The board of directors of companies that bombard people with nuisance calls could be fined £500,000 for distress caused, a government task force has said.
Cold calls regarding accident claims, payday loans and debt management have become an almost everyday occurrence for millions across the country in recent years.
The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) said it received 18,594 complaints about live calls and 22,072 about automated messages between April and June 2014.
The taskforce said many consumers were unaware they had given consent to be contacted by the companies and called for it to be made easier for people to revoke their permission in a bid to stop them being pestered.
The taskforce is recommending businesses improve their direct marketing practices, with rules on consumer consent to be agreed at board level. It also wants the ICO to be able to take action at an earlier stage than nip poor practice in the bud.
Richard Lloyd, the Which? executive director who chairs the taskforce, said: "Consumers have suffered nuisance calls and texts for far too long. They are often confused or misled by requests for consent to being contacted, so today we set out recommendations to introduce tougher rules and more action from businesses, the regulators and the government.
"Only through concerted and coordinated action will we put people back in control of their data and help bring this modern day menace to an end."
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey added: "For too long nuisance calls have plagued consumers, often at very inconvenient times of the day and in some cases leaving vulnerable people like the elderly too scared to answer the phone."