In retail sales, a bait and switch is a form of fraud in which the party putting forth the fraud lures in customers by advertising a product or service at a low price or with many features, then reveals to potential customers that the advertised good is not available at the original price or list of assumed features, but something different is. This use of this term has extended to similar situations outside of the marketing sense.
The goal of the bait-and-switch is to persuade buyers to purchase the substitute goods as a means of avoiding disappointment over not getting the bait, or as a way to recover sunk costs expended to try to obtain the bait. It suggests that the seller will not show the original product or products advertised but instead will demonstrate a more expensive product or a similar product with a higher margin. Other advertising practices, such as the use of sales techniques to steer customers away from low-profit items, depend on many of the same psychological mechanisms as a bait-and-switch.
Within the internet, bait-and-switch tactics such as rickrolling are done as methods of harassments to dissuade users from doing things, such as how Microsoft Australia fought against illegal torrent-based file-sharing by incorporating Rickrolls in data. Rickrolling is also done by people on blogs and imageboards by people against each other as a method of having fun.
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, the 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.
In a 2008 Nebraska case, gas stations advertised fuel for a low price on their sign, but that price was only available at one pump. Customers would have to figure out which pump had the lower priced fuel, or would have to pay a higher price. State Attorney General Jon Bruning intervened, and the gas stations agreed to advertise the pump number with the lower price, and to donate money to local charities. According to Bruning, this incident led to legislative action to strengthen laws against deceptive practices. However, more recently, the Attorney General has investigated continuing reports of similar bait-and-switch practices.
Bait and switch tactics are frequently used in airline and air travel advertising.
Some employers use bait-and-switch tactics in advertising job openings, by giving false or misleading descriptions of working conditions or compensation packages.
 In politics
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 anticipated negative community review.
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