If you have been on the receiving end of harassing phone calls, then you likely have felt intimidated or annoyed. You may have even had fear for your own personal safety or your family’s safety. Not only are harassing phone calls an intrusion into your personal privacy, they are illegal under federal and state laws.
Harassment, whether or not via the telephone, is a behavior by another person meant to intimidate, annoy, threaten, or place another person in fear for their own personal safety or their family’s safety. Similar to the laws that protect you from harassment, the Federal Communications Act (“FCA”) and many state laws provide additional protections against telephone harassment.
In short, telephone harassment occurs when a person makes unsolicited communications via phone that are meant to be threatening, obscene, or is unwanted. The FCA defines telephone harassment as the act of when a person by means of a telecommunications device knowingly makes, creates, or solicits a communication with intent to harass, abuse, or threaten another.
Telephone harassment can appear in many different forms, but typically the following acts are examples of telephone harassment under the FCA:
- Making or causing the telephone of another person to continuously ring;
- Making obscene, lewd, or indecent comments, suggestions, or requests by means of a telecommunications device;
- Making a telephone call, whether or not a conversation ensues, without identifying themselves; or
- Making repeated phone calls with a telecommunications device, where a conversation ensues, solely with an intent to harass the other person.
It is important to note that not every phone call will be considered to be telephone harassment under the law. However, one phone call alone may constitute telephone harassment, depending on the circumstances and particulars of the phone call.
As noted above, not every phone call, whether annoying or not, will amount to telephone harassment under federal or state law. There are several factors that courts consider when determining whether telecommunications amount to harassment.
These may include (but not limited to):
- Timing: The timing of the phone calls is considered in determining whether a telecommunication is harassment. For instance, calls made late at night may suggest harassment, while calls placed during normal business hours may not;
- Frequency: The frequency of the phone calls will also be considered. Calls made repeatedly or more often suggest harassment, while one phone call may not. Additionally, whether or not the recipient has asked the caller to stop will also be considered in determining whether the conduct constitutes harassment. For example, if you have asked to be put on a do not call list, but are still receiving phone calls, you may have a case for harassment, amongst other legal claims;
- Threats: Threatening phone calls, such as phone calls threatening to harm or kidnap a person, will likely amount to harassment; and
- Obscenity or Lewdness: If a telecommunication contains obscene or lewd comments, the comments themselves, suggestions, or requests will likely suggest harassment. This is especially true if the calls are repeated.
All of the above factors will be considered in determining whether a single or repeated communication made by phone will amount to harassment.
If you believe that you are being harassed over the phone, and the harassing call included a threat to harm you or another person, you should immediately contact the police. When contacting the police you should inform them of the threat and provide them with any possible information you have including:
- The time and date of the phone call;
- What exactly was said;
- The number that called you (if possible); and
- If the person is anonymous, any personal characteristics you could make out from the caller’s voice (gender, age, etc.).
It is important to never divulge any of your personal information over the phone, as the call may be a phishing phone call.
People who commit telephone harassment may be subject to significant fines, prison time, or both. If the harassing phone calls are coming from a business or debt collector there are other laws, besides the FCA or local telephone harassment laws, that offer you additional protections.
First, if you or your family have threatened harm, you should immediately contact your local police, and they will help you identify and punish the harasser. If you find yourself in a situation where you believe you are a victim of telephone harassment, and have suffered damages as a result, then contacting a personal injury attorney may be in your best interests. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you determine whether you may file a civil lawsuit to recover for any damages you may have suffered, and represent you in a court of law, if necessary.
If you have been accused of telephone harassment, you should immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to guide you through the complicated legal system, and help you organize your best defense.