How to Avoid Basic Wedding Scams

From counterfeit dresses to vanishing vendors and stolen gifts, there are many ways unsuspecting couples could fall prey to wedding fraud or theft. Although the pandemic has forced many to postpone or downsize their celebrations, wedding scams have persisted.

In May, one couple in Chicago lost $3,500 when their wedding photographer ghosted them. Another couple in Melvindale, Mich., had nearly all their gifts stolen at their wedding last August. And then there are the dozens of brides in Black Forest, Colo., who have filed lawsuits this year against a venue owner who kept their deposits after the venue was forced to suddenly shut down for operating without permits. With a large surge of weddings expected to take place next year, there could be a spike in wedding scams in 2022.

There are steps, though, that couples can take to prevent these types of wedding horror stories. Here are four common ploys and ways to avoid them.

A deposit or upfront payment is collected but services are never rendered. In one recent case in Ohio, the state’s attorney general is suing a florist who accepted deposits from customers but then failed to deliver any flowers to their weddings.

How to avoid: It may sound simple, but ask for recommendations before hiring someone. A good place to start is with an event planner. “Wedding planners know, based on experience, vendors that can be trusted,” said Jennifer Stein, the editor in chief of Destination I Do, a wedding magazine and website.

Can’t find a vendor via word of mouth? Jessica Bishop, the founder of Budget Savvy Bride, a wedding advice site for couples on a budget, suggests searching for local businesses on the Knot and Wedding Wire. “Both websites are good resources for reviews from real customers,” she said.

Couples should take additional measures to vet businesses, such as seeing if the company has had any consumer complaints with the Better Business Bureau. And ask prospective vendors for references. “Scammers are looking for quick money,” Ms. Stein said, “meaning most scammers are not going to take the time to set up a fake reference.”

When seeking references, ask a vendor to introduce you to their three most recent clients. This way, you don’t just speak to clients who were handpicked by the vendor to sing its praises.

A designer gown is ordered from an online shop at a steep discount, but the dress you receive is from a different designer, or is in poor condition.

“People can set up what looks like a very chic online store, but when their products arrive, they aren’t the quality that customers expect,” said Katherine Hutt, a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau.

How to avoid: One budget-friendly option is to buy a pre-owned gown, but here again you must be vigilant about where you shop if you’re purchasing online. Before finalizing a sale, see what customers are saying about the retailer. One helpful website is Sitejabber, where consumers leave reviews of businesses. Plug in the retailer’s web address and Sitejabber will show statistics such as how many positive reviews a site received in the last 12 months.

Some reputable online retailers specializing in pre-owned dress, Ms. Bishop said, include Still White, Preowned Wedding Dresses, and Nearly Newlywed.

If you’re looking to save money on a dress, Ms. Stein also suggests checking out sample sales at local bridal shops. “That way, you’re getting a deal, while also supporting a small business,” she said.

And one more bit of advice, according to Ms. Bishop: “Pay with a credit card, if possible, so that you can file a dispute with your credit card company if something goes wrong.”

The purchased ring turns out to have a fake diamond, or a stone that was not as valuable as advertised. The Gemological Institute of America, an industry nonprofit group that grades and certifies gems based on a stone’s dimensions and characteristics, recently reported a rise in the number of laboratory-grown diamonds that were submitted for verification with counterfeit inscriptions referencing that they were GIA natural diamonds. (Natural diamonds are more valuable on the resale market than lab-grown diamonds.)

How to avoid:

Dealing with a reputable jeweler can lower the risk. Ms. Stein, whose grandfather was a jeweler, also suggests having a gem appraised before buying it. Jewelers can order a professional appraisal for you from a third party; some may charge a small fee for this service. When having a diamond appraised, check whether its weight is the same as advertised by the seller. (Sterling Jewelers, the operator of the Florida-based company Jared the Galleria of Jewelry, is currently facing a class action for allegedly overstating diamond weights.)

Ms. Stein also urges couples to buy a stone that has a Gemological Institute of America certification. (A G.I.A. certificate will verify the diamond’s “four C’s”: cut, clarity, color and carat weight.)

Wedding gifts are stolen by an uninvited attendee. For example, a woman in Mississippi was sentenced earlier this year to five years in prison for stealing money and gifts from more than a dozen weddings that she went to uninvited.

How to avoid: To avoid theft, Ms. Hutt suggests couples store gifts in a secure location, such as a hotel room, or even in a locked box, instead of out in the open. “Even better, request that all gifts be purchased through your wedding registry or shipped to your house,” she said.

Rachel Slauer, a wedding and event planner in Atlanta, said she has seen clients hire security guards to secure their gifts. She added that some venues require that couples hire their own security for the duration of the event.