What is Bait and Switch and Is it Illegal?

Have you ever been excited about a great deal, only to arrive at the store and find out things weren’t as advertised? If so, you might have been the victim of bait and switch advertising.

But what exactly is a bait and switch? Is it legal? Is there anything you can do about it?

Read on to find out the answer to these questions and more!

What is Bait and Switch Advertising?

Bait and switch is a common type of deceptive trade practice.

In bait and switch advertising, the customer is baited by a business. This is often via an advertisement for a good or service at a bargain low price. Once the customer arrives, the advertiser tells them it’s no longer available. They then attempt to switch the item they’re selling to something more expensive.

Is bait and switching illegal? Yes, as long as it’s put into advertisement form. This is considered false advertisement under the Lanham Act.

The Lanham Act protects buyers from false advertisements. A victim of bait and switch can seek legal action if they can prove the store misrepresented the product. If successful, they’re entitled to recover any losses resulting from the misrepresentation.

What are Some Examples of Bait and Switch?

So, how can you tell if you’re the victim of bait and switch? Well, if the seller does any of the following after refusing to sell you the bait, it’s likely bait and switch:

  • will not take orders for the bait
  • will not deliver the bait in a timely fashion
  • shows you a broken product
  • does not meet bait demand and doesn’t disclose limited availability in the advertisement
  • the bait isn’t provided to all outlets of the store in the quantity specified

Here are some common bait and switch tactics.

  • The store offers an item at a discount, but the ad states it’s in limited quantities. When the customer arrives, they claim it’s sold out and offer pricier alternatives. This is difficult to prove on the spot because it’s hard for a customer to know if the store ever had the product in stock.
  • The advertisement shows one item but the item sold for the lower price is different. This can be legal if it states the item is not pictured, so be on the lookout for the fine print.
  • They may offer free products to go with a priced product but limit the free products to a small quantity. That means most people who arrive at the store can’t get the free product. Again, this is difficult to prove if they ever had the item in the first place.
  • Finally, some businesses offer very low financing rates in their advertisements. But they then only give those rates to individuals with perfect credit. That means that most people who visit the store can’t get this price.

While knowing what tricks to look out for, it’s also important to understand what is not bait and switch.

What is Not Considered Bait and Switch?

Sometimes, there’s a pricing error that people try to claim is bait and switch advertising. In these scenarios, the product is usually listed at a far too good to be true price. The price is usually so outrageous it would cause the stores to lose a ton of money.

While you can usually get this price online, the store will often cancel the order and refund the money. In cases of pure error, it’s not illegal.

Sometimes advertisements will use tricky wording to stay barely within the legal borders. For instance, saying “up to 90% off” as long as they offer some small item in their store as 90% off. And even that one item can be discounted because it’s broken or a display model.

Other tricky wording includes stating that the offer isn’t valid at every location or is only available online. Finally, as stated earlier, as long as the ad states there are only limited quantities and they do sell those limited quantities, it’s not illegal.

Do You Have a Bait and Switch Case?

Do you think you have a bait and switch case? Consider Manfred Sternberg and Associates for your litigation needs. Contact us today for your free consultation.

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