In ancient mythology, mariners warned of the famed Sirens who would lure sailors to their doom through their beauty and their singing. This was the first known and, to date most elegant form, of a type of fraud which is known as ‘Bait and Switch’.
Today it has become so common that it is sometimes accepted as part and parcel of normal life. Indeed, you might even have been a victim and not known it.
Have you ever seen a fantastic offer for a product online – only to find that once you arrive at the store it is somehow missing or, you don’t qualify? “Never mind”, they say, “here’s this similar product you might like”.
That’s the principle behind Bait and Switch – hook the purchaser with what looks like a great deal and then aggressively sell something more expensive once they get there. In business you might see an outstanding rate being advertised for a loan or supplier credit, only to find that it doesn’t quite materialize in reality. The conditions of the apparently great rate are often so stringent that it’s almost impossible for any business to qualify.
You can often get an idea of when the switch is coming when you see phrases such as: ‘prices as low as….’ or ‘starting from….’ The first comment has caught your attention, but lingering within is the not so subtle hint that prices might climb.
Bait and Switch, though, permeates through almost every part of life, business and entertainment. Boxing has recently faced accusations – most recently when a promotion in Mexico used the photos of champion boxers who were not scheduled to fight. Fans arrived expecting to see WBO light flyweight champion Donnie Nietes and other top contenders. What they got instead was a collection unknown Filipino fighters.
Although the setting might be different, what they’re doing is essentially the same thing. Here they advertise a certain product – world class boxers, and instead deliver unknown locals. Classic Bait and Switch. In other words, they get you to accept an inferior product by dressing it up as something better.
This form of Bait and Switch – also known as “piggybacking” – is becoming increasingly popular. A fraudster will use a popular brand name to lure you in, and then hope to sell you a less well known imitation. Using the names of well-known boxers who – for one reason or another – do not show up, is an easy con – as is describing a run of the mill vacuum cleaner as a Dyson.
There are moves to stop this approach. The US government has introduced measures which enable consumers to sue for false advertising if a company erroneously claims to stock a certain product.
However, it is far from impossible to work your way around this. The fraudster might include little caveats such as ‘while stocks last’. This does not guarantee that the product is there – they can simply claim to have run out of stock.
They can also ensure that they do have the product in stock and it is technically available at that price, but making it so difficult to qualify for that price that almost everyone will give up.
So, the old adage holds true; if a deal looks too good to be true there’s almost always a catch somewhere. Look for those hidden caveat words and never fall for the marked up goods – not even if you actually want the product. Only by exercising caution and, to some extent by being disciplined enough to walk away from a deal, will we be able to help eradicate the classic fraud that is Bait and Switch. If you don’t walk away, it’ll only encourage them and, anyway, the chances are you’ll be able to find that product elsewhere for less.
Image Credit: Cliff