What Is Bait and Switch?

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What Is Bait and Switch?

Bait and switch is a type of fraud where a business advertises a specifically low bargain price for a product or service attempting to draw the customer into the store for the purpose of actually pressuring them into buying a more expensive product or service. A typical situation where the “bait and switch” practice is used in retail sales occurs like this:

  1. First, the customer is “baited” by the retail merchant or business by advertising a product or service at a bargained low price in attempt to attract the customer to the teaser rate.
  2. Once the customer comes into the store to inquire about the advertised bargain price or rate for the product or service, the advertiser will tell the customer that the other product is no longer available and attempt to sell the customer a more expensive product, which is the “switch”.

Is Bait and Switch Legal?

“Bait and switch” is a crime, and is considered a fraudulent sales tactic that is punishable by law as false advertisement under the Lanham Act. Even though the “bait and switch” practice is a crime, it is commonly used in retail sales business. Bait and switch tactics are regularly used in advertisements for major department stores, electronic and computer stores, and automobile retailers. To avoid prosecution for the “bait and switch” tactics, advertisements usually contain small print stating that the store does not allow rain checks or that the discount on the item is limited to the quantity currently available in the store.

What Are Some Examples of Bait and Switch?

Even though the Federal Trade Commission monitors advertisements and enforces laws that prohibit false advertising, there are plenty of bait and switch advertisements that consumers need to look out for:

How Can I Prove a Bait and Switch?

The Lanham Act is a federal statute that gives private parties a remedy for false advertising claims. To prevail on a false advertising claim under the Lanham Act, a victim of a bait and switch must prove that the retail store intentionally misrepresented the product in order to pull the customer into the store and lure them into buying another product. The customer must also prove that the store actually never even had the item that was advertised. This is usually difficult, since many retailers include small print in advertisements that states they have a limited quantity available, and they could claim that they actually did run out of the item before the customer attempted to take advantage of the offer.

What Are Some Remedies For Bait and Switch Victims?

Since using bait and switch sales tactics is a crime, a victim who is successful in a bait and switch lawsuit may recover any losses that the customer suffered by relying on the fraudulent misrepresentation.

How Can an Attorney Help?

While employing bait and switch tactics is a crime, it is also difficult to prove. Demonstrating retailers’ "intent" is always a tricky task, since most retailers will claim that they merely ran out of the advertised item before the customer attempted to purchase the item. If you have been the victim of a misrepresentation or a bait and switch sales tactic and have suffered some type of loss, a business lawyer will be essential in pursuing the case.

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Last Modified: 11-24-2015 12:36 PM PST

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