How do you avoid cold callers?

No hawking sign Cold callers will find you

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Wherever you may live, cold callers will find you. They will knock on your door or they'll call your phone and they'll try to sell you something you probably don't want.

Hiding from them is not an option…but the good news is you can take steps to limit the number of cold callers in your life.

We've all been there; putting the kids to bed, catching up with Coronation Street or taking a bath. The phone rings and you feel compelled to answer!

After all...it could be your gran. Then you hear that split second of give-away silence before a salesman launches into his spin about helping you to get rich or having nicer windows.

The fact is cold callers don't always have our interests at heart - you've probably heard stories about the victims of rogue sellers. So here are four steps to take control of cold calling:

1. Let them know they're not welcome

The BBC's Rip Off Britain team investigates cold calling and technology expert David McClelland offers advice on how to deal with them.

Companies aren't allowed to approach you if you've made it clear that you don't want them to. In the case of phone calls or spam messages to your mobile, you can do that by registering with the Telephone Preference Service. To put an end to junk mail there's also a Mail Preference Service.

You should notice a significant reduction in unsolicited letters or phone calls within a few weeks; if not you can complain to those organisations.

This service doesn't work with businesses trying to contact you from outside the UK - and all too often the call centre is more likely to be in Mumbai than Manchester.

2. Check who's calling

If you register with the Telephone Preference Service and cold callers are still coming through, there are other steps you can take.

Make sure your number is not in the phone directory and ask your phone provider whether you can block international diallers or calls where the number is withheld.

You can also buy a device which either displays the number of the person phoning or requires unknown callers to give their name and details so you can choose whether to pick up.

Revenge on cold callers!

One man from Surrey got so tired of being called by the same marketing company he decided to invoice for every minute he spent on the phone.

Richard Herman from Sunbury-on-Thames told the company he planned to charge £10 per minute, when they continued to call. He tracked them down and sent an invoice for £195 for the 19.5 minutes he had spent on the phone.

The company denied contacting him but Richard had recorded the calls and used them as proof when he took the organisation to court. Eventually the company was forced to pay him the £195, plus court costs.

Retired nurse Sheila Meek from Istead Rise in Kent was getting about 15 unsolicited calls a day and couldn't take any more.

"They were trying to sell me all sorts of things and some of the callers were really rude," she says. "I was driven to distraction every time the phone rang and we ended up having to leave it unplugged."

Her elderly mother was also getting sales calls and was conned into agreeing to unnecessary loft insulation. Now Sheila has a machine which asks unknown callers to record who they are before they get put through.

"It's been fantastic," she says. "The problem is not everyone can afford one. I think they should be offered free to all elderly or vulnerable people."

3. Put a sign on your door

As well as trying to stop cold callers phoning and mailing, you can also take a stand against people who come to your door.

It's illegal for them to knock if you've made it clear they're not welcome. If you put up a sign which is easily visible and they ignore it, you can contact Trading Standards.

4. Wage war en masse

A sign in Norfolk warning against cold calling One of Norfolk's No Cold Calling Zones

If cold calling is a serious problem in your area, you and your neighbours can go a step further and lobby your council to set up a Cold Calling Control Zone.

Norfolk has launched more than a hundred of these zones and the council says they've been a huge success. "We use them in communities where there's a history of doorstep crime or rogue traders and 70 per cent of the residents have to back the scheme," says the county's head of Trading Standards David Collinson.

"We then put up signs at the entrance to the zone and on houses and we set up agreements with local companies so they won't call in those areas. We've had huge levels of satisfaction," he adds.

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