Harassing phone calls have been a problem for decades, but as cellphone use continues to explode, this problem has become even larger. As of the end of 2013, there were more mobile devices across the globe than people. Since so many people across the world own cellphones, the potential for phone harassment also continues to grow. Dealing with harassing or threatening phone calls can be a very scary and stressful invasion of privacy, but it is possible to take action. Here’s a closer look at phone harassment, relevant laws, information on how you can report phone harassment, and tips to help you prevent or stop harassing phone calls.
What is Phone Harassment?
What is phone harassment? This type of harassment takes place by phone and is meant to threaten, annoy, intimidate, or harass another individual. Phone harassment may include:
- An individual using menacing or obscene language over the phone
- Calling to voice threats towards you, your family members, or your friends
- Making the phone ring continually
- Repeated calls by a caller who will not identify himself
- Making phone calls and using silence or heavy breathing with the intent to intimidate or harass
- Kidnapping threats via the phone
- Bomb threats via the phone
A single wrong number or prank call is usually not considered harassment. In most cases, phone companies or police will not take action unless you are dealing with frequent calls, unless the caller specifically makes threats of bodily harm. Unwanted calls are not generally considered phone harassment either, such as:
- Debt collection phone calls
- Computer generated phone calls
- Fax calls
- Telemarketing calls
- Solicitation or marketing phone calls
Cyberbullying and Harassing Phone Calls
In some cases, cyberbullying make take the form of harassing phone calls. Cyberbullying is any type of bullying that takes place via technological devices, such as cellphones. For example, one 10-year-old girl in the UK continually received phone calls on her cellphone from girls who were bullying her. The bullies would say she should phone a “loser line” or that she was a member of the “cow club.” According to Antibullyingworks.co.uk, cyberbullying via phone may include mocking phone calls, anonymous phone calls, repeated hang up calls, or stealing a person’s cellphone to make others think the phone owner is making harassing phone calls.
Understanding Phone Harassment Laws
If you’re dealing with harassing phone calls, it’s important to understand phone harassment laws and what actions can lead to phone harassment charges. Phone harassment is usually covered under local harassment or stalking laws, and the laws can vary depending on the country you live in.
For example, in Canada, phone harassment is covered in the Canada’s Criminal Code and becomes criminal harassment if “repeatedly communicating with, either directly or indirectly, the other person” causes an individual to fear for their safety or the safety of someone they know.
Within the UK, some laws that may be used against individuals who make harassing phone calls include the UK’s Protection from Harassment Act, the Telecommunications Act 1984, or the Malicious Communications Act 1988.
What to Do When Harassing Phone Calls Occur
Since police and phone companies usually won’t take action unless calls specifically include threats of bodily harm or the calls occur repeatedly, it’s important to know what you should do when these calls take place. Here are a few tips you can use when a harassing phone call takes place.
- Tip #1 – Don’t Engage – If you’re dealing with a harassing phone call, it’s important to avoid engaging or responding. According to Bullyonline.org, most individuals who make malicious calls want to enjoy domination, control, subjugation, and power. If you respond with threats or anger, you’ll be doing exactly what the caller wants you to do. You should refuse to respond to the caller in any way. The more you respond, the more likely that individual is to continue the harassment.
- Tip #2 – Log Information About Harassing Calls – Make sure that you begin logging information about every harassing call, using as much detail as possible. Logging this information will allow you to see a pattern in calls and this information could help you, or the authorities, find out who is behind the calls. Some of the information you should log includes:
- Date and time of the harassing call(s)
- The sound of the caller’s voice
- The supposed gender of the caller
- What the caller said
- The tone of voice
- Whether you heard any background noise
- The name and/or phone number that your caller ID displayed (if applicable)
How to Report Harassing Phone Calls
Reporting harassing phone calls is important, and you have a couple options to consider if you’re ready to make a report. The two main options you have if you want to report harassing phone calls include:
- Report the Calls to Your Phone Company – Some phone companies may want you to come to them before you go to the police. Certain phone companies have the ability to use call tracing and if this tracing provides enough information, they may recommend that you take the information to a law enforcement agency. For example, cell phone company, Verizon Wireless, allows users to call their Unlawful Call Center to make complaints and open a case. Within the UK, many phone companies collaborate with Which.co.uk, which is a website where you can report harassing phone calls or texts. Many phone companies also have a Nuisance or Harassing Call Line where you can report these calls or get advice on what to do about the calls.
- Report the Calls to the Local Police – If harassing phone calls involve threat of bodily harm to you or members of your family, you should immediately report the calls to the police. If you establish a pattern of harassing phone calls over time, you should also go to the police to file a report. Police may set up a trap or call trace on your phone line to discover who is behind the harassing calls. Your local police can help you decide on the next step and they can help you decide if criminal harassment charges need to be filed.
How to Stop or Prevent Phone Harassment
According to Bullyonline.org, one out of every five young is bullied via a cellphone or the internet. If you, or your child, are being bullied or harassed via the phone, it’s important to take action. Whether you’re looking for information on how to stop harassing phone calls or you want to prevent harassing calls before they happen, here are a few helpful steps you can take.
- Step #1 – Check to See if a Do-Not-Call List is Available – Many countries have a national do-not-call list, which helps to protect your personal cellphone or home phone numbers. In some countries, such as the UK, this list may be referred to as a Telephone Preference Service. Check to see if your country has one of these lists available. If it does, make sure your register for this list.
- Step #2 – Get Caller ID – If you don’t already have caller ID on your home phone, make sure you find out if your phone company offers this feature. If so, make sure that you sign up for caller ID. This may help you to identify the number from which harassing calls are being made.
- Step #3 – Find Out About Call Blocking – Some phone providers offer call blocking services. These services may allow you to block certain types of calls, such as international calls. They may also allow you to choose a list of numbers you want blocked, or they may block unknown callers. According to Ofcom.org.uk, other helpful services that phone companies may offer include last caller identification and anonymous call rejection.
- Step #4 – Screen Incoming Calls – Whether you want to know how to stop harassing phone calls or you want to prevent them, screening your incoming calls may prove helpful. Your caller ID can help you decide whether you want to answer the phone. If you don’t recognize a number, you can just avoid answering the calls. Voicemail may also prove helpful, in case the individual calling needs to leave an important message.
- Step #5 – Keep Phone Numbers Private – Avoid giving out your phone number if you want to avoid harassing calls. While this cannot completely prevent the problem, it reduces your risk of being a victim of harassing phone calls. If you have children, make sure they only give their cellphone or home phone information to trusted family members or friends. You may also be able to use call blocking when you make phone calls to keep other individuals from getting your phone number.
Harassing phone calls have the potential to be very serious, so it’s important to know what to do if you become a victim of these calls. Remember, the best thing you can do is go to the police when threats of bodily harm are made against you or your family. It’s always better to err on the side of caution when dealing with phone harassment.