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Harassing Phone Calls

Harassing or obscene phone calls can be one of the most stressful and frightening invasions of privacy a person experiences. Unwanted phone calls, while a minor problem when compared with threatening calls, can still be a major inconvenience. Following are steps you can take to help put an end to these unwelcome intrusions:

What makes a phone call harassing?

When someone calls and uses obscene or threatening language, heavy breathing or silence to intimidate. It is against the law in California and other states to make obcsene or threatening calls. Unwelcome calls can be harassing but usually your local phone company will not take action unless someone specifically threatens you or your family with bodily harm, then the phone company will generally take immediate action

Who should I contact?

Local phone companies have varying policies on whether to call the phone company or the police first. Call the phone company's business office and explain the problem. A representative should connect you with the "annoyance desk". Other phone companies may require you 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 assistance.

For serious 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?

If the calls are frequent or particularly threatening, the phone company can set up a "trap" on your phone line to determine the telephone number from which the harassing calls originate. You must keep a log noting the time. 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 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 area.) 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.

The information 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.

The phone company is not always able to solve harassing phone call problems. 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.

How do I stop harassing calls?

If you do not want to go to the phone company or police you might try some of the following tips. First, simply hang up on the caller. Do not engage in conversation. Typical crank callers are seeking attention??? something to them or express shock or anger. Second, if the silent treatment doesn't work you might try putting a message on your voice mail system: "I'm sorry we can't come to the phone right now, but you must leave a message. We are receiving 'annoyance calls' . If you do not leave a message we will assume you are the 'annoyance caller' and this call will be traced". Third, if you answer the phone and the harassing caller is on the line, you might say "Operator this is the call" and hang up or say "trap" the time and date and hang up.

Some threatening calls are part of a larger pattern of abuse, such as stalking. Some experts recommend getting 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 from the harasser. The harasser will continue to call the unused number and will think they are still getting through but you are simply using the number to gather evidence. Save the tape recordings of the calls. Have your new number unlisted and give the new number to trusted friends and family only. Do not give your number to banks, credit card companies or credit bureau. Put passwords on all phone accounts (local, long distance and mobile). Instruct the phone companies in writing they must not disclose any account information to anyone but yourself and only when the correct password is given.

Precautions you can take to prevent harassment

Do not disclose personal information when called by someone you do not know. The caller might be checking out the residence for possible robery or other crime. To prevent 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.

Children should be instructed to never reveal informaion 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 and people with Call Return from capturing this information.

Do-Not-Call Registry

The most effective and easiest way to prevent telemarketing calls is to register your home and personal phone number(s) with the National Do Not Call Registry operated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can put your residential telephone number(s) including cellular numbers on the opt-out list. According to the FTC, registration with the Do Not Call list will reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive by 80%.

In your office, due to the large number of unwanted faxes disrupting work, all Departments are encouraged to register their phone and fax numbers on the National “Do Not Call” registry.

Follow the procedures below:

  • Enter the National “Do Not Call” site at
  • Click “Register a Phone Number” and follow directions on the web site. Each email user may register up to nine phone numbers; register all phone and fax numbers
  • You will receive emails for each number registered, you must click on the link provided for the process to be complete
  • The calls should stop after 30 days.