Prank calling has reached a new level.
With constant developments in technology, the means to harass someone crosses the board from phone calls to text messages to instant messaging or e-mailing.
“It’s a large way of how people communicate now,” Erie County Sheriff’s office Capt. Paul Sigsworth said.
Those communication methods have given rise to a steady flow of complaints to local law enforcement about harassment.
So far this year the sheriff’s office has received at least 24 telecommunications harassment complaints, Sigsworth said. In 2007 the office handled 153 complaints of that type.
“It remains fairly steady,” he said.
There are ways to determine the source of the harassment. One method is to key in *69 on the phone after an unknown call comes through. The caller will then either hear a recording with the number that just called them or see the number on their caller ID, said Bob Hall, 911 coordinator for Erie County.
“Some companies charge a monthly rate for that code,” he said, adding that others charge per use for the service.
The service works for tracing both cell phone and land line calls. But some numbers may still be blocked. In that case people should call police and file a report. Law enforcement officers can subpoena phone call records.
“Generally we’ll work with the phone companies if we have a serious issue,” Sigsworth said. “Any time somebody calls and threatens bodily harm, we want to know immediately.”
The offender must be told by either the victim or a law enforcement officer not to call again, Sigsworth said. If the offender then makes another call, charges can be filed.
Telecommunications harassment is a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines, said Michael Kaufman, city prosecutor.
If convicted of the offense and charged a second time, the person faces a fifth-degree felony charge, punishable by up to a year in prison, he said.
However, a victim who retaliates could also become an offender, Sigsworth said.
“A lot of times when we get these complaints they end up being dual complaints,” he said, citing domestic situations where couples break up, child custody issues and friendships gone bad.
Victims should resist the temptation to call back, he said.
“We ask they not do anything to aggravate the situation,” Sigsworth said. “The best thing to do is just hang the phone up.”
Victims should also document each call they receive, including the date and time it happened, said Sandusky assistant police chief Charlie Sams.
That information will aid police when tracing phone call records to determine who the caller was.
Angry or harassing messages, both verbal and in text format, should be kept as evidence, too, Sams said.
“Don’t retaliate,” he reiterated. “Don’t turn around and call and start harassing them.”
If threats are made the phone call could lead to menacing or aggravated menacing charges.