At first glance, this seems to be a simple question of whether one is permitted to lie.

Generally speaking, using a fake name when making cold calls seems to be a (relatively harmless) white lie. And there are some situations where not being entirely truthful is permitted, including:1 to maintain humility and privacy, to protect someone from harm, to protect someone from embarrassment2 and to maintain peace.3

At the same time, even in the above situations, one should make every effort not to say an outright lie.4

Even in situations where compromising truth may be permitted, one should not do so on a constant basis, as the Talmud relates:

Rav’s wife would constantly aggravate him. When he would say to her, “Prepare me lentils,” she would prepare him peas; if he asked her for peas, she would prepare him lentils. When Chiya, his son, grew up, he would reverse the requests Rav asked him to convey to her, so that Rav would get what he wanted. Rav said to Chiya: “Your mother has improved now that you convey my requests.” He said to Rav: “It is I who reverse your request to her.” Rav said to him: “This is an example of the well-known adage that people say: ‘He who comes from you shall teach you wisdom’; I should have thought of that idea myself. You, however, should not do this, as it is stated:5 ‘They have taught their tongue to speak lies, they weary themselves to commit iniquity, etc.’ ”6

To return to our question, it would seem that if the person is using a different name to avoid embarrassment, it may be permitted. However, this isn’t something that should be done on a consistent basis, which implies that one should avoid using a different name when telemarketing.

But there’s more.

Is It Even Lying?

The use of a pseudonym is generally not considered lying and is permitted as long as there aren’t any nefarious reasons for using one. One of the reasons for this is that a name is an artificial construct used to enable others to refer to someone. One is technically able to change his name to whatever he wants (of course, there are specific guidelines, but that is beyond the scope of this discussion). For example, one would be permitted to publish something using a pseudonym.7

Based on this, it would seem that it is permitted for a telemarketer to use a pseudonym.

Misleading Others

There is, however, another issue: geneivat da’at, which literally means “stealing another person’s thoughts” and refers to deceitful or misleading practices.8

Included in this prohibition are things like false advertising,9 falsely claiming there is another interested buyer in order to pressure someone to close a deal,10 placing good fruit or vegetables on top of the box while there are rotten fruit at the bottom,11 etc.

Thus, if a telemarketer is using a fake name that he thinks will decive and sway the purchaser (such as adopting a Jewish name to gain trust from prospective Jewish clients, or using a name that gives the impression that they live near the recipient of the call), this would be forbidden.

However, adopting a false name simply because it is easier to pronounce or remember would be permitted.