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Stalking & Harassing Phone Calls

Each phone company works a little differently. Some will willingly assist you if you are receiving harassing, threatening, or obscene calls. Others will want you to file a police report first - and obtain a case number - THEN they will cooperate with law enforcement to document the harassment for purposes of prosecution. Call your local police department and file a police report. If you have any harassing messages on your answering machine or voice mail, play them for the officer and then find out what options are available to you.

Then call the harrassement division of the phone company. Tell them you are receiving threatening and harassing calls. They will send you some paper work to fill out and to ID the person and numbers they call from. In some places, they can internally put a device on your phone to track where they are calling from and how many times they call. It goes for all incoming calls. You have to keep track of them too. After 2 or 3 weeks or whenever they have enough to go with, they will turn it over to the police dept. and it goes from there. It can go to arrest and prosecution.

Another solution is to get a second line or a cell phone, but do not cancel the old phone number. It's better than changing your number because this way the unwanted caller believes they are still making contact. Tell the new phone number to those you'd like to hear from. Leave an answering machine or voice mail on the old line, turn off the ringer, mute the machine, do not listen to the messages. Eventually the only person using the original line will be the unwanted caller. The tapes can either be used as evidence (have a FRIEND or law enforcement listen & log the messages; do not listen to them yourself) or thrown out or erased regularly. Sure it costs a bit more to have two lines: but the expense may be well worth the piece of mind.

Something cheaper than a second line is called "ringmate" - you can add a second phone number onto your existing account and the new number will have it's own distinct ring so you know which number is being called! Cell phone technology makes this especially convenient.

Caller ID, combined with anonymous call blocking has been by far the best defense, although it is not fool-proof, and doesn't catch the calls from pay phones or some long distance, as long as you only pick up the calls you recognize.

Another option/tactic is call block. Some cell phones have this feature built in - just enter the number(s) you want blocked and your phone won't even ring when these numbers call. The downside is that most phones only allow about a dozen numbers in the feature. Beyond those, the phone company may offer call block service for many more numbers for a flat fee per month. You can set and unset it up yourself. What's nice about this is, the phone will ring on the caller's end but you won't hear it ring on your end. It won't work if you have an answering machine. Another service is called call trace. To use this, you must register with the service and then dial a number after each harassing call. This will trace the number and it will be stored at the phone company. After a certain number of calls, you will be notified and asked if you want to press charges against the caller. Again, cell phones have an advantage here because incoming calls are tracked for monitoring your usage and you'll have written proof of incoming calls if you request detailed billing.

Note that, when someone calls you and just hangs up, that IS considered a harassing phone call and can be a violation of both state and federal law. If done across state lines, it can result in jail time. So the calls don't have to be threatening or abusive to be considered harassing.

Also, call the phone company and have your address removed from the listing or list it only under your initials. You might also consider getting a PO Box. It only costs about $35 a year. Small price for peace of mind. Once again, cell phones have the advantage here.

If you the calls you are receiving are from a know subject, such as an ex, you may want to seriously consider getting an answering machine that allows you to record your conversations. Every state has different laws regarding whether you need consent from the other party in order to record conversations. Doing so WITHOUT permission can result in prosecution, so don't guess - you must check the front of your phonebook to get this information, You could also simply provide notification, such as: saying something along the lines of: "I want to inform you that from this point forward this conversation is being taped. If you continue talking to me, I will assume that you are giving me permission to tape this. Do you understand what I just said?" Of course, that may mean that he or she will simply hang up -- good!

Before many of these services existed, you would have absolutely no way to prove what was happening unless you could convince the phone company to put a trace on your line. Look for options that put YOU in control of the situation instead of your abuser.

Special Information for Cell Phones

If you are receiving harassing calls on your cell phone, most cell companies will change your phone number for free - just tell them that you are receiving harassing calls. Cingular / AT&T seem to be the most customer-friendly for helping with this problem, some of the others want you to have at least reported the problem to police before they'll change a number without charging you a fee.

It it vital that you keep a few things in mind regarding cell accounts:

While your cell phone can be your lifeline in times of dealing with abusive persons, they can also be extremely dangerous because of their very nature. When your phone is turned on, it looks for the closest cell tower from which it can receive a signal or an incoming call. If you happen to lose your phone and you call to report it lost or stolen, the customer service rep can use a software tool to look at your phone and see the last location where the phone was registered for signal. If you went to locations in City A, City B, City C, and City D - the rep can tell you what time and from what general area the last call came from. This might help you find where you left your phone, but for anyone who might have access to your account, the information can be used just like a homing device and a stalker can pinpoint your location to within a few blocks!

Generally, someone only needs your name, cell number, and the last four digits of your social security number to access this information, either with a live rep on the phone or by logging into an online account manager! It is absolutely VITAL that you protect yourself if you are being harassed and you have a cell phone! Call your customer service number for your account and protect yourself. Ask to have your number changed, ask to have a password put on your account, and make sure that online access to your account is protected or have your password changed.

If your stalker is someone that you got the account with - meaning their name is also on the account - then you will always be in this danger until you get an account of your own. Even with all of the above precautions, that person can walk into any cell store or customer service location, present their identification, and if they are an account user or their name is on the account, they can STILL get access to your account, change your passwords, and retrieve information about who you are calling and the general location of where you are calling FROM!

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Last Updated: March 16, 2011