Prank calls

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 What is a prank call?

A prank call, also known as a crank call, nuisance call or hoax call, can be a type of practical joke over the telephone. It includes calls where someone hangs up the phone once the receiver has picked up the phone. Repeated or threatening prank calls can be harassment, stalking or bullying. It is important to realise that prank calls can cause fear and distress to other people, even if they are meant as a joke.

Are prank calls illegal?

Prank calls can be illegal, but this depends on what happens. Making threatening calls, stalking someone through repeated prank calls, and bullying through prank calls can be a serious offence. Making hoax calls to emergency services (000) is also illegal and can have very serious penalties. Even if a prank call is not threatening, it can still be a type of harassment.

Which types of prank calls are considered offences?

Threatening Calls

The following types of calls may get you into legal trouble:

  • Threatening to kill someone (not necessarily the person you called) over the phone with the intention that they will believe you.
  • Threatening to cause serious harm to someone (not necessarily the person you called) over the phone with the intention that they will believe you.
  • Threatening that you have left/will leave an explosive or dangerous object somewhere with the intention that they will believe you.
  • If you menace, harass or cause offence to a person over the phone, either by what you are saying or the way you are saying it.

The penalties for making threatening calls can be very serious.

Stalking by Prank Calls

Stalking includes unwanted contact through any form of technology (telephone calls, texts, emails etc.) that occurs more than once and which causes concern or fear. Prank calls are usually made with the intention to cause fear to the other person. This means that repeated prank calls may be considered stalking. The penalties for stalking by prank calls can be very serious.

Bullying by Prank Calls

Repeated prank calls can also be a form of bullying, if they include harassment or make threats which are illegal. Please refer to our Bullying section.

Calls to Emergency Services (000)

It is against the law to  call ‘000’ (police, ambulance and fire services) and pretend that there is an emergency. Calling them for any reason other than an emergency situation is also a crime.

It is important to remember that ‘000’ is for emergencies only and that if you request an ambulance, police or fire services without really needing one, you are putting other people at risk.

Just like with the other types of prank calls, very serious penalties can apply if you prank call emergency services.

If someone calls emergency services and pretends to be you (a ‘hoax’) you should make sure that you tell the police immediately.

Other Calls

Calls that are not threatening are also considered to be prank calls. Other types of prank calls may be classified as harassment, depending on the words said, time of call and other circumstances.

It is possible that even if you do not intend to threaten someone, but your calls are annoying for the receiver, they can ask their mobile company or the police to investigate and trace the prank call.

It is also important to remember that you don’t know what effect your prank calls might have on people. There have been recent cases where a prank call has gone very wrong, causing the receiver to become very distressed.

What can I do if I receive a prank call?

Hang up immediately.  If you keep getting prank calls, you can make a complaint to the local police. They can then investigate, and, if necessary, prosecute the person who made the call.

You can also contact your phone company to help. For example, Telstra has a special call centre to help customers who are receiving unwanted phone calls, which you can view here. However, your phone company cannot be forced to share the details of who is calling you, unless the police ask them to.

If you do receive a prank call, do not:

  • Try to find out yourself who the caller is – this may be dangerous,
  • Threaten the caller,
  • Pretend you are a police officer when receiving the phone call (impersonating a police officer).

If you threaten the caller or pretend to be a police officer, this may result in you being investigated for a criminal offence.

Find information about prank calls in other states

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