Buying wedding services safely on Facebook or online. Discover what you need to check and why to avoid being scammed.
I’ve had an interest in consumer rights since long before I became a professional wedding photographer. Over the last seven years I have spent a lot of time on Facebook, and during the last five years have served as an admin for some of the pages & groups covering the UK wedding industry including Wedding Scammers Don’t Let Them Win, Wedding Scammers and Wedding Advice & Chat.
I have seen a lot… I’ve also seen a lot go wrong.
- One man posed as a wedding videographer and company director, collected a lot of deposits and full payments and then decided to cease trading. Around 140 brides lost their money.
- I saw a young lady posing as an experienced wedding photographer trying to book brides in a Facebook group. She had stolen her entire portfolio from award winning photographers in the USA… nobody has any idea what her real work looks like or even if she owns a camera!
- A prolific wedding scammer who targets brides by posing as a seller of second hand dresses and other wedding goods
- I have also seen reputable vendors come under sustained attack when they have done nothing wrong.
I’ve tried to condense a little of what I have learned and some top tips from others into this article in the hope that you will avoid the common pitfalls that lie in wait for you. Read on and also see here for more helpful wedding planning advice.
In my opinion, these are the questions you need to ask yourself and potential suppliers:
1 Who is the supplier?
Facebook terms and conditions mean that all suppliers should be using their personal profile to manage a business page. Profiles are for people, pages are for companies. Therefore, a simple safety check is to ask yourself “Do you know who the supplier is?”
If someone is hiding their identity behind a fake profile, eg Sally’s Wedding Flowers or Clint’s Wedding Cakes then they are breaking FB’s terms of service as well as hiding their true FB profile from you. If something goes wrong they can simply block you and move onto the next person without the risk of losing their real Facebook profile.
It’s also common for FB to close down fake profiles without warning once they have been identified. So, if you have been dealing with a supplier via their fake profile they can disappear at any time as Facebook usually turn the profile into a company page. When this happens they lose all of the messages that were in their inbox and are unable to contact clients unless they have a separate record.
2 Where is the supplier?
The trader should be displaying their business address. Do you know where they are in case there is a problem? I am currently trying to assist a bride who has lost money to a seller on Facebook. Both myself and the bride have contacted Trading Standards/ Consumer Direct but the case can’t proceed without the traders address. This need to obtain the address is causing a delay to trading standards taking action and obtaining a refund for the bride. By law, the trader should display their trading address on their contract or invoice. If they take bookings online their trading address should be displayed on their website, so if you can’t see an address displayed just move on to another supplier.
3 Do you have to “add them as a friend” to find out prices or see their portfolio?
Going back to my first point, this is a breech of FB’s terms of service (selling from a personal profile) so it’s best to avoid suppliers who are unwilling to use Facebook correctly. One reason for hiding a portfolio behind a personal profile is that the photographs may not belong to the supplier.
4 Are they a company?
Generally, to be considered a “company” a wedding supplier needs to be one of two things: a registered sole trader or a limited company. (That’s a simplified version which will apply to most wedding vendors, you can read more here: https://www.gov.uk/business-legal-structures/overview)
I have seen suppliers using Facebook profiles to give them added credibility, for example job titles like “Director and CEO” (which was the title used by the videographer I mentioned at the start) Legally, a title like director may only be used if the company is registered with Companies House. It’s very easy to check this by entering the company name here: http://wck2.companieshouse.gov.uk//wcframe?name=accessCompanyInfo
You can also check the named directors database here: http://companycheck.co.uk/director/index If the person you are dealing with claims to be a director/ MD/ CEO etc but does not appear on the above listings then my advice is that you walk away.
5 Do they issue contracts and ask for a deposit?
I have seen some suppliers advertising that they don’t require deposits as though it’s some kind of benefit to you! All reputable companies will issue invoices or contracts and most will require deposits. If you have no real evidence you ever booked their service then how do you guarantee they will turn up on the day?
Just last week I had a client whose dj sent a text a few hours before the event saying “Sorry, can’t make it now.” She had offered to pay him a deposit at the time of booking but he said just to pay him cash when he arrived. The client was left without a dj for her event.
Please note that contracts should always be issued prior to you paying any kind of retainer or deposit! Never pay a deposit without reading the paperwork first – your payment is an acceptance of the terms of the contract. How do you know what those are if you haven’t seen the contract? If a trader says they will only send you the paperwork AFTER you have paid the deposit do not book them.
6 Does the supplier normally provide the service you are enquiring about?
There is some responsibility on your part to check that someone who claims to be a wedding photographer (for example) actually is one. Look at the supplier’s website and ask yourself “Would I think this person was a venue dresser or a wedding photographer or an invitation maker if I had not been told that?” If they don’t have a website or a Facebook page or things “don’t add up” then stop right there!
I had a report of a bouncy castle rental company who responded to a venue dressing request a bride posted online. The price quoted was excellent so the bride asked the supplier if he could send photos of his previous venue dressing work as it was not on his Facebook page. He sent over a photo which the bride ran through Tineye and discovered it had been stolen from another company’s website!
7 Is the supplier capable of providing the service you want?
Some suppliers may be honest but only capable of providing a low quality service. For example, wedding photographers vary enormously in terms of quality. You need to look at their previous work and assess whether it’s what you want. It would be unfair of you to expect the same quality of images from a photographer charging amateur rates as one charging professional rates. Always ask for three passwords to enable you to log in to different client galleries in the photographer’s website. There’s no point in you looking at the best 20 photos the photographer has chosen! Spend time going through real weddings and be realistic about whether the photographer’s style & ability are what you’re looking for.
Recently, I’ve been helping a new wedding photographer with a problem client. He had only done three weddings when he booked the client and he was completely honest about his portfolio and experience. By the time he photographed their wedding it was his 7th. After seeing the images the couple complained, saying the standard was not high enough and demanding their money back. If you require an experienced wedding photographer to supply high quality professional images you need to book one! The client was not given a refund as the quality of the images was acceptable bearing in mind the photographer’s experience and the price paid.
Another wedding photographer dispute I was asked to help with related to a reasonably experienced photographer who shoots in a classic style. She does not advertise herself as a wedding photojournalist. After the wedding she received a long complaint from the groom which mainly related to the wedding not being covered in a photojournalistic style. The groom had been present at the client meeting and had viewed the photographer’s portfolio. No refund was made as the photos provided were in accordance with what the photographer had advertised.
8 How are you expected to pay them?
Think about the payment terms legitimate businesses use – perhaps cash, credit card, Paypal, cheque? It varies. Credit card fees can be very high for small businesses and as a result not everyone takes them.
In recent weeks I have been contacted for advice about one venue decor business that only accepts cash payments and a florist who only accepts Paypal. This is unusual as established traders usually have alternative means of payment, eg cash, bank transfer & paypal. So if a supplier only allows one means of payment then consider why that might be. Also consider whether their true identity or address is concealed by the payment method used. Only use Paypal if the product you are buying is for immediate supply. If you pre-order an item that is to be made and delivered some time later you may be outside the Paypal refund period by the time you realise there’s a problem. I have noticed that many brides are falsely reassured by Paypal buyer protection… not realising that it may not even apply to them. Read this article to find out more about the Paypal guarantee and the terms & conditions.
If you pay a deposit for an item via Paypal and then change your mind you may not get your money back. I recommend that you do not pay a deposit to reserve any item you are unsure about. Paypal’s buyer protection does not cover deposits or part payments at all.
Check that the Facebook profile ID matches that of the Paypal account you are being asked to pay. Look for discrepancies between identities and emails used when dealing with the seller. Do not agree to send money to family members of the seller. Scammers may also pressure you to pay as a “gift” rather than via the usual Paypal “goods and services” method. This is because gifts in Paypal do not come under the buyer protection offered and can’t be recovered by the buyer if the product is never delivered.
This is a real conversation between a known scammer and a lady who was in the process of buying a 2nd hand chocolate fountain:
Seller: “do u have paypal hun?”
Buyer “I can pay £100 now via paypal hun x Yes i have paypal hun.x “
Seller “If paying via goods i cant arrange courier for 21 days until funds clear.x unless u can pay via friends x”
Buyer “I’m a business and I know if you pay by goods and services it comes though right away, and if i pay by friends im not covered!! i have 10-30 people a day pay by goods and services and its in right away not 21 days.”
Seller “as im new to paypal its holding my funds”
Buyer “Paypal only hold funds if they a problem on your side, where in scotland are you?”
Seller “no its because im new to selling it says x”
Buyer “where in scotland? i could pick up this week ill put a deposit and pay remaining on pick up…. ok ill pay via goods and services now, if you send me your details but can i have your contact details as well please?”
Seller “yes sure but can only send after the 21 days xx once the money is gone though then ill contact you,as it will pend from myside aswell you see.”
As you can see, the buyer is a wedding industry trader so was aware of the loophole that the scammer was going to use on her! She correctly insisted on paying as “goods and services.” After the buyer paid the £100, she discovered that the seller was a known scammer using a fake ID. The Facebook profile she was chatting to did not bear any relation to the name in the email address used for the seller’s Paypal account. After seeking advice via a Facebook group for the victims of scammers the seller was able to obtain a full refund via Paypal.
Here is another example of a Paypal scam. This scam was carried out by the same prolific scammer as in the conversation above! It involves three people and two Paypal accounts. Firstly, the scammer finds a product they WANT to order for themselves – in this case a toy priced at £65 from a small online toy shop. Next step was to obtain £65 from the victim, a bride. The scammer placed an advert for a product for sale for £65, a 2nd hand wedding dress. The bride was instructed to send her £65 dress payment to the “brother” of the scammer. She was unaware that the man was actually the innocent owner of a toy shop. He was told that the scammers friend was paying for the toy but that he needed to ignore the payers Paypal address and send the toy straight to the scammer instead.
I hope these points have been useful. Please comment to suggest any future topics you would like me to cover, or if there is additional information you feel could be added to this post. Now click here to read “Wedding buying & selling scams most commonly seen online.”
Copyright Paula Brown of Ollievision Photography 2013-2016. Feel free to share this blog post but please do not copy extracts from it or use it to drive traffic to your own blog. Breech of copyright fees apply.
Paula is a full time professional photographer in Yorkshire and chair of The Adel Association, a Leeds residents and consumer rights group.
Article updated on 6th May 2015
wedding consumer rights – Facebook wedding supplier check – getting scammed on Facebook – Buying wedding services safely on Facebook