How to Avoid Wedding Scams
With their often huge financial costs, decisions fraught with difficulty and all the politics of negotiating with two families, it’s no wonder wedding planning can be stressful for all involved. However, one cause of stress that no couple should ever have to endure is that caused by a wedding scam, so I’m sharing some advice on how to avoid them.
Unfortunately, over the last few years, a number of fraudulent schemes have emerged, cheating brides and grooms to be out of their precious wedding-planning dollars.
As Kiwis, we’re naturally so trusting of people, but in making decisions for something so important, especially when large sums of money are involved, we really can’t be too careful – so how can you avoid wedding scams?
Do Your Research
Before choosing each wedding vendor, and certainly before paying a deposit, research the company or vendor you are contemplating using. This should be a done with a combination of communication with the company itself, and doing external research. To completely understand the offer, exclusions and what questions you should be asking before booking, have a look at the wedding planning pack which offers these in detail. Externally, google the wedding vendor and read any reviews or information about them, or deals offered. Be aware of fake reviews that are written by the scamming company or vendor – those which seem overly positive, or come from profiles that look suspiciously related to the company itself.
Most wedding vendors should have social media – it’s a key way they market their services and showcase their work. It’s also a great way for you to check out who’s used them before – by seeing who has tagged the wedding vendor in photos on instagram, or left reviews, tags and comments on Facebook. Most wedding vendors also work with others in the industry, a florist is likely to also be tagged by photographers, for instance – so don’t be afraid to private message previous customers or vendors to find out their experience. Married couples understand the stress and the difficulty of wedding planning, so will most likely share their experience.
There are also Facebook groups and pages of women whom are planning their wedding. If at any point you have questions about a particular vendor or offer, or you just want a second opinion, post asking for their opinions or advice.
If people have had bad experiences and have been scammed by a company or vendor, in this day and age, they are most likely going to share it online, but likewise, if a vendor had no online or social media presence, this would certainly raise alarm bells for me.
Be Wary of the “Too Good To Be True” Offer
If a wedding vendor’s offer was significantly better or cheaper than competing vendors of a similar experience or skill, who wouldn’t be tempted to accept?
Well, unfortunately scammers target vulnerable people, and brides and grooms-to-be (making huge financial decisions at an emotionally heightened time) fit squarely into this category. To make up for a lack of reviews or years in business, those who might be hoping to rip you off will probably offer a deal that’s far superior, or far cheaper, than the competition. The reality is that most wedding vendors have fixed costs which will be similar across the board – the cost of materials to create a wedding cake, a bouquet or other decor, for instance. While there are exceptions, such as photographers, who charge based on their experience, skill and demand, you should still be wary of any wedding vendor who’s deal is surprisingly good.
If you’re still interested in accepting the offer, it’s reasonable to ask why the cost is cheaper than others, and you will probably get an inkling from their answer, if they are being dishonest. This question may also help you establish the quality of the goods or services you are receiving – if a product or service is significantly cheaper than market standard, it’s likely that the quality is consequently cheaper.
It is also beneficial to compare the contracts and agreements of vendors to see what you are actually signing up to, and ensure that these are properly drafted. These should be considered with as much scrutiny as any other legal document you would sign. Go over your wedding agreements and contracts as closely, as well as preferably getting the advice of a savvy friend or parent.
Meet with Vendors
Technology and social media is so prevalent in our lives, it can seem easier to communicate and even book wedding vendors without meeting them face-to-face. However, when something of significant importance and expense, such as a wedding is involved, meeting your vendors is crucial.
Not only is it a costly outlay, but many wedding vendors will be with you on the day – you want to know that you feel comfortable and get on with them. By meeting your vendors, you will get an understanding of the type of people they are and whether you actually want them involved in your big day.
If someone refuses to meet with you in person, or is unreliable, this is a definite warning sign – they may not have dishonest intentions, but equally they are not someone you want to rely on to provide goods and/or services for such an important occasion.
When you meet with your vendor, do ask for references. If a company is reputable, they will be more than happy to share referrals to make their clients feel at ease.
Meeting with wedding vendors also helps ensure that you are both on the same page with what each are going to provide. When communicating via text, email or messaging on social media, it can be very easy for something to be misconstrued or completely missed. This will avoid something going wrong on the wedding day or not having your expectations met. Wherever possible, use lots of photos to show, as well as describe, your vision – words can be easily misconstrued.
Only Pay a Deposit
When you first choose a wedding vendor and book in their goods and/or services, they shouldn’t be asking for much money upfront. Most vendors require a small deposit, and then to pay the remaining amount a few weeks prior to the wedding so make sure this is clear and agreed on with each vendor.
If a wedding vendor or business requires you to pay the entire, or majority of the cost upfront, ask yourself why. If a wedding planner, for instance, is paying the deposits to other vendors, you should be able to pay them directly. This should also cut out the possibility of the wedding planner taking secret commissions. Those who do so are breaking the law, and should be reported to the Commerce Commission. Unfortunately, it still happens.
Once you’ve paid your deposit, you should be hearing more from your vendor – not less, as they organise whichever element of your wedding day you’re paying for. If communication quickly dries up, this could be a sign that you are involved in a wedding scam. If you suspect this might be the case, look back to your contract or agreement and if necessary, visit your bank, and seek legal action. At this point it may also be beneficial to look for an alternative vendor, as even if they were not a scam, they may not be able to be relied on.
Wedding Planners: Secret Commissions & Scams
Unfortunately, commonly, wedding scams actually comes from those in whom we should be able to put the most trust in – wedding planners. Whether it’s the taking of secret commissions from your other vendors (aka hiking up the cost and passing it onto you), or in the case of the recent Rarotonga wedding scam where a pair of Auckland-based planners “Paradise Wedding Desires” failed to organise basic services for the big day. “They’ve had no intention of carrying out these weddings, it’s a scam” the bride said.
There have been cases in the US where wedding planners have told couples to leave their cheques blank as the company name is still unconfirmed. Though cheques are not as common anymore, you can ask for proof of a vendor’s account details to ensure you’re paying the right entity. If you have paid via credit card, check that your credit card bill matches up with what you have paid. Do not be afraid to ask questions if a company name looks unfamiliar or the amount is different to what you agreed.
Bridesmaids’ (or bride’s) dress, shoes, veil, decorations, rings, flowers – there are so many wedding elements that many choose to order online.
While most of us are very familiar with online shopping, purchasing items for your wedding is a “one off” – you’re not using the sites you usually shop on, or the vendors you’ve bought from before. When it comes to clothing, for instance, there are often vast differences between the photos used for advertising, and the dresses delivered (if any), so for bridesmaids’ dresses or even your wedding gown, use a high degree of scrutiny before purchasing. Consider a company’s return policy, especially if they are offshore, and, like all other wedding vendors, read the reviews. Many things you buy online, especially on websites you have never purchased from, come in a different fabric to what you thought, the colour is slightly different, the sizing is completely off, or to make matters worse, gets lost in the post. Wedding dresses are a common example of this and there have been many wedding dress scams along these lines. If possible, purchase something cheap from them first to check how fast the item gets to you, and if you are buying what you thought you were buying. To protect your credit card details, buy from a secure site, that’s one which begins with https.
To completely avoid this risk, try and purchase things in stores, or from reputable websites with a physical presence. It’s safer for you, and also better for your local vendors. This way, you can try it on, check the quality, sizing and you know exactly what you are purchasing.
If you think a company or a vendor is in any way too good to be true, you’re probably right – it is much safer to go with an alternative, even if they are slightly more expensive. Trust your instincts and your intuition. Talk to other people, such as your friends and family and ask for their opinion as well, as many newlywed friends will have recommendations (or warnings).
Get Organised In Advance
The earlier you get organised, with both your vendor bookings, and all the things you need to pick up along the way, the more time you will have to deal with anything unexpected. In the case of Primrose & Finch’s bridal store closure, for instance – which, while not strictly a ‘scam’ but rather a company liquidation, being without a wedding dress could spell complete disaster for a bride who intended to pick it up just a couple of weeks before her wedding, but would be a lot more manageable if you were organised enough to have a couple of extra months’ leeway. As wedding dresses sometimes take 6 months to make (my own included), this means time really can be ‘of the essence’, so I encourage brides to get sorted ASAP. This also leads to a much less stressful lead up to the wedding. The little white book has all your recommended timeframes and checklists, as well as helping you to get well organised.
Finally, when organising your wedding, you’re certainly more at risk of making emotional decisions, but don’t feel pressured to rush into anything without really careful thought.
Report Any Dishonest Behaviour
If you think you have been scammed, speak up, if only to avoid others suffering the same fate. Tell your friends and family, post on social media and go to the police or the relevant agency, such as WINZ or the Serious Fraud Office. If you believe your wedding planner is taking secret commissions, contact the Commerce Commission. The more people that know about scammers and the types of scams that are around, will stop people from experiencing the same thing, and with any luck, you may be able to recover.