Information on Ohio's Consumer Laws from Attorney Daniel Myers, Myers Law, LLC, not legal advice
Many of us have fallen victim to bait-and-switch advertising at one time or another. In a classic bait-and-switch, a company advertises one product or service, but when you show up to buy, they give you an inferior, cheap, or poor quality good or service instead of what was promised. They usually have that item you were looking for, but it’s much more expensive than what their advertisement claimed, or they try to sell you on something else entirely. They had no intention of ever selling you the item or service as advertised.
Sellers often “bait” through media advertisements. Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act (“CSPA”) protects consumers from being victimized by “switch” techniques sellers use before, during, or after entering into a deal. This law protects you not only bait-and-switch product sales, but also from entering into bait-and-switch service contracts. The CSPA requires sellers to honestly and accurately represent a service’s characteristics to you and makes it illegal for them to misrepresent the product, service, or agreement terms to bait you into signing the contract or making the purchase.
One example where bait and switch can arise is a prepaid service contract. You have seen this kind of contract if you have signed up for a gym or spa membership. You might have thought you were getting a “two for one” deal, thinking a friend or spouse can use the services with you. If the seller later decides you cannot bring your friend or limits the contract to only your spouse, then seller may have violated the CSPA.
A friend of mine recently told me that she experienced a bait and switch in a service contract advertisement. She was lucky because it happened before she entered the contract. According to her, a popular gym sent flyers to area residents, advertising inexpensive gym memberships. After she showed up to the gym and sat for a half hour waiting to speak with the manager, the deal offered to her was not for a full gym membership at the advertised price; instead, the advertised price was a deal to use the gym only on Fridays, and only if she signed a three year contract. These sorts of limitations need to be made clear in the advertisement, but they were not.
You have to be on the lookout for bait-and-switch tactics to protect yourself before a problem starts. Remember that sellers use bait-and-switch to sell not only products, but also to get you to sign up for services. If you think a seller used an illegal bait and switch to get you to sign a contract, there are a few things you should do: