How to Stop Harassing Phone Calls

How to Stop Harassing Phone Calls 

Do you receive harassing phone calls from telemarketers or unknown persons?  Or calls from a fax machine?  Or odd calls in which no one answers on the other end?  Or perhaps a recorded voice tells you to hold on the line? Heavy breathing, obscene calls or threatening calls?

Here's what to know and what to do.

What is the definition of harassing?

If the caller uses obscene or threatening language, repeatedly calls and hangs up, repeatedly calls and is silent, breaths heavily or plays a message, it is harassing call. That is illegal in almost every state in the U.S.

When should I act on it?

If the calls are repeated or you believe that you are at a risk of physical harm, you should act.The police and local phone company will generally not take action unless the calls are repeated or if a call specifically threatens you or your family with bodily harm.

What should I do?

Write down the following, immediately - you may forget, if you wait:

  • Time and date of the call(s). (keep a log)

  • Gender of the caller

  • Describe the caller's voice

  • What did the caller say?

  • Age of the caller (how old did he/she sound? )

  • Did the caller seem intoxicated?

  • Tone / Voice: accent or speech impediment?

  • Was there any background noise?

  • Was a phone number/name displayed on your Caller ID?

How do I stop the calls?

In most cases, you will want to file a police report first.  In some cases a local phone company will block the caller based solely upon your request, but it is still better to file a police report first. Of course, if life or property are threatened, or if calls are obscene, you should call the police and file a report regardless. That legally documents the problem, and should the caller escalate actions, the police have already been alerted..

What happens next?

You and the police can ask the phone company to

  • Set up a "Trap" on your phone line. This enables the phone company to determine the telephone number of the caller. You will be asked to keep a log noting the time and date of any harassing calls are received, normally for 2 weeks. There is no charge for traps.

  • Using Call Trace may also help. This must be set up in advance, it only work for local calls and there is a fee each time it is used. Immediately after receiving a harassing call, you enter the *57 on your phone.  and the call is automatically traced (1157 on rotary phones).

Prevention: What can you do to defend yourself from harassing calls?

1. Block Phone Calls from Telemarketers: Get on the National Do Not Call List

The national Do-Not-Call list

The national list protects home voice or personal wireless phone numbers (not business numbers). The national Do-Not-Call list prohibits telemarketers from making telephone solicitations to your home phone number or numbers, including any personal wireless phone numbers.  But you must register for this to be in effect! There are other important exceptions, too - see the exceptions here.

You can register your home phone number(s) on the national Do-Not-Call list by phone or by Internet at no cost. For more information and to add your home phone number to the national Do-Not-Call list via the Internet, see this page. To register by phone, call 1-888-382-1222 (voice) or 1-866-290-4236 (TTY). You must call from the phone number you wish to register.

State Do-Not-Call Lists

Additionally, many states now have statewide do-not-call lists for residents in their respective states. Contact your state's consumer protection office or public utilities commission to see if the state has such a list. Contact information for these offices usually can be found in the blue pages or government section of your local telephone directory. (we're working on creating a listing here)

Company-Specific Do-Not-Call Lists

Whether or not your home phone number is registered on the national Do-Not-Call list, the FCC requires a person or entity placing voice telephone solicitations to your home to maintain a record of your direct request to that caller not to receive future telephone solicitations from that person or entity. A record of your do-not-call request must be maintained for five years. This request should also stop calls from affiliated entities if you would reasonably expect them to be included, given the identification of the caller and the product being advertised. Unless your home phone number or number(s) is registered on the national Do-Not-Call list, however, you must make a separate do-not-call request to each telemarketer from whom you do not wish to receive calls.

When you receive telephone solicitation calls, clearly state that you want to be added to the caller's do-not-call list. You may want to keep a list of those persons or businesses that you have asked not to call you. Tax-exempt non-profit organizations are not required to keep do-not-call lists.

2. Block Fax Calls

The FCC has separate rules that prohibit unsolicited fax advertisements (under most circumstances) which are more complicated. In general, to stop unwanted fax advertisements, you must make an 'opt-out' request which must:

  • identify the fax number or numbers to which it relates; and
  • be sent to the telephone number, fax number, Web site address, or e-mail address identified on the fax advertisement.

If you change your mind about receiving fax advertisements, you can subsequently grant express permission to receive faxes from a particular sender, orally or in writing.

This won't necessarily stop the faxes - especially if they are scammers deliberately violating the law, but it does give you the right to sue them.  See this page for much more information about your rights about junk faxes and how to stop make an opt-out request.

3. Phone company services

If your phone company offers caller ID and "privacy directory" services, use them!

4. Keep your name and number private

Do not disclose personal information when called by someone you do not know. This includes teaching children not to give out any information.

If the caller asks what number or name they have called, do not give it. Instead, ask them to tell you what number they dialed.

Get an unlisted number. This is especially true for women who may be targets for obscene and heavy breathing callers.

5. Block your number when returning calls to unknown persons

Block your number when returning calls to unknown entities! See the next section for how to block your number going out.

How can I block my phone number from being sent out when I place a call?

  • Per-call blocking ' To block your phone number and name from appearing on a recipient's Caller ID unit on a single phone call, dial *67 before dialing the phone number. Your number will not be sent to the other party. You must redial *67 each time you place a new call. NOTE: This does not work when you dial a toll-free number like 800, 866, 888.

  • Per-line blocking ' Some states allow customers to select per-line blocking. With this option, your telephone number will be blocked for every call you make on a specific line ' unless you use the per-line unblocking option. If you use per-line blocking and want your number to be transmitted to the called party, dial *82 before you dial the number you are calling. You must re-dial *82 each time you place a call.

  • Blocking Your Name ' Some Caller ID services also transmit the name of the calling party. If you request that your phone number be concealed, FCC rules require that a telephone company also conceal your name.

  • 800 number/toll-free calls ' When you dial a toll-free number, the party you are calling pays for the call. The called party is able to identify your telephone number using a telephone network technology called Automatic Number Identification (ANI). Requesting privacy for your number when you call 800, 888, 877, and 866 numbers from your local telephone company may not prevent its display to the called party. FCC rules, however, prevent parties that own toll-free numbers from reusing or selling the telephone numbers identified through ANI without the subscriber's consent.

  • Emergency Calls ' Telephone companies may transmit numbers of subscribers requesting privacy if the call is to a public agency's emergency telephone line or in conjunction with 911 or poison control services.

Call Blocking Summary

  • To block your telephone number for any call you make (except toll free calls, 800, 866, 888), dial *67 before dialing the telephone number.

  • To unblock your number for any call (if you have a blocked line), dial *82 before dialing the telephone number.


Related information:

Note: Telemarketers must provide a caller ID

If you have caller ID, a telemarketer is required to transmit or display its phone number and, if available, its name or the name and phone number of the company for which it is selling products. The display must include a phone number that you can call during regular business hours to ask that the company no longer call you. This rule applies even if you have an EBR (established business relationship, see below) with the company, and even if you have not registered your home phone number(s) on the national Do-Not-Call list. You may remember that before these rules took effect, the words 'private,' 'out of area,' or 'unavailable' might have appeared on the Caller ID display.

More questions?

See this list of frequently asked questions, direct from the FTC.



For a comprehensive list of national and international agencies to report scams, see this page.

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