7 Reasons to Trash Your Fax Machine

Category: Fax

An annoyed reader says: “I am amazed at how many professional offices still insist on sending and receiving documents by fax. It's like they've never heard of computers, email or the Internet. I'd love it if you could give me a list of reasons why people should stop using old fashioned fax machines. I'll e-fax it to my doctor, banker, accountant and lawyer!” Good idea... here's my list!

Let's Stamp Out Fax Machines in Our Lifetime!

They're mechanical dinosaurs in a high-tech world. Fax machines are highly inefficient, expensive and wasteful, compared to the digital alternatives that exist. So why do so many offices still use them? It's a mystery to me.

If you're still clinging to an analog fax machine, here's a newsflash... the 80's are over! It's time to join the Internet fax age, which started about 20 years ago. Here are SEVEN good reasons to give that old fax machine the boot:

Cost: Consider the up-front price of the fax machine, a place to put it, a dedicated phone line, paper, ink, other supplies, and periodic maintenance. Not to mention replacing it every few years. (Want to save even more by printing less? See Save Time and Money with Alternatives to Printing.)

Fax Machine Dinosaur

Inconvenience: How much time is wasted on trips to and from the fax machine; waiting in line; paper jams; having to request re-transmissions? Sending a long document by fax is frequently problematic. Lost carrier, missing pages and garbled text can be maddening. And how many annoying junk faxes do you get? Fax machines don't have spam filters.

Security: Yikes, do you really want all those confidential faxes sitting in the paper tray where any passersby can read them? Even if you have a secure fax line, it has to be decrypted at the receiving end, and printed on a piece of paper.

Archiving and retrieval: Paper faxes take up space and organization time. It can be hard to find an old fax when you need it. They get lost and deteriorate, especially if you use a machine which spits out faxes from that shiny rolled paper. I've worked in offices where the secretaries routinely made a photocopy of incoming faxes, just to have it on "real" paper. And remember that anything physical can be lost, stolen, folded, bent, spindled, mutilated or burned. (See Mail on fire after Postal Service 18-wheeler crashes.)

Portability: It can be difficult to receive faxes when you are on the road. Someone at home base must re-transmit a fax to you at a borrowed fax machine.

Readability: Every time you run a document through a fax machine, the quality of the text (and especially images) is decreased. Documents that were originally in color become black and white, which can make some parts of the text invisible or unreadable. The same thing happens on the other end when it's printed, photocopied, or re-faxed by the recipient. How many times have you seen faxes like this, and needed to contact the sender to clarify the text?

Environment: With so much emphasis on "going green" to protect the environment, it's intuitively obvious that faxing is more like black than green. All that paper means that trees must be cut down. Toner used by fax machines is a chemical brew that can be carcinogenic. And then there's the issue of disposal of the plastic toner cartriges.

Internet Faxing to the Rescue!

Internet fax services do away with all of these headaches. See my article Free Internet Faxing Services to learn about various online faxing alternatives, and how to send a fax for free. You can even get a free INBOUND fax number that others with fax machines can dial to send you a fax. See my article Get a Free Inbound Fax Number to learn about that.

If you only send and/or receive a few faxes a month, these free services will do just fine. If you're going to be sending and receiving a lot of faxes, consider using one of the commercial online fax services. Here is how Internet faxing works:

To use an Internet fax service, you only need Internet access, an email account, and an account with the Internet fax service. You don't need any special hardware or software. When you register with an Internet fax service, you receive a fax phone number at which people can send you faxes. The number delivers fax transmissions to the service's servers, where faxes are stored as digital images.

Your faxes are delivered to your email inbox in one of two ways. A fax may be a digital image file attached to an email message, or the email may contain a link to the fax image file on the service provider's website. Either way, you are able to view your fax easily, even if you are traveling with a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Fax services store your received faxes for varying periods of time, allowing you to search for old faxes by sender, date, and other criteria. Of course, you can also download the fax files and save them on your local computer.

Sending an E-Fax

Sending a fax is as simple as sending an email. You address an email to the recipient's fax number at the provider's mail server, e. g., 18005551111@myfax.com. Attach a file in one of the service's supported formats such as Word, Excel, PDF, JPG, etc. The service transmits your attached document to the recipient's fax machine via its fax servers. Some online faxing services make it even easier, with a simple web form where you can enter the fax number and type your message (or upload a document) to be sent.

If you need to e-fax a photo or an already-printed document, you'll need to convert it into digital format. An all-in-one printer with a scanner is best for that, but your smartphone camera will also work in a pinch.

Commercial Internet fax services typically offer a trial period of up to 30 days. After that, they charge as little as $5 to $10 per month to send and receive hundreds of pages. But don't forget the free alternatives! See my links above.

Excuses, Excuses...

With all the advantages of paperless, portable Internet faxing, it's hard to imagine why traditional fax machines are still around. The obvious question is "Why not just do away with faxing, and send attachments via e-mail?" It's free and encryption is available if needed. You can even sign documents digitally now. (See Are Digital Signatures Secure and Legal?)

Of course, there are still some professional offices that have yet to enter the electronic age. One of my doctors has a secretary that uses only a pencil and a typewriter. No fax machine, and of course, no computers! I think she also has a slate and a hunk of charcoal in a drawer for really important memos. Only the passage of time will bring those offices into modernity.

But the next time your doctor, lawyer, banker or anyone else asks you to send or receive a fax, tell them you'd prefer to use e-mail. Maybe we can get the dinosaurs marching in that direction. Do you have something to say about faxing, e-faxing and going paperless? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "7 Reasons to Trash Your Fax Machine"

(See all 31 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Tom
17 Jul 2017

To clarify: reliance on DKIM and DMARC make is much easier and faster to send something by fax - except to state agencies whose machines do not work correctly.


Posted by:

Sarah L
17 Jul 2017

I think you should tal with lawyers and doctors before being so blasé about this. Plus fax machines need not use special paper. I last was in an office in the last century and the fax used regular paper, recorded the documents in and out on digital files, and were easy to use. Paper is a useful material, long lasting.


Posted by:

Dave H.
17 Jul 2017

This is not a criticism of your "annoyed reader," but perhaps he or she should consider getting a new doctor, banker, accountant, and lawyer who are more up to date. (Do these service providers keep current on medical advances, tax changes, and recent court decisions??)


Posted by:

Bill
17 Jul 2017

After I retired from the local phone company I contracted as a communications technician at a local university for a few years. When hooking up a fax machine (and they still have them everywhere on campus) I'd ask why they were still using them. Usual answers were that faxes were more secure, they didn't trust the internet, they didn't know how to PDF their documents, they needed hard copies not email copies, etc. There were lots more excuses but I can't recall them all just now. The health sciences department seemed to be most resistant to change.


Posted by:

Merrill Guice
17 Jul 2017

The three places that still use faxes are: government, education, and medical. Not by coincidence these are the three segments of the economy that never picked up on the information revolution. In other words, they are ready for complete disruption. I have seen attempts at moving to encrypted email at the local and state level. It is pathetic. Most of the workforce is old and not computer literate costing hundreds and hundreds of dollars in training, installation, and after training support. A good opportunity for computer consultants if you don't mind being played really late.


Posted by:

Mainer
17 Jul 2017

And then there are those of us who fax an average of a few pages a day, have the fax machine hooked to our main landline so it's essentially a free service and receives no spam. Fax machine is available for use to send paperwork to doctor's offices (they don't send any to me). Where's the problem? I have an all-in-one printer but don't find the fax function very easy to use. And my doctors are up-to-date on medical issues; if they weren't they wouldn't be my doctor.


Posted by:

D. Lynch
17 Jul 2017

Notary Signing Agents receive and send Faxes and they are considered more secure than email Faxes.

Banks required faxes when you need to send them mortgage information. I recently encountered this.


Posted by:

Dean Forsyth
17 Jul 2017

I was asked to provide a tax transcript to the underwriter for my home loan. I needed it quickly, yet the IRS would only mail it snail mail (2-3 weeks) or fax it to a "real fax machine". They refused to send it to my internet fax number because it was not secure. Somehow they were okay with sending it to a Kinkos I found and provided the number for. Customers rarely come first when government is involved.


Posted by:

Ex-life insurance controller
17 Jul 2017

My Fortune 50 life insurance company employer required us to use the special encrypted email "send" key if we were transmitting SSN's or check account numbers of our clients. Forgetting to encrypt cost us a small fine (more like a cuss jar).
Faxes were considered safe and secure. Upper management would not listen to my protests that the phone lines were just as susceptible.


Posted by:

Bart
17 Jul 2017

Don't overstate the case. No one uses thermofaxes anymore, so they don't fade. All-in-one machines cost very little, are pretty compact and recycled laser toner is cheap. Sometimes hard copies are needed. I use paper records. Any record of ranmsomware hitting paper records? No? I rest my case.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Any record of paper documents being destroyed by fire, flood, or hurricane? Your case is re-opened. :-)


Posted by:

Russ Generes
18 Jul 2017

I've been in the telecom industry since before divestiture (look it up). It took 20 years for most of the current sectors still clinging to faxes to accept them (especially legal). I'm afraid it will take another 20 years for them to let go.


Posted by:

Lady Fitzgerald
18 Jul 2017

HIPPA regulations do allow the use of emails. Documents can be sent as encrypted PDFs and the emails themselves can be encrypted. Most resistance to abandoning faxes is due to ignorance.

See here for more information:

https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/faq/570/does-hipaa-permit-health-care-providers-to-use-email-to-discuss-health-issues-with-patients/


Posted by:

Charles
18 Jul 2017

Many Home computers are connected to all-in-one Printer copiers, which can also scan and FAX!. of course the limit on that may be places than only have cell Phones, but I assume "there is an App for that."

professionals may find seting up for alternatives that are compliant with all the rules would take up more of their time than the bother of using a fax.


Posted by:

Ron B
18 Jul 2017

I still use a fax machine for transmission. I don't have a multi-function printer, I'm still using my old HP LaserJet 4M printer and HP ScanJet 5P scanner.
It's so much easier to drop the documents to be sent into a fax machine than it is to scan them, save them as PDFs, and email them. Sending faxes is pretty rare these days. The roll of thermo paper in my fax has been there for nearly 10 years.


Posted by:

Yael
18 Jul 2017

so true!!


Posted by:

Sharon H
18 Jul 2017

Oh those days of the fax machine! We had one at home MANY years ago. We were involved in litigation and there was a lot of faxing back and forth. It seemed that if a document consisted of more than three pages, the machine would have a breakdown. Lines that didn't print properly, that long wait because the buffer was full, missing pages (sometimes the machine would pick up two pages at once or worse, it would grab one and one/half pages, causing a meltdown or jam) and often it would take two or three attempts before the job was completed. Then the phone call to see if the document arrived, only to hear "page five is missing....

Doctors, lawyers and other professionals--there are newer, easier and much better ways to get documents from one person to another. And the most obvious reason of all is that most people don't have a fax machine! I know this is a long post but I hope it helps anyone who has to deal with a business that still insists on that "paper copy". Lots of professionals don't have too much time, but their business people should be more knowledgeable about archaic faxing and upgrade their methods accordingly. If they can't figure it out, serious thought should be given to hiring some computer savvy people in the future.


Posted by:

John
18 Jul 2017

My printer/scanner came with FAX capability. Just plug it into a land line. About once a month I send a FAX because I am dealing with someone who requires FAX and will not accept documents by email. So I keep my 'dinosaur' because there is a real need. I receive about 3 FAXs a year. There seems no need to sign up for yet another service to get email FAXs.

I also deal with professional offices who send/receive things through 'secure portals'. All of these professionals are in large organizations with dedicated IT staff. These professionals have moved beyond FAX, but it may be easier and cheaper for a small office to retain FAXs.

'Sounds like a good Ask Bob article would be an explanation of 'Secure Portals' and how small users can set one up!

Oh, and I keep a POTS land line for telephone. I still like to be sure that at least my voice is clear on all those conference calls. I wish most cell phone addicts would show the same common courtesy, instead of blaming everyone else's equipment but their own.


Posted by:

Mark
18 Jul 2017

Some people think "has anybody ever hacked a fax machine?"


Posted by:

Storm
19 Jul 2017

John,
It is getting more and more difficult to get a "real POTS line". As telcos move to fiber, copper pairs are no longer being used.


Posted by:

Unitary
20 Jul 2017

Mr Rankin's article and the subsequent comments by US readers are astonishing and somewhat amusing.

It is amazing that in an allegedly technologically-advanced country doctors, bankers, accountants, lawyers and, which is most amazing, the government still use the archaic FAX.

I live in Israel and I had no need whatsoever to use a FAX machine for well over twenty years. The financial system, the medical institutions, lawyers, accountants and all government agencies have been fully computerised for many years. All operations and transactions are made online and by e-mail.

America, the year is 2017. It is time to move on!


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