How to stop nuisance and malicious phone calls

Nuisance calls are calls that are not indecent, threatening or offensive, but which cause annoyance or anxiety. Silent calls or calls at unsociable hours are two examples.

Malicious calls are calls that are offensive or threatening. They may form part of a campaign of harassment - to cause fear and distress. Malicious calls may involve more serious offences such as blackmail or threats to damage property.

General advice

  • Anyone can receive a nuisance phone call as offenders may dial any telephone number at random.
  • If you're unsure who is calling you, don't give your name or your number when you answer a call. Just say 'hello?'. A genuine caller is very likely to begin the conversation and identify themselves.
  • Don’t give out personal information about yourself or people you live with unless you know the caller well.
  • Use an answer machine/voicemail to screen your incoming calls.
  • After the call, press 1471 on your phone keypad to find out the caller’s number. If necessary, callers can still be traced even if they have used the ‘141 number withheld’ facility. Ask your phone service provider for details.
  • Avoid leaving your name or your number in the opening messages of any answering machines or services that you use.
  • Don’t give your number to a caller unless you know them well. If a caller asks your number, ask them which number they were looking for, then simply tell them if they were right or wrong.
  • Don’t leave messages on your answering machine/voicemail saying that you are out, on holiday or away. Instead, say that you are unable to take the call at the moment.
  • If you live alone, consider saying 'We can’t take your call at the moment', instead of 'I can’t take your call at the moment' when you record your answering machine/voicemail opening message.
  • Having a male voice reading a message on your answering machine/voicemail may also deter some malicious callers.
  • If you're a single female, don't put 'Miss' in the phone book. If you are a woman, do not give details of your sex or marital status in the phone book. Use your initials instead of your first name.
  • Consider going ex-directory or changing your phone number.
  • Make sure that your children know not to give out any personal details over the telephone.

How to report malicious and nuisance calls

Report malicious/obscene calls

Making a malicious or obscene call is a criminal offence. Don't suffer in silence - report malicious or obscene phone calls to the police.

  • If you have received several malicious calls in a short space of time, or believe that the calls are related to other criminal activity, please call 101. This is the 24-hour Thames Valley Police non-emergency number.
  • If you believe that you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 999.

Various laws can be imposed against people who make malicious calls or send malicious messages. If calls are severe and persistent, then prosecutions can be made under harassment laws. The chances of prosecution and higher penalties increase where offences are made more serious by other factors, such as racism.

In cases where psychological harm to victims has been severe, callers have been charged with causing actual or grievous bodily harm.

Report nuisance calls

Nuisance calls can often be resolved without the police having to get involved.

  • Call the Nuisance Call Bureau - 0800 661 441.
  • Call the BT advice line - 0800 666 700 - you will hear a recorded message which runs 24 hours a day.
  • Or call your phone service provider.

If the nuisance calls persist and you believe that the calls could be related to other criminal activity, or if they cause the victim particular distress, the police may consider investigating them as potential harassment.

What to do if you receive a nuisance call

  • Never react, argue or get involved in a conversation. Don't give nuisance callers any satisfaction. It's your phone, in your house - you are in control, not the caller.
  • Put the handset down near to the phone and walk away. Return in about ten minutes and replace the handset. This is very frustrating for the caller and you probably won't be bothered again. Every call they make increases their phone bill.
  • Tell your family and those who live with you about the nuisance call. Make sure that they know how to use the phone safely and how to handle any nuisance calls that they receive. This also applies to malicious calls.

What to do if you receive a malicious call

  • Keep calm. Try not to sound anxious or distressed. Sadly, most malicious callers enjoy the feeling of causing distress to their victims – if you deny them that feeling then they are less likely to continue.
  • Do not enter into a conversation with the malicious caller or respond to them emotionally.
  • If they are silent, do not try to persuade them to speak.
  • Take control. If the phone rings again, wait for any callers to identify themselves before you speak. Genuine callers will speak fist. If it is the malicious caller, put the handset down calmly and ignore it for a few minutes before hanging up.
  • If you can, unplug your phone (and any extension phones) for a short while afterwards.
  • Keep a record of times and dates that you receive the calls. Keep pen and paper next to the telephone to note what was said, and any other features that you notice about the calls – background noise, for example.
  • If you receive a malicious call to your mobile phone, keep a record (as above) and keep all caller numbers or IDs – don’t delete them.
  • Don’t delete any malicious message that you receive on your answering machine/voicemail. If your service provider only saves voicemail messages for a limited time, find out what these time limits are.

What to do if you receive a malicious email

  • If malicious emails are persistent and from the same source, this may be a criminal offence.
  • Do not delete the emails. Save them onto your computer or produce them as hard copies, if necessary.
  • Keep a record of what you receive and when.
  • Call 101, the 24-hour Thames Valley Police non-emergency number for advice on the most appropriate action.

What to do if you receive malicious material by post or by text message

Malicious material sent by post:

  • Do not throw them away. Keep them safe and handle them as little as possible.
  • If the handwriting on the envelope or package seems to belong to a repeat sender of such material, do not open it.
  • Keep as detailed a record as possible of when you receive the mail.
  • Keep any malicious faxes that you are sent – don’t throw them away.
  • Call 101, the 24-hour Thames Valley Police non-emergency number for advice on what to do next.

Malicious messages by text message:

  • Do not delete them.
  • If the messages are persistent, and you report them, you may be asked to attend a police station so that the messages can be witnessed and recorded in a statement.

Telephone scams

Telephone scams are also common. They often come from abroad and the caller aims to persuade you to give them your personal details, such as your bank and credit card details.

It is important to be cautious - some people have lost their entire life savings after being tricked by a telephone scam.

  • If you're told that you have won a prize, think - did you enter this competition? It is unlikely that you did.
  • Never give out your personal details over the phone. Never give out your bank and credit card details. Keep your bank details safe.
  • If you ever do win, you'll never be asked for personal details. You would never have to pay anything in order to collect your winnings - that's a sure sign that something is wrong.
  • Just hang up the phone.