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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > August 2016 > Know Your Consumer Rights – Advertisements

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Know Your Consumer Rights – Advertisements

Have you ever watched, read, or heard an advertisement and thought to yourself, “There’s got to be a catch,” or “This simply seems too good to be true”? Some ads may not tell the whole story. Some may even violate Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act. In any case, understanding your rights as a consumer will help you avoid problems and make the most of your purchases.
The Consumer Sales Practices Act helps protect consumers from unfair and deceptive sales practices. It includes a number of advertising rules, such as:
1. 'Bait-and-switch' tactics are illegal.
Bait advertising occurs when an offer to sell a product or service is not a “good faith” offer. An offer may not be in good faith if it misrepresents an important aspect of the product or if the seller discourages the sale of the advertised product or service.
For example, imagine you see an advertisement for a great deal on a TV. When you go into the store, however, you find out that particular TV was never available for the advertised price, but the salesperson offers to sell you a similar TV that costs $200 more than the advertised model. This is a classic case of “bait and switch.” Sellers cannot advertise one product only to get consumers to buy a different, higher-priced product.
2. Important exclusions and limitations of an offer must be listed.
If a sale includes any important limitations, those must be listed in the advertisement. For example, an ad should not indicate that all shoes are on sale if only children’s shoes are discounted. Advertisements also should list important terms, conditions, or extra costs that may affect the advertised offer. If the times of a sale are limited (“8 a.m. to noon only,” for example), then those hours also must be disclosed. If an ad includes a picture of items that are not included in the advertised price, this exclusion should be stated. All disclosures must be clear and conspicuous.
Let’s use the shoe sale for another example. Imagine a seller posts an ad offering “50 percent off shoes.” The ad includes the name of the seller but no other details. When customers go to make a purchase, they find out that in order to get 50 percent off their shoe purchase, they first must buy another pair of shoes at the regular price. Because all exclusions and limitations must be listed, the ad should have included the requirement that consumers buy one pair in order to get a second pair for 50 percent off.
3. 'Free' must really mean free.
A seller may not advertise goods as “free” when the cost of the “free” offer is passed on to the consumer by raising the regular price of the goods or services. For example, imagine a seller advertises a “buy one, get one free” sale on a certain pair of shoes. If the regular price of the shoes is $40, the seller may not raise the price of the shoes to $80 during the sale only to offset the cost of the “free” item.
4. 'New' must really mean new.
Refurbished or reconditioned items may not be described as new and must be properly labeled as such. So if an electronics seller advertises a computer that has been used and refurbished, it should disclose the true condition to the consumer. (It should not advertise the computer as new.)
5. Price comparisons must be truthful.
A seller must not make misleading price comparisons that create false expectations in the minds of consumers. If an advertisement includes terms such as “discount,” “bargain,” “outlet,” “wholesale” or “factory prices,” the terms used must accurately describe the products offered for sale. For example, an ad should not indicate that TVs are “Regularly $1,500, Now $500,” unless $1,500 actually is the regular price of the TV.
6. Terms and conditions of 'prizes' must be disclosed.  
All important terms and conditions of a prize offer must be disclosed to consumers. For example, imagine you receive an ad saying you’ve won a beach vacation. If you are required to listen to a sales presentation in order to receive the beach vacation, the ad should notify you of that requirement.
Be sure to read future issues of the “Consumer Advocate” for more articles in the “Know Your Consumer Rights” series.
To report a scam or unfair business practice, contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office by visiting or call 800-282-0515.