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Man with towel on head on phone

Phone harassment

From heavy breathers to outright abuse or the silent treatment, if you're the subject of any kind of malicious phone call, here's how to sort it.

What is it?

Phone harassment is a general term used to describe any kind of unwanted telephone call that's intended to cause upset, grief and alarm. It's an invasion of privacy, and a form of bullying. The caller might know the victim, or it could be the result of a random dial. It may be a one-off call, or a campaign of abuse. Whatever the case, it's unacceptable in any shape or form, and has to be stopped.

What's the attraction?

Everyone knows that bullies are generally cowards, which makes a threatening phone call more tempting to them than a face-to-face confrontation. You're not going to reach down the line and teach them a lesson, Tom 'n' Jerry style. What's more, a caller can easily take steps to withhold their number and remain anonymous.

How should I respond?

In almost every case, your best bet is to say nothing. If you can deny them the pleasure of a response, you're effectively taking away their reason to harass you. The government's crime reduction website offers this advice: "If you receive an abusive or threatening phone call, put the receiver down beside the phone, and walk away. Come back a few minutes later and replace the receiver." How cool is that?

How can I protect myself?

There are several steps you can take to minimise the damage, and even bring the caller to task:

  • Record each incident. If you're the victim of a continued phone harassment assault, make a note of when the calls came in and what was said. Take down as much information as you can, because you may need it as evidence later;
  • Inform your phone provider. All companies will have a policy for dealing with dodgy calls. Some may be able to trace the caller, or bar calls from that number. Others may advise you to contact the police. Whatever the case, you've done the right thing by making a complaint. Don't suffer this alone;
  • Screen your calls. Either let it go to answer machine, or talk to your phone provider about a caller identification service. This kind of tactic effectively prevents the caller from communicating with you directly.

When do I tell the police?

If the abuse continues, or you feel threatened in any way, consider handing it to the police. Bring your evidence with you, too (notes/itemised phone bills) and let them make enquiries. Malicious or abusive phone calls are a criminal offence, under section 43 of the Telecommunications Act, 1984,. Alternatively, The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 covers many forms of harassment involving persistent contact that causes distress. For more info, report the problem to your phone service provider. They won't want their customers unhappy, after all, and will stand by you until the problem has been sorted.

Updated: 25/09/2012

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