In the Digital Era, How Are Harassing Phone Calls Still a Thing?

According to the data acquired from the Statista’s website, the number of unsolicited calls and text messages received by Americans has been increasing in the past few years, reaching, on average, 32 phone calls a month per person in 2019. And though these calls often come at inconvenient moments, use up minutes, and jam voice mails, they don’t always fit into the category of harassing phone calls. But if you have been called repeatedly and continuously until you finally pick up the phone, only to be faced with rude tone or inappropriate language, you might be wondering where the line is and what actually counts as harassment through phone calls. 

What Are the Telephone Harassment Laws?

Harassment by phone is regulated both on the federal level and statewide. The Federal Communications Act, precisely 47 U.S. Code § 223, prohibits telephone harassment and constitutes legal solutions and enforcement mechanisms.

There is also the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is there to protect the people targeted by phone call scams. TCPA does not stop the calls, but it does restrict the hours during which telemarketers can call, and it limits the use of robocalls. It will still not protect you from harassing phone calls coming from individuals you may know. 

The Federal Communications Act is focused on regulating several areas of telephone harassment, and some of the significant points are:

  1. Calling someone with intent to abuse, threaten, or harass another person
  2. Making repeated phone calls where the entire conversation consists of insults and harassment
  3. Using rude or indecent language during a phone call
  4. Hiding one’s identity during a phone call
  5. Making the telephone of another person ring repeatedly or continuously

The Federal Communications Act declares serious monetary fines and imprisonment for violating any of the previous rules, but the nature of the fine depends on the type of the call. 

In some cases, if harassing phone calls are repeated for a prolonged period, the phone call harassment could be considered stalking, and the calls may even satisfy the criteria for the offense of making criminal threats. These are significant charges with higher penalties.

How Many Phone Calls Constitute Harassment

There is a difference between an annoying call and a harassing one. Campaign calls during an election year might be annoying, but can not be considered harassment. 

What Can Be Considered Harassment?

Harassment can be any unwanted behavior that a person finds offensive, intimidating or humiliating.  You can’t always tell if someone is harassing you, but if you pay attention to the types of harassment you might be able to identify the toxic behavior.

Harassment and bullying can come in different forms: 

  • Physical: including hitting, punching, tripping and pushing
  • Verbal: such as name-calling, taunting, and teasing 
  • Sexual harassment: such as inappropriate sexual behavior towards an individual
  • Digital forms of harassment such as: cyberbullying, harassment over a mobile phone, text messages, phone calls, email, social networking websites, and cyberstalking

Harassment can happen anywhere, but any of the forms mentioned above can be closely tied in with the workplace harassment. Workplace harassment is when a co-worker regularly behaves unreasonably in the workplace, and can often have sexual undertones. 

There are two types of sexual harassment happening at the workplace, and they can occur in any form — physical, verbal, or digital. The first type is “quid pro quo sexual harassment,” and it occurs when a person in power demands sexual favors from an employee. This usually comes with the promise of a promotion or other benefits. 

A “hostile work environment” happens when anyone within the company makes rude comments, sexual jokes, or inappropriate remarks about one person, disabling them from doing their job.

What Can Be Considered Phone Harassment?

Is one unpleasant phone call enough? It can be. Telephone harassment occurs when someone intends to annoy, harass, or threaten you and just one phone call can do that. More often, harassment constitutes frequency—repeated threats, insults, rude behavior, and lewd language over the phone. 

A real-life example from Reddit is a woman being disturbed by late-night phone calls from a private number. The caller is persistent, and the phone repeatedly rings until she picks up. The caller is familiar with her full name and education history. This is especially creepy because he often uses rude language and makes sexual jokes. 

Another Reddit user from Michigan is called repeatedly by a Facebook contact. Due to the previous interaction, she can identify the caller, even though he called her from a hidden number over 20 times in one night. 

These two stories are almost a decade apart, and it doesn’t seem that the development in technology helped the situation much.

There is no one specific rule, one number to determine which call is one too many. But here are few things you can take into account when trying to decide how many phone calls are considered harassment.

Pay Attention to

Why?

The timing of the calls

The timing is a significant factor in determining whether a phone call is harassment. If a call is made late at night, it may suggest that the caller intends to disturb you.

The frequency of the calls

Calls made repeatedly—several times a night or one each day—are usually made to annoy you. Also, calling until you pick up hides the same intent.

The persistence of the caller

If you have asked them to stop calling and they still do, it’s harassment.

Nature and content of the calls

Calls with a threatening tone, or ones including a blackmail message are considered harassment.

The tone of the language in the calls

Language full of obscenities, swear words, and inappropriate expressions are considered harassment.

Calls are not considered harassment if they are just annoying. Many companies, organizations, and institutions make regular phone calls to their customers and the general public. Those calls come as public service announcements, surveys, political campaign messages, or reminders, and they are permitted and legal. 

Common Harassment Calls

There may be many different types of phone harassment, but they all have one thing in common—they steal your sense of security. There are three majors groups most harassing phone calls can be sorted into: 

Type of Call

Characteristics

Hidden ID calls

Phone calls where the caller ID is blocked or hidden, disabling you from identifying the caller without using a third-party app

Robocalls

Any call made using computer software, where there is a prerecorded message on the other end.

Intimidating or threatening phone calls

Calls with a threatening tone, trying to achieve something by employing scare tactics and by making you feel unsafe

Hidden ID Calls

If someone is calling you from a  hidden phone number, that means they likely have been stalking you for a while and would prefer to keep their identity hidden. Those 3 AM calls usually come from hidden numbers.  Often a person that you know, or more likely a person that knows you, is behind the call.  Blocked phone calls are difficult to trace and stop without using one of the third-party apps like Nomorobo.

Robocalls

Robocalls are calls made through the computer software to a considerable number of people at once, with a specific characteristic that once you answer a call, you will be greeted by a bot. The technology behind it is legal, and many companies use it to send reminders and info to their consumers, quickly and efficiently. But robocalls are also a source of harassment as millions of Americans are being bothered by them, and more importantly, scammed. There are also spoofed robocalls, using a technique where scammers can mask their number into any number they want. Spoofing is dangerous on many levels, not only on the account that it amplifies the chance of you losing money. Spoofing plays on people’s emotions and tricks them when they are vulnerable enough to answer an alleged call from a loved one.

Intimidating or Threatening Phone Calls

These calls are genuinely terrifying ones: the language, the tone, the info.

Callers can make open threats about hurting you. They can disclose sensitive information — that you have no idea how they are in possession of, they can mention your friends, family, pets.

Being called by the person who obviously knows a lot about you is unnerving enough, but being openly threatened, called names, exposed to rude language can be devastating. These are usually the calls that are being made repeatedly and consistently until you pick up. 

How to Stop the Harassing Phone Calls for Good With DoNotPay

Fox details how DoNotPay makes it easier to fight companies by suing them in small claims court  

Want to learn how to stop stalkers that refuse to leave your phone alone? Challenging as it may sound, DoNotPay makes it simple for you. 

DoNotPay is the first robot lawyer in the world, and it specializes in helping its users deal with legislative nightmares. The app is available on the web browser, or you can download it from AppStore. DoNotPay can help you cancel any subscription and get compensation for canceled flights. It can also save your card from additional charges after you forget to cancel your free trial. The app does that by providing you with a virtual credit card. If robocalls are harassing you, DoNotPay offers a feature called Robo Revenge that can help you get robocall revenge and fight back against them.

When it comes to phone harassment—let us say you have a stalker that likes to burn out your phone battery by calling you repeatedly, every night, from 3 AM to 5 AM—DoNotPay has got you covered.   

Here is how DoNotPay can help with that as well:

  1. Open DoNotPay on your web browser or iOS device
  2. Scroll down to the “Relationship Protection” 
  3. Start a chat with our chatbot and pick “Safety and Stalking” 
  4. The chatbot will instruct you to describe the situation and provide the name the stalker
  5. DoNotPay will then generate a cease and desist letter that can be sent to the person in question, demanding an immediate stop to all actions related to the harassment

The letter acts as substantial evidence that you attempted to resolve the matter and provides warning for future legal action if you decide to move forward with the case or request a restraining order.

What Are Some Options to Manage Harassing Phone Calls?

There are a variety of ways to address phone call harassment, but it might take some time and energy to find the right option. Depending on your circumcises, service provider, and type of the harassing phone call, you can try some of these options:

  1. Report harassment to the telephone company because they can check if someone is violating their policy by harassing another person through their platform
  2. Apply for a restraining order  that can often be adjusted to your specific needs, like instructing the stalker to not communicate with you at all
  3. Try blocking the person yourself using built-in software, call-blockers or third-party apps
  4. Report the phone call harassment to the police so that they can investigate if the stalker has committed a crime

File a Complaint With Your Telephone Company

For any harassment occurring through phone calls or text messages, you should consider reporting it to your telephone company. 

Service providers in America have policies on harassment that prohibit any unacceptable communication sent through their channels. In most cases, the phone company has the power to block the calls coming from a specific number. And if the harasser is their customer as well,  they can suspend the services provided to him.

This option should be used when the harassment isn’t at the point at which the police can get involved. 

File a Restraining Order

The laws overseeing restraining orders vary from state to state, but most states have a system by which a citizen can apply to the court to get protection from phone harassment. 

Steps you can expect to take to file for a restraining order are:

  • Gathering data and evidence
  • Contacting the clerk’s office at your local courthouse and ask about the further process—which usually includes making a statement under oath
  • Serving the court papers to the person harassing you. The sheriff’s office generally does this for you, and you will be required to pay a fee for the process
  • Preparing for your hearing
  • Enforcing the order if you receive it

Block the Stalker

This step depends on whether the stalker is harassing you over your mobile, landline or both. 

In either case, you can contact your service provider and check what call-blocking options they offer. In many cases, phone companies provide call blocking options free of charge, but the services vary and might not help with your problem exactly.

If you are using a landline, you can try a call-blocking device, such as Call Control Home. The device is small, compact, and attaches to your phone. To control the device you have to instal a Call Control App. The tool specializes in stopping spam calls but allows you to add any number to a blacklist—which can either block the call or send it to the voicemail.

For cellphone users, there are a variety of options, from built-in call blockers to third-party apps. Most offer Caller-ID, and some can automatically block or even identify callers behind hidden numbers. Some of the most popular apps that work both on iOS and Android, and can help you with stopping harassing calls, are Nomorobo, Truecaller, and Hiya.

Report Harassing Phone Calls to the Police

If you are being harassed over the phone, you should contact the police immediately. Even if you don’t think the situation has escalated enough, it’s a safe bet to check in with them first. When reaching the police, you will be asked for details about the call. Some of the questions you can expect are: 

  • Exact time and date of the phone call
  • The content of the conversation
  • The number of the caller that called
  • Information about the caller and any personal characteristics you could make out from the caller’s voice (gender, age, etc.). 

If the caller is not calling from a spoofed number, the police can identify the caller and will forward the case to be prosecuted. 

To obtain a restraining order or report the caller to the police, you will have to prove that you are being harassed, threatened, or intimidated. This means that you need to gather evidence that the phone calls are excessive, unsolicited, and threatening in nature.

Apart from Stopping Harassing Phone Calls, What Else Can DoNotPay Do?

By accessing DoNotPay in your browser or on an iPhone, you will discover many different features. With this app you can take a shortcut through the research process necessary when dealing with paperwork and administrative stuff. DoNotPay can generate essential documents and create scripts for different circumstances.