If you are getting married and you live in the Edmonton area, then chances are that you have heard the news story about the wedding planner/decorator who scammed brides out of thousands of dollars and left some brides scrambling to find items just days before their wedding.
A local news station brought this story to light last week, and since then there have been 2 more follow-up stories as more and more brides come forward.
While the Edmonton wedding industry has come together to assist the couples who were taken by this scam, some less-than-reputable businesses have also used this situation as a “business opportunity” and brides may run the risk of being scammed a second time. Regardless of what company you hire and for what service, the general principles remain the same:
1) Don’t be afraid to ask questions - You can ask a vendor whatever questions you need in order to feel confident in their abilities to deliver on the service that they are promising to provide. Questions like: “How long have you been in business for?”, “How much experience have you had dealing with x?”, “Are you licensed/insured?”, and “In the event that you are not available, do you have a back-up?” are all valid questions and a legitimate business should not hesitate to answer. Also feel free to ask for references from past paying customers.
2) Ask to see a contract before you commit to anything - Every legitimate business should provide you with a contract and should allow you to peruse it prior to your agreeing to sign it. The contract should not only outline the terms of business (total fee, payment schedules, etc.), but it should also include what services or items the vendor will provide you with, the contact information of the vendor, and a cancellation policy. Some other things to keep in mind when entering into a contract:
- Read the contract and make sure that you understand the terms as written. It sounds simple, but it’s amazing how many people sign things without reading them. Claiming that you “didn’t understand” what you were signing is not a defence.
- Get everything in writing! Don’t rely on verbal promises. Make sure that whatever was negotiated between you and the vendor is also included in the contract.
- Make sure that you have a copy of the contract as signed. Not only should you have a copy for your records and as a reference, but should something go wrong, law enforcement or consumer services will need to know what the original terms agreed to were.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions! If you don’t understand something in the contract, ask the vendor to explain it to you and/or word it more clearly in the contract before you sign it.
3) Never provide full payment up front - It is not uncommon for companies to ask for as much as 50% up front as a deposit or initial payment upon signing of a contract. In the special events industry in particular, most vendors will ask that they receive full payment prior to your wedding day. However, red flags should be going up if they are asking for the full amount right away.
4) Do your research - The internet is an amazing tool (as I’m sure you all know!). Use it to your advantage by looking up the company. And I’m not talking about going to their company website (although that’s a good start). I mean REALLY research the company. You can start by seeing if they have had any complaints through the Better Business Bureau. Sometimes just Googling the company name will yield some reviews or other information. One or two complaints isn’t out of the ordinary for a company that has been in business awhile; but if the company has been around for say 2 years and there are numerous complaints on forums and blogs about them…stay away!
5) If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is / You get what you pay for - I know you’ve all heard it before, but we just can’t seem to resist a bargain! It’s human nature! But if you find yourself faced with a smoking good deal, ask yourself:
- Can this company logically charge this much for what they are promising? (Keep in mind that a business’ ultimate goal is to make money. If they are promising you a price that you can’t see them making a profit from, then something is wrong.)
- What kind of service does this price buy me? (It’s not to say that every company that has lower-than-average market prices are out to swindle you, but if they are offering you such a low price then chances are that you are sacrificing service, cleaning and maintenance costs, or something else.)
As a consumer, the ball is always in your court. You get to choose which vendors you give your business to, and that’s a powerful thing! You should never feel pressured or intimidated into hiring someone, and you should always ask questions if you are unsure of anything.
A wedding is one of the most expensive things that you will ever pay for, and it can also be an emotional time. It is important to not let that emotion cloud your judgement or your intuition. There will always be disreputable businesses and scam artists, but you don’t have to be a victim!
*A similar situation occurred in Toronto a couple of years ago. To see that story and The Wedding Planners Institute of Canada’s response, please click here.