How to Report and Stop Harassing Text Messages
- October 4, 2023
- The Law Office of Greg Tsioros
- Comments Off on How to Report and Stop Harassing Text Messages
Updated for 2023
Originally Published on April 4, 2018
In today’s digital age, harassment isn’t just face-to-face. It’s sneaking into our pockets and purses via our phones. From annoying spam to more serious threats, unwanted texts can disrupt our day or even make us feel threatened. If you’re wondering how to handle this or if you can report it, you’re in the right place. This article will guide you through your rights and options when dealing with electronic harassment.
How to Report Harassing Text Messages to Law Enforcement
We’ve all felt it: the incessant buzzing from texts, calls, news, and social notifications. But what if among those alerts are messages that are not just unwanted, but downright threatening? In these situations, understanding the legal landscape becomes crucial. Here are some suggestions on the best steps to take.
What Exactly is Harassment?
First things first, what even constitutes harassment? The legal definition of harassment is “intent to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass another”. This can take many forms, including:
- Direct face-to-face interactions
- Online communications or social media messages
- Unsolicited phone calls
- And, of course, text messages
Understanding Texas Harassment Laws:
In Texas, the law is clear: text messages don’t have to contain explicit threats to be classified as harassment. This means that even if a message seems spam-like or just plain annoying, it can still be considered harassing under the right circumstances.
Your Right to Take Action:
Every individual has the right to feel safe and free from harassment. If you’re on the receiving end of these unwanted text messages, you have every right to take action. This could range from simply blocking the number on your device to reporting the issue to law enforcement.
Blocking the Harasser:
A straightforward first step is to block the offending number. While this might not stop someone determined enough to use multiple numbers or burner phones, it’s a start and can offer some immediate relief.
Steps to Report Harassing Text Messages
If you believe you’re being harassed, it’s essential to keep records. Save those unwanted texts, take screenshots, and keep a log if the harassment is ongoing. This evidence can be crucial if you decide to involve law enforcement or seek legal counsel.
Step #1. Preserve the Evidence
When you receive a harassing text message, your first instinct might be to delete it. However, it’s crucial to keep a record. Take a screenshot of the text message. If you’re unsure how to screenshot, you can also use another device to photograph the message.
Ensure you back up these messages by saving them to cloud storage or sending copies to your email, it’s important to create backups of the actual text messages in the event you lose the device or it’s accidentally deleted in a system update.
Step #2. Access and Review Your Phone Records
Start by logging into your phone company’s online account. Most companies let you see your call and text history there. Once logged in find the section for call and text records and download them. After downloading, consider transferring the data into a computer document or spreadsheet. This makes it easier to go through and note any harassing calls or texts. If you run into any issues, just call or chat with your phone company’s help desk. They can guide you.
If you can’t access the records online, contact your service provider and request your records call and text records. If you’re the primary account holder and own the phone, you should be entitled to these records.
After you get your records, it’s a good idea to print them out. With a printed copy and a marker, go through and highlight any calls or texts that were harassing or seemed off. This visual aid helps you identify the frequency and extent of the issue and is useful when presented as evidence.
Step #3. Compile the Evidence of Harassment
Dealing with harassment can be overwhelming, but having a well-organized collection of evidence can streamline the process and make it easier for law enforcement to assist you.
Organize your evidence in a clear concise manner; consider using individual folders for each type of evidence. This approach can be immensely helpful for a police officer reviewing your case and can expedite the process.
- Images & Screenshots: Dedicate a folder to visual evidence. This could include screenshots of the harassing texts or photos you’ve taken of other forms of harassment.
- Call & Text Logs: Another folder should be reserved for your printed call records and text messages. This provides a chronological view of the harassment incidents.
- Proof of Action: Show that you’ve taken steps to halt the harassment. Create a “proof” folder where you can store evidence like screenshots of you asking the offender to stop their behavior.
- History with the Harasser: Understanding the backstory can provide context. Whether it’s an ex-partner, a former friend, a colleague, or even a mischievous teen, document the history leading up to the harassment. This folder can house emails, social media messages, or any other relevant correspondence.
By separating your data by type and using individual folders, you’re ensuring that the information is easily accessible and understandable. The goal is to paint a clear picture for the police and investigators, allowing them to act efficiently on your complaint.
Step #4. Create an Index
Think of your evidence as a book, and every book is easier to navigate with an index. Creating an index not only helps you stay organized but ensures that law enforcement can quickly access the information they need.
- Clear Layout: Start by laying out your data in a straightforward manner. Your goal is to make it as reader-friendly as possible.
- Folder Labels: After categorizing your evidence into folders, give each one a descriptive label. This helps in quickly identifying the contents without having to sift through them.
- Detailed Indexing: Create a master list or table of contents for your folders. This way, detectives can instantly know where to find specific pieces of evidence.
- Annotations & Notes: Sometimes, a piece of evidence might need a bit more context. If that’s the case, jot down your explanations on a small card or sticky note and attach it to the relevant item. For instance, if there’s a particular date when the harassment escalated, make a note of it and direct the reviewer to the related evidence.
- Ease of Access: Consider adding tabs or dividers between sections. It’s a small touch, but it can make a world of difference when someone is trying to quickly locate information.
Remember, the more user-friendly you make your evidence, the easier it is for law enforcement to act on it. Your meticulous organization could play a pivotal role in resolving your case.
Step #5. Always Keep Backup Copies
It’s always a wise move to have backups, especially when it comes to crucial evidence. Before handing over any information related to harassing text messages or other forms of harassment to law enforcement, be sure you’ve made copies for your records.
Here’s why this is essential:
- Loss of Evidence: Law enforcement agencies are swamped with cases, and the return of original documents can sometimes take longer than anticipated. It could be weeks or even months before you see your originals again.
- Easy Reference: Should a detective or investigator wish to discuss specific details with you, having a backup allows you to easily reference the exact piece of evidence they’re talking about. Imagine being able to quickly refer them to “Folder 2, page 4, line 5” without missing a beat.
- Peace of Mind: Knowing you have a complete set of all the evidence provides peace of mind. If anything happens to the originals, you have your copies intact.
In essence, while it might seem like a bit of extra work now, having these backups can be invaluable down the line.
Step #6. Don’t Forget Your Contact Information
When compiling evidence, it’s easy to get lost in the details and forget the basics. One of those basics? Your contact information.
- Every Folder, Every Page: It might seem repetitive, but it’s crucial. On each folder and every page within, jot down your contact details. This includes your name, phone number, address, and email. If there’s an alternate way to reach you, include that too.
- Details About the Harasser: If you’ve gathered additional information about the person harassing you, such as a nickname, alias, or other contact details, keep this in a distinct folder. A word of caution here: avoid placing this information on the very first page of any folder. Mistakes happen, and the last thing you want is for your details to inadvertently land back with the harasser.
Remember, clarity is key. The easier you make it for law enforcement to reach out to you, the smoother the process will be.
Step #7. Reach out to Local Law Enforcement
Knowing where to turn when you’re being harassed is crucial. Your local police station is often the best first step, particularly if you’re unsure of details like the harasser’s address.
- Choose the Appropriate Police Station: If you know the harasser’s address, it’s best to report the issue at the police station within their jurisdiction.
- Speak with a Detective: Upon arriving, request to discuss your situation with a detective. You might be asked for details about the situation by the front desk officer. Stay calm, concise, and to the point.
- Communicate Clearly: Remember to remain composed. Avoid name-calling or making accusations. Instead, be factual. For instance, “I’ve been receiving harassing messages from Mary Smith since March 15, 20–. Despite asking her multiple times to stop, the situation has only gotten worse. I’m genuinely concerned for my safety and that of my family. I’ve gathered evidence showing the extent of the harassment.”
- Gather Contact Details: If a detective isn’t immediately available, ensure you ask for business cards of both the officer you spoke to and the detective you wish to meet. If cards aren’t available, jot down their names and any contact information provided.
- Follow-up: If the harassment doesn’t escalate, give the detective a few days before following up. However, if the situation worsens, don’t hesitate to contact them immediately. Persistence can be key in ensuring your case gets the attention it deserves.
Cyber Bullying is a Crime
It’s important to understand that SMS or text harassment, internet harassment, and cyberbullying is not just a concern—it’s a criminal offense. While offering countless benefits, the internet has also become a platform for some individuals to threaten, harass, or intimidate others.
When such a crime occurs it presents unique challenges for law enforcement. Some agents, are unfamiliar with the intricacies of the digital realm and may lack the specific training to address these cybercrimes effectively. This is because the digital platforms don’t neatly fit within traditional jurisdictional boundaries.
If you find yourself plagued by unwanted calls or texts, whether from telemarketers, collection agents, or others, remember you have rights. Register your number on the “Do Not Call” list by visiting www.donotcall.gov or by dialing 1-888-382-1222 (for TYY, it’s 1-866-290-4236). Ensure you call from the specific phone number you’re registering.
School-Related Cyberbullying in Texas:
It’s worth noting that Texas has regulations addressing school-related cyberbullying. Schools in Texas are mandated to have policies in place to address and prevent cyberbullying, ensuring a safe learning environment for all students. For a comprehensive understanding of Texas’s laws on bullying and cyberbullying, you can visit StopBullying.gov’s Texas, for more detailed information you can also visit the Texas Education Agency’s “Coordinated School Health: Bullying and Cyberbullying” page.
After You Report Harassing Text Messages to Law Enforcement
Once you’ve reported the harassment, the next steps are typically in the hands of a detective. They’ll review the evidence, and if it’s deemed substantial, the city or state authorities will consider pressing charges. The decision to move forward with charges rests with the legal authorities, particularly the prosecutor.
If you’re receiving threats, such as messages suggesting physical harm or even extreme actions like bombing your car, it’s important to understand that these are taken very seriously by the authorities. However, there might be instances where a detective feels there isn’t enough evidence to proceed. This can be a challenging moment, but it’s important to stay resilient and committed to seeking justice.
Unfortunately, harassment is becoming more common. Always remember that being harassed isn’t a reflection on you. While it’s not your fault, it’s important that you take proactive steps to ensure your safety.
If you are unable to identify the individual, behind the harassment, consider seeking help from a private investigator or a criminal lawyer. They may help you identify the harasser—and that’s an essential step in getting a court order to stop the harasser in their tracks.
Stop Harassing Text Messages
If you decide to reach out to your cell phone provider regarding the harassment, they’ll likely advise you to file a police report first. This step is vital in order to obtain a subpoena, although it doesn’t guarantee you’ll be granted one.
It’s worth noting that there are instances where the police might not thoroughly investigate your claim. If you know what provider the harasser is using to send these messages, be prepared: the carrier typically won’t reveal the sender’s identity without a subpoena.
Once you’ve identified the harasser, consider lodging a civil complaint as the next step. To pursue this course of action, the guidance of an experienced attorney is invaluable.
Contact an Experienced Texas Cybercrime Lawyer
If you, or some you love, is on the receiving end of text harassment or any other form of cyberbullying, and you’ve followed the guidance provided with few results, it’s probably time to consult a seasoned Texas cybercrime attorney.
If you’re facing harassment charges, know this is a serious criminal charge. You need the assistance of a knowledgeable Texas harassment lawyer as soon as possible.