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Junk faxes are illegal, but that doesn’t stop companies from sending unsolicited offers for low mortgage rates, vacations in Florida and cheap health insurance. According to a 2002 federal suit brought by the attorney general of Minnesota, one company that managed 400 to 500 fax machines regularly received batches of unsolicited advertisements from a marketing company then based in Addison, Texas, called Sunbelt Communications and Marketing. Minnesota v. Sunbelt Communications and Marketing, 282 F.Supp.2d 976 (D. Minn. 2002). Each batch lasted one to two hours and, over a six-month period, the unsolicited ads took up 50 to 60 percent of the company’s fax traffic. Besides tying up the fax lines and occasionally crashing the system, the advertisements cost the company money by using up toner and paper. Those faxes can cost companies such as Sunbelt up to $1,500 each under provisions outlined in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, but the liability doesn’t seem to deter violators. One consumer watchdog said the fax marketing companies treat litigation costs as another business expense. Such costs don’t outweigh the profits of these companies, said Steven T. Kirsch, a venture capitalist who is the founder of junkfax.org, a consumer awareness Web site. “It’s economic,” said Kirsch, who has filed a $2.2 trillion class action TCPA suit against a California company called Fax.com. “They look at the court judgments as a business expense — when they pay them.” Kirsch is a well-heeled plaintiff. The Silicon Valley entrepreneur sold Infoseek Corp. to the Walt Disney Co. in 1999. He founded and still controls an $11 million charitable foundation. Although Kirsch has started another company, he spends much of his time pursuing various philanthropic endeavors and social causes, including the fight against unsolicited faxes. MOTIVATION TO BREAK THE LAW He estimated that some 80 percent of the judgments entered against companies such as Sunbelt and Fax.com go uncollected. That’s motivation for the companies to continue breaking the law, he said. “Most people don’t take the time to go and sue these guys,” he said. “And when they do, if they win, they don’t go the extra mile to collect.” Robert R. Biggerstaff, a retired engineer who is not an attorney but has written articles on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act for the Connecticut Law Review and the Federal Communications Law Journal, has been involved in several TCPA cases and maintains the Web site www.TCPALaw.com. With a desktop computer and a few phone lines, Biggerstaff said, a mass fax company can reap big profits. The computer can send out 1,500-2,000 faxes per phone line per day, he said. Some of the smaller operations work with as few as four phone lines, but more sophisticated offices use a special digital circuit that has the capacity of up to 90 phone lines The Minnesota suit states that Sunbelt offered several packages for advertising: $700 for 10,000 copies, $1,200 for 20,000 copies and $2,000 for 40,000 copies. According to Biggerstaff, a Sunbelt salesman said in a deposition that he earned $1 million a year in commissions. “That’s pretty good for a salesman selling an illegal product,” Biggerstaff said. “Now you know why they’re still in business. It’s profitable.”

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