Saying no to junk faxes

PERSONAL FINANCE

Your Money

October 23, 2007|By EILEEN AMBROSE

Betti has had it with junk faxes.

Most of them are solicitations for mortgages or refinancing. Neither of which interests her.

"These are particularly annoying as they cost me money in ink cartridges and paper," the Baltimore resident writes in an e-mail. She figures unwanted faxes pitching products and services eat up a ream of paper in her home fax machine over the year.

"Do you know what to do about these?" she asks.

Betti has plenty of unhappy company. The Federal Communications Commission received about 32,400 complaints on unsolicited faxes last year.

Junk faxes hawking products or services were outlawed in 1991. The Junk Fax Prevention Act two years ago amended the law. Companies now can send unsolicited faxes as long as they have a previous business relationship with the consumer. Businesses must include an opt-out number so even prior customers can put a stop to faxes.

Betti and the thousands of others trying to stop junk faxes have a few avenues to pursue:

Complain to the FCC. The agency can issue warnings or impose fines on companies violating the junk fax law. Complain online by filling out Form 1088 at www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.html or call it in at 1-888-225-5322.

You can mail your complaint, as well as the offending fax if you want, to: FCC, Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau, Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division, 445 12th St. SW, Washington, D.C. 20554. Include your name, address and phone number where you can be reached; the number that received the unsolicited fax; date and time of the fax; as well as any information about the sender, such as name and phone numbers on the fax.

Also, tell the FCC whether you have had a prior business relationship with the sender or if anyone else in your home or business gave the sender permission to fax an ad to you.

And yes, you can fax your complaint to the FCC at 866-418-0232.

The FCC can't recoup money lost on spent ink cartridges and emptied paper trays. Any fines collected go into the government's coffers.

Maryland residents can complain to the Maryland attorney general. State regulators have been able to stop unwanted solicitations when they can identify the sender, which is often difficult, says Rebecca Bowman, an assistant attorney general. "A lot of them come from overseas," she says.

Take legal matters into your own hands.

You can sue the faxer in state court to try to collect damages. (Even if you complain to the FCC, you can still sue.) If the court rules in your favor, you can recoup actual monetary damages or up to $500 for each violation. The court might even triple those damages if it finds that the faxer "willfully or knowingly" violated the law.

Suing isn't as easy as it sounds, says Steve Kirsch, founder of junkfax.org, an online site that offers advice on how to stop unwanted faxes.

To sue, you'll need to know the identity and address of the sender, Kirsch says. "Even if you won, then you have to figure out how to collect. Generally, these guys aren't publishing their bank account numbers," he says. "It ends up being a game of persistence." Most people don't have the time to do this, Kirsch says, although he has successfully sued more than 50 times.

Some suggest that consumers contact their phone company for solutions to blocking faxes from certain numbers. This might not work in all cases, though, Kirsch says.

The simplest solution is to call the number on the fax, Kirsch says. Betti says she has tried the opt-out numbers, but it doesn't seem to help. Kirsch suggests starting with the opt-out number, and if that doesn't work, call the number of the business advertising in the fax.

"Engage a human being in a conversation," Kirsch says. Be polite, but be persistent. If the faxes don't stop, keep calling. It costs businesses money to send faxes and they don't want their salespeople tied up on the phone talking to someone who doesn't want to be a customer, Kirsch says. They're likely to permanently take you off the fax list just to get you to stop calling, he says.

Are you among the first wave of baby boomers to hit 62 next year? We'd like to talk to you about your plans and how you envision retirement. Contact Eileen Ambrose at 410-332-6984 or by e-mail at eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com.

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