Cell Phone Harassment...

Dealing with Cell Phone Harassment


Whether you are a salesperson, politician, repairman, parent or teenager, you likely not only own a cell phone, but depend on its constant availability. Over 190 million Americans have cell phone subscriptions. Today, there are more cell phone subscriptions than traditional "land-line" subscriptions according to the Cellular Telecommunications International Association (www.ctia.org).

With cell phones fast becoming the primary way of communicating, harassing phone calls can be especially distressing and disruptive. You should be aware of the steps you need to take if you receive harassing calls, text messages, or spam.

What can I do if I am receiving harassing calls on my cell phone?
Cell phone carriers recommend that you contact the police first because they have expertise in personal safety. Forty-four states now have laws that explicitly include electronic forms of communication within stalking or harassment laws. For specifics please see www.ncsl.org/programs/lis/cip/stalk99.htm.

You should file a report with the police department. This is important to ensure that you can get a subpoena. A subpoena is a court order demanding the production of evidence. Filing a report is not a guarantee that you will get a subpoena however. Depending on the resources of your local police station, your complaint may not be fully investigated. We recommend that you file the report as a first step because most cell phone carriers will not reveal customer information, including a harasser's identity, without a subpoena.

Some cell phone carriers have corporate security divisions that will work with you to stop the harassing calls. You should call customer service after filing your police report and determine if your phone carrier will assist you without a subpoena. If your phone carrier does not offer this option you can consider filing a civil suit against your harasser and subpoena the information from the phone carrier as part of your lawsuit.

Unlike traditional "land-line" phones, you are not able to block incoming callers to your cell phone. However, you should record the date, time, and description of each call, and save any messages you receive. This information is essential evidence in helping the police and the cell phone carrier investigate the harassment. If you think that the messages will be deleted before you are able to get a subpoena, it is a good idea to play the message into a tape recorder.

What can I do if I am receiving harassing text messages on my cell phone?
If you believe the threats are serious, contact the police. Most carriers explicitly prohibit harassing SMS (short message service) messages, or as they are more commonly known, text messages, in their terms of use. However, filing a police report is still an important step. Since text messages can be sent from a computer without sending a call-back number, it may be difficult to pinpoint who is sending the message. A subpoena might be necessary to locate the harasser through their computer or their restricted phone number.

In addition to filing the police report, it is important to document the harassment. If you think the messages will be deleted before the investigation is complete, you may want to photograph the text messages.

Parents should be aware of the increase in electronic bullying through text messages. One option is to contact the carrier and ask that the text message function be disabled. Disabling this feature will block all messages though (it is not usually possible to block a single phone number). As cell phones are often an integral part of a child's social life, you may not want to completely take away this option.

Experts suggest that turning off the text messaging function for a few days may be enough to discourage the harasser. Policies on blocking text messages vary by individual carrier, and your carrier may offer other options.

Often people use shorthand for text messages. If you are unsure of what the shorthand means, you can use the translator found at www.teenangels.org .

What can I do if I am receiving spam text messages on my cell phone?
Beginning in 2004, the federal CAN-SPAM law made it illegal to send unsolicited commercial text messages. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has compiled a list of websites to which marketers may not send unsolicited e-mail because the messages go to wireless devices. This list was compiled with the help of the cell phone carriers.

If you are receiving unwanted messages, it is important to notify your phone carrier so they can get an idea of the scope of the problem. But remember, text messages from your phone carrier regarding your account are not considered "spam" within the meaning of the law.

You can report unwanted text messages to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC cannot award monetary or other damages and does not settle individual consumer complaints, but it can issue citations or impose fines against those violating the CAN-SPAM Act, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the National Do-Not-Call Registry, and the FCC's related rules.

You may file a complaint with the FCC by:

o    E-mail: fccinfo@fcc.gov Online :

o    Online: www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.html

o    Telephone: Voice (888) CALL-FCC, or (888-225-5322) TTY (888) TELL-FCC, of (888-835-5322)

o    Mail: Federal Communications Commission Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumer Inquiries and Complaint Division 445 12th Street, SW Washington, DC 20554

The FCC asks that you include the following in your complaint;

o  Your name, address, and daytime telephone number

o  The telephone number or e-mail address at which you received an unsolicited commercial message or call, or an autodialed call

o   As much specific information about the message as possible, including: the date and time you received the message the identity of the company that sent the message to you the products or services that were promoted in the message

o   The sender's e-mail address and any other e-mail addresses, street addresses or telephone numbers that may be referenced in the message

A description of any contact you may have had with the entity that sent the message, including whether you have done business with that entity before receiving the message/call and any steps you may have taken to reject future messages.