How to Stop Unwanted or Harassing Phone Calls
Obscene or harassing phone calls are stressful and frightening invasions of privacy. Unwanted phone calls, though not as disturbing as threatening calls, are very annoying. You can take steps to put an end to these unwelcome intrusions. When someone calls and uses obscene or threatening language, or even heavy breathing or silence to intimidate you, you are receiving a harassing call. If a call specifically threatens you or your family with bodily harm, the phone company will generally take immediate action.
If you get a harassing call contact your phone company or the police: 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 you receive frequent calls 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.
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.
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.
Keep in mind 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.
What can I help prevent harassing phone calls?
Don't disclose personal information when called by someone you don't 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. To prevent obscene calls and heavy breathing, women should list their first initial and last name in the phone directory or even better get an unlisted number. Teach children never to reveal information to unknown callers. Don't record your phone number on your outgoing message of your voice mail service.
How can I stop telemarketing calls?
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 may put your residential telephone number(s) including cellular numbers on the opt-out list.
You can sign up for the Do Not Call Registry two ways:
* The FTC's toll-free phone number is 888-382-1222 (TTY: 866-290-4236)
* Online registration is available at the FTC's web site, www.donotcall.gov
What if sometimes the phone rings and there is no one on the line?
In most cases, these calls are from telemarketers. Many telemarketers use "predictive dialing" technology to call consumers. A computer dials many phone numbers in a short period of time. When an individual answers, the computer seeks a sales representative who is not occupied at that time and connects the call. If all of the sales reps are on calls, the consumer hears dead silence.
What can I do to stop other kinds of unwanted calls?
An answering machine or a voice mail service is one of the best ways to limit unwanted calls. Similar to an answering machine, a voice mail service or an answering service can also discourage unwanted calls. Another product on the market is an attachment to the telephone called an "inbound call blocker." It allows only those callers who enter a special numeric code onto their touchtone phone pad to ring through to your number. This device is highly effective in preventing unwanted calls. However, you must be certain to give the code to everyone you want to talk to. Even so, you could miss important calls from unexpected sources, like emergency services.
- Call Screen (*60): Your phone can be programmed to reject calls from selected numbers with a service called Call Screen (SBC Pacific Bell term; other phone companies might use a different name). Instead of ringing on your line, these calls are routed to a recording that tells the caller you will not take the call. With Call Screen, you can also program your telephone to reject calls from the number of the last person who called. This allows you to block calls even if you do not know the phone number. Most phone companies charge a monthly fee for this service. Call Screen is not a foolproof way to stop unwelcome calls. A determined caller can move to a different phone number to bypass the block. Also, Call Screen does not work on long distance calls from outside your service area.
- Priority Ringing: You can assign a special ring to calls from up to 10 numbers - the calls you are most likely to want to answer. The rest can be routed to voice mail. There are ways callers can get around Priority Ringing when it is used as a screening tool. The harasser can switch phone lines and avoid the distinctive ring.
Call Return (*69): This service allows you to call back the number of the last person who called, even if you are unable to answer the phone. Some people suggest that Call Return can be used to stop harassing callers by allowing you to call the harasser back without knowing the phone number. Use caution with this method of discouraging harassing callers, however, as it could actually aggravate the problem. This service is paid on a per-use basis.
Can I use Caller ID to stop unwanted calls?
With Caller ID, customers who pay a monthly fee and purchase a display device can see the number and name of the person calling before picking up the phone. However, there are also services provided by phone companies to block the callerID showing the number of the caller.
A companion service to Caller ID, called Anonymous Call Rejection (ACR), requires an incoming call from a blocked number to be unblocked before the call will ring through. Use of this feature forces the harasser to disclose the number - by entering *82 - or to choose to not complete the call. But a determined harasser can get around this feature by using a payphone. This service can be added to a consumer's local phone service for a fee or at no charge depending on the carrier. It is activated and deactivated with the touchtone code *77.
What does Privacy Manager do?
Most local phone companies offer a relatively new service called Privacy Manager. It works with Caller ID to identify incoming calls that have no telephone numbers. Calls identified as "anonymous," unavailable," out of area" or "private" must identify themselves in order to complete the call. Before your phone rings, a recorded message instructs the caller to unblock the call, enter a code number (like the inbound call blocking devices mentioned above), or record their name. When your phone rings, you can choose to accept or reject the call, send it to voice mail, or send a special message to telemarketers instructing them to put you on their "do not call" list. Because Privacy Manager is new, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse would like to hear from individuals who have used it to stop harassing calls. Was it successful? Did it have shortcomings?