Fax is still considered to be a reliable and, most importantly, safe method of quickly transmitting messages from one place to another, despite the age of this mode of communication. For this particular reason people often use fax to send documents containing sensitive information, thinking that the secure nature of fax lines is enough to prevent anyone other than the recipient from seeing the message. Unfortunately, that’s not true: if a third party isn’t warned about reading the fax beyond the cover page, then nothing will stop them from inadvertently or, in worse cases, intentionally violating sender-receiver confidentiality.
Thankfully, this situation can easily be avoided by the addition of a disclaimer notice on the cover sheet, which is the most effective way of getting the fax into the right hands and ensuring that the message isn’t read by any unauthorized person.
What’s the Purpose of the Disclaimer?
At first a disclaimer may seem like overkill since documents being sent with sensitive info already need to include the word “Confidential” or “Sensitive” in large fonts on the cover sheet. However, a disclaimer notice does more than just warn people that reading and especially sharing the sensitive information found within the fax could have dire consequences. In fact, the moment transmission of a fax with the proper disclaimer message attached begins, senders are no longer held liable should the fax accidentally end up in the hands of the wrong recipient.
Not only that, but a disclaimer notice also protects recipients of the transmission as well. On one hand, intended addressees can rest assured that the law is on their side should any third parties manage to get access to their sensitive data, while senders will also receive proper confirmation as to whether the message made it to whom it was originally intended for. On the other hand, accidental recipients should notice the warning placed on the first page of the fax in time and, therefore, are prevented from inadvertently being incriminated by unintentionally reading the rest of a sensitive document.
Why Disclaimers Only Work in Faxes
Seeing a disclaimer notice on faxes isn’t surprising at all but, quite interestingly, there are many people – mostly lawyers – who put disclaimer notices in emails as well. However, as many experts have pointed out, such disclaimers are pretty useless for a number of reasons.
For starters, emails and their attachments aren’t considered legally binding as transmissions between parties can be intercepted. Another reason is that an email disclaimer is deemed a one-sided contractual agreement between the sender and the receiver, which in most cases is simply not enforceable. And lastly, they are ineffective because readers aren’t physically prevented from getting to know the email’s content or opening the attachment.
Putting Together a Disclaimer Notice
Although it’s important to know how a disclaimer should look in a confidential fax, it can be applied to virtually any kind of fax message that the sender deems important enough to be protected by such a notice. However, regardless of the situation, the disclaimer message should strictly follow these guidelines:
- The notice must appear on the fax’s cover sheet alongside the respective contact information of both the sender and the intended recipient.
- The message should clearly state that the facsimile may contain information protected by law and, therefore, should only be viewed by the original addressee. Naming the correspondent law, such as the HIPAA, isn’t necessary unless the fax’s content makes the message fall under other regulations as well.
- Ensure recipients are warned that if they are not the addressee, then they are prohibited from disclosing, copying, distributing, and disseminating the fax and its contents.
- Accidental recipients should be asked to inform the sender about the failure of transmission and, once instructed, are to physically destroy the received copy.
With all of this in place, a proper disclaimer notice would look something like this:
“This facsimile message [is covered by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act,] is confidential and may include legally protected information. If you are not the intended recipient or you have received this facsimile by mistake, then printing, copying, storing or disseminating it and its content in any way is strictly prohibited and doing so could subject you to civil and/or criminal action. Please notify the sender [by telephone] that you have received this facsimile by mistake and destroy all information received.”
Disclaimers in Online Faxing
Granted, there is an option to download a fax cover sheet template with a disclaimer notice already on it, but using an online faxing service is even more convenient than that. It only takes one click in the online fax manager to automatically add a cover page to any attached document, then the cover sheet’s content can be customized to your liking – which could include the addition of the correspondent disclaimer, too.
More advanced online faxing services can do more than just that, too; RingCentral provides various cover pages – including one for confidential messages – while certain solutions like the desktop version of eFax allow users to do anything they want with the available cover sheets.