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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ire-Inducing Junk Mail, Wrong Numbers by Fax

Are you a fax fascist? If you are, beware. I'm mad -- and I'm on the verge of some very unpleasant electronic behavior.

Fax fascists are in many lines of business -- accounting, exhibitions, security, real estate, printing. They can be any size: Big Six accounting firms, or Mom-and-Pop operations selling sandwiches out of an apartment. But what they all have in common is the belief that they have a perfect right to inundate Moscow with faxed offers of goods or services. Let me make it perfectly clear: WE DON'T WANT YOUR SEMINARS, SANDWICHES, APARTMENTS OR CHRISTMAS CARDS.

Perhaps the perpetrators of junk faxes don't understand how much paper and time they eat up? Maybe they believe that, by hitting 1,000 firms, they will generate 10 customers and the other 990 won't mind receiving their unsolicited rubbish?

But I don't believe it. This form of fascism comes from a complete disregard of innocent bystanders. Local calls in Moscow are still free, so these guys figure, "Here is a way to do lots of free marketing." Since most of us are near a fax machine at work, they wait until night to send their junk; the volume of this activity is such that some firms now turn off their fax machines at the end of the working day.

So here's a warning to all those fax fascists out there -- I, too, have a fax modem and I'm not afraid to use it! You wanna play midnight fax warfare? You'd better know who you're messing with. I could eat up your fax paper by the roll.

So what can you do about unwanted faxes? On programmable fax machines it is possible to block transmissions from specified phone numbers. But apart from contacting all of these irksome firms, I can't see any way to stop receiving junk faxes.

Yet the other side of the story is that we are all probably sending unwanted fax messages without even knowing it. Everybody dials wrong telephone numbers on occasion. But have you ever thought about how often you dial a wrong fax number? There are now tens of thousands of fax machines in Moscow and St. Petersburg, so there is a greater chance that a rusty exchange will mistakenly deliver your fax to a complete stranger. I have no idea how many faxes I have sent to strangers, but I have received quite a few -- people requesting visas, booking holidays and sending draft contracts.

There is a lot of debate over how safe it is to use your credit card number to buy products on the World Wide Web. Risky it may be, but it is a thousand times safer than faxing your credit card number to someone in Moscow. On two occasions I have received, by fax, the credit card details of complete strangers.

In one extraordinary case this week a company appeared to be sending me all their faxes; regardless of their intended destination, I got everything. When I called them it appeared that they were suffering from a problem caused by their overlay network operator, a private phone company. I stopped receiving faxes, so I assume the problem was fixed.

So if you need to send confidential information by fax it might pay to do so "Russian-style" -- by getting a voice confirmation from someone at the other end of the line before you press the send button. If you are sending documents solely within your own company, it is also possible to program some fax machines to talk only with each other and refuse contact from outside machines. If most of your outward fax traffic is to the same few machines, this would be a useful option. If a document is truly confidential, it would likely be better to find another way to send it.

Robert Farish is the editor of Computer Business Russia; fax: 929-9958, e-mail: