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Dealing with abusive and malicious telephone calls

Being the target of abusive and threatening phone calls can be distressing. This page suggests ways of dealing with nuisance callers.

In most cases the caller will be known to you. Who might bear a grudge against you, however slight? A jilted lover, and ex-partner, a former friend, a sibling, an in-law, an ex-employee, a troublesome neighbour? This type of behaviour is sometimes stimulated by jealousy and envy. Who might be jealous and envious of you? Rejection is a common trigger for stalking behaviour, including malicious telephone calls. If you've recently ditched your partner, he or she is your number one suspect.

When a malicious call is received, don't respond and don't engage. This is important. The objectives of the caller are Power, Control, Domination and Subjugation. Responding with anger or threats satisfy these objectives and are just what the caller wants to hear. He or she knows you won't carry out your threats. In fact the caller wants attention, so any response will meet the caller's objective. You can frustrate the caller by refusing to respond.

The menacing nature of each call is a provocation to get you to respond. You win by not playing. If you respond, say, on the thirtieth call, it teaches the caller that he or she will get a response every thirtieth call, or thereabouts. You can expect another thirty calls, then another thirty, and so on.

If you pick up a call from the nuisance caller, say nothing, put the receiver to one side and leave the room. You will have the satisfaction of knowing you are denying the caller the gratification he or she seeks whilst they run up a large phone bill.

Log every call with as much detail about it as you can. This will give you a pattern of calls which will help to identify who is calling (eg always when x is at work or at home etc). If you choose to listen in - without responding - you may be able to hear background noise which might help to identify the caller. Should matters turn legal it would be possible to cross-reference or match the calls you receive with calls made from their source.

Use a phone that displays the caller's id (in the UK dial 1471); abusive callers often withhold their number but note the information anyway (eg "withheld" or "unavailable") - even this can prove useful later. If the call originates from an employer the caller may not be able to suppress the number.

If you can arrange it, tape record each phone call. This can prove especially useful if the calls are threatening or menacing.

Some telephones have a switch underneath where you can switch off the ringer, eg overnight or when you're asleep or wish to be available. At unsocial hours you can disconnect the phone from the socket.

If nuisance calls become too much to deal with, get a second phone line, only give this number to close relatives and friends (as few as possible and only one at a time) and put an answerphone on the original line with a recording that is not your voice.

Finally, and most importantly...

Talk to the malicious calls department of your telephone company. Most are sympathetic and keen to help telephone customers suffering from repeated misuse of their telephone services.

Areas of law in the UK

The Malicious Communications Act (1988)

The Protection From Harassment Act (1997)

There's a lot of useful information on stalking (including stalking by phone) in Gavin de Becker's excellent book The Gift of Fear (Bloomsbury, 1997, ISBN 0-7475-3691-0)

Advice from BT on handling malicious calls.

Guidance on handling Internet and cyber bullying.

Guidance on  recognising and handling bullying by mobile phone.


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