The Mishnah (Mishnah, Bava Metzia 4:10) defines the concept of ona’at d’varim, verbal fraud: “Just as the concept of ona’ah (“fraud”) can be applied to commercial business transactions, so too can the concept of ona’ah be applied to commercial speech.
One should not say, ‘How much is this item?’ without having any real intention of purchasing it.”
Misrepresenting oneself as a potential purchaser causes salespeople to waste time they might better spend with other customers.
It may even constitute a mild form of inflicting mental anguish, in that misrepresenting one’s intention to make a purchase will inevitably raise the hopes of a vendor unfairly.
This does not mean that price-comparison shopping is not permitted, but rather that one must be upfront about one’s intentions when speaking with a salesperson.
Customers share in the responsibility for ensuring that transactions are fair.
(For more, see our article: Fair Prices: A Jewish Perspective)
For example, if a person receives too much change back in a transaction, the error must be reported to the vendor and the change returned.
Or, if an item is clearly mispriced (say, an $80.00 shirt accidentally priced at $8.00) or its value incorrectly identified, one must at least bring the matter to the store’s attention, giving the vendor an opportunity to recognize the problem and determine the correct price.
Additionally, sellers have the right, even for an extended period of time, to retract a transaction if they discover their mistake.
Adapted with permission from The Observant Life.