Watch out for these sneaky bait-and-switch con tricks : Internet Scambusters #1,042
Bait-and-switch con tricks are one of the oldest entries in the scammer's playbook.
You're lured in by what seems to be a great deal, only to discover you either won't be getting what you paid for or that you have to pay more further down the line.
And it's not just in the retail world that bait-and-switch scammers are active. They pop up in all sorts of unusual places, such as job interviews, as we report in this week's issue.
Let's get started…
Save Yourself From These Latest Bait-And-Switch Scams
With seasonal bargain shopping in full swing right now, consumer champions are warning about the risks of bait-and-switch scams in which buyers don't get what they paid for or end up buying something much more expensive.
For instance, they may find the item they want is suddenly out of stock but a costlier item is available, or that they need to buy additional equipment to make it work properly.
Then there are products that are simply fake substitutions. For example, a recent study found that 40% of fish sold is not the expensive item as labeled, substituted with a much cheaper type.
We first covered this topic a few years ago and most of the scams and precautions we highlighted then remain in force today. Check it out here: Common Bait and Switch Tricks and How to Avoid Them.
But it's not just bargain shoppers who are being targeted by crooked practices. Employers and job seekers, home renters, collectors, computer users and travelers are also falling victim to a new rash of deceptions.
Here are 5 of the latest bait-and-switch tricks we've investigated recently.
1. Employers and Gig Workers
There are a number of ways tricksters have wormed their way into the employment field. For instance, job hunters have been known to send someone more skilled and knowledgeable (the bait) to an interview. He or she impresses the interviewers who offer the job, only to learn later that the new employee (the switch) is not up to the task.
If you're an employer or job hirer, this scam, known as a proxy interview, is more common than you might think.
On the other side, headhunters have been caught out advertising non-existent well-paid jobs in order to build up a pipeline of talent by harvesting resumes. And contractors employing gig workers sometimes exaggerate a freelancer's skills to a client in order to land a project or simply send a less qualified employee to do the work.
These scams are potentially dangerous if an unqualified hire is placed in a key position dealing with people's safety - the health sector, for example.
2. NFTs and Collectibles
Collectors of everything, from antiques to non-fungible tokens (NFTs or "virtual collectibles" - see Scambusters issue #1017: NFT Scams and 10 Ways to Avoid Them) are being targeted by scammers.
Oftentimes, crooks advertise a valuable item, but the buyer receives a cheap knock-off or, most recently in a claim involving a Rolex watch, a totally different item bearing no resemblance to what they ordered.
You don't even have to be a collector to fall victim to this one. Oftentimes, people who respond to social media ads have been tricked into buying what they thought was a bargain, only to receive a cheap product unrelated to what they thought. In one case, a woman who ordered a $60 artificial Christmas tree received a tiny mirror compact. Another received a set of toothbrushes!
These scammers are often based overseas, and would-be buyers find it virtually impossible to get their money back or they discover they have to pay a return cost that's higher than the original price.
3. Loans and Rentals
With interest rates on the rise, unscrupulous lenders offer low teaser rates, from mortgages to car loans. Hidden in the small print, or not even disclosed, it's next to impossible to qualify for these rates. Borrowers are sometimes too far down the road to back out and face significantly higher rates.
Meanwhile, property owners have been reported switching rental apartments. In a recent incident, a would-be renter was shown a perfect apartment at a great price. When he arrived to move in, he found someone else already living there. The landlord said he'd secured a higher-paying tenant and offered the victim a tiny basement room. The victim had already moved out of his earlier home and was forced to accept this squalid accommodation.
4. Computer Software and Apps
How often do you see computer software advertised as "free" or for a very low price? Then you may discover that the free version is extremely limited in use, or even useless, or that the low price is actually a recurring monthly or annual fee. You have to pay to get what you were really looking for.
In a typical case, apps are advertised as "free to download" - but you can't actually use it till you pay up!
Sometimes, users are persuaded to hand over their bank or credit card details on the promise they can cancel whenever they want. But canceling turns out to be a tough job and those monthly payments slip by.
If these terms are hidden in the small print, the provider can stay within the law.
Another trick involves scammers placing ads on legitimate sites offering a great deal. The site operator may check the link is valid but after accepting the ad, the scammer changes it to link to a malware or other dangerous site.
5. Travel - Hotels and Rentals
You're lucky if you've never been disappointed after turning up at a hotel or vacation rental. You may find it's nothing like the room or building you thought you were renting. You may find yourself in a poorly equipped place, disappointing views, or even in a totally different building or hotel.
In other cases, the bait is a low price but the renter later discovers there are additional costs, such as resort fees, maid services, and more. These are commonly known as junk fees. We reported on this in issue #1023: Declaring War on Hidden Junk Fees.
Protecting Yourself from Bait and Switch Scams
Intentional bait-and-switching is mostly illegal, but scammers and dubious merchants sometimes know how to get around the law. Or, as we reported above, they may be out of reach of the law.
However, spotting one or more red flags can reduce the risk of getting scammed. For example: prices that are too good to be true, use of artwork in place of photos, sellers and owners without positive reviews or feedback, and poor use of English in ads.
It's also a wise precaution to check the small print in any contract or ad, check who bears the cost of returns, secure a contract or certification for your proposed spend, check would-be employee credentials, and follow your gut instinct if things don't feel right.
If you're not happy, complain. For example, if it was an ad on Facebook or Amazon Marketplace, tell the respective companies. Consider taking legal advice and keep records of all communications.
And check out our earlier report (see above) for more bait-and-switch scams and tips on how to protect yourself.
This Week's Scam Alert
Not Spectrum: If you buy your TV, internet, or cellular service from Spectrum (or Charter as it used to be known) don't be taken in by a poorly worded email with unusual typography saying your statement is ready. Of course, there's a link to click in the message but this could take you to a fake sign-on page or even upload malware onto your PC. This scam email is currently doing the rounds across the US. Just don't click.
Time to conclude for today - have a great week!