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How Steve Kirsch discovered fax.com

Here's where I am today...

As the author of one of the premiere websites on junkfaxing, I'm extremely familiar with the laws regarding junk faxes as well as the methods of operation of fax broadcasters who are engaged in illegal faxing. I have also developed skills and resources that allow me to identify faxes from certain, well known sources. I have brought over 50 legal actions against junk faxers. I have never lost a case, and I've obtained over $250,000 in judgments and settlements.

What happened to me and why I started junkfax.org

11/16/01 9:37am
I received an unsolicited offer via facsimile to repair my credit and guaranteeing $7,500 in new credit from Bagoba Credit Offer in Chicago for only $49. The first 25 people to respond will receive a free DirecTV DSS system. Offer was transmitted to my main voice number (which rolls over to my fax number if I'm not there and the voicemail system detects a fax tone). The top of FAX indicated it was sent from 1-800-457-5410, a number I later determine (both through usenet search as well as calling it myself) belongs to fax.com which turns out to be the most notorious offender of the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA).

11/16/01 10:04am
Received identical offer again. This time, it was sent to the main voice number of my personal assistant.

12/28/01 10:12am
Received substantially the same offer as a month ago, although this time, the price was raised to $99 (it said "Normally $299; Now only $99) and the name of the company was changed to Tower Group, and the location of the company was changed to Dallas, TX. Same free DSS offer and same $7,500 guarantee, and same reference to Millennium Credit Program. This is obviously a scam to sell a worthless program which explains why the company keeps changing its name and location. As before, there is no contact information that allows you to talk to a live human, nor ascertain the identity of who is sending the faxes. (Note: the dcx file of Tower Group faxes is 4 pages long so be sure you look at all 4 pages!).

12/28/01 10:34am
I received the same offer as 30 minutes ago, although this time it was to my assistant's voicemail number.

1/5/02 2pm
I decide to take a closer look at other faxes and lookup who each 800 number belongs to. I do a google groups search and find this revealing posting REPOST Re Fax info. Now things are starting to make sense to me.

I later determine that there are a variety of 800 removal numbers printed on the fax, but that five of them are all owned by the same company: fax.com! 22 faxes and 5 different removal numbers over the past 4 months just to me! What's even more irritating is that there is absolutely no way for most normal people to figure out who sent the fax or who owns the 800 number since phone companies do not disclose this information for privacy reasons and if you dial the fax.com removal number, they do not identify the company. There is also no "station ID" used by the sender's fax machine. However by using my investigative tools (especially the Abika service that will tell you their phone number and address), I'm able to confirm that all these 800 numbers listed on these faxes do in fact point to the same place, namely fax.com. I've discovered only 10 popular fax.com removal numbers but they have 23 toll free numbers so these are only 1/2 of the numbers they use.

I now spend time looking up the business address of each fax with a fax.com removal number. With a bit of detective work using the Internet, I'm able to get contact info for virtually all of the companies that used fax.com to send me unsolicited faxes that I saved. I then compile profiles of all these companies, including their contact information, and judgments against them, on a single web page for easy Internet identification.

1/11/02 10am
I get the Tower Group offer again. 2 copies. Traced these calls to Robert Battaglia. This is the name of someone who works for fax.com and he registered the phones used by fax.com in his name. His name is used to register the fax phones used by fax.com. See the fax.com page for more info.

5/12/02 and 5/13/02
My company is war dialed from San Jose: 408-937-6725; 408-937-6771; 408-937-6459. Everyone at work is left a fax tone on their voicemail. With a lot of detective work, I trace it to a fax.com faxcaster computer placed in the home of a fax.com advertiser. For more details on this war dialer location, see fax.com. I had it shut down.

The evidence (from the last 4 months)

See my Evidence page for a list of faxes received

The violations

  • They sent me unsolicited faxes
  • They didn't remove me when I asked , even after I got a confirming e-mail from them saying I was removed (I got 3 faxes a few days later). I don't think they remove anyone; they probably just use a different 800 removal number to make it look like I popped up on a new list. However, this just means by not removing people, they are racking up their "unsolicited" points.
  • Their fax headers don't comply with the law because they don't identify the name and phone of the sender (i.e., their client) in the top or bottom margin. I can't do anything about this (because as written, I can only sue under subsection (b) and the tech restrictions aren't in this subsection), but under 47 U.S.C. 227(f)(1) the California state Attorney General can sue fax.com for both technical violations and unsolicited faxes, and enjoin them from making any more calls into California and also get treble damages as well.

These faxes were unsolicited because (1) I never give out my main voice number to use as a FAX, (2) My assistant never gives out her voice number to use as a FAX, (3) No one in our household has any need of credit repair, (4) no one has a prior business relationship with either Bagoba or Tower Group. In fact, there is no known way to speak with these businesses even if we wanted to establish a relationship. I've never had a credit problem and the offer transmitted to me indicates a complete lack of any knowledge of me. Anyone with only a passing knowledge of our household knows that we would never be interested in such an offer and would certainly never offer my express permission to receive such information.

We'd never give out our voice numbers to be used by FAX machines since these numbers are all normally answered by humans (except at night or when we are out of the house when a voice answering machine comes on that play a voice message but can automatically transfer to our fax machine). It would be quite obnoxious to be answering the phone and hearing a FAX tone. That is why we have and always use a dedicated FAX number; a FAX number which apparently never made it into the fax.com database. Indeed, fax.com seems to have all our voice numbers, but not our dedicated fax number. Therefore, the only way for fax.com to have gotten those phone numbers is using a computerized dialer known as a "war dialer" (since any human dialer would have recognized that these were normally voice lines). They have been known for doing this and were in fact cited for exactly this offense by Washington state.

Nor would we ever intentionally enter our voice numbers into the fax.com database. None of us had ever heard of fax.com until we found the association on an Internet search after the FAXes were received. And we clearly don't need the money from 4 unsolicited FAXes (any of the excess damage amount we recover goes to the lawyers and to a non-profit to fight spam); we in fact will probably lose money in bringing this case because our legal expense alone will be more than we are likely to recover. So there is absolutely no incentive for us to have done this deliberately. And it would be impossible for us to deliberately create a business relationship with an entity (Tower Group) that I would have had no way to know existed (in fact, it's impossible to find them even today, after their promotion went out).

Now that's with just the 4 faxes from Bagoba/Tower. How is it possible that virtually all the unsolicited faxes I get are from fax.com? That 11 different companies have faxed me and they all use fax.com? That I've never heard of these companies before. That some of them didn't even exist a few months ago? That all of them are faxing to my voice numbers instead of my fax number (I transfer the call to my fax machine if I pick up and hear a fax tone). 

And why does fax.com have at least 23 different removal numbers? Why not just one if they have nothing to hide? And why does the removal number change when the client sends a new fax? For example, Wall Street Examiner sent me a fax with a 800-443-7628 removal number, but the removal number listed on the fax that junkfax.com received just 60 days earlier is 800-766-0816? Both numbers still work. 

And why don't fax.com machines identify themselves (SenderID field during the handshake)? Why doesn't fax.com identify itself anywhere on the fax, or at any place when you call the removal number? That's just a bit too hard to believe. 

Lastly, if they truly had a business relationship with me, then why did they just send me 3 copies of the same Y2Marketing promotion all within 1 hour just now (Jan 6, 2002). If they have a business relationship with me, then how do they explain not knowing that all three numbers go to the same fax machine in my office? Do they send 3 copies of the same promotion within an hour to all the people they have business relationships with? If so, we'll find out when we subpoena the records from the phone company that they use.

Furthermore, the fax.com website blatantly brags about their database: "Fax.com has identified over 30 million untouched fax numbers." They offer to send FAXes to their database or yours. That's blatantly illegal to make such an offer. See excerpts from their website for more on this illegal practice. Lastly, they have been cited in Usenet postings as being the most notorious abuser of the TCPA.

Unsolicited FAXes are illegal under the 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(C). Because fax.com has been officially cited by the FCC, treble damages of $1,500 per FAX apply under  47 U.S.C. 227(b)(3). They continue to this day to violate 47 U.S.C. 227(d)(1)(B) as well since the business name and voice

The FCC has ruled that the FAX header must contain contact information for the business advertising the service. This was not complied with here.

Lastly, offers to fix credit are illegal because these credit fix schemes often suggest that the recipient commit a felony in order to "restore" their credit. for example, see

Building A Better Credit Record

Credit Repair Scams

Why I'm bringing suit

I have one goal and one goal only: I want this practice stopped. I'm tired of the fax calls waking us up. I'm tired of saying "hello" to a fax tone. I'm doing this for me and for everyone else. Clearly, despite six separate citations by the FCC in the past twelve months (they've been cited more than any other company, at an average rate of one citation a month in the first half of 2001; see About the principal offenders for more info on fax.com) and a settlement agreement with Washington state, fax.com continues to send facsimiles to numbers belonging to those individuals where there is no previous business relationship with their client. I want this practice to end. Not just for fax.com, but everyone engaging in this practice. And I'm willing to (and can afford to) spend whatever it takes to make sure this happens. I want the law enforced. 

I have no monetary motivation to bring this suit. In fact, I'll probably lose money because any settlement will likely go to a charitable foundation to:

  • fund the legal pursuit of other offenders
  • educate the public on how to pursue offenders

From a legal viewpoint, our case is completely air tight (even though there are judges here and there who misinterpret the law). There is no escape. Every possible defense has been tried and failed (it's just a matter of time before a California court sees through the current "opt out" defense). That is why Hooters was slapped with a $12M damage award, and why the Dallas Cowboys recently settled (see my junk fax news page for details). I've detailed all the possible legal defenses and explain why they will fail.

So Fax.com will lose. They will be put out of business permanently. Plus, all their clients will be forced to pay up to the maximum restitution as provided by law and/or declare bankruptcy. If this doesn't dry up the supply and demand for this illegal practice, I will continue to file lawsuits against these companies and their clients until it does. Hopefully, this $500B class action lawsuit alone will get people's attention and the practice will stop. I have no interest in spending my time filing lawsuits, but if that's what it takes, so be it. The first judgement we win will fund future lawsuits so that the junk faxers will be financing their own demise.

The reason for the $500B is that fax.com sends out 3 to 4 million faxes a day. They've been in business at least 3 years. Do the math. It's more than $500B per year. My guess is that the actual statutory remedy is  many times that amount.

In my case, I receive about 1 fax every 2 days from fax.com at my home.

In short, fax.com sends out 1,000 linear feet of faxes per day. That's further than most of us can hit a golf ball. It's 6,000 reams of paper or $60,000 per day in paper expenses alone for the recipients. We estimate that when you add up everything, it's over $100M in expenses that are pushed off to the recipients (about 10 cents per page).

Wish me luck. In the meantime, here are four things you can do to stop the practice of unsolicited faxes:

  • If you get an unsolicited FAX, save it. It could be worth $1,500. Here's How to get up to $1,500 per junk fax
  • If you get an unsolicited FAX, do not respond to the offer. Responding will just encourage the business (which is typically unscrupulous) to keep doing it.
  • Call the voice response number for responding to the offer and notify them that they are violating federal law. 
  • If you find out who they are and/or who they used to send the unsolicited fax, let me know by using my form to Report a junk fax. We'll prosecute the cases with the greatest number of complaints first.
  • Don't call the removal number. There are many true stories of people who call the removal number only to be added to 10 more lists each time they call.

Update

I filed a $2.2 trillion dollar class action lawsuit against fax.com. On December 16, 2003 I was featured in the front page of the business section of the NY Times. My day job is CEO of Propel Software, which is going to release an incredible e-mail spam filtering program in 2004. Prior to that I was CEO of Internet search engine Infoseek.

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