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We receive numerous complaints about bullying with mobile phones which has led to the suicide of a teenage girl from Liverpool and which causes misery to those on the receiving end. We've also come across instances where abusive mobile phone text messages have been sent through websites using the names and phone numbers of people who had nothing to do with the message but who were blamed for it.
Cyberstalking is frightening and illegal and the people who do it are not as anonymous as they think they are as often their details can be tracked down.
Be careful when giving out your telephone number. Mobile phones are relatively inexpensive and if you start getting abusive calls or text messages then it might be better to get another SIM card so that whoever is bullying you can't contact you any more. If your child knows the sender and attends the same school as they do, contact your child's class teacher as soon as possible - even if the phone calls and text messages happen outside of school hours. Keep a record of the calls and text messages to show to the school.
Keep a note of the times and dates of abusive messages. Don't reply to them or delete them but tell your parents so that they can make a complaint to the police. Talk to your mobile phone service provider. They usually operate a 'malicious calls' helpdesk as part of their customer service. Report 'happy slapping' to the police if you are worried and concerned about violent images and scenes being sent to your child's mobile phone or uploaded onto the internet.
If there are a series of calls or the calls are part of a bigger picture of bullying then this may amount to harassment which is an offence under the 1997 Harassment Act.
Every time a mobile phone is switched on or off it sends a signal to the nearest mast and although the caller may have concealed their number from you, this is information which phone companies will have on their system and it's easy for the police to find out the culprit's phone number.
Making anonymous or abusive phone calls is also a criminal offence under section 43 of the Telecommunications Act 1984.
The actual wording is that a person who:
a) sends, by means of a public telecommunication system, a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character: or
b) sends by those means, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, a message that he knows to be false or persistently makes use for that purpose of a public telecommunication system, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or both.'
This shows the seriousness of the offences which may be seen as a joke by the perpetrators but which cause a lot of distress.
BT recommends that you stay calm and try not to show emotion. Don't give your phone number when you answer a call, just say "hello". Never give any information about yourself unless you are certain you know the caller. A telephone answering machine can be useful at home, leave it on all the time and then when the person starts speaking, if you know them, you can pick up the phone. A genuine caller will speak first. A malicious caller will probably hang up.
If you get your service from BT and receive a malicious or nuisance call and would like advice, call Freefone 0800 666 700. A recorded message will tell you what to do if you need more help.
You can also call free on 150 for personal advice and information about how BT can help you tackle the problem. The service is available 8am to 6pm, Monday to Saturday. If the problem continues then contact your nearest BT bureau on Freefone 0900 661 441 during office hours. The bureau deals exclusively with malicious and nuisance calls.
BT may suggest tracing future calls or changing your telephone number. Almost all malicious calls can now be traced whether they come from private, public or even mobile phones, anywhere in the country.
A dedicated team of specially-trained BT people will work with the police so it will be helpful to any subsequent prosecution of the malicious caller, if you keep a written record of the calls, making a note of the date, time of day, what was said and whether you heard any background noise.
Although it's nice to have your mobile phone handy to chat to friends, don't flash it about in public because you risk having it stolen. If there's a lock facility on it choose a secret number so that the keypad is locked when you're not using it. If someone you don't know asks to borrow your phone to make a quick call tell them that it's out of credit and only accepts incoming calls.