A 12-year-old boy with a subscription to Golf Digest magazine receives a preapproved offer for an MBNA golf affinity card. An investment banker who makes well into six figures and owns a Manhattan apartment finds his mailbox constantly stuffed with solicitations for secured cards.

Though fodder for humorists, stories about preapproved credit mailings addressed to babies, the deceased, and even dogs are no joke to an industry that spends billions of dollars a year on direct mail - which occasionally does more harm than good.

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