Cold confusion
“On one occasion we got so fed up with one company calling we said to the errant salesperson: ‘Sorry, we are a bit busy at the moment – we have the receivers in’,” suggests Phil Geeson. “Needless to say we did not hear from them again.” The caller may have been confused, because Phil works at the University of Cambridge.

Who do you think you are talking to?
Chris Wheatley was often on call for an NHS intensive care unit, and so had an unlisted number. When it rang, he knew there was a serious problem with a patient – or that a random number dialler had found him and he was stuck on the phone with a cold caller. “This is a government unlisted number – who are you and how did you get this number?” he would ask in his official voice, and then pretend to take their details for further investigation. Which has, he promises, proved very effective.

Intruder calling…
“I’ve found a great response to the old ‘Are you the owner of the property?’ type sales calls to be ‘No – I’m a squatter’. This invariably leads to an interesting silence,” is the suggestion of Trevor Burch at Purite.

Dial M for murder
Mark Humphrys at Norwich School of Art & Design tells his callers that the security policy based on British Standard 7799 means he is unable to speak to them, or – for those long afternoons after a lunchtime visit to the pub – he would recruit an assistant. “A blood curdling scream in the background, I shout, ‘Oh my god, he’s got an axe…’ and then the phone goes dead.”

Use, abuse and then amuse
If you have time on your hands, use telephone salespeople for your amusement. Roger Kay gives his mate Terry the credit for an amusing way to mess with the heads of callers who want you to take both electricity and gas from the same supplier. “Rant about how dangerous it must be to have gas and electricity in the same pipes,” he suggests.

Sweet nothings
Alternatively for those with speaker phones, “play the strange word game,” suggests Sam Mackenzie. “Someone specifies a word that would be hard to use in everyday conversation; you have to guide the conversation so that you can slip in the phrase.”

Match made in the yellow pages
“I keep a number of my favourite double glazing firms in my telephone memory,” says Mike Casey at BAE Systems. He can then forward one salesperson to another, because – let’s face it – they deserve each other. “I wonder what they talk about?” he asks. We’re sure it must be fascinating.

Grave mistake
And finally, a warning. “My father picked up the phone to a cold caller who asked to speak to his wife,” says Rachel Peacock at UKIP Media & Events. “My Dad replied: ‘Sorry, I have buried her under the patio,’ and put the phone down. A little while later there was a knock at the door, and to my mother’s horror it was the police. They had come to check whether she was, in fact, under the patio.” Rachel’s father had given a convincing impersonation of a crazed murderer and the caller had alerted the police – who decided, on balance, that Rachel’s dad should escape with a warning.