Wedding crashers: Avoid these 5 scams this season
Don’t let the big day be ruined by bad guys
By Adam Levin, Special to ThirdCertainty
Weddings require many important decisions and the wrong call can mean the difference between an unforgettable, wonderful day and a day that makes you angry every time you think about it.
The often unreasonably high expectations of families and friends and at least one spouse-to-be only makes matters more fraught. With such a high level of stress, it’s only a matter of luck that mistakes don’t get made. Scam artists are counting on that.
There will be a repeating theme in this article, and it’s this: Be certain you know who you’re dealing with, and when you think you’re sure, check some more. Here are five wedding scams you want to avoid.
1. Sham wedding planners
Scammers take advantage of distraction, and there are few things in life so exquisitely discombobulating as the planning of a wedding. Add to that the high likelihood that the bride and groom may not be overly familiar with different kinds of transactions that help make an event run smoothly—purchases, contracts, rentals, hiring—and you have fertile ground for fraud.
It is a good rule of thumb to look for trouble when anything out of the ordinary comes up. I’ve heard of scams that were run through radio stations, where the “planner” offered a free wedding to a couple who couldn’t afford one and then raised the money from listeners. That counts as out of the ordinary, but the scam that lands in your inbox may be subtler. In the radio scam, vendors are hired but never paid. The “planner” skips town with all the money.
Another familiar scam involves blank checks and the flakiness of many vendor hires. A “planner” will ask the couple for checks written out for a specific amount but without filling in the payee because, they are told, it’s up in the air as to who’s going to get the gig. The scammer cashes all the checks, no one is hired and the wedding doesn’t happen quite so wonderfully as planned. (Here’s what you need to know about bounced checks.)
2. Pricey wedding photographer scams
A photographer shows up and takes pictures. He sends proofs to you. They are tiny and low-resolution, but you can see they are fantastic. Next comes the bill.
Now, wedding photography is expensive, but we’re talking crazy-town prices here. One scammer banked $140,000 before getting nailed. The ruse: Take the money and never deliver the goods or extort a huge payment in exchange for them. The variation on this theme is taking a sizable deposit and simply not showing up.
3. Missing flowers
When it comes to flower scams, we’re talking about a different line of business but very similar types of fraud. Maybe this scam takes the form of an independent contractor who assures you they make breathtaking arrangements for a fraction of the cost other places charge. All you have to do is write them a check for the flowers you need and show up to your wedding. They’ll handle everything. They never show up, and you can guess the rest.
How to avoid vendor scams
There is no substitute for checking references. You should look for reviews online, but know that this will not help detect a fraudster with several aliases. Ask for references, no fewer than five, and then call them.
Bear in mind that a quality scammer may have a wingman or two, but not five. That said, you never know. Maybe they’ll give you what you request. You still have some agency here. Listen carefully to the references when you call, because if they’re not for real you’ll be able to tell. Get detailed. Be friendly. You’re getting married. They know how great and frenzied that can be (if they are for real).
Additional tactics: Ask about the reference provider’s honeymoon or for the name of another vendor used at their wedding. Be creative. Do your homework, and you won’t get got by these kinds of scams.
4. Gift theft
According to Vogue, the average cost of a wedding gift in 2016 for a co-worker or distant relative was $50 to $75. For someone closer, it was $75 to $150. While some gifts are purchased online and sent straight to the home of the newlyweds, many are brought to the wedding. And you guessed it—thieves are waiting to steal them.
To avoid the tragedy of walking wedding gifts, make arrangements to either have all the gifts watched or stored somewhere secure.
5. Home invasion
Nothing like a wedding to signal to a home-invasion specialist exactly when you and your relatives will for sure not be home. The best rule of thumb here is to avoid making public the precise plans for your wedding.
But assuming word gets out, what should you do? Let your neighbors know you’ll be away and ask them to keep an eye on things. If you have an alarm system, make sure it’s armed. It’s also worth calling your local police department to explain your concern. It depends where you live, but they may send a car out to check on your house while you’re away.
Weddings bring out the best and worst in people, but there are ways to ensure you protect what should be one of the most joyous occasions of your life. Avoiding scams is 99.9 percent a matter of approaching transactions with caution and common sense. When planning your wedding, take the time to make it the time of your life.
Full disclosure: CyberScout sponsors ThirdCertainty. This story originated as an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.