Getting Married? Get Purchases and Services in Writing to Avoid Heartbreak

marriedAs spring approaches, so does the season for weddings -- and for fleecing unsuspecting brides-and-grooms to be who don't pay attention to their contracts, leaving them open to get stuck with all kinds of surprise surcharges, overcharges and outright rip-offs.

Falling into that last category are wedding photographers Michael and Darlene Perrotta, owners of Forever in Time in New Hampshire, who pleaded guilty Feb. 23 to charges of deceptive business practices after failing to deliver the goods for hundreds of couples."It is appalling that one business could garner 227 consumer complaints filed against it with our Consumer Protection Bureau," New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney said in a statement.

The fraud, according to Delaney's office, involved prepaid wedding-picture services that were never rendered. Photographers did take pictures of the happy couples, but then the company failed to follow through, skipping out on promised albums, DVDs and prints.

The Perrottas now face two years of probation after a judge suspended 12 months of jail time, and they'll have to pay full restitution to their clients.

According to the Better Business Bureau, unscrupulous vendors nationwide use a variety of methods to prey on the soon-to-be-married.

For example, the Bureau's St. Louis office advises that wedding scams can include delivery of used dresses instead of new ones; limo brochures that advertise one kind of vehicle, but provide another (the company might not even own the car that lured the consumer); and pricey gown preservations that amount to nothing more than regular dry-cleaning and a cardboard box.

In other cases, consumer-protection advocates say that stores and vendors use other tricks, such as removing tags from bridal dresses on the rack so there's no way to comparison shop; tacking on extra charges for plate-splitting by dinner guests; and levying cake-cutting and corkage fees when a party brings in food and drink from another source.

The key to help avoid these types of problems is to map out specific details first, get them in writing and don't prepay vendors the entire amount for hired services. Additionally, make sure that you agree in writing about what happens in the event of unforeseen changes, be it a shift in availability of cars, flowers or musicians, delays in delivery of dress orders, or a reception that runs longer than expected.

Make sure to get a written contract for wedding photo services that includes specifics about copyright. Ask for a release for your wedding pictures, otherwise you might not be able to take proofs to a third party to make prints.

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