Postal Regulations, Laws Regarding Direct Mail Marketing
Before grabbing a mailing list and getting ready to send direct mail items to every person on the list, direct mail marketers should find out and understand the laws regarding direct mail marketing. In the US, there are several laws laid down by the federal trade commission and various state governments to protect consumers against unsolicited and unwanted mail. Many federal and state laws ensure that certain sensitive information of consumers is kept confidential such as medical records, credit card details, social security numbers, and more.
There are also opt-out options for people who do not want to receive any mail. Direct mail marketers should be aware of these things as they can help them conduct direct mail marketing campaigns legally. It can also help them save time, money, and effort by not sending direct mail to people who are likely never going to respond to them.
Direct marketing laws make it difficult for companies to conduct marketing campaigns on their own. The limitations created due to these laws can be overcome with professional and expert support. PostGrid’s direct mail automation solutions can come to your rescue and help you conduct highly profitable campaigns while also helping you comply with all the laws regarding direct mail marketing.
What is Direct Mail Marketing?
Before discussing direct mail marketing, let us first understand what direct marketing is. It is a marketing channel that allows businesses to get in touch with their customers directly. Direct marketing implies direct communication between a company and its target audience.
Prospects are targeted based on their characteristics, purchasing habits, and personal information. Furthermore, the target audience is also provided with a way to respond back, either through reply forms or other methods, depending on the marketing channel.
Direct mail marketing, also popularly known as print and mail, is a part of direct marketing. Other examples include SMS marketing, telemarketing, email marketing, and direct social media marketing. Most of the federal laws cover all of these direct marketing types altogether, but there are specific laws that can affect direct mail marketing, which we will be discussing in this blog.
Statistics state that 83% of people are willing to share their personal details with brands to create personalized experiences. Direct mail marketing can be highly personalized and effective. There are various benefits of direct mail marketing, but you need to take complete responsibility for the data security and privacy of your target audience. Direct mail marketers are supposed to study these laws and follow them while carrying out their everyday mailing activities.
Laws Regarding Direct Mail Marketing
There is no law in the US that prohibits direct mail marketing on either state or national level. But, it is advisable to stay on the safe side by doing everything correctly and legally to avoid any regulatory issues ahead. In fact, following consumer data protection laws is beneficial to companies in many ways. Firstly, they can avoid sending mail to people who have no interest in receiving it. Secondly, they can avoid any unnecessary penalties and legal hassles.
The federal and state governments take several steps to protect consumers from unwanted mail and breach of data privacy. These laws were passed to regulate direct marketing activities and the use of personal data. All US citizens can manage how companies use their details in a number of ways.
Let us know about the most important laws regarding direct mail marketing:
1. The Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act (DMPEA) (39 U.S.C., Section 3001)
The DMPEA is a federal law that regulates sending solicitations and direct mail in a number of ways. As per this act, all non-governmental firms are restricted from sending solicitations implying any connections with the federal government for the payment for or purchase of goods and services. The act has clearly laid down a lot of restrictions on direct mail marketing, and any type of direct mail that violates any sections of this law will be treated as non-mailable. It can be detained by the USPS, and necessary action shall be taken.
Basically, the USPS can protect people against deceptive advertising and mailing that reaches them in the form of games of chance, skills contests, sweepstakes, and facsimile checks. There have been reports of many mail items making false claims with fraudulent intentions. For many years, customers have been falling prey to such claims, which is why this federal law has been passed. The DMPEA also allows people to notify the USPS and opt out of receiving any sexually-oriented mail items. Hence, sending out such mail pieces to people who have voluntarily opted out can get you in trouble.
Every direct mail item that includes sweepstakes and contest entries must include the following information compulsorily:
- The name, address, and contact number of every sponsor
- The complete list of rules pertaining to the contest
- All the terms and conditions as applicable to the contest
- Retail value and nature of prizes
- Chances of winning in numeric terms
- A statement mentioning that there is no purchase necessary to enter the contest
- Another statement is that any purchase does not affect any person’s chances of winning
Direct mail marketers sending such contest mailings or sweepstakes are also required to maintain an accurate name-removal system. It allows recipients to opt out of getting such mail items. Additionally, the existence of this system should be disclosed clearly.
The DMPEA has authorized the USPS to impose monetary penalties and stop-mail orders on mail items that go against the regulations of this act.
- A penalty of up to $25,000 can be imposed for mailing up to 50,000 items
- A $50,000 money penalty for mailing between 50,000 to 100,000 items
- An additional penalty of $5,000 up to $1 million for every additional 10,000 items beyond 100,000
This act has been around for around two decades now and is known to protect consumers from misleading mail that causes them to purchase products that they don’t require or want. Marketers can comply with the DMPEA by including proper disclosures in their mail items and following all the rules mentioned above. Contests, giveaways, offers, and discounts are a normal and important part of direct mail advertising. As much as they boost responses, you need to make sure that you are following the regulations of the DMPEA strictly.
2. Theft or Receipt of Stolen Mail Matter Generally (Title 18 U.S. C., Section 1708)
Theft has become a common issue in today’s time. However, only a few people know that even receiving a direct mail item belonging to someone else with a fraudulent intention counts as theft under this act. A person that steals, obtains, receives, or takes a direct mail item or attempts to do so is punishable under the act. It doesn’t matter whether the mail is stolen or taken from a post office, post box, or a person’s mailbox. This federal law also applies to theft from a collection box or any other authorized depository. Any person who commits this crime or attempts it is liable to a fine, imprisonment of up to 5 years, or both.
Although this particular law does not directly apply to direct mail marketers, it increases their responsibility to mail accurately. Marketers must strive to overlook data processing carefully and only mail to the right addresses. Nowadays, it is possible to track every single mail item and ensure whether the intended recipient has received the mail.
Certified mail is an excellent option to make sure that only the right person receives the mail. It can detect any kind of mail fraud immediately. Moreover, marketers can use print and mail automation solutions like PostGrid to verify and validate addresses before mailing.
3. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was signed in the year 1996 with the purpose of protecting the medical records of US citizens. It also aims at modernizing the way patient records and reports are processed. HIPAA prohibits businesses from purchasing, renting, or obtaining mailing lists from any medical institution. However, the act does not stop companies from building their own mailing lists of patients and sending them direct mail items. But, direct mail marketers cannot do so if the person has requested to opt out of receiving such mail from you.
HIPAA requires marketers to send medical data only to the intended recipients. Hence, hospitals, clinics, and all other medical facilities can send bills, reports, receipts, and other medical documents only to the respective patients. Hence, HIPAA is laid down for both medical institutions and all other companies that could possibly use mailing lists of patients to communicate about certain medical conditions.
Direct mail marketers can become HIPAA compliant by not obtaining lists from medical institutions and using medical data carefully and sensitively. PostGrid’s direct mail automation solutions enable you to become HIPAA compliant and mail confidently.
4. National Do Not Mail List
The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has built a list of people who have opted out of receiving any mail. This list is referred to as the “National Do Not Mail List” and is shared by all its members. It allows consumers to prevent themselves from receiving junk or unwanted mail. All they have to do is ask the DMA to do so. The DMA then updates the list to exclude such people who have opted out voluntarily. The list is similar to the National Do Not Call List that enables people to opt-out of receiving marketing phone calls for a certain period of time.
The National Do Not Mail List can seem to limit direct mail marketing, but in reality, it is very helpful to businesses and marketing agencies. They can cut down printing and mailing costs and create targeted mailing lists. The list saves companies from infuriated customers that are frustrated with direct mail and are likely to throw away your mail in the bin without even opening it. Although companies and agencies that are not members of the DMA are not mandated to check their mailing lists against the National Do Not Mail List, doing so can help them save their money and time by sending out direct mail items only to an interested audience. You can simply get your mailing lists cross-verified against the list and stay out of any unpredictable legal disputes.
5. Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act)
Direct mail advertising is also regulated by the FTC Act (15 U.S.C §§ 41-58). All direct mail marketing activities should be in compliance with this act, and a violation can lead to legal action. The act allows the Federal Trade Commission to protect US citizens against deceptive, misleading, or unfair advertising acts related to trade operations. Hence, all profit-making companies are covered under this act. It can also seek redress for the loss or harm caused to consumers.
False advertising claims regarding services, drugs, food, devices, or cosmetics are punishable by a fine not exceeding $5,000, or imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both. If the marketer is convicted of the same violation again, a fine not exceeding $10,000, or imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both can be imposed.
All the other unfair and deceptive practices related to marketing and promotion are subject to injunctive, remedial, and equitable action under the FTC’s Section 5 authority. Such action may include restitution or disgorgement of earnings gained through these practices.
The act prescribes a list of regulations specifically stating certain acts as unfair or deceptive. It also states the requirements established to prevent such acts. Direct mail marketers should be aware of these regulations and requirements to implement this act while conducting marketing campaigns.
The FTC requires direct mail marketers to only include true information in their direct mail items and not mislead their recipients in any way. Furthermore, according to the FTC, an act can be declared as unfair or deceptive if the damage caused, or is likely to cause, is not reasonably avoidable. Marketers are responsible for the possible interpretations of the direct mail content.
Therefore, they should take care to include words and sentences that do not possibly have any other meanings other than what they actually mean.
Other Data Protection Laws in the US That Can Affect Direct Mail Marketing
Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act (18 USC. § 2721-2725)
While purchasing or renting mailing lists, make sure to know the source. Many brokers can sell you lists that can land you in legal trouble. For example, the Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act prohibits gathering data from Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMVs). The act restricts the release or sale of drivers’ personal details such as license numbers.
The DMVs can release such information only when asked for by law enforcement officials, insurance underwriters, private investigators, courts, and government agencies. Selling drivers’ data to direct mail marketers or other marketing agencies is strictly prohibited.
There are many other data protection laws that limit the use, sale, and release of social security numbers. Direct mail marketers should be extra careful while dealing with such details and find out the source of their mailing lists before using them.
Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act 1998 (COPPA)
COPPA (15 USC. § 6501 et seq) limits the collection of personal information from children under the age of 13. It is illegal to collect information such as IP address, photos, audio, device identifier, name, email, physical address, and geolocation data from children in a way that breaches the FTC’s rules. Companies that target children must age-screen individuals and apply the rules based on their self-reported age on their websites, apps, and online services.
Hence, before using details about children in your direct marketing activities, you need to check that they are not violating COPPA. Marketers and online service providers are expected to post a notice regarding the details collected from children, the way it is used, and also obtain parental consent in some cases.
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. §1232g)
FERPA restricts schools and educational institutions from disclosing student information without the consent of the students (and parents in some cases). The act also gives certain rights to the students and parents, through which they can challenge the student record’s accuracy.
You, as a direct mail marketer, can comply with the FERPA regulations by not purchasing or renting any lists or data from educational organizations, including schools, universities, and coaching institutes.
Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (15 USC. §§ 6801-6810)
The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act regulates the disclosure and use of non-public personal information by banks and other financial institutions. This act requires all financial institutions to disclose their data privacy policies to customers clearly. Furthermore, it also enables customers to stop these institutions from sharing their personal information with anyone, including direct marketers.
Before sending credit card offers or direct mail with insurance products to anyone, check the FTC’s lists. You cannot send such direct mail to customers that have opted out of sharing their financial information like bank account numbers.
Several US states have passed “Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices” (UDAP) statutes that are similar to the FTC Act. Some of them are related to the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act (UDTPA), which aimed at protecting companies from any harm inflicted upon them by their competitors. There are many other UDAP statutes related to the Model Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL) that are more focused on protecting consumers from misleading and fraudulent trade practices.
Make sure to know about the UDAP statutes followed in your state to avoid any issues in the future regarding your direct mail marketing activities.
How Does Direct Mail Marketing Ensure Better Consumer Data Protection As Compared to Other Marketing Channels?
Sending direct mail items to a targeted mailing list is perhaps the best way to connect with potential customers and encourage them to purchase from you. It is placed at the top of the list of all direct marketing channels like telemarketing and email marketing, although they can be combined and used. In order to do it rightly, companies should follow all the federal and state laws and stay within the legal framework as it is beneficial to both marketers and customers. However, direct mail marketing is known to ensure better data privacy and security when compared to any other marketing channel. Let us find out how.
With the help of the USPS, it has become very easy to conduct direct mail marketing in the US. They provide you with a detailed set of instructions and direct mail templates that indicate the requirements and omissions of a mail item clearly. This way, you know what to include and what to avoid. Moreover, the USPS is a governmental body and committed to following all the laws of the state and federal government. Hence, it has several internal measures to check for compliance and can guide you on how to follow all the laws regarding direct mail marketing.
Direct mail allows marketers to get proof of mailing and delivery through the certified mail option. You can even request a copy of the receiver’s signature. This copy can be extremely important while mailing critical information or mail items that can possibly exploit any federal mail laws.
How Can We Help?
Following a series of laws and regulations before designing, printing, and mailing direct mail items can discourage direct mail marketers. Sometimes, marketers can violate certain laws because of ignorance or lack of knowledge. These things can lead to various legal consequences that can affect the reputation and image of a brand. Therefore, it is important to take care to follow all the laws, and the easiest way to do that is by taking the help of an expert.
PostGrid’s print and mail automation solutions can help companies lift their workload and remain compliant with every law related to direct mail marketing. Automating the entire process can help them get rid of manual tasks like printing thousands of sheets, enveloping them, affixing stamps, sealing envelopes, carrying them to the post office, and more. PostGrid is HIPAA, PIPEDA, SOC-1, and SOC-2 compliant and can help direct mail marketers conduct campaigns in an efficient, accurate, and most importantly, legal manner.
There are many more benefits of conducting direct mail campaigns through PostGrid’s automated direct mail API. It can help you design attractive mail pieces easily through the in-built templates. PostGrid can guide you on using consumer data responsibly and correctly. Plus, it can help you build mailing lists (validated and cross-checked against the National Do Not Mail List). Moreover, you can track every direct mail item sent through PostGrid so that you can detect any mail thefts and frauds easily.
Give us a call now to discuss further.