What Is A “Bait and Switch” Contract?
As attorneys who work in contract disputes and consumer protection, we frequently speak with clients about a phenomenon known as “bait and switch,” whereby a seller will create a disingenuous offer in order to ‘lure’ in a buyer, only to turn around and make a major ‘switch’ in that contract; whether that involves charging the consumer more than what the offer promised or delivering a different type of service(s), etc.
When companies engage in unscrupulous practices like these, it can be overwhelming to consumers, especially if they are potentially facing losing a deposit, or even being threatened by the company, which could be insisting that they fulfill their version of what the contract dictates, or face a lawsuit. Still, it is important to note that bait and switch activities like these are violations of the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, and can also form the basis of breach of contract, fraud, and unjust enrichment claims as well.
How the Law Defines It
The federal government and Ohio Attorney General have a very specific definition of bait and switch, and it is broad. For example, a TV ad could technically count as an offer; meaning that, once aired, a consumer could be deemed to have a legally enforceable expectation of being able to purchase the product, as advertised. Any kind of agreement in writing creates an even more binding circumstance – an estimate, a quote, etc.
Specifically, Ohio law includes the following actions as prohibited activities:
- Statements and/or pictures that create a false impression
- Penalizing employees who deliver products or services as promised
- Delivering goods or services that are different than promised
- Availability issues on promised goods or services and refusing to issue or honor rain checks if out of stock and/or otherwise unavailable
- Pressuring customers to pay for one thing and then accepting something else
Keep in mind however that bait and switch doesn’t just involve delivering a different product – just the behavior involving offering something that the seller doesn’t intend to sell, such that the consumer is “baited,” and, once the consumer ‘takes the bait,’ the seller then pressuring them into something more expensive (‘you’ll be violating the contract if you cancel now,” or “you’ll lose your deposit,” etc.), for example – this is the switch, and involves the seller gaining some benefit (for example, increased profits).
Reach Out to Us Today
If you are an Ohio consumer who has been left frustrated by a company who has made one promise and is now costing you time, money, and aggravation by making last minute changes to that promise, you are probably eager to do whatever it takes to ‘right’ this wrong, including contacting the Better Business Bureau, leaving negative reviews for the company online, etc. Contact our Columbus consumer law attorneys at the Kohl & Cook Law Firm LLC first to find out how we can help guide and support you so that you are not a victim in these circumstances.