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I have always wondered if there is anything illegal with an American citizen giving false information about another American citizen to a foreign-based telemarketer, such as someone who by their accent appears to be calling from a foreign nation such as India or Nigeria or from a Southeast Asia nation.

For example, when they call you and begin by asking you your name, is it illegal for you to tell them a fake name? If they also ask for other personal information such as your age, marital status, weight, political affiliation, etc., is it illegal to give them fake information about yourself?

Or when they call and ask to speak to your wife, is it illegal to say that you are divorced and that your 'ex-wife' has moved to another state? Moreover, if they were to then ask you for her new home address, you provide them with a fake home address in the other state.

Or when they call and ask to speak to your elderly mother, is it illegal for you to tell them that she recently died?

Is it illegal to give false information about a person to a foreign-based telemarketer?

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    – feetwet
    Nov 29, 2023 at 19:01

1 Answer 1

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The first point is that citizenship is not the controlling issue, jurisdiction is. A US citizen in Saudi Arabia is subject to Saudi law, a Saudi citizen in the US is subject to US law. I assume the speaker is in the US.

Under US law, there are a few limits on making false statements. For example, you cannot lie under oath (for example when testifying in a trial). You also cannot lie to governmental investigators dealing with a legal matter (investigating a crime). You also cannot make a false statement that harms a person's reputation ("defamation") but you can make a false statement that enhances their reputation. We'll keep this on in reserve for a moment. Then you also cannot make a false representation in order to gain a person's willingness to enter into a contract (fraud), for example you can't sell a thing as a "pig in a poke sack" when in fact it is a golf ball. Finally, there could be some contractual situation where you are required to respond truthfully to questions.

Your main concerns here would be defamation and fraud. If you make false defamatory statements to Chris about Jones, Jones can sue you for defamation. You cannot sue yourself and Chris cannot sue you, because only Jones has been harmed by those statements. Your mother might sue you because you falsely reported that she died of a heroin overdose.

You might also be sued by Chris for fraud, if you provide false information that forms the basis of a sales contract, for example if you claim to be a licensed electrician (you are actually an otolaryngologist) and Chris relies on your representation as a basis for sending you a free multimeter. Whatever the case may be, Chris would have to have been harmed by relying on your assurances in forming this contract. It does not matter if Chris works in the US, or in Timbuktu. However, Chris might try hauling you into Timbuktu courts to sue you for violating some local law such as Mandate #974 to always tell the truth to a telemarketer. US courts will not enforce any judgment against you entered under those circumstances. No stable, recognized jurisdiction imposes a legal mandate to always tell the truth, so there is no practical possibility to getting sued for telling a lie in order to annoy or waste the time of a telemarketer, and US courts would not enforce any such judgment.

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    You might want to add that it doesn't matter if the telemarketers are foreign or local.
    – Dale M
    Nov 22, 2023 at 23:23
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    @DaleM it's already covered in "it does not matter if Chris works in the US, or in Timbuktu", right?
    – justhalf
    Nov 23, 2023 at 4:52
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    Of course, in an unstable, non-democratic jurisdiction, you can also be arrested for telling the truth...
    – PMF
    Nov 23, 2023 at 12:45
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    Also, if you claim that your ex-wife lives on 123 Main Street in Springfield, whoever actually lives there could be harmed if the telemarketer starts harassing them instead. It seems unlikely that they could successfully sue you; but watch out for unintended collateral damage.
    – tripleee
    Nov 23, 2023 at 18:47
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    I've always wanted to answer a probable scam call "Norad" but I think the joke would be lost on them. "Fraud Department" (no organization given) was good enough.
    – Joshua
    Nov 24, 2023 at 4:47

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