or harassing phone calls can be one of the most stressful and
frightening invasions of privacy a person experiences. Fortunately,
there are steps you can take to help put an end to these unwelcome
What makes a phone call harassing?
calls and uses obscene or threatening language, or even heavy breathing
or silence to intimidate you, you are receiving a harassing call. It is
against the law in California and other states to make obscene or
threatening calls. (California Penal Code section 653m, Penal Code
How often do I have to get these calls to make it harassment?
unwelcome call can be harassing; but usually your local phone company
will not take action unless the calls are frequent. However, if a call
specifically threatens you or your family with bodily harm, the phone
company will generally take immediate action.
Who should I contact when I get harassing calls?
companies have varying policies on whether to call the phone company or
the police first. Some recommend that you first call the phone
company's business office and explain the problem. A representative
will connect you with the "annoyance desk." Other phone companies may
require you to file a formal complaint with local law enforcement
before they will deal with the matter. To find out what your phone
company's policy is, contact the business office and ask for
threats, if life or property are threatened, or if calls are obscene,
you should call the police and file a report. Provide as much
information to law enforcement as you can. Indicate the gender of the
caller and describe the caller's voice. Note the time and date of the
call(s). What did the caller say? How old did he/she sound? Did the
caller seem intoxicated? Did he/she have an accent or speech
impediment? Was there any background noise? Was a phone number/name
displayed on the Caller ID device?
What can my local phone company do if I am receiving harassing calls?
If the calls are frequent or particularly threatening, the phone company can set up a "Trap"
on your phone line. The Trap allows the phone company to determine the
telephone number from which the harassing calls originate. You must
keep a log noting the time and date the harassing calls are received.
Traps are usually set up for no more than two weeks. The phone company
does not charge a fee for Traps.
A phone company service called Call Trace
may also be able to help track down harassing calls. Immediately after
receiving a harassing call, you enter the code *57 on your phone and
the call is automatically traced (1157 on rotary phones). Call Trace is
easier than using a Trap since the customer does not have to keep a
phone log. But Call Trace technology works only within the local
service area. (Look in the "Customer Guide" section of the phone book
or the phone company's web site for a description of your local service
Call Trace must
be set up in advance by the individual receiving harassing calls, and
it requires a fee for use. However, in situations where the phone
company would ordinarily use a Trap, you might not be charged if the
phone company suggests that Call Trace be used as an alternative. Be
sure to ask.
collected from Call Trace or from a Trap is turned over to law
enforcement personnel, not the customer. Law enforcement officers try
to stop the harassing calls by either warning or arresting the
harasser. With both Call Trace and a Trap, your phone conversations are
not listened to or recorded by the phone company.
Is the phone company always able to solve harassing phone call problems?
No. If the
caller uses a phone booth or multiple phone lines, the phone company
and law enforcement officials may never get enough identification to
take further action. In cases like these, changing your phone number
might help. Also, you might want to get an unlisted or unpublished
number. In addition, the tips listed below for discouraging other types
of unwanted calls may be of help.
What can I do to stop harassing calls without going to the phone company or police?
hang up on the caller. Do not engage in conversation. Typical crank
callers are seeking attention. You have "made their day" if you say
something to them or express shock or anger.
If the silent treatment does not work, you might try putting a message like this on your voice mail system:
I/we can't come to the phone right now but you must leave a message.
I/we are receiving annoyance calls and the phone company has a trap on
this line. If you do not leave a message I/we will assume that you are
the annoyance caller and this call will be traced.
If you answer
the phone and the harassing caller is on the line, another suggestion
is to say: "Operator, this is the call." Then hang up. Or say the word
"trap," what time it is and the date; then hang up.
What is the "pressure valve" strategy?
threatening calls are part of a larger pattern of abuse, such as
stalking. Some experts recommend in these situations to get a new phone
number, but keep the phone number being called by the harasser and
attach a voice mail machine or message service to that line. Turn the
phone's ringer off and don't use that phone line for anything other
than capturing the calls of the harasser.
This is the
pressure valve strategy. The harasser will continue to call the unused
number and will think that he/she is getting through. Instead, you are
simply using the number to gather evidence. You will want to save tape
recordings of the calls.Get another phone number for your use, and be
sure it's unlisted and unpublished. Give the number to trusted friends
and relatives only. Do not give it to your bank, credit card company or
credit bureau. Put passwords on all of your phone accounts (local, long
distance, and mobile). Tell the phone companies in writing that they
must not disclose any account information to anyone but yourself, and
only when the correct password is given.
What precautions can I take to prevent harassment?
Do not disclose
personal information when called by someone you do not know. They might
be checking out the residence for possible robbery or other crime. If
the caller asks what number they have called, do not give it. Instead,
ask them to tell you what number they dialed.
being targeted for obscene calls and heavy breathing, women should only
list their first initial and last name in the phone directory. Having
an unlisted number is another option.
be instructed to never reveal information to unknown callers. Instead,
they should be taught to record the caller's name and phone number
along with date and time.
Do not include
your telephone number on the outgoing message of your voice mail
service if you wish to keep your number private. By omitting your phone
number from your message, you prevent random dialers from capturing