Beat cold callers: 12 tips to stop calls, texts and emails

The British public is being bombarded with millions of illegal phone calls, emails and texts – flogging everything from credit cards to dog food, booze and boilers. But there are ways you can fight back against these purveyors of junk.

Since the start of last month, seven companies responsible for pestering the public have been fined a combined £935,000.

Transgressions by these firms amounted to more than 163 million automated nuisance calls, 1.2 million unwanted text messages and 1.9 million intrusive emails. One brazen company was responsible for 146 million calls about payment protection insurance over four months.

Consumers can fight back by seeking advice from their landline provider

The Information Commissioner’s Office, the watchdog responsible for monitoring how companies use our personal details, issued the fines. 

t has hundreds of investigations still ongoing. Steve Eckersley, its head of enforcement, says: ‘Automated calls are a blight on society. They disregard a person’s right to have their wish for peace and quiet in their home respected.’

Even when people have taken action to shield themselves from nuisance calls, they have still been targeted. For two years, a small-scale landline and broadband provider bothered people who had expressed their wish to be left alone.

They were registered on the Telephone Preference Service – a free, official register for people to opt out of sales calls from legitimate British businesses.

There are 23 million telephone numbers protected by this service. Around 50,000 new ones are being added each month as people desperately seek to put an end to the onslaught of cold calls.


Victims of shambolic and ruthless marketing tricks often feel anxious, harassed and threatened.

One person who recently complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office said: ‘They are calling twice a day. It drives me insane. I have a sick relative I help care for so need to answer.’

Another said: ‘These unsolicited calls are unbearable due to their persistence, regularity and interruption of my daily activities, usually close to meal times. It is time they were stopped.’

Helen Dewdney, like most people, has been on the receiving end of numerous spam messages, including ones about accidents she has never had.

She is founder of consumer website The Complaining Cow, and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide To Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

Dewdney says: ‘Unsolicited messages are distracting. Even having to delete an email or clicking “unsubscribe” takes time and is an annoyance.’


Personal information is often sold to third parties when people either buy something (in the process supplying their personal details) or they fill out a form, failing to indicate they do not wish to receive mailings from other companies.

John Mitchison, of the Direct Marketing Association, says: ‘People end up on call lists in different ways. For example, reputable companies may call existing customers or consumers who have agreed to receive marketing calls through a tick-box when signing up for an account.

‘But rogue businesses will often trick people into agreeing to receive calls.’

University of Leicester student Claire Constance, 23, used a scam email to her advantage by turning it into a free lunch courtesy of Santander¿s ¿Phish and Chip¿ campaign

University of Leicester student Claire Constance, 23, used a scam email to her advantage by turning it into a free lunch courtesy of Santander’s ‘Phish and Chip’ campaign


Much of the junk filling email inboxes and the unsolicited calls to our phones are not only annoying, but fraudulent. Research by bank Santander estimates there have been 600 million scam attempts by email, phone and text message in the last year. People looking to withdraw money from pensions are at particular risk, as fraudsters have ramped up activity in this area. 

The Government is looking to ban all cold calls relating to pensions – as already exists for mortgages – though there is little indication about when this will come into force. The ban will also cover text messages and emails.

Sending scam emails is known as ‘phishing’, a word coined in the mid-90s. The phrase is believed to be a blend of ‘phreaking’ – the old way to describe hacking – and fishing, as hackers ‘fish’ for user details online.

University of Leicester student Claire Constance, 23, used a scam email to her advantage by turning it into a free lunch courtesy of Santander’s ‘Phish and Chip’ campaign. 

The bank has a fish and chip van touring the country, handing out free grub to those who have received fraudulent emails or texts. It visits London this Tuesday, Leeds on Friday and Glasgow the day after. Claire says: ‘I received an email, supposedly from PayPal, about an online game I used to play ten years ago.

‘As it was not from its normal email address and in an unusual format I figured it was not from the company and ignored it.

The problem with phishing is that there is always doubt about whether the email is authentic or not. I imagine many people get caught out.’


 You can fight back against nuisance calls, emails and texts with these top tips:

1. Register your mobile or landline number with the Telephone Preference Service at or by calling 0345 070 0707.

This is a free, official opt-out register. All organisations are legally obliged to avoid hassling people on the list unless you have given them permission to contact you. This does not stop calls from fraudsters.

2. Switch on ‘BT Call Protect’ if you are a BT landline customer. It is free and diverts calls from known spam numbers to your voicemail. You can also add numbers to your own ‘personal blacklist’ and choose whether to send international, unrecognised or withheld numbers straight to voicemail.

3. Talk to your landline provider about options for call screening. Monthly fees may apply.

4. Consider buying a plug-in device to help filter landline calls, such as the trueCall Call Blocker, or a new phone with inbuilt technology to help do the same thing.

5. Block spam calls to your mobile phone using smartphone apps such as Truecaller or new offering ‘TPS Protect’.

6. Unsubscribe from emails sent by reputable companies which you no longer want to receive. There is usually a button saying ‘unsubscribe’ at the bottom of the email. There may be a few days’ delay before it takes effect.

7. Ignore any email, text or call that appears suspicious. Consumer expert Andrew Hagger, of financial research company MoneyComms, says: ‘With scam texts never reply. If you respond, even to say “stop”, the company sending will know it is a live mobile number. They sell this information to other spam companies and you will be inundated.’ He adds: ‘It is the same with spam calls. If they suggest you press nine to opt out – just hang up.’

8. Filter emails by adjusting your settings to ‘exclusive’, which means you only get emails from people and businesses you want to hear from. The only downside is that you will need to check your junk folder regularly for genuine emails that have slipped through the net.

9. Sign up to the Mailing Preference Service to help reduce junk post. Visit It prevents member companies of the Direct Marketing Association sending you mail but it does not stop junk mail from local businesses, overseas senders or scam mail. It can take four months for the service to kick in properly.

10. Report spam messages to the relevant authority. Note details of any call or message, such as the time, name of company and telephone number. Then complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office at or call 0303 123 1113. If you are getting silent or abandoned calls refer them to communications watchdog Ofcom at The Complaining Cow founder Helen Dewdney says: ‘Also report spam texts to your mobile phone provider. All operators use the number 7726. It is free and spells out “spam” on your phone.’

11. Learn more about how to protect yourself by reading handy guides at,, and You can also phone Citizens Advice for help on 03454 040506.

12. Rule with an iron fist. Dewdney says: ‘Sending a section 11 Data Protection Notice gives you the right to tell an organisation to stop processing your data for the purposes of direct marketing.

‘Texts, emails and calls should stop within a month and post after two months. If the company ignores your request you can go to court to enforce it.’

What you need to know each week: The This is Money podcast 

Want to know the most important things you need to know about money each week, what has caught our interest and what made us laugh? Listen to the weekly This is Money podcast. 

Press play to listen to this week’s full episode below, or listen (and please subscribe you like the podcast) at iTunes, Acast and Audioboom or visit our This is Money Podcast page.