Avoid Getting Fleeced on Your Wedding

Wedding costsWeddings have become big business, the source of several "reality" shows and a target for scammers. With the average wedding costing upwards of $30,000, couples need to be careful to avoid getting taken to the cleaners on their way to the altar, the Better Business Bureau recently warned.

The BBB received nearly 1,000 complaints about wedding-related services in 2010. Topping the list were wedding planners, bridal shops, limousine rentals, DJs, photographers, florists and jewelers. The most common complaints often involved a company's unwillingness to honor its cancellation and refund policies once a deposit had been paid.

"With today's wedding averaging more than $28,000, there's not a penny left to gamble on unreliable vendors," Stephen A. Cox, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, said in a statement. "Before securing your wedding services and paying any upfront fees, it's important for all newlyweds to do their research."No matter what you're shopping for -- whether it's choosing a wedding dress or wedding planner, photographer or DJ -- brides need to do their homework, research vendors online, and ask for referrals.

Here are a few more tips from the BBB for prospective brides and grooms to help them spot and avoid any unscrupulous vendors:

Research all online vendors

If you decide to use an online retailer for wedding services or products, start with a trusted site rather than just shopping via a search engine. Search results can't protect you from unscrupulous websites or phishing scams. (As Consumer Ally recently noted, brides should exercise extreme caution when buying a wedding dress online.)

Look for the BBB seal or other widely recognized "trustmarks" on retail websites, and be sure to click on the image to ensure it's valid and not just pasted there to make the site look legit. Make sure to Google the company as well, typing the name of the company "+ complaints" or "+ scam" to see what others have to say.

Also, be sure you conduct all your online purchases on a "secure" site. If you don't see an "s" after the "http" in the URL (https:) or a padlock symbol in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, don't click the "buy" button.

Read all the fine print

Whether you're dealing with a company online or face to face, be sure to review all terms and conditions carefully before signing a contract or paying any money. In order to understand your rights as a consumer, search the fine print for answers to the following questions:
  • What's the company's refund and exchange policy?
  • What's its cancellation policy?
  • What happens if the company isn't able to honor its agreement?

Keep all documentation

For online orders, save a copy of the confirmation page or e-mails confirming the order until you receive the item or service and are fully satisfied. If you're dealing with a company in person, get all details in writing, including specific dates, products, prices, cancellation and deposit policies, and signatures from all parties.

Pay with a credit card

Credit cards offer consumers the added protection of being able to dispute any charge over $50 within 60 days of the purchase. Most established businesses accept major credit cards, so use them whenever possible, including for deposits. Shoppers also have dispute rights if there are unauthorized charges on the card, and many card issuers have "zero liability" policies if someone steals your card number and uses it. Never, ever wire any money to pay for a product or service.

Finally, the BBB suggests marrieds-to-be consider purchasing wedding insurance. Wedding insurance can cover a range of prospective problems, including vendor no-shows, cancellations, bad weather, military deployment, medical emergencies, travel delays and more. Many policies start at just $200 but may potentially save you thousands of dollars.

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