Is Prank Calling Illegal?

Two young girls holding a landline telephone.

Have you made prank calls? You may think that prank calls are harmless, but they can actually get you arrested. Many people do not know this, but prank calling, in some cases, can be illegal. Thousands of people make prank calls every year without understanding the consequences and risks of their actions. It can be a lot of fun to prank call someone, but it won’t take much to turn the situation sour. To save prank callers from getting stuck in a situation they don’t want to be in; you can read the following guide and learn all you need to about prank calling a phone number. 

Prank calling is not an isolated incident; people have turned it into a habit of using their calls to threaten or bully other people. This leaves us to question whether prank calling is illegal or not.



Is Prank Calling Illegal?

To put it plainly, prank calling is illegal. If you are planning to make a prank call, it is better that you stop right away. If you are caught engaging in prank calling, you can get arrested.

On the surface, calling someone you don’t know or without meaning can seem like a harmless prank, but this is considered a misdemeanor. As a result, it can incur some jail time. You might believe that it is impossible to trace your call back to you, but there are many ways a call can be traced back.

Different state laws deem prank calling to be illegal if they are made intentionally to annoy, harass, or threaten the other person. Most state statutes outline the concept and make it illegal to contact anyone using any electronic communication device with the intention of annoying them.

State statutes further outline that the prank call can be considered illegal if it uses obscene language or is a threat to the well-being of the recipient or their family. A person can be convicted under a state statute under the following conditions:

  • They used an electronic communication device to contact the receiver.
  • They had a clear purpose of annoying the recipient of the call or message.
  • Once they made contact, they used obscene language, which was offensive to the recipient. In addition to this, they threatened the recipient, their family, or any of their property.
  • They made more than one call or other repeated communications for it to be considered prank calling.

Only if the above conditions are met the prank caller will have to face criminal charges as decided by law enforcement agencies. 



What Kind Of Prank Calls Can Get You Arrested?

Not all prank calls can get you arrested. There are other laws that can lead to your arrest for prank calling. Most people have a very vague idea as to what kind of prank calls can get them arrested. To help people understand the criteria of prank calling that can get them arrested, here are some prank calls that are a sure way to jail time:



— Hate Crimes                                                                   

Hate crimes are when a prankster makes a phone call to show their hate towards someone they have a prejudice. This prejudice can be on the basis of different discriminatory factors, such as religion, race, and gender. This is a channel for people to act on their racist beliefs. 

For instance, if you make a call to someone of different ethnicity and start making fun of them for their ethnicity, then you might be arrested for making a prank call under the idea of a hate crime. These hate crimes are also increasingly common against people with a different sexual orientation, which leads to more prank calls that are humiliating and a form of harassment.


— Harassment 

Harassment has different forms and one of which includes verbal harassment. If you make a prank call that is harassing the recipient, that call will be considered a prank call. A prank call where you make another individual feel threatened or harassed in any way can get you in trouble.

A harassing prank call is repetitive, which is threatening for the person on the receiving end. The receiver of the call can report your calls for harassment, and you may be arrested for harassment, which is a criminal offense.


— Wiretapping 

Many people might be unaware of this, but it can be illegal to record phone calls if the other party does not consent to the recording. Prank callers take it very lightly and record calls they can later share with their friends to have a gag. For them, it might seem like a harmless prank, but it can be a criminal offense to record calls without the consent of the other party. This is called wiretapping and is punishable by law.

Wiretapping is when you listen in on the phone conversations of someone without them being aware of it. Every state has different wiretapping laws, which means that you might have to face some potential jail time.


What Happens If You Get Caught Prank Calling

People assume that they will not get caught for making prank calls. However, if they make prank calls, they can get prosecuted under state law and then have to face the consequences. Prank calling is a misdemeanor, and if you are convicted, you might have to pay a fine of up to $1,000 and face jail time of 6 months in the county jail.

If the call is traced back to you, it may lead to an arrest right away. Different states have different protocols, and it is important to know the details of your state to determine what will happen if you get caught prank calling.

For people who think their anonymity may save them, they must understand that nowadays, it is very easy to track prank calls with the help of caller ID. This is why there are high chances of the prankster getting caught. If you are caught, the first thing you need to do is contact a criminal defense lawyer. Most criminal defense attorneys offer a free consultation, which can help you address the situation and build a good defense. You might be able to settle with misdemeanor probation, where you get counseling to help close out the misdemeanor without a conviction on your record.

Different types of prank calls have different consequences; for instance, if you make a prank call to 911, which is an emergency number, it is considered a bigger crime than prank calling random numbers. This can lead to a year of jail time with/without a $1000 fine. More severe convictions can lead to additional years of jail time, such as three years with/without a $10,000 fine.


The Bottom Line 

Prank calling on the surface may seem like a harmless joke, but throw in abusive language and disorderly conduct, and you get a criminal offense. This practical joke is punishable by criminal law — If you or any of your loved ones are receiving prank calls, you should immediately block any potential pranksters and ignore any future prank attempts. If the harassment is excessive, you should file a report with your local police department.


Frequently Asked Questions 

Is it Illegal to prank call 911?

Different states have different laws, such as the California penal code, when it comes to prank calls to emergency services. However, they are more than likely to be a crime than other types of prank calls. The final verdict of whether such a call is illegal or not depends on what the caller says on the call.

There are criteria that decide whether a call is illegal or not. For instance, if the cell phone prank call provokes these actions, then it can be an illegal prank call:

  • The response of a fire truck, SWAT team, police officers, or other emergency services.
  • Evacuation of the public from a certain area.

There is also a possibility of criminal charges turning into a felony. These are the provisions for that case:

  • If the caller knows that there is no emergency and still chooses to make a prank call
  • If the telephone call causes any bodily injuries or if the callers know that it can cause bodily injuries and other damage.

Prank calling 911 is also seen as “swatting,” as many people use it to create false responses against their person of interest, such as callers dialing 911 under false pretenses to report a crime such as shootings. These calls are made to elicit a response from a SWAT Team.

This is considered a prank by “swatters” when it is actually not. There are some severe consequences of swatting, which make these prank phone calls punishable by law.

On the other hand, if the prank call is to report a bomb threat, the caller can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. Other than the punishments mandated by law, the caller may also be liable to pay the costs of emergency responses.

You might also be wondering if it is an illegal prank call if you prank call a business. Here, it is important to notice that some states do not distinguish between the two, and if you are prank-calling a business, you might still be criminally charged.

People also use prank calls to book fake orders, which can be a great hassle to business owners. This can lead to liability on the part of the business. If you are annoying a business over call and there is no serious threat, then that might not be considered a prank call.


Is it illegal to record the call?

Many people record their prank calls to either show their friends or upload them on any of their social media platforms. Since this is a prank call, the receiver usually has no idea. Recording a call without the consent of the receiver is considered wiretapping. 

This is a crime and punishable by law. It is very important to have the consent of the second party when recording a call, or else it is considered illegal.

It can be pursued both as a felony and a misdemeanor. If it is pursued as a misdemeanor, it can lead to a year in jail with/without a $2,500 fine. If pursued as a felony, it can lead to 3 years or less in jail with $10,000 in fines.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *