Annoying Telephone Calls

What are the Laws?

Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 269, Section 14a, provides:

"whoever telephones another person, or causes any person to be telephoned to, repeatedly, for the sole purpose of harassing, annoying, or molesting such person or his family, whether or not conversation ensues, or whoever telephones a person of the female sex, or repeatedly telephones a person of the male sex, and uses indecent or obscene language to such person, shall be punished by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars or by imprisonment for not more than three months, or both."

Federal Law also prohibits the making of obscene or harassing calls in interstate or foreign communications.

Harassing and Obscene Phone Calls

Crank callers are generally interested in seeking attention or a reaction from those receiving annoying or obscene calls, including shock and anger. Here are six suggestions to help discourage these calls:

  • Know with whom you are speaking
    Ask who is calling. Ask what number the caller is trying to reach. Never give out your name and number to strangers.
  • Don't talk
    Remember, all these callers want is an audience. Don't give them the satisfaction of talking. Being clever, or express concern for the caller's mental health; either will only encourage the caller.
  • Hang up
    Hang up immediately if the caller doesn't respond when you answer. Hang up at the first utterance of an obscene word. Hang up if the person calling does not make the identification to your satisfaction. Do not slam the receiver down or admit to the caller that you are annoyed. Just hang up. Even if the calls persist, be consistent and hang up without reaction each time. Consider screening your calls.
  • Preventing Repeat Calls
    If calls are repeated, use your voice mail or answering machine to screen calls. Save any annoying or obscene messages left.
  • Make Notes
    Make written notes of times, dates, what was said, accents, and/or background noises you hear before you hang up.

Call Campus Police

If, at any time, you are threatened over the phone, call Campus Police, x2304 or EMERGENCY 1-911. Give a complete and thorough report of the incident. It helps to know if the call(s) originated on campus or off campus, the time(s) of the call(s), and a description of the caller and conversation. Save a copy of any voice mail or answering machine messages. Don't keep the caller on the line longer to gather information; hang up as soon as you notice the call is not legitimate and report what you do know about the caller based on the brief call.

If the caller threatens physical harm or violence, report them to the Campus Police immediately.

Call Auxiliary Services

If these annoyance and/or obscene calls persist, call Auxiliary Services, x2828. They can help you change your number to a non-published number, as well as provide other assistance.

If you recognize the type of call as annoying or harassing and follow the first three steps as outlined here, most likely the last two will be unnecessary. By simply hanging up you usually stop the annoying caller.

Use Care When Placing Ads

When posting information in the newspaper, or on electronic media, be cautious about the identifying information you post. Use your post office box or email address for responses rather than listing your name and/or phone number. Do not include your residence hall information.

Consider what Information You Provide on Your Outgoing Messages

If you use voice mail or an answering machine, limit the information you provide on your outgoing message. Do not release your name and your phone number; if the caller was calling randomly, s/he now has your name and number and can use these to try to convince you s/he knows you. Also, do not alert the caller that you are not home. Try instead a message like: "I'm glad you called; please leave your name and number," or "Your call is important to me; please leave your name and number and I'll get back to you." Don't list information such as schedules, roommate name(s) or other information on your message.

Avoiding Telemarketing Fraud

Beware if an unknown caller:

  • Says you won a prize but asks you to send money first
  • Offers to have someone pick up a payment from your home
  • Says you have to act right away
  • Says he or she is a law enforcement officer who will help you -- for a fee
  • Instructs you to wire money
  • Never give out personal information, financial information or credit card numbers during unsolicited telephone calls from people you don't know.
  • Don't assume a friendly voice belongs to a friend.
  • Con artists can claim you have won a prize and ask for a credit card number for "proper identification;" Tell such callers to notify you by mail of your win.
  • Some organizations and charities solicit for funds by telephone. If you are interested in supporting a specific cause, ask them to send you additional details and a pledge card by mail.
  • Notify the Campus Police if you receive what seems to be a fraudulent call. Be prepared to give us as much information about the call as possible - the name of the company the person claims to work for, his/her name, the information s/he was seeking, description of the caller's voice, etc. If you believe you are a victim of fraud, call toll free 1-877-987-2738, or complete the Know Fraud online complaint form.
  • Check all unsolicited offers with your Better Business Bureau.
  • Check out the government's U.S. Consumer Know Fraud web page for more information.

Handling Repeated Calls

Keep a log of all annoying telephone calls you receive and notify the Campus Police Department and the Telephone Business Office if they persist. Consider having your number be unlisted or changed if calls continue.

Annoying Telephone Call Log Sheet

When you receive a number of annoying telephone calls, keep a log to assist the Campus Police in investigating the calls. Include the date and time, a description of the caller, a description of the conversation (if any), whether the call seemed to originate from on or off campus, and any other information that may help identify the caller.