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A junk fax is unsolicited business material sent by telemarketers through a fax machine to advertise goods or services. Use of fax transmissions in this way falls into the same category of undesirable business practices as sending junk mail and email spam. As a result of widespread consumer complaints about the practice, fax advertising is strictly regulated in certain countries, particularly in the US.
Direct marketers are always looking for economical ways to get advertisements and solicitations into the hands of as many people as possible. A mass distribution of anything will net at least some responses. If the distribution can be automated so it takes little to no time to accomplish, there is a high upside potential in even a one percent response rate. When the fax machine became a common business and home device in the 1990s and the machine's software developed to the point where a scan of one document could be broadcast to an automated list of hundreds of numbers, fax advertising became big business.
One person's business advertising can easily be another person's unwanted junk. Unsolicited fax advertising in the US became so problematic that consumer groups demanded laws to limit it. The US passed a law prohibiting all types of unsolicited fax advertising, but the business industry fought back until the law was changed to qualify the definition of an unsolicited contact. As of 2006, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted a junk fax exemption for fax advertisements sent to any recipient with whom the marketer has an established business relationship.
If a marketer has done business with a recipient in the past and the recipient has given the marketer his fax number or the fax number is publicly available, the marketer is legally allowed to send the recipient fax advertising. The FCC requires the marketer to provide an opt-out phone number on the advertisement, however. Once the recipient opts out, it becomes illegal for the marketer to continue contacting him by fax. Under FCC regulations, anyone receiving a junk fax can file a complaint with the commission or sue in civil court, recovering a per page fine and treble damages, in some instances.
The FCC allows individual states to enact stricter regulations on junk faxing than existing federal regulations. Many states have voided the established business relationship exemption for unsolicited faxes. Some states have increased the per page fine for a junk fax transmission by 500 percent or more over the federal fine. Telemarketers have to be careful to comply with with state law if both the advertiser and the recipient are located in the same state, regardless of where the actual fax call is made from.