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Most consumers have heard of the term “bait and switch,” but may not be aware when it happens to them. A sales representative may try to convince you to buy a different item than the one you came for, which may simply seem like a good sales strategy. But when do a seller’s actions cross the line to become a bait and switch?

Bait and switch is when a merchant lures you into the store with a really enticing advertisement for a product. However, the merchant does not really intend or want to sell you that product and instead, attempts to pressure you into buying a different, often more expensive, product.

So how can consumers tell what does and does not constitute bait and switch?

Bait and switch tactics include:

  • Refusing to show, demonstrate, or sell the advertised product in accordance with the terms of the offer.
  • Discrediting the guarantee, quality, or other terms of the advertisement;
  • Claiming there are insufficient supplies of the advertised item (unless otherwise noted in the ad);
  • Refusing to deliver the item within a reasonable period of time.

If you ask for a product and the seller tells you, “No, you don’t want that one,” or tries to upsell you on a different item, be insistent and ask to check out the product anyway.

Remember, bait and switch starts with an advertisement of a specific product. When looking at advertisements, always check the fine print for statements such as “limited quantities available” or “while supplies last,” which protects the merchant if the sale item sells out.  Essentially, advertisements have to be truthful.  A store cannot tell you about a great deal that they don’t actually offer.

If you think a sales representative is engaging in bait and switch tactics, ask to speak to the store manager. You should also file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, the Attorney General, and our Office.

This post is part of our “Holiday Shopping” series, bringing you timely information as you shop this holiday season. For more information on your shopping rights, click here.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s vehicular and customized wheelchair Lemon Laws and Arbitration Programs, Data Breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the MA Do Not Call Registry.

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