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Faxing in the Age of Privacy

The Digital Age has been a wonderful boon to business. The ability to produce documents digitally, rather than on paper, has made it easier to create, perfect, store and transmit documents.

But, there has also been an ugly downside to all these benefits, which is why faxing remains a useful tool in the mortgage marketplace and elsewhere. The presence of digital documents loaded with confidential information firing around the Internet has drawn identity thieves, hackers and other nefarious characters like ants to a picnic.

And why not? While the technical know—how to pull a document out of cyberspace might be beyond the capabilities of the average Internet user, it is often child's play for those who want to steal your private information for their own purposes. If corporate giants can't guarantee security, what chance does the ordinary small business have? Identity thieves are just one reason the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act prohibits confidential patient medical records from being sent via e-mail. The U.S. government says e-mail is just not secure enough to protect patient confidentiality.

It's also one of the reasons faxing still remains so prominent in many industries including real estate, mortgage, banking, insurance, the legal profession and others that need to transmit large amounts of confidential information quickly. Because faxes use a different type of technology to break documents into electronic bits during transmission, anyone trying to intercept a fax would end up with nothing more than a lot of incomprehensible gobbledygook.

Even within the faxing world, however, there are different degrees of security and privacy. At the low end sit fax machines. While they are secure during the transmission part, they still leave security or privacy holes.

One of the biggest is that since fax machines are expensive to own and operate relative to their day-to-day value, most are shared between all the workers in a department or an entire company. As a result, they sit in a common area where they can be easily accessed. Unfortunately, that also means documents that come in on the fax machine sit exposed, available for anyone to view.

Then there are the issues with sorting and distributing. If one person delivers faxes, he/she will have to at least get a quick look at what's there in order to decide where it goes. This means people other than the intended recipient can view the potentially private information. And there's always the possibility that a fax can be delivered to the wrong person, further exposing confidential information. If that person decides to do something bad with it, the results can be disastrous.

Privacy is also a concern at the sending end. If you walk away while sending a 10-page fax, that information is going to sit out in the open until you retrieve it. Not exactly the picture of confidentiality and trust you're hoping to portray.

So if you can't send e-mails, and fax machines aren't secure enough, how exactly are you supposed to transmit documents quickly to the people who do need to get them? It's simple—use an Internet fax service.

An Internet fax service combines the best of both e-mail and faxing while eliminating the privacy risks of both. It uses the same technology as fax machines to transmit the documents electronically, making them safe in cyberspace. But rather than going to or from a machine in a common area, an Internet fax service sends and receives documents through an e-mail account or a secure online server, which means it goes directly to or from a PC, laptop or smart phone. All you need is an Internet connection and you're ready to fax—with no worries about privacy or security.

As an added benefit, since you're not tied to a particular machine in a particular location, you can send and receive secure faxes wherever you happen to be. Your fax number and account go with you, saving you the trouble of having to go back to the office when you're out. Or worse yet, having to fax from a public location, which invites in a whole new line of ants.

Privacy is a huge concern these days. And whether it's government-mandated or simply good business, faxing can help keep confidential documents away from prying eyes.

Yet don't just go halfway. Replace your unsecure fax machines with an Internet fax service. It'll help you realize the benefits of the Digital Age while avoiding its curse.

Steve Adams is the vice president of marketing for Protus, a provider of communications tools for small-to-medium businesses and enterprise organizations. He can be reached at sadams@protus.com.