Fax machines are still trucking along in offices around the world. Government agencies, lawyers, doctors, and other slow-moving organizations often still require faxes — at best, it’s a necessary evil.
Fax is often seen as more secure than email, although it really isn’t. Fax machines communicate over phone lines without any encryption and fax machines are often kept in busy areas where documents could be easily grabbed by anyone.
Alternatives to Faxing
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There are plenty of alternatives to faxing. If you aren’t limited by laws or because the person on the other end demands you use fax, try one of these alternatives:
- Email Documents: Yes, the humble email can replace many faxes. You’re probably faxing a document typed from a computer anyway, so why bother using a fax machine? Attach the file to an email or just include the important text in an email itself.
- Scan and Email: If you have a fax machine that also functions as a scanner, you can use it to scan paper documents into your computer as PDF files. Attach those PDF files to an email to send them along. You could even try using your phone to scan the document — sure, it won’t be the best quality, but we’ve seen some pretty low-quality faxes.
- Upload Documents: Some organizations may allow you to upload these scanned document files on the web rather than simply emailing them.
- Use Snail Mail: Snail mail is a slower alternative to faxing that’s worse in many ways, but it’s not always bad. If you don’t have a fax machine and the document isn’t urgent, you can generally mail a document to most organizations instead of faxing it. Sure, you have to deal with the postal system, but at least you don’t have to fax anything.
Sign Documents Without Printing Them
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You may have to sign documents and send them to someone, and once they’re printed out you may be tempted to fax them. After all, the alternative would be to print the document, sign it, scan it back into your computer, and email it. Rather than waste your time doing this, you can use software to apply your real signature to a document on your computer. Simply capture your signature once and it will be stored as an image you can apply to documents. You can easily sign future documents without printing them.
If you have a tablet with a stylus, you can even use the stylus to sign a document directly on your screen.
Fax a Document Online
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Online fax services allow you to fax a document without needing a fax machine of your own or even a telephone line. You use a web-based interface to upload a document and enter the recipient’s phone number. The service itself takes care of all the last-mile stuff, faxing your document to the remote fax machine via their own telephone lines.
If you only need to send faxes rarely, these services will allow you to send a few pages here and there without spending a cent. If you have to fax documents more often, you may have to pay something — but you’d have to pay for a fax machine and a telephone line, anyway.
These services technically involve faxing, but at least they don’t feel like using a clunky old fax machine and don’t require that you have a landline telephone.
Receive a Fax Online
Receiving a fax can be a headache if you have a home office. Your fax machine needs to be on and listening for faxes all the time. You need a dedicated line to receive faxes so you don’t miss any faxes when you’re on the phone. You might try asking people to fax you a document at a specific time when you’re sure your landline phone isn’t tied up.
Rather than deal with all this nonsense, ask people to scan and email documents to you. You could also use other tools if you don’t want to rely on email — for example, you could use JotForm along with Dropbox to create a web page where people could upload PDF files and they’d appear in a folder in your Dropbox.
You could also try using a service that provides you with a dedicated fax number and allows you to receive faxes there. These generally cost money — after all, the fax service has to pay for a dedicated landline phone number and monitor it for you. eFax does offer 10 free incoming pages a month, although they don’t give you any free outgoing pages. HelloFax lets you send five free pages, but that’s it. Every free online faxing service has a catch like this — the free offer exists to draw you in, while you have to pay for the most important features. Faxing involves interfacing with fax machines and landline telephone numbers, and that’s not free. It’s also often used for business purposes, and businesses are willing to spend money on this sort of thing.
The Last Resort: Use an Actual Fax Machine Without Owning One
If you don’t want to deal with online services or snail mail and you absolutely have no choice but to send the occasional document as a fax, there’s still an alternative to buying your own fax machine and using a landline telephone. You can probably visit a local store that offers copying and they’ll let you pay a few cents to send a fax. This isn’t ideal if you frequently send faxes, but if you have to fax something once per year, this can be an okay option.
Of course, this still involves using a fax machine. Some organizations just demand faxes and you may not feel comfortable uploading extremely sensitive documents to a web-based fax service. There’s not much you can do if you have to deal with an organization that demands faxes.
Faxing will still be with us for a while yet, if only because of regulations that encourage health care and legal organizations to keep using the older fax system instead of modern alternatives.
Image Credit: Abhisek Sarda on Flickr, tales of a wandering youkai on Flickr, AuthenticEccentric on Flickr
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