I've spent half a century writing for radio and print (mostly print). I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
Tina and Nate Herd lived in Phoenix, Arizona and planned their big day to take place at a mountain resort in Utah. They thought it was a good idea to have a wedding planner on site so they hired Tania Clark to organize the event.
She came with a good resume and references that checked out so they advanced her $15,000. But, when the bride and groom arrived at the resort for their wedding they found that everything had been paid for, but with stolen credit cards.
Wedding planner Tania Clark had burned the couple for a total $28,000; she is now serving up to 40 years in prison.
The Non-Existent Vendors
The case of the vanishing expert.
What happened to the Herds is fairly typical of the wedding planner scam; the couple pays a substantial deposit and then increments along the way as suppliers come on board. Then, the planner vanishes just before the nuptials.
The first indication that something is horribly wrong is when the limo doesn’t show up and neither does the photographer, the caterer, the florist, the dj, or any of the other people the now unhappy couple counted on.
People organizing their own wedding get taken to the cleaners as well. The most common villain is the photographer/videographer who doesn’t show up.
As the average American wedding costs a tad over $27,000, the business of ripping off young lovers is quite profitable.
The Destination Wedding
Ceremonies in paradise can go horribly wrong.
Among other gushing praise, Griffin Mansions called itself “A step above the rest, where your wedding is all about you.” Well, not quite. It seems to have been more about enriching the owners, husband and wife team of Anthony Lopez and Portia Latawiec.
In May 2012, more than 50 couples got the bad news that their wedding venue had been shut down by Nevada health authorities. Griffin Mansions had operated without the necessary permits and licences to hold weddings and the catering had made some guests sick with norovirus.
Deniz Mizzoni was one of the many devastated brides. Ten days before her wedding, Griffin Mansions called to tell her the big day was not going to happen. She got the call just 11 minutes after her final payment of the $20,000 bill cleared the bank.
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While the venue was shut down, Lopez and Latawiec were still taking bookings and deposits for weddings they could not possibly host. The company went bankrupt and the brides and grooms left in the lurch may get ten percent of their money back.
Online Bridal Boutiques
Beware the low-cost wedding dress.
The old if-it-looks-too-good-to-be-true rule applies. Designer wedding gowns do not sell for $200 no matter how convincing the sales copy on the website.
A favourite trick is for the gown supplier to send over a box of something more akin to rags than the beautiful dress ordered. The bride-to-be sends it back and demands a full refund, but the refund never arrives.
The sites pulling this scam are mostly based in China. Here’s a hint from a now-defunct website that you might be dealing with someone from that country: “Especially good-looking dress, wearing a fairy it, mom and quasi husband are very beautiful, satisfaction.”
The wedding-gown crooks change their names frequently and the likelihood of getting recourse is about nil, or whatever "nil" is in Cantonese..
No subtlety in smash-and-grab stealing.
According to American Express the average wedding gift is between $100 and $150. Multiply this by the average guest list of 136 and the total is the sort that will get the attention of thieves.
CNBC reports that “One Pennsylvania couple had $10,000 worth of cash and checks stolen; . . . wedding crashers in Minnesota allegedly made off with a box containing more than $7,000 in cash, checks and gift cards.”
Burglars are also known to trawl through wedding announcements in newspapers and online. While the bride and groom are getting hitched or on their honeymoon there’s going to be nobody at home and there are likely to be some nice presents lying around.
The Fake Bridal Show
This is a trap for wedding vendors. Karen Tucker of Pittsburgh pulled it off in several U.S. cities before the police bracelets were clapped around her wrists in Boston.
She ran advertisements in local media attracting wedding suppliers to hire booths to display their services. Brides-to-be were going to show up in their thousands.
By now, you’ve figured out the pattern. Of course, the exhibition space was never booked, but the deposits from eager wedding vendors were quickly cashed.
Ms. Tucker was given a five-year prison sentence to reflect on the error of her ways. She was also ordered to pay back $116,000 to the businesses she defrauded.
Protection from Wedding Scammers
How to avoid being a victim:
- Never pay for any wedding expense with cash. Cover everything with a credit card that has strong anti-fraud protection and there’s a good chance you’ll get your money back if you’ve been swindled.
- Buy wedding insurance that covers no-show vendors or theft at the ceremony. You can also get coverage against lousy weather and illness or injury that causes a postponement. Rates start at $100 and go up to $500 for deluxe insurance.
- Ask suppliers for the names of recent clients and check with them. Check internet rating sites, but don’t rely on them too much; scammers will obviously post fake reviews.
- Ask friends and family for recommendations.
- In the unlikely event that you are scammed, yell about it loud and clear on social media.
- The radio wedding scam involves a planner “giving” a “free” wedding to a couple that can’t afford one. Listeners donate to the worthy cause. Vendors are hired and the planner makes appearances to report on how well things are going. The big day arrives but the wedding planner has skipped town.
- The blank cheque swindle. The wedding planner gets whoever is picking up the tab to write cheques for specific amounts but without filling in the name of the payee. The explanation is “We’re not sure which caterer we’re going to hire. We’ll fill in the correct name when we’ve signed a contract.” It doesn’t take a mastermind to figure out how this is going to end.
- Sarah Cummins and her fiancé were going to get married in July 2017. A week before the wedding they called it off (no reason given) but they were on the hook for a $30,000 non-refundable banquet. What to do? What to do? Bring in homeless people for a feast of course. Several Indianapolis businesses donated suits and dresses for the guests.
- “Couple: Our Wedding Planner Stole $30K.” CBS News, September 16, 2010.
- “Wedding Vendors: 3 Wedding Vendor Scams To Avoid.” Azure Nelson, Huffington Post, July 25, 2012.
- “Brides Say Company Ruined their Wedding Day.” Jeff Rossen and Avni Patel, NBC News, February 5, 2013.
- “Scam Alert: Online Wedding Dress Ripoffs.” Mitch Lipka, CBS Money Watch, June 10, 2011.
- “Five Wedding Scams for Brides to Worry about.” Kelli B. Grant, CNBC, November 16, 2013.
- “Cancelled $30K Wedding Becomes Dinner for Homeless,” Associated Press, July 16, 2017.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2017 Rupert Taylor