Close-up of a hand holding the receiver of a black office telephone.

Nuisance calls, whether from a robot voice or an insistent human who refuses to get off the phone, are incredibly annoying. When you get too many of them, they can become more than a pest; they can turn into a plague. So what can you do about it?

Make sure you don't get nuisance calls in the first place

A lot of calls come from us inadvertently signing up online to be contacted by people we don't know. Check which boxes you are ticking when you fill out questionnaires, sign up for prizes, or agree to a site's terms & conditions. They can often be sneaky, and the wording had caught a lot of us out. Also, if you are job hunting, do beware. There are a lot of job sites re-posting positions or even posting fake ones to get people to submit their contact details, which they send on to other recruitment agencies and anyone else who will pay for them.

Dealing with marketing and sales calls

Some are genuine, if misguided, ways to sell a company's services, such as PPI and debt management. Quite simply, do not interact with the callers at all and do not follow prompts to get further information if you are in need of these services; we're sure you will find a company to represent you! One note of caution some banks, including Halifax, use automated messages to inform their customers about potential fraud on their accounts. These sound like spam calls, but they are genuine. Double-check you are calling a valid number by checking your bank's website. I've won a prize, is it too good to be true? Probably yes. Never give your personal details to unknown callers, even if they already have some background details about you. In the worst scenario, you are being scammed; in the best scenario, you are simply signing up for more nuisance calls.

Register online with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS)

This is a free service that allows you to opt out of receiving unsolicited calls. You can then report companies who flout this agreement, but it wouldn't apply to genuine market research calls. The TPS cannot prosecute companies or penalize them on your behalf, but they do forward complaints to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which can take action against companies that are registered with the TPS. Screen your calls. Not answering calls from unknown numbers or from abroad can be risky; you might be missing out on an important message! But choosing to let unknown callers go to the answerphone will encourage nuisance callers to give up on you. Keep calm when you get unwanted calls. Politely explain that you do not wish to be called again and ask to be taken off their marketing list, referencing the TPS if you have joined up, then hang up. Keep calm when you carry on getting unwanted calls. As before, politely explain that you are uninterested and have already complained.

This is a good time to have a recording device installed on your phone. If you can tell callers you have a record of unwanted calls from them, they are more likely to stop bothering you. But if they don't stop bothering you? This is getting close to harassment. Tell them you are reporting them to Ofcom (0300 123 333) and do just that. Ofcom also covers silent and abandoned calls. If the calls continue, use a blocking system. There are different ones on the market, costing between £40 and £120, so this is really only practical if nuisance calls are plaguing you. The trueCall system blocked 98% of unwanted calls in a trial by Trading Standards.

How about personal nuisance calls?

We've been talking about the very annoying sales and marketing calls that come through to us, but it is much more of a worry when an individual targets you, whether as a joke or for more sinister reasons. If you suspect you are being harassed in this way, it is vital to take this seriously and report the calls to the police. If the threat is immediate, call 999; otherwise, call your local police station. Unfortunately, phone companies provide very little assistance, although some are able to offer "anonymous call rejection", sometimes with a charge for the service. If you are troubled by such calls, then you should definitely install a recording device on your phone.

The police will require a record of all calls and as much evidence as possible from you. Don't engage the caller in conversation, except to tell them that you do not want them to call you again and that their calls are being recorded. If the calls persist, you might want to keep a whistle on the phone. A sharp note from a whistle down the phone, then hanging up without speaking, can be a very successful way of dealing with callers.

Useful links

The Which? guide

Ofcom guides to nuisance callers