2010-05-21 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER Weddings are celebratory occasions involving friends and families. For many people, they create treasured memories. Because of this, there is a large industry that provides services to couples on their big day. These include photographers, videographers, caterers, DJs, bands, wedding dress shops, florists, limousine companies, and other service providers. While the vast majority of these businesses are honest and ethical in their dealings and strive to do the best job they can for the customer, it has been reported that there are some unscrupulous wedding businesses in operation that attempt to perpetrate fraud. Couples need to be especially wary when considering a wedding service provider, since many require large up-front de-posits.

According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), photographers, florists, limousine companies, and wedding dress shops generate the most complaints about wedding related businesses. These largely stem from a failure to render the services for which the consumer has paid. In early March, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo sued a wedding photographer for demanding up-front fees and then failing to provide his customers with proofs, prints, albums, or DVDs. Another common complaint about wedding photographers regards a form of bait-andswitch. The consumers meet with the owner of a photography studio. They feel comfortable with the owner and leave with the impression that the owner will be the one actually shooting the wedding. However, on the wedding day, another photographer, usually one with less experience that costs the studio less in wages arrives, thereby allowing the studio to trim operating expenses and book multiple weddings on the same day.

There have also been complaints about service providers who do not show up at all. In one instance, a couple paid a $2,500 deposit to a local singer and became suspicious when he stopped returning their phone calls. When they reached out to the band the singer told them he had subcontracted with, they discovered that the band had no contract with him to perform at the couple’s wedding. Fortunately, the band did not have another booking for that night and was able to perform, but the couple was out the deposit they had paid to the singer.

Another type of scam may occur at dress shops. The bride-to-be purchases a new dress and is told that it will arrive well before the wedding, allowing enough time for any needed alterations. However, the dress does not actually arrive until within a week of the wedding, and not only is it the wrong size, but it has cosmetics stains, is damaged, or the bottom is dirty—all signs that the dress has been worn before. Since there is not enough time to send the dress back and order another one, the bride-to-be must now pay extra to have the dress cleaned and altered.

One recent fraud involved scammers setting up a web site advertising a fake bridal show. They included the name of an actual convention center in Boston and even had a phone number set up where a person was available to answer questions about the show. Approximately 6,000 consumers and vendors signed up and paid registration fees. The scam was discovered when vendors began calling the convention center asking when they could set up their displays and were told that there was no bridal show scheduled.

There are several steps consumers can take in order to avoid falling prey to one of these scams. Solicit recommendations for reputable service providers from friends and family. Interview all the service providers in person, view samples of their work, and do not be afraid to ask questions. Before handing over a deposit, get a detailed, written contract that itemizes exactly what services you will be receiving and who will be providing them on the day of the wedding, any additional fees, and when payments are due. Both you and your fiancĂ© should review the contract. You may also check the vendor’s rating with the BBB by going to www.bbb.org or calling 212-533-6200. If you find yourself the victim of a wedding scam, you may file a complaint with the state Attorney General’s office at www.oag. sctate. ny.us or 1-800-771-7755.

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