Consumers Should Be Aware of So-Called “Price-Matching” Scams

Consumers should be alert to so-called “price-matching guaranty” scams.  There a few variations of these scams, but they all share the common theme of a consumer products merchant claiming that they will “match the price” of a competitor selling the same product.  The purpose of these claims is to lead you to believe that no one can offer a better deal than those offered by the “price-matching” seller.  However, while the claim is that the seller will match a lower price if you can find it, the reality is, it will often refuse to do so, even with an identical product.  How do they justify this kind of false and misleading advertising?

In one version of the price-matching scam, the merchant claims it will match the price of a competitor for any given product.  However, when you find the same product being sold by a competitor for a lower price, and ask the “price-matching” seller to match the lower price, it will refuse to do so, on the basis that the competitor’s product is “not an exact match.”  Even though the product really is identical, the scamming seller will create a “non-exact match” by “bundling” the same product with some kind of “free” cheap trinket.  As an example, imagine you find a TV for sale at “price-matching” seller for $1000.  It comes with a “free” bottle of screen cleaner (really worth $4.99).  You find the same exact television for sale at competitor’s store for $900.  When you tell the “price-matching” merchant to match the price in accordance with its guarantee, they will refuse, simply because the competitor’s store isn’t giving away the $4.99 bottle of screen cleaner.  Of course, the $4.99 bottle of screen cleaner does not equal the $100 price difference between the “price-matching” scam artist’s television and the competitor’s, but the artificial “inexact” match gives the unscrupulous seller a way out of keeping its promise to match the competitor’s price.

A more sophisticated variation of the price-matching scam involves the “price-matching” seller having items made up by the manufacturer with a specific model number code that is unique to versions of that product sold by the scam artist’s store.  Using the television example again, the seller would offer a television that is exactly the same as a television sold by its competitors in every respect except the model number code, which is often different by only one character.  So for example, the “price-matching” electronics store would sell a television with model number 1100-A-21-A for $1000.  Its competitor would sell the same exact television, but with model number 1100-A-21-B, for $900.  When you inform the “price-matching” seller of the better deal being offered by the competitor, and demand that it match the price, it will again refuse to do so, telling you that the television is not an “exact match” because the model code stamped on it is different by one character, even though the product is exactly the same in every meaningful way.

This type of false and deceptive advertising and sales practices are probable violations of the New Hampshire Consumer Protection Act, which has powerful remedies for consumers who are victimized by such unscrupulous acts. If you aware of such a scam, or have had the misfortune of falling victim to one, you should consider contacting a consumer protection attorney.  Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C. has extensive experience litigating consumer protection-related issues, and would be happy to consult with you if you have information about a scam like the one described above.

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