Is Prank Calling Illegal-Can You Get Arrested

is prank calling illegal

A prank call to your local KFC might seem like a joke. What’s the worst that can happen? Will you be sent away to the county jail?

Is prank calling illegal? While prank calling may seem like something that happens in life, it’s necessary to know that there are laws against this behavior, and you can get imprisoned for your prank. A bad prank call can leave someone with a misdemeanor or even a felony!

What is Prank Calling?

Something is considered a prank when a caller calls a person to play a joke. A prankster may do this for fun, like a dare, or for any other reason. They can prank call someone they know at a business number or can randomly dial the number.

In the early 1980s and 1990s, it was easy to prank people because there was no way for the receiver to know who was calling. By the late 1990s, more phones, cell phones, and smartphones had caller IDs, making it more difficult for prank callers to remain anonymous.

Can you get arrested for prank calling?

Detainment for prank calling depends on who you are pranking with and what you are saying to them. A prank call is a nuisance because it is both unwanted and unsolicited. Most prank calls are in the same league as silent calls but dialing and telemarketing calls. Taking such cases to court would be considered a weak criminal case because, although annoying and obnoxious, these calls are just wasting your time, which is not actually against the law.

However, some prank callers tend to overdo it with their calls. They end up saying obscene, offensive, or outright things, threatening the recipient’s safety. Even if it is an empty threat, threatening violence is a crime. When it’s that serious, you can get arrested.

What type of prank calls lead to arrests?


The most likely criminal statute that applies to prank calls is harassment. There is a fine line between an annoying prank call and an illegal, harassing prank call. Generally, it is illegal to call someone late at night and say something stupid.

However, you can break the law if you call someone several times, make threatening remarks, and specifically target one person.

Hate crimes

A serious crime in America, hate crimes are similar to harassment, except for the motive of the crime. If the target is on the person’s characteristics, such as religion, race, nationality, or sexual orientation, it tends to be a hate crime.

Let’s say you call someone LGBT+ a person of a particular religion, race, or nationality. If you start mocking or insulting these things about a person, you can be charged with a hate crime if they decide to report you to the police.

Obscene calls

If the prank call contains obscenity, the caller will get charged under ordinances that prohibit obscene telephone calls.

Disorderly conduct

Definitions of disorderly conduct in some states include abusive and insulting language intended to arouse anger in others. Disorderly conduct is when a prank is more severe than just a silly joke. Instead, think of verbal abuse, obscenities, and other demeaning behaviors.

In addition, depending on the interpretation of the judge and the police,  the prank call is considered disorderly conduct. People convicted of disorderly conduct generally have to pay a fine


In most states, recording the conversation one had on the phone without another person’s prior consent is illegal. However, many prank callers like to record their conversations in the hope of capturing a humorous exchange and sharing it with others.

It can be considered a crime if you prank call for the recording and share it online. It is because you do not have the recipient’s consent to record them, and you get charged with a felony.

Invasion of privacy

Invasion of privacy is defined as “interference in the personal lives of others, without any mere reason,” according to the U.S. Legal Services Company. Legal Inc. Although the invasion of privacy is not a criminal offense, damages for those convicted in civil court can be substantial.

If the prank caller chooses to distribute the tape, the victim of the call may be able to file a civil lawsuit for invasion of privacy.

Bomb threats

Regardless of the circumstances of the bomb threat, the prankster has committed a serious crime. Using mass violence for pranks is incredibly dangerous and irresponsible. Due to the extreme danger of bomb threats, emergency services and local police could also get involved.

What about prank-calling 911?

911 is for emergencies only. If you jammed the line with a prank call, you could delay a person who needs help.

Prank calling emergency numbers like 911 is much more likely to be a crime than other kinds of prank calls. Many states have specific laws that prohibit this type of calling. Constituting a false emergency report depends on what the caller says on the call.

Is it unlawful to prank call a business?

Pranking businesses can also be a crime because many states do not distinguish between prank-calling— an individual or businesses.

However, prank phone calls to businesses may result in liability for fraudulent orders.

For example- to make a prank, Steve orders 20 pizzas from a local pizzeria and has them delivered to Zach. When they were delivered, Zach was confused and refused to pay $250 for the pizzas. Steve will probably be accountable for them.

How to make a prank call complaint?

When you receive unwanted phone calls, act quickly to prevent them from becoming distracted.

  1. Keep a record of phone calls when you notice a regular pattern. Note the times of incoming phone calls and record any voices or sounds you hear during the phone call (male or female voice, accent, age of the caller, background music, and specific words of the caller). 

If your work phone shows a phone number, make a note of it. Unless the prank calls involve specific threats against you or your employees, you will need records that indicate that the prankster repeated the calls.

  1. Once your records indicate a recurring pattern, contact your phone company. 
  2. Explain to the telephone company representative about the prank calls you are getting and state that you wish to file a complaint. Provide details of the records you have compiled to support your complaint.
  3. Follow the instructions of the representative. They may instruct you to call the local law enforcement agency and file a report.

Possible defenses

The defense that one may use for proving himself innocent and getting acquitted of the charge of criminal prank calling is as follows:

  • He didn’t mean to bother the other
  • He called in good faith, which means it was an honest mistake
  • He made the calls during the business
  • The communication was not obscene.
  • He did not repeat the calls.


While most prank calls are harmless, the person on the other end of the call may not feel the same way, and they may experience anxiety or fear. So while your prank call may have been a joke, this type of prank call can be the most serious of all.

Because you would be breaking federal law, this crime is also a felony. A felony conviction can prevent you from getting a job, going to college, getting an apartment, getting a loan, and much more. 

It’s best not to do prank calls with anyone at all. You might not get arrested, but you will waste people’s time or catch them at the wrong time.


What should I do if I get charged for prank calls?

If you got charged with a crime related to a prank call, take the charges seriously and have legal representation. An experienced criminal defense attorney can explain your rights and help you make the best decision in your case.

Can I get arrested for prank-calling McDonald’s and ordering 250 hamburgers?

Prank-calling McDonald’s and ordering 250 hamburgers are considered a criminal offense and may result in liability for any false orders.

What is wiretapping? Is it illegal?

Wiretapping is illegally listening to someone else’s conversation on the phone. It is legal to record a conversation on the phone if at least one party has consented to the recording in some states. In others, it is legal to record the conversation only if both parties agree.

Do police take prank calls seriously?

Yes, police take phone calls seriously when any racial or ethnic expression during a call makes a minority person fear for their safety.