Bait and switch

"When banks compete, you win.”

The TV ad opens with a 60-something man sitting in his living room, talking to a three-piece suit-clad, 30-something banker. The older man is explaining to the dismayed younger man why he’s going to use Lending Tree loan service for a home loan.

“But Dad, I’m you’re son!” the younger whines.

Many of Lending Tree’s clients have collaborated in filing a multi-million dollar class action suit against the company, claiming “bait and switch” tactics. They claim that home buyers are lured by low interest rates or low closing costs on a home loan. Once the buyer concludes the hassle of filling out numerous forms, the suit accuses Lending Tree of making a switch to a costlier loan.

Bait and switch is among the oldest con games around. If you’ve ever bought a car from a car dealer, chances are you’ve had your own little brush with this deception. The ad promises the SUV you’ve wanted for only $299 per month. Only, once you get there, the salesman informs you that only a limited number of special deals were available and they’ve run out. But he’s still got a really good deal right over here!

Most of us recognize that we’ve been hookwinked. Yet we still go along and buy a car from the dealer.

What if it’s not a sleazy salesman behind the pitch, but a physician. If it’s hard to resist the sales pitch at the car dealership, it can be near impossible to ignore the advice of your doctor. But the truth is often loud and clear: in many instances, it is a genuine, bona fide, and fully-certified scam.

Among the most common bait-and-switch heart scams: Your cholesterol is high. The sequence of subsequent testing is well-rehearsed. “Gee, Bob, I’m worried about your risk for heart disease. Let’s schedule you for a nuclear stress test.”

The stress test, like 20% or more of them, is “falsely positive,” meaning abnormal even though there’s nothing wrong with you. Another 30% are equivocal, not clearly abnormal but also not clearly normal. Now up to 50% of people tested “need” a heart catheterization in the hospital to clarify this frightening uncertainty. You might end up with a stent or two, even bypass surgery. Your simple $20 cholesterol panel has metamorphosed into $100,000 in hospital procedures.

That familiar sequence is followed thousands of times, seven days a week, 365 days a year.