Is there a reason that a fax is required, instead of a scan/email?

A year or two ago, I made a contract with some institution (can’t remember, bank, mortgage, car loan, etc…). They said that I would need to fax X document with my signature on it. I don’t have a landline. So, I said, “May I just scan and fax the document?” Ha! You’d have thought that I asked to send them naked pics of my 6 year old, or asked for one of theirs. (No, I don’'t know how they would have got naked pics of my 6 year old!)
At any rate, I got an emphatic ‘No.’ I knew this was no time to ask what the problem was, and even if it was, the person with whom I was dealing surely wouldn’t have known.
So, is there a difference? The only diff I can see is that a scan would probably in color, if not a better quality.

Any answers?


Bank policy is the only reason this would be required. The institution with which you were signing the contract decided that faxing was their acceptable method of receiving a signature without the signing party being present, and whoever you talked to probably wasn’t even aware that other kinds of signatures are perfectly legal.

I can’t answer with absolute certainty but I sign lots of official documents and scans of e-mails are generally happily accepted in lieu of a fax. I suspect your experience was an anomaly.

Also, color faxes are possible, although obviously not universal.

The only time people have ever rejected my scan is when an original is needed. And if they need the original ink they often need it notarized too.

Their systems/routines are not set up for doing it in other ways.

I have experienced this too, and it required faxing internationally. It was a real pain. One day I expect banks will catch up to the late 20th century.

In most contexts now, a pdf is accepted as readily as a fax. But, I’m posting mainly to link to one of my favorite Dilbert cartoons, which is somewhat apropos.

I’ve gotten around this at times by using a web based fax service. I scan the document, save it on my computer, go to my fax service website and hit a link that says Fax Out. Then I attach the computer file I want, input the fax number to send it to and hit Send.

I have absolutely no idea why this is acceptable when an email isn’t, but I’m more than willing to exploit the system, rather than pay for a land line and fax machine!

This is the service I use, but I’m sure there are many others, possibly even free ones if you don’t need to use it often (I do about 25 “faxes” a month, and get many many more incoming through the same website):

By fax the document I assume you mean an on line fax service, right, or direct from your computer. (And not email.) Especially amusing since a fax machine scans the document and sends it over phone lines, much like you’d be doing. And if color is a problem you can scan it in gray scale or black and white.

I can see them not taking email. When I used to fax my insurance forms, it clearly went to a system which converted the fax to an image, so email would have broken the process.

My companies expense account policy, btw, requires scan and email. So it is possible.

Four reasons I can think of:

  1. E-mail is not particularly secure for sending sensitive information. You really don’t want to be e-mailing bank account numbers, social security number, etc. The chances of intercept may be slim, but e-mails do pass through numerous servers before arriving at their destination; a fax requires physical access to the machine.
  2. If you let people scan their own documents, how sure are you that they’re using decent settings? I get scanned documents all the time, and I’m blown away by low contrast (one bank statement was dark grey on medium grey; I pulled out Photoshop to make it readable), low resolution, weird formats, etc. At least with a fax you can guarantee black and white 200 dpi quality.
  3. Large files are often blocked by e-mail servers. Yeah, these limits are usually 5+ MBs (often even as high as 25 MB), but an amateur who scans at 32-bit color, 600-dpi as a TIF or BMP is going to hit that limit. Since e-mail servers don’t always bother letting you know that the e-mail was blocked when large attachments are involved, you may not have a good explanation of a problem.
  4. A fax rings, you answer it, you have the document. E-mails (especially with large attachments) can take minutes or hours to arrive.

Ultimately, it does come down to the bank’s internal policy, but they do have good reasons.

I believe there is some legal standing of a fax as a valid document that goes pretty far back and accepting a fax legally but not a email, though I thought email attachments have caught up in legal standings.

Faxes are required by law to have the fax identifier - basically a signature to verify it’s location. Many don’t set the Fax ID, some set it to something other then their fax number, but I do believe it is a requirement so does hold some form of legal identification also.

You may be able to fax via a cell phone, I know this worked in the flip phone days, not sure about the smartphones (but check for a app). You hooked up your cell phone to your laptop via USB and the computer recognized it as a fax/modem and installed drivers. Then you could fax from your cell which only used your minutes (not data). Also you could use this for dialup internet as well, again only minutes used, no data charge.

And as stated above I use a email to fax (and fax to email) service also, so i get and send as email attachments they get and send as faxes.

In the real estate business, at least in my state, email is entirely a different animal from fax. If a contract specifies that legal delivery of documents must be by fax, postal mail, or hand-delivered, an email is not legal delivery.

Perhaps because email is such a new technology (to governments and lawyers, at least), in order to use it for delivery, the recipient must first have consented to email by accepting one, printing it out, signing it, scanning it, and returning it by email. No other method or document can be used (i.e., you can’t fax back an email consent form), although I imagine the print/sign/scan process could be done in a non-paper mode if the operator was tech savvy enough and no one would be the wiser.

Ostensibly, this procedure is to prove that any such document exchange is possible, and no one is saddled with a critical task that is impossible for them to fulfill. Why this isn’t required for faxes, I don’t know. It’s actually easier nowdays for many people to handle email transactions than faxes, but the law doesn’t care.

In contrast, I have six-year old pictures of your nakedness. Send me $20,000 in small, unmarked bills or I’ll stop posting them.

Meh, it’s just inertia and the usual security phobia about anything new. I had an argument about something similar with our local law society. I can communicate using email on ordinarly file handling matters, taking instructions on things that matter to the tune of millions of dollars. This is normal. But for certain trust account transactions, I must have at least a fax with a signature on it. I don’t communicate with my large clients by fax or letter. I wouldn’t have a clue what their signature looks like. So apparently I can get into trouble with the law society if I rely on a piece of paper faxed to me saying:

“Princhester, please pay $1m to Joe Bloggs,
yours sincerely,
signed [scribble]”

…which could be sent by anyone at all.

But if I accept the same instruction by email from the email address that I have been using to communicate with my client for years, then I could get into trouble.

They’ll catch up, eventually.

Some clerk has a checklist.
She has to follow the checklist.
Diverting from the checklist requires approval above her paygrade.
It’s a hassle to get approval.
Follow the checklist.

OK if he faxes them to you?

Email is not secure at all. This is the reason I never send PII by email. Faxes are fairly secure because a point-to-point session is established (unless somebody is tapping your phone line, highly unlikely). Encrypted email increases security but the average person has no clue about how to do this and I would daresay neither do most financial institutions.

Most likely, they’re using a fax server that drops incoming faxes right into their workflow, and they have no way to insert emails.

We’ve had to fax one document in the past year or so. (Before that Mrs. FtG did it at work.) I did it thru one of the free online services like WhyNot mentions. Security? Going thru a third party? Not really.

And there’s no way for the receiver to really stop something like this.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, has to completely rid themselves of the idea that faxes are somehow more secure than email.

The IRS has added a warning before they fax transcripts that it’s not guaranteed to be secure. Nothing is foolproof. But your example is just one of an insecure fax machine (using machine in the loosest sense). It’s not a limitation of the technology as a whole. The basics of faxing remain that one machine connects directly to another machine, so that controlling the machine means you control the security.

E-mail, on the other hand, is intentionally designed so that messages fly off into the network, passing from one server to the next. You don’t even know which servers it will pass through until after the fact.

A true fax IS more secure than an email. If you chose to go around that, then the security breach is on you, not on the other party.

I no longer understand this. I even started a thread about it (here). In my (very) limited understanding of the responses in that tread suggest that if you’re not being specifically targeted by law enforcement or overly attached girlfriend–and assuming your and your recipient’s computers are not otherwise compromised, email is fairly safe. But again, I think I might have missed something.