Direct mailers target senior citizens

KANSAS CITY, Mo. _ "Urgent mail!"

"Reply within 5 days!"

"Open immediately!"

For most senior citizens, the mail practically screams at them.

"It makes me so mad," said Cecilia Sierra of Overland Park, Kans., who on a typical day opens her mailbox and finds four or five solicitations for money.

She doesn't respond, but as an outreach coordinator at the Don Bosco Senior Center, she knows that many older people do.

"People who don’t understand," she said. "They send their money."

Everybody gets "junk" mail, but seniors are a special target for the direct-mail industry, and not just fraudulent scams. Charitable causes tug at their heartstrings. Sweepstakes come-ons raise their hopes. Political opportunists prey on their fears.

There's a growing movement to establish do-not-mail registries similar to the popular do-not-call lists. Bills have been introduced in at least 19 states. None has passed.

The direct-mail industry is resisting, pointing out that it contributes about $700 billion to the national economy, in addition to helping nonprofit organizations to survive.

The Congressional Research Service reports that about 100 billion pieces of direct or advertising mail are delivered to U.S. households in a year _ 60 percent of all household mail _ or nearly 17 pieces per household per week. Other organizations have calculated that people 65 and older get more of it than any other age group.

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