You’ve likely seen bait and switch advertising before and may even have been a victim of it. If you’ve ever gone into a store for a product on sale only to discover the item was out of stock and so you purchased a similar but higher priced item instead, you may have fallen for this type of false advertising.
Many bait and switch offers are minor and sometimes even unintentional; perhaps a retail establishment truly did run out of a specially advertised product before you arrived due to high demand. That said, some consumers are victims of bait and switch scams that result in significant damages. Here’s what you should know when it goes really south.
What Is a Bait and Switch?
Bait and switch is a morally questionable sales technique that involves enticing customers in with specific statements about a special price or top-quality item that is later discovered to be unavailable to attempt to force the customer to buy a similar, more expensive item.
It is classified as a type of retail sales fraud, but bait and switch advertising also occurs in other situations. Any time a potential consumer is persuaded by an appealing advertising deal but is then told it’s not available or the product is of inferior quality to a more expensive item, this is when bait and switch occurs.
Examples of False Advertising Including Bait and Switch
There are many forms of bait and switch advertising. Some examples of false advertising of this nature include:
- Mortgage bait and switch occurs when a lender advertises extremely low interest rates, knowing that most of the people who apply will not be able to meet the qualification criteria for the lowest rates. Once customers call or come in to inquire about the affordable mortgage, an agent processes their application and tells them the company can only lend at a much higher interest rate.
- Job recruiters may post an exceedingly attractive job offer that doesn’t exist in order to collect resumes from top talent. Then, the recruiter contacts the applicants to let them know that the original job opening has been filled, but there is another position available with lower pay, fewer benefits, etc. The recruiter then may try to pressure the applicant into accepting the job because it’s all there is available.
- A restaurant may advertise a meal with an ingredient that doesn’t actually contain that ingredient. Most often, this happens with seafood. Expensive fish like Chilean sea bass are replaced with cheaper fish like farmed tilapia and prepared in a manner where it’s difficult to tell the difference.
Is Misleading Advertising Like a Bait and Switch Illegal?
While bait and switch tactics are against both federal and state false advertising laws, it may be difficult to prove that a company knowingly engaged in this type of advertising and that you suffered damages directly as a result.
In the case of a mortgage bait and switch like the example above, you may have an easier time illustrating how the false advertising strategy was both purposeful and caused you harm than say, if you ended up buying a higher priced item at a store because they were out of the lower-priced one that was advertised.
You can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, who will investigate the claim and potentially issue a cease-and-desist order and/or a fine to the business engaging in fraudulent advertising practices. However, obtaining compensation personally for harm caused by a bait and switch generally requires the assistance of an experienced consumer protection lawyer.
How to File a False Advertising Lawsuit
If you incurred damages as a result of deceptive advertising like bait and switch, you may be able to file a false advertising lawsuit with the help of an attorney.
Proving Deceptive Advertising
First, you must be able to show that the company you did business with knowingly and intentionally engaged in deceptive advertising. In some cases, especially in retail, this may be difficult to do. Often, chain stores will advertise a special at all locations, but may not have enough product stocked at each to meet the demand. This is frustrating, but not illegal.
However, in cases where very low mortgage rates are being offered or business of a similar nature is being conducted, it may be easier to prove that the company knew their advertising was deceptive. If you cannot effectively show that the business had at least some knowledge or should have had knowledge that their advertising practices were dubious, your lawsuit is less likely to be successful.
To win a false advertising lawsuit, you must also be able to prove that you specifically and directly incurred substantial damages as a result of the company’s deceptive advertising practices.
For example, if you simply purchased a $50 sweater at a clothing store instead of the $25 one advertised because the establishment was “out of stock,” you will be hard pressed to show enough damages to pursue legal action.
However, if you went to a mortgage lender that advertised a low interest rate that almost no one would qualify for and were pressured into taking out a mortgage with a much higher interest rate, you may incur thousands of dollars or more in damages over the life of the loan. Your lawyer can help you gather documentation of your losses to strengthen your case.
When to Contact a Consumer Protection Attorney at Mazow | McCullough, PC
If you suspect you may have been the victim of bait and switch or another form of false advertising, don’t hesitate to act. At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we have the expertise and track record of success needed to represent you. Contact us today for your consultation by calling (978) 744-8000 or toll free at (855) 693-9084.