eFax cracks down on customers’ usage

I have used the eFax free service since at least 1999, probably longer. In fact, I have used it so long that I had an eFax number with one of those hard-to-get “local” exchanges.

Recently, I received a notice from eFax stating: “When you signed up for your Free account, you agreed to the eFax Customer Agreement, which states the following: ‘As a Free Service Customer, [you] may receive a limited number of faxes in your e-mail.’ We consider a limited number of faxes to be up to 20 pages a month. In the past three months, you averaged 40 or more pages at this Fax number.”

The notice went on to say that I would have to upgrade to a paid account or have my fax service suspended. Not long after, they suspended me.

The problem with this is that, when I signed up, there was not a word in the customer agreement about page limits. Apparently, they added that fairly recently and never notified me of the change. On top of that, I received very few faxes via efax, most of them a page or two, although last month I did receive one unsolicited 40-pager. I received mostly junk faxes sent through eFax, which, apparently, eFax counts towards the quota they never told me about in the first place.

When I called customer service and explained all this to a representative, he dismissed me, saying the only way I could continue my number was if I signed up for a paid account. As for the junk faxes, he explained those were necessary to offset the cost of the free service.

I have since heard from two other lawyers who received similar messages regarding the free service. One wrote to a legal listserv that he received a 29-page fax from a client one day, then a message from eFax the next telling him his usage was too high and that he would have to convert to the paid service or be cut off. I also heard from one paying subscriber who received a message telling him his usage was too high – although he conceded it had been.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, of course. But the original eFax model was to bring in revenue through advertising. Users of free eFax accounts would have to first click through a paid advertisement before viewing a fax.

More to the point, this is no way to treat customers. eFax is, of course, free to change its business model and its terms of service. But it should do so in a manner that respects its customers, not through heavy-handed tactics.

What is the alternative to eFax? Several lawyers recommend MaxEmail. I have not tried it, but I will now.