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Obscene messages being left on cell phones

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Oct. 31, 2007, 1:23 p.m.)

A potty-mouthed prank is hitting southern Wisconsin cell phone users, according to police.

The Walworth County Sheriff's Department and several area police departments are investigating a string vulgar calls being left on the voice mails of cellular customers.

"We're aware it's happening. We're working on fixing it," according to a spokesperson for U.S. Cellular, one of several companies whose customers have been affected. "We're working with law enforcement officials."

The Week has learned of messages that range from one person screaming obscenities and hanging up to others where a man threatens harm to the call recipient unless they stop "calling his girlfriend," according to sources who have received the calls.

Several of the calls have come to employees of The Week.

"He was pretty much saying how (he) saw the number come up on his girlfriend's phone and I'd better stop calling," said Emma Wichman. A woman then started laughing and then, "she'd start using some nasty words."

Wichman, who works at The Week, got two identical calls within three minutes of each other. Both calls went straight to her voicemail so no number appeared on the caller ID.

The message, however, did start with a computerized voice that gave a number to call back in the 608 area code, she said.

Maria Lopez, of Delavan, also got one of the calls. Several of her friends have also received them.

It was similar to Wichman's in that it started with a number to call back.

"It sounded like two girls," Lopez said. "I don't know who it was or what it was. They counted up to three and yelled (swear words)."

Delavan Police Chief Tim O'Neill said his department started receiving complaints about four weeks ago. Wichman and Lopez got their calls in early to mid October.

"It's totally off-the-wall stuff," O'Neill said. "One little old lady who never uses her phone got one that said, 'I'm coming after you because you're going after my girlfriend.'"

Undersheriff Kurt Picknell hadn't tabulated the number of complaints to the sheriff's department but said most reports came in about three weeks ago. They appeared to target random people.

Picknell and O'Neill said the best thing to do is just ignore them and not call the number back. They also suggested reporting it to police and to the cellular provider.

The calls, probably generated from a computer since they do not respond to the person answering the phone, are designed to elicit a return call, Picknell said.

Calling the number back should not compromise the recipient's phone number or personal information, according to the U.S. Cellular spokesperson.

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