Frustrated couple dig out from mountain of junk mail

April 15, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

Like the paraphernalia in any junk drawer, the items cover much of the floor of Mark Freundel's weight room.

There are hand-sized carpet samples, a can of dog food, a tiny canister of hair coloring, pet-care catalogs, circulars advertising backyard swimming pools, hearing aids and retirement homes.

All of it has come in the mail -- unsolicited and unwanted -- to the apartment that Mr. Freundel shares with his fiancee, Barbara Sheckells.

This isn't your everyday pocketful of junk mail. This is a scrap yard full, one that began arriving shortly after the couple moved into their Catonsville apartment in August 1989 and has never let up.

"When it hit, it hit really hard," said Mr. Freundel, a 29-year-old truck driver.

The couple think they know who is responsible for the mail. They suspect that a former neighbor of Mr. Freundel's is putting their names on mailing lists and circulars inviting sales calls.

They have asked the former neighbor to stop. But the mail keeps on coming.

Mr. Freundel figures they have received roughly $5,000 in unwanted magazines and sample items over the past 20 months.

There have been two dozen hardcover books from The Book of the Month Club and unsolicited magazines for fans of tennis, skiing, fishing, health, horses, dogs and cats. (Their landlord does not allow pets).

Mr. Freundel said he recently filled 12 trash-can sized garbage bags with unsolicited magazines, along with some books and catalogs, and delivered them to charities. The hardcover books he mailed back to the sales offices they came from.

And there have been phone calls. At one point, the couple was getting up to 30 phone calls a week.

There have been phone calls from insurance agents, members of religious groups and a kitchen-remodeling firm inquiring politely when they could arrange an in-home visit to come up with a suitable floor plan.

One salesman called to ask when they wanted their in-ground pool installed. (They rent in an apartment complex).

Another came to their door to sell them patio furniture. (They don't have a patio.)

It would all be funny if it weren't such a hassle -- one that seems to take nasty turns at times.

Many of the calls were from an anonymous caller or callers who would hang up when either of them answered. There were late-night calls, made while Mr. Freundel was on the road. The caller would hang up when Ms. Sheckells answered.

Putting caller ID on their phone helped stop the anonymous calls. An answering machine helps weed out the unwanted phone solicitations.

But the unwanted mail keeps on coming.

They have typed up a standard form letter that they mail out to magazine publishers, letting them know the subscription order is a mistake and directing them to cancel it.

They also have consulted an attorney and complained to the post office, the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co., the county police and the state's attorney's office.

"All of the places we've tried, they don't seem to be able to do anything," said Mr. Freundel.

Post office officials told them that except in the case of sexually oriented advertisements, the Postal Service has no authority to compel any one to remove a name from a mailing list.

The post office provided them with an address of a direct-mail association that will put their names on a list of people who don't want direct mail. The couple plan to ask to be put on the list.

C&P officials said that after monitoring calls for a five-week period, there were an insufficient number of harassing calls from the same number to pursue a criminal complaint.

C&P officials would change Mr. Freundel's phone number at no charge, said Jeanine Smetana, a company spokeswoman. But Ms. Sheckells, a 29-year-old administrative assistant at a bank, said she thought the new number, even if it were unpublished, would eventually be obtained by whoever is harassing them.

County police took a written police report on complaints but could make no arrest without further proof of criminal intent.

The Baltimore County state's attorney said that proving someone is forging the couple's signatures to circulars inviting sales calls would be difficult -- and would take at least a year to get to court.

"I find it difficult to fit in to any criminal statute," said Howard Merker,a deputy state's attorney. "There's some sort of crack in the system with that kind of situation."

Mr. Merker said the couple could seek a court order requiring the person they suspect to stop the harassment. But that would require proving in court who is responsible, he said.

Mr. Freundel said he's not really prepared for any major legal battles. He just wants the mail and the calls to stop.

"It's a hassle that's not going away, and it's like there doesn't seem to be a whole lot we can do."

Mail hassles

Anyone having problems with direct mail may contact either of two agencies to ask that firms be discouraged from sending them direct mail:

Mail Prefeerence Service

Direct Marketing Association

11 W. 42nd Street

P.O. 3861

New York, N.Y. 10163-3861

Advo Systems Inc.

239 W. Service Road

Hartford, Conn. 06120

Anyone having problems with telephone callers may call the C&P Telephone Co. business office. The number of the correct office depends on the telephone number prefix and is listed in the telephone directory and on the telephone bill.

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