When businesses in Massachusetts and around the country run bait and switch advertising, they engage in a form of retail sales fraud. The bait is a deal that seems too good to be true or will only last for a short time because of limited supplies, and the switch is convincing customers who are lured by the bait to purchase far more expensive items. Bait and switch advertising is usually used to sell physical items like cars or mattresses, but these tactics are also employed by financial services companies to sell high-interest loans and headhunters to attract high-profile candidates.
Bait and switch advertising
Businesses are permitted to offer low prices on items in limited supply to lure customers to their stores, but they must make clear in their advertising that supplies are limited. In Massachusetts, retailers must offer customers rain checks when an advertised price is no longer available because all inventory has been sold, but they are only required to do this when their advertising failed to mention that supplies were limited.
Bait and switch usually goes unpunished because businesses can protect themselves against official sanctions and business litigation by including fine print in their advertising that spells out the terms of the deal and states supplies are limited. However, the consequences companies can face for running intentionally deceptive campaigns can be severe. In 2022, the company that makes TurboTax software agreed to pay $141 million to settle a bait and switch case.
Avoiding bait and switch scams
If you want to avoid bait and switch scams, you should be very wary of advertised deals that seem too good to be true. Businesses that use bait and switch tactics must walk a fine line to stay on the right side of the law, so you should be suspicious of ads with lots of confusing fine print.