An Ounce of Prevention

Heard horror stories about vendors? They don't have to happen to you

What's the best way to resolve wedding rip-offs, according to the Better Business Bureau? By never letting them occur in the first place, says Jerry DeSanto, director of information and investigations at the BBB of Metro New York. He maintains that even if you get all your money back, you can never retrieve the thing that matters most—your wedding day. Here are a dozen tips from the BBB to help prevent disaster:

Comparison shop. Get at least three estimates for the major purchases you're considering before making a commitment. But don't be fooled by the cheapest deal—it may also be the lowest in value.

Research a company you're considering. Ask friends for references and recommendations. Call your local BBB or Department of Consumer Affairs to find out if it's on record that a particular organization has a history of complaints.

Observe a company in action. Whenever possible, visit wedding showcases. Study videos. Ask for a client reference list, and call the names on it to find out if the users were satisfied with the vendor's performance. Check licenses, health permits, insurance, where applicable. If you hold a wedding in your home, you may want to be insured as well.

Get it in writing. A verbal promise is as empty as the paper it isn't written on. Spell out everything in your contract—prices, products, dates, name brands, policies regarding deposits and cancellations—then see that all parties sign.

Study the fine print, and make sure you know what it means. Does it include all kinds of hidden costs, taxes, and service charges that will pump up your bill unexpectedly? You don't need any unpleasant surprises when the final hour of reckoning draws near.

Pay with credit cards whenever possible. This lets you pull back charges and investigate problems before it's too late. Cash or checks offer would-be purchasers no such follow-up protection.

Keep all sales slips. They may later prove invaluable, should you need to make adjustments, exchanges or refunds, or simply need a proof of purchase.

Take action, when advisable. If you have serious grievances, take them where it will do the most good, such as your local Department of Consumer Affairs. Similarly, the BBB will investigate any patterns of complaints, and when necessary, take action. You can find their number in the Yellow Pages, or lodge any complaint on their national Web site:

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