As more and more things move to email and the web, financial services companies are showing signs of advertising frustration. Since their email gets blocked by our spam filters or we just hit the delete key, they continue to rely on paper mailings. Solicitations to take out a loan, get an investment advisor, set up a new credit card, or change insurance policies abound. The strategy they deploy is to entice you to open their envelope. The techniques vary from innocent to tricky to bordering on mail fraud.
An envelope with a return address of State Farm Insurance in Monroe, Wisconsin looked harmless and very business oriented. There was nothing printed on the back of the envelope. I fell for it and opened the envelope and it was from a local State Farm agent in Connecticut. It was obviously given a return address that did not look it was a local agent.
An envelope from American Express Cardmember Services looked very official. It had a small plastic window behind which were the words “Reminder Notice”. It was printed on a background that looked like a check. At the bototm of the back of the envelope an outlined box contained “You may have recently discarded a similar notice. Please open”. I knew it was a promtion but was curious enough to open the envelope. It was a reminder notice to order their 2009 Appointment Book and Executive Organizer. If you read the details you find out it is a trap to get you to take these for “free” plus shipping and then you will get them every year for approximately ten times the price of the promotion. If you decide you don’t want the suceeding year products you have to take the initiative to send them notice. I would call it a trap.
Many are much more aggressive in their attempts to mislead. One recent envelope said simply “Explanation of Benefits” on the back of the envelope . Explanation of Benefits forms (EOBs) are sent by payors (mostly insurance companies) to both their enrollees and to providers. The EOBs contain information about claim payments and patient responsibility. This envelope turned out to be from Forbes and inside was an “explation of benefits” for those who subscribe to Forbes Magazine. While not legally fraud, the envelope was misleading at best.
I have adopted the practice of assuming a letter is marketing material unless I know it contains something I have been expecting or is from someone I trust. With more and more e-billing and electronic bill payment, there is not much “real” mail anymore. As email protocols and authentication continue to evolve, most really important things will be communicated by email.