridian problem. I have mail from two volunteers here in Indiana…same scenario. Same businesses tactics. of course, every state has it’s own process, where to look for help, and laws.

    Anyway, I volunteered to present an updated workshop for the local Area 10 Senior Center. A four hour workshop. One person came because he was at his wits end with the mail being sent to his mom. It simply is not recognized/perceived as a problem, nor the financial toll it takes.

    I’m trying to put all my findings into a book and I hope to start a blog that will focus on this issue. I’m also hoping to figure out a way to design an app that family members might be able to put on cell phones (larger number of seniors use cells) to allow seniors (or their care givers) to check business names or look up something they receive in the mail.

    Of course, it’s critical to get kids talking to their parents before it’s too late and implement behavior modification. The mail was a big part of mom’s daily entertainment. Maybe starting an organization for people to write letters to seniors so some of their mail is safe. I plan on outlining some ways to do this on the blog and hope it will stimulate creative ideas from those who have just run into the issue.

    Sorry you are having problems. I tried any number of things, but short of taking a chance on being arrested for interring with the mail, in Florida my options were limited to trying to get out to the mailbox before she did every day. I even set the clock behind a couple hours so she would think the mailman was coming later than he did. I’d also remove mail from the stack she would make as she opened the mail next to the chair where she sat when she left the room. Thank heavens she needed to go to the bathroom more often.

    Hang in there. Gail

    • Gail. This is impressive. I emailed you a more detailed commentary. If there is anything I can do to help your efforts, please let me know. This is ELDER ABUSE and more people need to be aware so that we can put a stop to these unethical, immoral organizations that operate on the margins of what is legal.

  3. I am having the same problem. The National Campaign To Guarantee Social Security sends my husband scare tactic letters telling him that if he don’t send money he could loose his social security. It really scares him and he has been sending them $20.00 every time he would get a letter from them. He received a letter today asking for a $500.00 or $200.00 donation.

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