By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
Let’s face it – we’ve all made a prank call at some point in our lives.
Whether to a neighbour, that despised store manager, the annoying classmate, or even a close friend, prank phone calls elicits a level of amusement and laughter that is hard to come by in other places.
Not to mention, the controlled chaos of a well-executed prank phone call brings about a tantalising, hilarious terror that definitely makes for a fun way to pass time.
But when it comes to making hoax calls to an emergency call service, it is certainly no laughing matter.
The reason is simple: like it or not, making hoax calls – or improperly using emergency call services – is a criminal offence. This can range anywhere from fake calls to police to attend a minor incident, to making false claims of a major incident resulting in a response team being called out.
While such calls may seem like a harmless prank, using an emergency call service improperly can actually lead to heavy fines and even a three-year prison sentence.
NSW Firefighter Arrested and Charged with Making 48 Fake Calls to Triple-Zero Emergency Line
If you doubted the seriousness of the matter, take the case of a NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) member who was arrested and charged with allegedly making 48 false emergence calls to triple-zero.
The 20-year-old man, who was a probationary member at the time, allegedly made numerous calls to emergency services with false reports about bush fires and motor vehicles accidents in the area of Port Stephens.
A police strike force was soon set up in response to concerns from the RFS about a number of hoax reports, including those of fires and car crashes, north of Newcastle.
After the month-long investigation by Strike Force Wenske – which involved Port Stephens detectives and officers from the state crime command – detectives were led to the young man, who was arrested from a residence in Medowie.
He was charged with three counts of making a false call to an emergency services number and eleven counts of making vexatious calls to an emergency services number.
Port Stephens’ Police Commander Labels Actions of Medowie Man as “Abhorrent”
Speaking of the incident, Port Stephens’ police commander was quick to deem the actions of the RFS volunteer charged with making hoax phone calls to triple-zero as “abhorrent”.
He also stressed the importance of phoning triple-zero for “real emergencies” and not “nonsense”.
“This type of behaviour is abhorrent,” detective Acting Superintendent Wayne Humphrey said.
“It is wasting police time, ambulance time, fire brigade time, wasting the public money.
“Right now, I have police and RFS members on the highway at Medowie fighting an actual bush fire.
The impact of having to call those emergency services to false events is just horrendous.”
Acting Superintendent Humphrey also emphasised that the police, along with the RFS are finite resources.
“The nonsense around hoax calls is indescribable. It takes police and RFS away from where they need to be,” he said.
Why Do Hoax Calls to Emergency Call Services Carry Such Severe Penalties?
Hoax calls, whether made to the police, fire services, or an ambulance, lead to wasted time and resources.
In turn, this can potentially leave lives at risk of danger or death – indeed, a person could be in genuine need of help while emergency services workers are held up attending to a false situation.
The maximum penalty for the improper use of an emergency call service is imprisonment for three years.
This severe penalty is in force to act as a deterrent against people who want to carry out a prank call to emergency call services.
The Law on Improper Use of Emergency Call Service
Making a hoax call to an emergency call service is a Commonwealth offence, which is reflected in section 474.18 Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).
It outlines that in situations where a person calls triple-zero with the intention of encouraging or inducing a false belief that an emergency exists, that is, a “hoax call”, the person will be guilty of the improper use of an emergency call service.
This offence carries a penalty of imprisonment of up to 3-years.
The same maximum penalty applies if a person makes a call to an emergency service number otherwise than for the purpose of reporting an emergency where the call is vexatious.
In determining if the call is vexatious, the court will have regard to the content of the call, how often and how many times the person has previously called emergency service numbers otherwise than for the purpose of reporting emergencies.
Defences to the charge will include where it was someone other than you who made the hoax phone call to police or other emergency service.
With today’s technology and threat to security, it is possible for a phone or computer to be hacked giving the perpetrator access to making online calls and texts.
Other defences to this include necessity or duress or an accidental hoax call.
As a leading Sydney criminal law firm, we appear across all courts with a team available 24/7 on (02) 8606 2218. Contact our friendly staff if you wish to ask a question.
When a triple zero call is made in Australia, the caller is put through immediately to a pre recorded message before a Telstra operator picks up giving options to be put through to ambulance, fire brigade or police.
If a call is made and no response is given to the Telstra operator, the call will be put through to an interactive voice requesting the caller to dial 55 if further assistance is required. The call will be disconnected following 3 requests if each request is not answered.
However, where a caller makes repeated calls, the operator will transfer the call to police.
Police will then make attempts to return your call or even send police to your billing address registered to your phone.
The location of the caller is currently not automatically made available to the initial operator who picks up.
Telstra, however, is currently moving to an IP-based emergency call platform to allow the caller’s location to be made available with new technology called advanced mobile location (AML).