Have you ever been offered a deal that seemed too good to be true and then discovered that it was, in fact, too good to be true? You may have encountered bait and switch advertising or, at the very least, somewhat shady marketing tactics. If you took the bait, you probably didn’t end up with a hook in your mouth, but you definitely didn’t end up with what you were promised.
Let’s take a look at what bait and switch is, how to tell whether a tactic is bait and switch and how to avoid this scam.
Bait and switch is a fraudulent marketing and sales tactic. It involves offering a prospective customer what seems like a great deal and then, when they take the bait, switching the promised product, service or price out for another.
For a sales tactic to be bait and switch, there must also have been an advertisement that promised you something that the seller never intended to give you. In a true bait and switch scam, the seller never had any intention of selling you the advertised bait.
Some practices that sellers conducting bait and switch scams commonly use include:
Bait and switch tactics are frequently used to sell electronic items like TVs, computers, digital cameras and audio equipment. It’s also common in the auto industry. Bait and switch tactics may also be used to sell services, such as internet and TV service.
These are just a few examples of sectors where you might find bait and switch scams — businesses within any industry could use them, though.
The two main types of bait and switch tactics are:
As an example, let’s say you see an ad for a brand-new smart TV. The TV usually costs $400, but it’s advertised for $100.
Of course, you rush out to the store to take advantage of this fantastic deal only to be confronted by one of these situations:
As another example, let’s say a local internet provider calls you with a great deal on internet service.
You accept, but when you get your first bill, it’s much higher than you expected because the company charged you fees that they didn’t disclose to you. They then say that you need to pay the higher rate if you want to keep the service they initially promised or switch to a lower level of service.
Bait and switch is one of those terms that’s frequently misused, and falsely accusing someone of bait and switch can have legal implications. That’s why it’s important to know what bait and switch is not. This understanding will help you identify bait and switch tactics when you encounter them, as well as save yourself from embarrassing situations of misidentifying a bait and switch fraud scheme.
These situations are often confused with bait and switch:
Sometimes, people make mistakes and incorrectly list the price of an item. This move can seem like bait and switch at first, when, in reality, it was a mistake.
For example, you might see a new laptop listed as $9.99 when it was supposed to be $999.
In a store, the item would ring up as $999 at the register. An online store might let you check out for $9.99 but later cancel your order and refund your money. Since the company didn’t intentionally give you the wrong price, it isn’t bait and switch.
A sign this isn’t a scam is that no one tried to pressure you into purchasing the item for its actual price.
While having limited quantities of an advertised item could be a sign of bait and switch, it could also be part of a legitimate promotion if the advertiser mentioned this limitation in their ads.
For example, an advertiser might say that the offer only applies to the first 50 customers. After that, all other customers pay full price. They might also actually have a limited quantity of the items and specify this in the ad.
These tactics aren’t bait and switch if the advertiser disclosed the limitations.
Sometimes, the wording in ads can be confusing to customers and make them think they’ve run into a bait and switch scam. This wording may be purposely tricky and disclose the limitations of ads in a not-so-obvious way.
For example, you may have seen ads that use the phrase “up to.”
An ad might say that washing machines are up to 75 percent off. Some customers might assume that all the store’s washing machines come highly discounted. In reality, only one washing machine needs to be 75 percent off to make the advertisement’s claim true. That one machine could even be old or damaged.
Other examples of crafty language include “offer not valid in all stores” and “individual store prices may vary.”
While these tactics might not be very nice, they’re not bait and switch technically.
Bait and switch is illegal and is punishable as a false advertisement under the Lanham Act.
Under the law, businesses can’t propose selling an item at a certain price or quality if it doesn’t actually intend to do so.
The Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, is responsible for monitoring advertisements and enforces laws regarding false advertising.
There are still lots of bait and switch scams out there though, so it’s essential to be careful and to know how to spot them.
How can you tell when something might be a bait and switch scam? Watch out for these warning signs:
How can you make sure you don’t end up the victim of a bait and switch scheme?
Try these three tips whenever you’re taking a company up on a deal they’re offering.
Before you buy something, ask questions. Make sure you get the details you need to ensure you know what you’re getting.
If the seller doesn’t answer your questions, they may not be genuine. Getting them to give you the details of the promotion also makes it harder for them to change things later and still claim the deal is legitimate.
Ask about promotion and purchase details such as:
An honest company will be willing to put the terms of their deal in writing. If they refuse to, this can be a sign of a bait and switch.
Get the terms of the promotion as well as the answer to any questions you ask in writing if possible. Make sure you read everything they give you, including the fine print. Although this can be tedious, it’ll help ensure you know exactly what you’re getting.
This tactic for avoiding bait and switch fraud also makes it much harder for the company to go back on their word and can serve as evidence that they weren’t honest.
When you talk to employees and ask questions, take notes.
Write down what the company tells you, as well as the date and time of your conversation. Also, ask for the names and employee identification numbers of the employees you speak to about a promotion. Having this information written down creates some accountability and helps you get the business to honor their word.
If you uncover a bait and switch scam or become the victim of one, there are steps you can take to get your money back or help others avoid falling into the trap. Of course, before you take any action, make sure the scheme is a bait and switch scam. Before taking any legal action, you should always consult with a lawyer.
If you discover a bait and switch scheme and manage to walk away before taking the bait, there are some things you can do to help others avoid falling for it. One thing you can do is submit a complaint to the FTC.
If you know anyone who was thinking about taking advantage of the deal, let them know about your experience. Also, consider writing a review or post on social media about your experience.
If you fall victim to bait and switch trickery, you may be able to take legal action against the company by suing for damages resulting from the fraudulent claim. Competing businesses and companies whose products got used as bait may also be able to take legal action.
Be aware that winning a bait and switch case can be challenging. It is difficult to prove that the seller never intended to sell you the bait, and the accused company can often claim there was some limitation to their promotion. Again, always consult with a lawyer before taking any legal action.
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Take ZoomCalls, our Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service, for example. ZoomCalls allows you to make voice calls over the internet and comes with a range of features that help you manage your phone system.
With ZoomCalls, you can make unlimited calls to the United States and Canada — and when we say unlimited, we mean it. Some VoIP providers will offer unlimited calling but then charge fees for “excessive usage.” We never charge such fees.
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You’ll never have to pay additional charges for standard features. We offer a simple monthly rate, so you know exactly what your bill is going to be each month. And we don’t lock you into a contract. Instead, you can cancel at any time.