From Dell, a Uniquely Terrible Experience

August 20th, 2008

Ah, Dell. Seeming inventors of the tech support pit of bureaucratic indifferences, inventors of the flamingo pink Inspiron, perpetrators of fraud in New York…

I have, for over a year now, been on a crusade trying to get them to stop sending me their Dell Home and Home Office catalog to my mailbox. It has been a bundle of fun, let me tell you.

They have a nice-sounding privacy policy. It says you can opt out of all their mailings by filling out a form online. Yeah, good luck with that. First of all, there are different forms for different departments at Dell. I’ve filled out them all, multiple times. They do nothing whatsoever. Perhaps they use them as lists of known-good addresses to send new advertisements to, rather than lists of people to remove. Oh well.

Now, unfortunately I feel compelled to bore you with the saga so far, involving telephone hang-ups, broken privacy policies, and the like. But there is a silver lining at the end, in which I submitted a request to the postal service asking them to block Dell from sending me any more mail, and it appears that they are very likely to violate Federal Law any day now.

I have called them about it. Dealt with the old “let me transfer you to the correct department” then hang up on me ploy. Spoken to people that have promised up and down that I’ll be off their list in 30-60 days. It’s always 30-60 days, isn’t it? Very convenient that I can’t tell for 2 months whether or not they’ve processed my request.

I’ve tried their online chat. One of my attempts went like this:

Session Started with Agent (Sneha Ranga)

Agent (Sneha Ranga): “Due to circumstances that have affected Dell Communications I am temporarily unable to pull up any information. The down time is temporary. We apologize for the inconvenience, as we value your time as a customer. Please contact us back after an hour.”

Session Ended

Ah Dell, only you could reach such a pinnacle of customer service. /kicking someone out of a chat room before they have a chance to say a word.

Finally, last fall, I blogged about the situation (that’s the link above). Debbie from Dell read the post and emailed me. Great, I thought. She asked for my address information and catalog information and sent me a removal confirmation:

From: Debbie@Dell.com
Date: Thu, 18 Oct 2007 13:08:18 -0500
To: jgoerzen@complete.org
Subject: RE: Dell mailing list

Thank you, Mr. Goerzen, your request to have the below address
information removed from our marketing lists has been received:

[ my address here ]

We will process your request promptly. However, it may take several
weeks for some changes to take effect. If you are still receiving
catalogs after thirty (30) days feel free to email me. Sorry for any
inconvenience you may have experienced.

Thank you,
Debbie

So that was October. In December, I replied to that message, saying: “I received another mailing today, and it’s been nearly 2 months since your initial message. If there’s anything further you can do, I’d appreciate it.” Debbie said, “I am very sorry Mr. Goerzen, I will resubmit your request.” Guess how successful that was.

So in February, I manage to figure out a way to send in a support ticket without having a Dell system serial number. I wrote:

I keep getting your Dell Home and Home Office catalog. I have tried for months to get off your mailing list. I have called in, talked to people in multiple departments, who have promised to remove me from the list. I have contacted you online. NOTHING IS HELPING. This has gone on for MONTHS.

PLEASE NEVER SEND ME MAIL AGAIN, EVER, AND DO NOT RENT OR SHARE MY NAME.

My address is above.

The code on the mailing I received is: [ snipped ]

The form letter I got back said:

If you are currently receiving our catalog or mailings and would like to be removed, please visit the following web page and select the appropriate link under the “Opt-out of direct mail, phone or fax communications” heading: http://www.dell.com/OptOut

I replied, saying that form didn’t work. Guess what I got back?

Thank you for signing up for Dell Email Subscriptions. Please save this email for your records.

Yes, that’s right. Asking them to take me off their postal mailing lists got them to PUT ME ON their email lists. ARGH.

So they eventually manage to correctly take me off the email list, and of course promise to do the same with the postal list. This back in February.

I contacted them again in March and July, only to have a similar stupidity-laced run-in with clueless form-answer-laden Dell support reps. Each one claimed to have now, finally, and permanently removed me from the list. It never happened, and none of them lifted a finger to find out way, and no amount of begging could make them.

So, here’s the good part.

Junkbusters has spent years educating people on how to get rid of unwanted mail, and documents getting a prohibitory order against the sender. It was originally designed for people that didn’t want to receive obscene advertising mailings, but thanks to the happy fact that one non-adult-mailer challenged a prohibitory order all the way to the Supreme Court, you can now get prohibitory order against anyone. Yes, even Dell. (The supreme court’s ruling even gave an example: you can prohibit a clothing catalog if you want.)

And last month, that’s exactly what I did. The USPS sent me back a copy of the letter they sent to Dell, as well as a second page with instructions on reporting violations. Here’s the letter they sent to Dell:

dell-usps

Somehow I get a chuckle over some Dell mail clerk trying to figure out how an 11-pound laptop is sexually provocative.

From August 25 on, it is a federal offense for Dell to send me another Home and Home Office catalog. This is a branch of criminal law, not civil law. That is, it’s the maybe-go-to-jail branch of law.

How disappointed I was to receive yet another catalog from them today. If only they had waited 5 more days, I could have turned them in now.

Oh well. There’s always next month’s catalog. Let’s just hope the clerk that received the USPS letter removed my name with a better system than everyone else at Dell uses, eh?

Categories: Hardware

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Comments Feed42 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I will never understand why people like yourself like to make mountains out of mole hills. Put the paper in the recycling bin and be done with it.

    Reply

    Anonymous Reply:

    I will never understand why people like yourself like to make mountains out of making mountains out of mole hills. Close the browser tab and be done with it.

    Reply

    Anonymous Reply:

    “I will never understand why people like yourself like to make mountains out of (making mountains out of)^n mole hills. Ignore the previous post and be done with it,” is valid for all n >= 0.

    Reply

    Benjamin A'Lee Reply:

    He could recycle it, but firstly, it’s much more efficient in the long term for it not to be sent in the first place, and secondly, if he’s asked not to receive the catalogue then surely it’s not unreasonable to expect not to receive the catalogue?

    Reply

  2. Nathan

    Good on you for sticking it out; I must admit I tend to just follow the ‘straight to recycling’ because I tend to expect all companies to be useless like this

    Reply

  3. Michael Campbell

    How proud you must be, subverting an obscure law for your own, unrelated ends. I can only guess you’re one to rant and rave about patent trolls in the same breath.

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    I’m not subverting the law; this usage of it has been explicitly approved and encouraged by the Supreme Court, and is now of course part of Postal Service regulations.

    So I am surprised that anyone would think it is strange to do this. Yes, of course it is easy to just recycle all the junk you get.

    When we moved a year and a half ago, we got no junk mail. None! Well, OK, once every 2 months we’d get something addressed to my grandpa.

    So since we started from nothing, I’ve been tackling any new junk mail we get to keep it there. Every catalog company or junk mailer that sends us things gets a polite request to take us off their list. Every single one of them has complied in a timely, reasonable fashion. Except for Dell.

    For awhile, the Dell magazines went in my “contact them to get off their list” pile. But the situation got so ridiculous that I had to do something about it. Hence my blog post last year, trouble tickets, etc. They are violating their own privacy policy, and are either lying to me about removing me or have a systemic failure.

    If nobody stands up to them, then they walk all over everybody.

    I for one want to exercise my Federal right to take control over my own mailbox and stop getting junk mail in it. And right now Dell is the only company that’s causing me a problem.

    Reply

    Anonymous Reply:

    You falsely claimed that you found the materials sexually provocative. That the supreme court ruled that the government won’t second-guess this claim does NOT change the fact that you lied.

    Reply

    Karen in Wichita Reply:

    I can’t speak for John, and I (happily) haven’t seen a recent Dell catalog, but:

    I have yet to see a computer catalog from anyone that wasn’t pretty unambiguously sexually provocative. Sex sells.

    Simon Reply:

    Do they use the same smooth plasticized paper they use in their UK catalogues?

    If so I don’t think he need worry about DELL challenging the claim.

    Stop concentrating on the pictures. Here DELL seem to go out of their way to make the pictures such that only a hard core Python programmer could find it an appealing read.

    Shut your eyes and feel the texture. Especially the snug plastic wrapping.
    Perhaps I should have studied law.

    Stan Protigal Reply:

    Regarding “sexually provocative”, the USPS Form 1500, which contains the statement is printed by the USPS. They provide no alternative form, presumably because someone at the USPS made a decision not to. Calling the material “sexually provocative” is solely the result of using the “take it or leave it” USPS form for its legitimate lawful purpose, i.e. to issue the prohibitory order.

    That doesn’t change the law, by which a citizen is entitled to the prohibitory order.

    As to the “recycle bin” approach, the mass mailer can also comply with the citizen’s request. Instead, they have systematically lied to the person (John) and essentially answered with their middle finger.

    As to the penalties, I don’t think the USPS prosecutes anyone. The threat of loss of a bulk mailing permit is far more effective than a fine.

    – stan

  4. Sarah Pollock

    Nice one! You’ve inspired me to do something about these annoying PennySaver catalogues – like you, I hate junk mail, and PennySaver is all I get now.

    Reply

  5. Anonymous

    I don’t know about the situation in the U.S., but here in Germany, we have nice privacy laws:[list][*]First, any company that sends you advertisements may not do so without your consent and you can revoke it at any time.
    [*]Furthermore, you can ask any company to [i]delete[/i] all the personal data they ever collected about you, and they are legally forced to comply. (German Federal Data Protection Act §35) Problem solved since they can’t send you a mail when they don’t know your address.[/list]

    Reply

    Sven Mueller Reply:

    Only problem with them deleting all info about me is that they might re-collect my info from some place later and don’t know anymore that they shouldn’t mail me.

    Furthermore, the opt-in part only works effectively for phone calls and email as well as direct mailings (addressed to you). It doesn’t work for “all residents of A” type mailings.

    Reply

    SomewhereInGermany Reply:

    In the rare case I get some telemarketing calls I mention Bundesdatenschutzgesetz §28 (4) … works every time.

    Reply

  6. Jeff Licquia

    Civil law might be preferable in this case. Will you be able to get a prosecutor to care about a minor offense?

    I’ve heard that the postal service has its own enforcement powers, so you don’t have to get real federal prosecutors involved. If that’s true, then maybe they’ll take it more seriously.

    I suppose we’ll find out next month.

    Reply

  7. TC

    You’ve made a tactical mistake by saying: “Somehow I get a chuckle over some Dell mail clerk trying to figure out how an 11-pound laptop is sexually provocative.” Now they could say you laid a false complaint! (since clearly, you did not find it offensive) I see pokey time for you! :-)

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    Ahh, but you mistake me. I think Dell may have trouble figuring out why it’s offensive.

    I, on the other hand, find flamingo pink Inspirons in my mailbox *incredibly* offensive.

    Reply

    Henry Miller Reply:

    I’m sure Dell, like everyone else, sends catalogs once in a while that have girls in something low-cut (or a bikini).

    Reply

  8. cliff

    John, I tried your ‘TERM=escpterm telnet localhost > /dev/lp0′
    trick and I still have weeds in my corn field.

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    I should have warned you. It only works on wheat.

    Reply

  9. Richard

    My escalation technique after the first few attempts have failed is to send a letter to the person at the top of the company. This tends to be very effective because, although it presumably gets sent on to the same department to process, having been addressed to the top person the relevant department will take notice and adjust the mailing list. Always being polite and keeping copies of correspondence are of course also essential.

    Reply

  10. Kristoffer

    Dell are evul.
    I have had the same experience. Spent time in both telephone support and sent them countless of mails urging them to please stop sending me thier spam.

    But the spam just keep on comming.

    Reply

  11. werkshop

    This sort of frustration comes into play when people don’t understand information management. Dell, being quite large, doesn’t really save your information by name and address, that’s where the problem occurs.

    Bear with me here:
    You call a few years back to buy a computer, and complete the purchase. You are given a ‘customer number’ that number is classified by business size and other valuable metrics and filed away in the ginormous database.

    You call in a few years later and buy a replacement molex cable or something and the sales rep that has you on the phone, rather than extensively searching, confirming, and using your existing customer number (which is rather difficult considering all the data diversions and the inherently dynamic nature of the data) creates a new, secondary ‘customer number’

    Now you are in the system twice.

    Everytime you call and yell, and don’t give them the customer number for the offending account, they do a search, grab the first account, and make the requested changes.

    You have to fight data with data, not with emotions.

    Reply

    Anonymous Reply:

    The recipient of an unwanted advertisement has every legal right to not receive unwanted mail from a particular sender. It’s not their job to figure out how Dell’s system works, that’s their problem.

    Reply

  12. Jessica

    I have the same problem, I have repeatedly called Dell and contacted Dell online to ask that they stop sending me the Home and Home Office catalog. Each time they assure me that I have been removed, but I keep getting the catalogs. Even though I am Dell certified through my employer, their poor customer support ensures that I will never buy a Dell for personal use.

    Reply

  13. The Changelog

    A little while back, I wrote about obtaining a prohibitory order against Dell. Surprise, surprise, they failed to remove my name from their dead-tree spam list even when ordered to do so by the federal government. Last week I received another mailin

    Reply

  14. Thomas

    After months and months of similar turmoil, I filed a claim with the Better Business Bureau and within a few days had an e-mail from the “Executive Support Resolver” asking me for my phone number so that we could talk about my “escalation.”

    To the “just recycle it” people: if the mail goes straight to the recycle bin, the company has no idea whether you read their mail or not. Unless you respond to them, you will remain a potential customer and they will continue to mail you.

    Believe me, I work in I.T. and the organization I work for is notorious for mailing people for years without a response. Many places are happy to take you off their lists, because it ends up saving them a great deal of money.

    Reply

  15. Amen

    I have been working on getting rid of all junk mail and have suffered the Exact same fate with Dell.

    Reply

  16. Cheesus

    I have the exact same problem — was this effective? I’ve really had it with Dell junk mail and them not honoring agreements to stop sending it.

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    Not yet. I’ve reported a violation of the protective order already, and have contacted the Postal Inspection Service regarding their continual failure to heed it. I WILL pursue this.

    Reply

    Cheesus Reply:

    Great! Any luck so far? I am thinking Better Business Bureau or a letter of intent expressing that catalogs can continue with the understanding they will send me one each of the catalog contents for free.

    Reply

  17. Spammed out

    John, it’s now almost April 2009 — have you had success in stopping the Dell catalogs?

    And how do you go about reporting continued violations to the postal service?
    Good luck

    Reply

  18. dell sucks

    yeah, looks like im not the only one dealing with everyday junk from them. i dont get catalogs from anyone really, because im always cautious about not being on mailing lists from day one. but these guys do not quit!

    I can honestly say, i like my dell PC and Dell has made some good products in the past. But, this mailing list junk mail saga has made me vow never to buy from them aagin. One catalog every few months, and i may have let it slide, but literally, i get the same dumb offers 3x a week.

    Go away Dell!!!

    Reply

  19. The Thrilling Conclusion of Goerzen vs. Dell: Sweet, Sweet Victory | The Changelog

    [...] August 2008, I still wasn’t off their list. I tried everything, and Dell customer service replied to my request to be REMOVED from their snail mail list by saying [...]

  20. Michael

    Oh, bless your heart. I have had almost the EXACT experience with these idiots for nearly 4 years now. I am reluctant to sign a statement indicating that Dell junkmail is “matter that I believe to be erotically arousing or sexually provocative and therefore is a pandering advertisement,” but there genuinely seems to be no other remedy.

    Reply

  21. Lisa

    I understand why someone would apply for a prohibitory order; however, I learned today that no one at the PO will assist me in enforcing it. I’m told, “Get a lawyer.” This one and only company (AARP) continues to send my deceased father mail. As the executor of the estate and only daughter, it has been difficult to deal with everything even after 4 years. Oh, well, guess the big guys win again.

    Reply

    johnny stopem Reply:

    No lisa, you have to send a copy of the mail and it helps tremendously if you send a copy of the prohibitory order. I did get action in regard to two mailers, one involved action taken against St. Matthews “prayer by letters” church in Tulsa, another was predatory mortage lenders. They even had to have their attorney Robbie Binbaum write a letter to the USPS and I received a copy. I in turn posted parts of his letter online and embarassed the hell out of him. I no longer get this junk. You have to be persistent though. The USPS will give them the benefit of the doubt and probably give them 60 days before they act and will probably look for multiple violations. Get you a 100 count roll of first class stamps and send the offending mailpiece to the USPS pricing & classification center and when it has occured enough, they will shut them down like an overheated Japanese nuclear reactor.

    Reply

  22. Jaxx

    To those who think this is making a mountain out of a molehill? You have NO IDEA just how many pieces of mail that Dell will bombard you with on a weekly basis. It is incredibly annoying and never ending.

    Reply

  23. DV

    Nice work. I have been battling Dell for years. 3 or 4 weeks will go by, and, just when I’m thinking I’m finally off their list…. a new catalog arrives. I have not bought a Dell computer in YEARS, probably close to 10 years, but I am still on their A-List. In addition, lately, I have found that, when placing an order with a company, asking NOT to be added to their mailing list does not always work. The catalogs still come, although, like others have mentioned, a simple call to customer service usually solves the problem. Not with Dell!

    Reply

  24. DV

    I am off the list now… I think. I contacted my state attorney general who followed up on my case. Dell finally removed me from the mailing list. :)

    Reply

  25. Tom Rivers

    We made the mistake of buying one printer and a refill toner cartridge for our work. We found out that they looked up our company website, took all the employee names off our contact list and have added them to the monthly mailing of catalogs. They do this continually cause one of our employee’s passed away two years ago, and he still gets the catalog. Time to go visit his grave and drop off some of his mail I guess. Repeated calls make no difference. We refuse to buy any Dell products every again.

    Reply

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