Hold the Phone Fraud

Ring a bell for the beleaguered consumer. The Supreme Court recently ruled that states can take legal action to stop telemarketers if they can prove those telemarketers intentionally misled unwitting consumers over how much of their contribution actually goes to a charity's work.

Though a high legal hurdle, the decision should help keep those telemarketers who interrupt dinner more honest.

The case involved an Illinois telemarketer that claimed a big portion of donations raised for Vietnam War veterans would be used to help those veterans. A mere 15 cents of each dollar donated, however, actually went to the vets. The Illinois Supreme Court dismissed the case, on grounds that solicitation of information was protected by the First Amendment.

Charities and other fund-raising groups worried that decision could restrict their efforts. Some nonprofits pay telemarketers lots of money to get their message out. Others know their fund-raising costs are high, but don't make that especially clear to donors.

In making it plain that states must show that a telemarketer intended to mislead a caller, the high court gave legitimate charities needed leeway, and let's hope helped prevent more egregious abuse by telemarketers.

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