I don't get it. Cassettes have come and gone, pagers are totally archaic, the Post Office is sinking like the Titanic, and yet fax machines are somehow still wheezing along in these digital times. While email and other messaging services kill snail mail and phone calls, it's kind of unbelievable that those old paper-driven machines have survived.
I blame the banking industry. A few weeks ago, I needed a copy of a cashed check dating back a few years. (I won't bore you with the details, but I got into a snit with a company that claimed I never paid them for services. A copy of the deposited check would settle our silly "Yes, I did!" / "No, you didn't!" kerfluffle.) Problem was, my online account couldn't provide downloadable copies dating back that far. So I contacted the bank, and the rep was willing to send it to me — via snail mail or fax.
"I just don't get this company policy," I said, rolling my eyes. "I sent this check via online bill paying. I regularly use my smartphone to make other payments. I mean, you have the technology. Can't you just email me a copy?"
"We do this for your protection," said the rep. "Email accounts can be hacked."
"Uh, so can banking institutions, or do you not read the news?"
"Okay, snail mail it is…"
"Wait, wait! Okay, I'll get an online fax service. Can you give me your direct line, and I'll call you back with the fax number? It took me 20 minutes to get through the automated menu, plus hold time, before I got a live person."
"Sorry, that's not our policy. We only have the automated 800 number."
Technology: Sometimes, it helps. Other times, it's a weapon in the battle of irritations. But even though I lost that fight, I won the war with the other company. So all's well that ended well, thanks to some handy Googling and the HelloFax online service.
If you're ever faced with a company that's forcing you to time travel like this, here's what you want to know: In general, sending faxes can be done on the cheap (or even for nothing), but there's a stunning lack of free services that let you receive faxes. There were a few in the past, but they seem to have converted over to a pay model — and those are typically a monthly flat-rate service. (If you know of one that allows receiving for free, or at least charges á la carte instead of a subscription rate, please weigh in. I struck out trying to find one.)
In the past, when I sporadically had to send a fax, I used FaxZero, which slaps an ad on your cover letter or front page. While not perfect, it's simple to use, accepts a range of document types for uploading and emails you when the deed is done, so you have a receipt message. Plus, if you're annoyed at being forced into an analog-ish experience, you can get some satisfaction by knowing you're sending along a bit of fax spam with your document. (There's also a pay tier with no ads.)
This time, my old standby wasn't going to cut it, so I tried out HelloFax, and it couldn't be simpler. I got the fax number I needed, thanks to the 30-day free trial, and if I wanted to keep the Basic service, it would've been $5 per month for 50 pages (sending), unlimited signed emails, or 10 signature requests. There are also two more levels, a Premium $10 monthly plan and an Ultimate $70 monthly tier, for power faxers. With most services, you retrieve documents in one of three ways: proprietary software, a simple fax-to-email-inbox scenario or more recently, a fax-to-the-cloud service. HelloFax works via the last two options, which are my preferred methods. (But shhh! Don't tell my bank that its carefully faxed document still wound up in my inbox.)
So, when an old-school business forces you to take hold of that once-glorious, but now oh-so-archaic fax machine, at least you know you have some options — and they don't involve you running over to your local copy center and waiting by their machine.
Have you ever been forced to use old-school tech? Let us know what it was, and what happened when you came face to face with that ghost from the past.
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