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Bait-and-switch is a form of fraud used in retail sales but also employed in other contexts. First, customers are "baited" by merchants' advertising products or services at a low price, but when customers visit the store, they discover that the advertised goods are not available, or the customers are pressured by sales people to consider similar, but higher priced items ("switching").


The intention of the bait-and-switch is to encourage purchases of substituted goods, making consumers satisfied with the available stock offered, as an alternative to a disappointment or inconvenience of acquiring no goods (or bait) at all, and reckoning on a seemingly partial recovery of sunk costs expended trying to obtain the bait. It suggests that the seller will not show the original product or service advertised but instead will demonstrate a more expensive product or a similar product with a higher margin.

Game companies use bait-and-switch by making a product or in game virtual equipment that says it will do a specific task, and then after they release it without testing, change one or more of the effects of the item, usually after you pay to upgrade an item for the intended described effect. Even though the original item may be free, the upgrading costs real money, hence the use of bait-and-switch to describe this act. Terms of service does not exclude the company from changing the product without adequate testing upon releasing it, without any form of equivalent compensation.


In the United States, courts have held that the purveyor using a bait-and-switch operation may be subject to a lawsuit by customers for false advertising, and can be sued for trademark infringement by competing manufacturers, retailers, and others who profit from the sale of the product used as bait. However, no cause of action will exist if the purveyor is capable of actually selling the goods advertised, but aggressively pushes a competing product.

Likewise, advertising a sale while intending to stock a limited amount of, and thereby sell out, a loss-leading item advertised is legal in the United States. The purveyor can escape liability if they make clear in their advertisements that quantities of items for which a sale is offered are limited, or by offering a rain check on sold-out items.

In England and Wales, bait and switch is banned under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.[1] Breaking this law can result in a criminal prosecution, an unlimited fine and two years in jail. In Canada, this tactic is illegal under the Competition Act.

In 2014, an Indiegogo campaign titled "The Body Dryer" employed this method of fraud, raising over $300,000 USD.

Non-retail use[edit]


In lawmaking, "caption bills" that propose minor changes in law with simplistic titles (the bait) are introduced to the legislature with the ultimate objective of substantially changing the wording (the switch) at a later date in order to try to smooth the passage of a controversial or major amendment. Rule changes are also proposed (the bait) to meet legal requirements for public notice and mandated public hearings, then different rules are proposed at a final meeting (the switch), thus bypassing the objective of public notice and public discussion on the actual rules voted upon. While legal, the political objective is to get legislation or rules passed without expected negative community review.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ paragraphs 5 and 6
  2. ^ McArthur, Douglas (2008-04-30). "How does a $224 flight end up costing $826?". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  3. ^ Hilton Settles Resort Fee Lawsuit [1]
  4. ^ Braun, John (2013-10-01). "Carpet Cleaners Educate Consumers on Bait and Switch". Newswire. Retrieved 22 October 2013. 

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