Telemarketing scam artists-using the phone to make fraudulent sales pitches -rake in hundreds of millions of dollars a year, with little risk on their part.

The Federal Trade Commission - which can deal with door-to-door and mail order sales fraud, at present lacks the power to take criminal action agains such con artists.However, that could change, if Congress takes action on a bill that would require the FTC to issue new rules aimed at telemarketing fraud. The measure would also allow state attorneys general and private parties, including credit-card firms, to sue violators of the regulations.

In addition, the bill would direct the FTC to set up an information clearinghouse on telemarketing and to consider limits on the time of day that telemarketers could operate.

Telephone sales are an effective and growing form of merchandising, most of it legitimate. But the unscrupulous must be weeded out.

The legislation has broad support in the business community, especially from credit-card firms, travel agents, art dealers, and others concerned about how telemarketing abuses reflect unfairly on them. The American Telemarketing Association, a trade group, supports the legislation for similar reasons.

Many products and services have proved well adapted to scheming telephone sales, including cellular-telephone franchises, oil and gas leases, securities, vacation packages, diamonds, and vitamin pills. In many cases, the purchase - and many additional, unexplained charges - are charged to a credit-card number unwittingly supplied by the customer.

Giving out such information over the telephone can leave victims wondering how they will pay huge bills or waiting for merchandise or services that will never be delivered.

More telemarketing scams are moving into Utah, according to the Salt Lake Better Business Bureau.

For those who have not been taken, consumer protection experts offer similar advice to that which Nancy Reagan gives to those tempted to experiment with drugs: "Just say no."