Monday, 11 Dec 2023

Don’t fall for the ‘bait and switch’ scam, Black Friday shoppers warned

Half of Canadians are expected to be scouring the web to nab deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but they should be wary about a particular scam.

The Competition Bureau of Canada is warning shoppers about bait and switch — where retailers post a discounted price or sale, but later on in the process, the price changes.

Josephine Palumbo, deputy commissioner of the deceptive marketing practices branch called these “cancelled discounts” and said if Canadians see this practice they should report it.

The bait and switch starts when the shopper is offered an item that is highly discounted, called the “bait”

The “switch” happens when the seller refuses to give you the item at that price, and instead, you are pressured into buying the item at a higher price – or a different item that costs more.

Officials at the bureau say sometimes after you’ve purchased the item, you’ll receive an email saying the order had an error, then when you return to the store or the store’s website the item is still available, but at a higher price.

Palumbo said it’s a “growing trend” in online shopping over the last few years, and the Competition Bureau has seen a number of reports about this practice.

The bait and switch can also happen at bricks-and-mortar stores: a store lures a shopper in with a great price on an item, but then an employee pressures the shopper into buying either a higher-priced item or by only selling the item with add-ons like an expensive warranty.

“By advertising products at bargain prices that are not available in reasonable quantities, retailers can unfairly lure consumers into their stores, thereby taking business away from honest retailers,” the Competition Bureau says on its website.

“The companies have to be aware that this can raise serious issues under our laws,” Palumbo explained.

“If an advertiser has put forward a bargain price, but it’s not available, he or she could face an issue under our law,” Palumbo explained.

She says there are exceptions, like if the company wasn’t expecting a huge response, and ran out of stock. But that would depend on the circumstances.

If the company never intends to sell the item at that price, or if there is an unreasonably low amount available, that’s when it becomes a deceptive advertising practice.

To protect yourself, the bureau recommends keeping your email receipt, and if the store won’t honour the original sale price, make sure to get your money back instead of purchasing something else.

It also recommends using a credit card for the purchase, because many cards have their own policies for refunds if you get scammed.

Any time a shopper encounters these practices they should report it to the Competition Bureau.

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