Bamboozled: Get married, not scammed

Couples are dropping wads of cash to pay for their special day. The average cost of a wedding was $31,213 in 2014, according to The Knot’s “Real Weddings Survey.” That doesn’t include the ??????????????????honeymoon.

It was even higher in Jersey.

Couples in North and Central Jersey paid an average of $53,986, the Knot said, making the Garden State the third costliest locale — only behind Manhattan and Long Island in New York State.

With all those outflows, you know there are specialty wedding scammers out there, hoping to grab your money.

Here are big three wedding scams to avoid.
1. Fake vendors

Brides and grooms typically hire half a dozen or more vendors for their wedding. A florist, a baker for the wedding cake, someone for invitations, a DJ or band, a tailor, limousine service, a photographer. And others.

There are far too many stories of fakes who take your money but never show up for your event. Others are legit companies that go out of business before your big day.

Still others may do some of the promised work, but they do shoddy work or they don’t complete the job, like one New Jersey photographer who was accused of stealing $140,000 from couples but not delivering their wedding photos, customers alleged.

When you look for vendors for your affair, start with recommendations from friends and family members. If they were happy with the service they received, there’s a good chance you will be, too.

Next, before even meeting the vendors, check them out. Call Consumer Affairs at 1-800-242-5846 to see if there are any complaints against the business. Next, check the Better Business Bureau web site.

Then, do a Google search for the business name and the individual vendor’s name. You never know what you’ll find.

Before you hire your reception hall, which will probably be your most costly item, make sure you check the same resources for consumer complaints.

With any of your possible vendors, carefully inspect the company’s web site and social media sites.

With florists, photographers and bakers, consider doing some sleuthing. If the company has online photos of work it said it has performed, drop the photos into Google’s reverse image search. You’ll be able to tell if your vendor has swiped pretty pictures from some other vendor’s web site.

After you meet the vendor, be sure to call all the references provided, and consider asking for more.

When it’s contract time, make sure you read and understand all the fine print. If you’re not sure, before you sign, consider enlisting a contract-savvy friend, relative, or even an attorney friend to look it over.

Whenever possible, pay with a credit card instead of cash so you have extra protections if something goes wrong.
2. Counterfeit wedding gownswedding

The average cost for a wedding dress was $1,357 in 2014, according to the Knot. That doesn’t include accessories like a veil or headpiece, jewelry and shoes.

And those dresses, mostly, don’t count the pricey Vera Wangs and Monique Lhuilliers of the world.

The American Bridal & Prom Industry Association says on its web site that between 500,000 and 600,000 counterfeit gowns entered North America in 2012. Some of those may be lurking in local bridal stores, and it’s possible that even store owners don’t recognize them as fakes.

The group offers this advice to make sure you don’t end up with a counterfeit dress:
• Pay close attention to the advertised retail price, which should be consistent across all authorized retailers. If you find a dress that’s drastically reduced, it’s probably not a real brand name item.
• Visit the brand name’s “Where To Buy” web page or store locator to make sure you’re working with an authorized retailer.
• Make sure the dress you ultimately buy isn’t missing any tags with the brand’s logo, and double-check the spelling on the tags because charlatans are famous for misspellings.
• Pay attention to advertisement photos of the dress. If the model’s face is blurred or cut off, it may be an image stolen by someone who isn’t authorized to carry that brand.
• Visit the web site’s “Contact Us” page to make sure there’s a physical address in the United States and not just an email address listed.
3. Be social media savvy

While you may want to shout about your wedding from the rooftops, if you do, you could be asking for trouble.

Scammers and thieves troll social media sites — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others — to learn about your big day. Same goes for newspaper announcements about your wedding.

They know there’s a good chance you’ll be leaving your reception with thousands of dollars in gifts from your guests. Or that stacks of envelopes will be sitting on a table, mostly unattended, when all eyes are on the bride and groom. Who’s to say a wedding crasher or a fake server won’t try to sneak in.

And if the bad guys know when you’re going on your honeymoon, they know it’s prime time to break into your home.

At your party, make sure someone keeps tabs on your gift table and any boxes or baskets you use as a collection plate for envelopes.

And because you may not have time to get to the bank before your honeymoon, after the reception, consider asking a trusted friend or family member to hold on to your gifts until after your honeymoon — just in case. Or make sure you can secure them in your home’s safe.
ONE MORE NOTE

Seriously consider buying wedding insurance, and not because you’re afraid your spouse-to-be may back out. Policies don’t cover cold feet, anyway.

Coverage will vary, but many policies will pay if a vendor doesn’t show and you have to hire someone last minute, and even if the bride gets sick (for real) at the last minute.

Some will even cover you against natural disasters and weather — something that would have helped one couple whose venue shut down because of a power loss from Sandy. The couple learned 48 hours before their wedding that the hall would be closed, and the venue originally refused to return the couple’s money. But after our story ran, and after hundreds of customers came forward on social media and on NJ.com to complain, the company decided to give the couple their money back.

Again, policies vary, so ask about exactly what is and isn’t covered, and ask if you can buy riders to include items that are usually excluded from coverage.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com.

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