What Is Bait and Switch?

Benjamin Scott
what is bait and switch

You might have never heard the term “bait and switch” before, but chances are you’ve been a victim of one. You could call it fraud, a scam, or a marketing technique – it all depends on how people use it. Let’s find out what it is and how it works.

Bait and switch: how does it work?

Let’s say you see an ad for a wool jacket. The rock-bottom price seems too good to be true, but you click it anyway. You’re taken to a legitimate-looking retailers’ website, but the jacket turns out to be sold out.

However, they also offer a very similar wool jacket. It’s much more expensive, but you’re already in love with the design, so you don’t mind paying for it. You might even feel lucky you found a similar jacket!

In this case, the ad is the “bait,” and the pricier jacket is the “switch.” You have been tricked into spending more money than you intended. Later, when you realize what happened, you might feel cheated, but technically it is a legitimate way to get consumers to buy expensive items.

Unfortunately, retailers use the same technique to sell faulty or poorly made items too. You might have seen the terrible results of buying cheap prom dresses online. They most often don’t look anything like the picture on the online store. The beautiful image (usually stolen from designers’ websites and fashion shows) is the bait, and the cheap knockoff, which sometimes doesn’t even resemble the dress in the picture, is the switch.

Is bait and switch illegal?

The bait and switch advertising technique is considered fraud. In fact, it is classified as a violation of the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act in the USA. It is considered illegal under The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 in England and Wales. Canada and Australia also classify bait and switch advertising as an illegal act. All of these laws provide consumers the ability to sue for false advertising if they've fallen victim to bait and switch advertising.

However, some businesses still engage in bait and switch tactics to increase sales and revenue, doing their best to work around the standing laws. Generally, it is a good idea to seek legal counsel if you think you’ve been a victim of a bait and switch scam.

Can bait and switch be dangerous?

Often people use the bait and switch technique to scam their clients. It is illegal and may cost you a small fortune. A cheap watch that doesn’t work will not be the end of the world. But if you preorder a non-existent gadget for a few hundred or even thousand dollars, it may end up being a very expensive lesson.

Unfortunately, this technique is also popular among cybercriminals. Here’s how it works:

  1. The attacker creates a fake but legitimate-looking website.

  2. They then approach high-profile websites with loads of daily traffic and buy some advertising space on the platform. Since the site that the ad leads to looks safe, the webmaster or administrator sees nothing wrong with promoting it.

  3. Once the ad (the bait) is active, the criminals change the website it leads to or redirect all traffic to another site (the switch) crawling with malware.

  4. If you click on the ad and malware ends up on your device, the attackers can use it to track your movements online, shower you with ads, or steal your credentials.

How can you protect yourself from the bait and switch scam?

There are some things to keep in mind whenever you browse online:

  1. Scrutinize the ads before clicking on them. Do you notice grammar mistakes? Does it look poorly photoshopped? Do the fonts look strange? If you have any doubts, better not click on it.

  2. If an ad redirects you multiple times and the website you end up on has nothing to do with the ad itself, leave immediately and scan your device for malware.

  3. Use common sense. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Look into the website you’re buying from – it might be known to often sell knockoffs. Saw a banner inviting you to see a recent blockbuster? Google the movie first – if it’s not even out of theaters yet, the website that offers you the ability to watch it now is absolutely lying. Not to mention that it’s most likely illegal.

  4. Use security software. Antimalware and antivirus will protect your device, and a password manager will guard your online accounts. Many people wait for something to happen before setting up security software. Don’t be that person – protect your devices and accounts now, and you will never have to deal with the consequences of a cyberattack.

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