Jennifer saw a bracelet she loved at a Santa Monica jewelry store and asked the salesperson to show it to her. She saw the $500 price tag and wanted to buy it.
As Jennifer and the salesperson were talking, the store’s owner came from another room.
“Oh, no, that price isn’t right,” the owner said. “The price isn’t $500. The correct price is $700.”
Jennifer left the store without buying the bracelet and contacted the Consumer Protection Division of the City Attorney’s Office.
In California, it’s unlawful for businesses or their representatives to make untrue or misleading statements about products or services. This false advertising law covers statements made in print ads, online, in person, or through any other means.
The law also requires businesses to honor their posted prices.
The Consumer Division contacted the store owner, who said the pricing snafu was an honest mistake. However, because the owner had already represented the price as $500, and after hearing more about the law, she offered to sell the bracelet to Jennifer at the original quoted price.
The practice of advertising one price and then attempting to charge customers a higher rate is sometimes a deliberate practice, known as “bait and switch.” The business baits the customer with a fake low price and then makes the switch when the customer is at the store or somehow committed to the purchase.
California’s false advertising law applies to almost anything a business might charge money for, including consumer goods such as cars, clothing, toys, and food; or professional services such as dentistry or repairs. If you were drawn in by an ad or a promise to provide a good or service at a certain price and then got surprised later by a higher price, the business may have violated the law. This includes hidden fees that were not disclosed in the original ad.
False advertising also covers the condition of merchandise, the terms of a sale, and many other aspects of consumer transactions.
If you think you’ve been the victim of false advertising, there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Be sure to save evidence of the advertisement. This might include printed ads, screenshots of web pages, text messages, emails, or radio ads.
- Save any receipts or confirmation emails from the business.
- Make notes: Record the dates and details of the false statement, and when the business refused to honor it.
- Make a complaint: If you’re a Santa Monica resident or the business is located here, you can contact the Consumer Protection Division at smconsumer.org or 310-458-8336. If the business is located outside Santa Monica, contact the office of the District Attorney, City Attorney, Attorney General, or Consumer Protection Division where the business is located.