Sunday, February 15, 1998
Getting more mail? Enjoying it less?

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

I might have to cancel my Reader's Digest, even though I've always found it to be inspirational, especially in small spaces. I simply can't stand the pressure anymore from their sweepstakes director.

He wants to reward me for my years of loyalty with millions of dollars, a car or a CD of Pat Boone singing Love Letters in the Sand. And, as I understand it, all I have to do is wade through a wagon load of paper to claim my prize.

Anyway, I think there's a prize. But I could be mistaken. I thought I got a check for $50,000 from First Allegiance Financial of Charleston. It looked like a check, signed right under a picture of the American flag.

'A select group'

Would it be ungrateful to notice that the very smallest type on the check said non-negotiable and nontransferable? Probably. And this after a very flattering letter letting me know that I am among a ''very select group of individuals.''

I don't know what I have done to inspire such confidence from financial institutions, but they are just dying to give money to me. Or credit.

First North American National Bank of Richmond, Va., sent a letter thanking me for accepting their Visa card. I was invited to call with any questions. My only question was whether somebody was running around charging merchandise to a credit card with my name on it.

After a recording that made repeated demands for my Social Security number, I finally reached an actual human. I told Scott about my letter.

''You're calling from work,'' he said. ''Right?'' Scott has Caller ID on his phone. You can't be too careful.

''I'll need your home phone number,'' he said.

Scott seems very pleasant, but I don't want my phone number in, say, the men's room at the Richmond bus station. Or in the hands of somebody who wants to sell me something else. So I said, ''What if I don't want to give it to you?''

We were stumped. But one of us - and it doesn't matter who - thought of the idea of just typing my name into his computer.

This worked. And Scott was able to tell me that my account showed no activity. ''You should have gotten a letter from us which would have explained the whole thing.''

I admitted maybe I hadn't appreciated the letter's importance. Maybe it looked like something else. There's a lot of that going around.

My mom got a notice that said ''It's time to schedule your annual Medicare review. Please respond within 10 days.'' In small print it said, ''This is not a government document.'' But it did not say, ''This is just a sales pitch in disguise from an insurance company that hopes you'll be so befuddled by the blizzard of paper that arrives at your house every day that you'll be convinced that you have to call and place an order.''

A playful reply

An 88-year-old California man bought a $1,700 airline ticket to Tampa, Fla. He carried a letter from American Family Publishers that announced: ''Richard Lusk, final results are in and they're official. You're our newest $11 million winner.''

He missed the small print saying he was a winner only if he had the winning number.

Florida sued American Family Publishers, which replied, ''Our mailings are not deceptive and are not written to be.'' Gee, I hope this goes to trial. Before a jury of 12 people who have mailboxes.

Jennifer Detwiler of the Ohio Attorney General's Office says, ''Some solicitations can appear deceptive, but to find a technical violation is an entirely different thing.'' If you have any questions, call (800) 282-0515 and her office will help you sort it out.

Meanwhile, why don't we just respond in the same playful spirit? Fill their postage-paid envelopes with confetti and Christmas stickers. Send them checks that are ''non-negotiable.'' Or maybe something that looks just like a subpoena with the words, ''You may already be a loser.''

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

PULFER ARCHIVE