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Hiring a vendor new to the industry might be a tempting way to save money, but it can backfire. "A startup might not be around in a year," says Adkins. Rae Anne Leiker and Kevin Davis figured this out the hard way at their rehearsal dinner in Topeka. Kevin’s parents had hired a caterer for a Kansas-style barbecue at a park on a local lake. Unfortunately, when everyone had arrived, there was no food; Kevin’s father had to dash out to get pizzas. (The family later learned the business had closed.) Kevin’s parents filed a claim with the Kansas attorney general, but the settlement—to be paid over several years—didn’t even begin to make up for the chaos and disappointment the no-show caused.
Requiring couples to pay for services in cash is another scammer strategy. Katie Mackin was so meticulous about planning her wedding that she called every bridal boutique within a one-hour radius of Lyndhurst, OH, the Cleveland suburb where she grew up, to get quotes on the strapless A-line Casablanca gown she wanted. The lowest came from Sherry’s Bridal & Tuxedo in nearby Twinsburg. Katie went there several times and had phone conversations with owner Sherry Springer. "She was warm," says Katie. "Her father was a coach at the high school where my mom teaches, and I liked that we had that personal connection." When Springer told Katie she would need to pay the full amount of the gown to get the discounted price, Katie gladly wrote her a check.
The glitches started soon after. Katie kept checking in to make sure her dress was ordered, but Springer wasn’t calling back. After several weeks, she told Katie that she had been in the hospital and placed on a ventilator while she battled a life-threatening infection. "I was incredibly sympathetic," remembers Katie. "I told her not to worry and to take care of herself."
Nearly two months later, Katie admitted to herself that she wasn’t getting her dress anytime soon. But when she asked Springer for a refund, she was told it was impossible because the dress had already been ordered. Katie called Casablanca to ask if they could ship the gown to her directly. To her surprise, she was told Springer wasn’t a licensed retailer and therefore was unable to place orders. Katie then asked Springer for her order’s confirmation number, which she wouldn’t provide. "Then I dropped the bomb that I knew she wasn’t even able to order my dress," says Katie. Springer said she had used a middleman but wouldn’t give her any details.
That’s when Katie and her mother, Micki Mackin, went to the Twinsburg Police Department. A detective said Springer had closed her shop. Word had spread and anxious brides were standing outside the boutique in tears. "It was emotional," says police chief Chris Noga. "These brides had been waiting for months [for their dresses] and it was getting closer and closer to their big day." The police wanted to help but were able to find only one case—involving a refund written with a bad check—that was legally considered criminal. (For Katie’s case to be considered a crime, she would have had to prove Springer took her money with the intent to not place her order, a nearly impossible task.)