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Are you being harassed by a telephone stalker?

April 21, 2010 17:12 IST

Here's how to deal with harassing texts and calls from telephone stalkers.

We're always reading about how celebrities are being stalked and harrassed with unwelcome calls on their cellphones.

The latest victim is actress Gul Panag, who's taken to tweeting today about the problems she's facing from a stalker. "So I have finally joined the club of those being stalked. And it's not fun. Calls, SMSs the works!! harassment trauma" she says in one of her posts. She also adds "And I am missing calls from friends, family, colleagues on account of phone being silent thanks to my stalker friend".

Before you start assuming that it's only the rich and famous who are easy targets, another such case came to light today in the news involving a female bank executive from Noida. The harried woman has been receiving vulgar and abusive calls and texts from a number unknown to her for more than two months now. When the police were unable to do anything other than trace the calls and detect that they were coming from somewhere in Uttar Pradesh, she finally changed her number.

Phone stalking is, unfortunately, a rather common occurence, whether you take into consideration celebrities or everyday people -- almost all of us know of somebody or the other who's been at the receiving end (no pun intended) of harassing calls from unknown numbers. Phones that ring incessantly in the middle of the night, vulgar SMSes, a dozen calls that are cut the minute you answer -- it's enough to drive a person up the wall.

So how do you deal with a telephone stalker? Here are a few suggestions:

Keep a record of the calls and texts you receive: Sometimes a stalker will harass you for awhile and eventually stop. But that is not always the case. It is especially important to keep a record of his/ her calls and SMSes as proof, should you need to approach the police or your telephone service provider. They will be more willing to help if you have concrete evidence of harassment -- it will also help them solve the problem quicker.

Also make a note of the time whenever you receive these calls. You may find a distinct pattern -- that you receive the calls only after 6 pm each evening, or that you never receive calls from him/ her between 9 am and noon every day. This will help you avoid them easily.

Ignore the calls and SMSes entirely: It's common sense that someone who receives no response from you is bound to stop trying to get your attention sooner or later. But in order to ensure that you can work this suggestion effectively, it's necessary to have a caller ID facility activated on your telephone, especially if it's a landline number. Think about it -- how long will someone try calling and sending texts if you're entirely unresponsive?

The trick is to not give him/ her a single opportunity to communicate -- if you react at all, even by simply listening to what s/he has to say, it only serves as encouragement to try again. Repeatedly disconnect the call, or let it keep ringing. And no matter how provoking the texts are, simply ignore them -- in fact, don't read them at all to avoid reacting.

Have someone else answer the phone: Sometimes (not always) hearing someone else at the other end of the line will dissuade a telephone stalker, at least temporarily. S/he knows s/he cannot get through to you and will probably stop trying to get through, at least for the time being.

If it's possible, get someone else to answer any call from an unknown number -- it could be a colleague at work, a family member at home or a friend when you're out. If you receive an unknown call when you're alone, don't answer it. Eventually, the stalker will realise that you're not answering your phone and will get the hint. A stern talking-to from your spouse or partner may also prove effective.

Invest in a telephone voice changer: Sounds surprising? These clever little devices can be attached to your receiver and digitally alter your voice to the extent of making a high-pitched 24-year-old woman sound like a gruff 50-year-old man. And you can buy them off the Internet. If the stalker is fooled into believing that someone else is always answering your calls, s/he will stop at some point.

Use a deafening whistle/ air horn to answer the call: A loud, piercing sound has the potential to damage hearing over the telephone. If you bust your stalker's eardrums with a loud whistle or shrill air horn each time you answer, it's sure to have him/ her question whether it's worth the trouble trying to get through to you.

Don't sound intimidated: Most stalkers are looking to upset, annoy and/or frighten you. If you sound them out properly, they may sometimes cease to call you altogether. However, do keep in mind that they're also looking for a reaction, so if you do this early on, it may help; if, on the other hand, if you resort to shouting your lungs out after a prolonged period of ignoring the calls, it may only serve to egg them on.

Complain to your service provider and the police: If the stalker shows no signs of slowing down, you may want to enlist the help of the law. Your service provider can block calls and texts from specific numbers and the police can trace the call. This is particularly why you need to gather and preserve all the evidence of harassing calls, as mentioned above.

Switch numbers: As a final resort, if nothing works, you can always opt for a new telephone number and instruct all close friends and family not to divulge it to anyone without your permission. It's an inconvenience, but it's a surefire way of preventing further harassment.

On one final note, remember that prevention is better than cure:

  • Don't print your private numbers on visiting cards.
  • Keep a separate line for work-related calls.
  • Don't repeat your number on answering machine/ voicemail messages, as random callers can then gain access to it accidentally.
  • Instruct children never to divulge information to any caller if they should answer the telephone.

If your contact numbers are not being floated around carelessly, it's unlikely that you will ever have to face this problem.

Have you ever been stalked on the telephone? How did you deal with it? Please share your experiences and suggestions with us. Send your stories to getahead@rediff.co.in (subject line: 'Telephone stalker') and we'll publish them right here on rediff.com