"Love is an element. Like air to breathe, earth to stand on."
—Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke & Bone
Spring is literally around the corner. It's been in the 70s on and off the last few weeks and the up-and-down weather is driving my sinuses crazy. How about you? With the first day of spring just 18 days away, we're drawing closer to the start of our spring wedding season, which brings me to the month's topic: wedding scammers. Now I know, it's not something fun to talk about, but scammers are something that every soon-to-be-wed couple should be aware of.
Within the last year, there has been an increase in scammers infiltrating the wedding industry. There have always been scammers of course, but it seems to me that I am seeing more and more posts in wedding groups from couples who have been victims of scammers, losing hundreds if not thousands of dollars. There is a well-known scammer who has victimized numerous couples in Ohio, by ghosting on wedding days, double or triple booking dates without the manpower to fill them, and even not delivering on what's been promised. This particular one has resurfaced recently as they continue to book weddings. There are many many others. The question is, why is this happening so often? The answer is somewhat complicated.
The wedding industry is, for better or worse, all too easy to join. This is a hard truth that maybe some vendors don't want to acknowledge, and even I can admit that it was easy for me to become one, but that doesn't change the fact that there are oftentimes no requirements to advertise yourself as a wedding vendor. Many wedding vendors are self-employed, so there isn't an interview process or anyone to validate that a person has the skill set to provide the services advertised. And as evidenced by those who continue to scam people, there's no one to fire the wedding vendor who doesn't perform up to standard.
Now, I'm not going to speak for any other vendors, because I can't. This is solely from a photographer's perspective because that is the experience I have. To become a photographer, many believe it's as easy as picking up a camera and making a Facebook page to advertise. It really shouldn't be that easy. However, in this digital age where it costs nothing to overshoot, the photography community is oversaturated with new photographers joining in droves every single day. The options are overwhelming to the couple looking for a wedding photographer. How are they to know who is legit and who is a scammer? When planning your wedding, it's important to research vendors to make sure you're protecting your investment.
Here are some red flags to look out for:
The vendor doesn't have a website
This may not seem like a big deal, but a well-designed website with a custom domain name shows that the vendor values their business and invests in it. It's one of the best ways to present your brand to potential clients.
The vendor doesn't accept credit cards (or only accepts Venmo/Zelle)
Venmo and Zelle are cash apps that are notorious for not protecting the buyer, which is why scammers flock to these apps as a way to take payment. Another reason vendors might not accept credit cards is to avoid credit card processing fees and/or to avoid paying taxes. Vendors running legal businesses know that credit card processing fees are a business expense and they don't avoid paying their taxes.
The vendor asks for all money upfront
Be wary of any wedding vendor that asks for full payment upfront. This isn't standard practice in the wedding industry and will likely result in you being ghosted. The standard practice is a 30-50% retainer. The retainer is a non-refundable initial payment that books the wedding date and pays for the vendor's time for client correspondence and any work done before the wedding.
The vendor doesn't have a contract or a contract that only protects them
Contracts are meant to protect both the client and the vendor. A good contract will lay out what a couple can expect from their photographer, including delivery dates and processes in place to ensure the work is done in a satisfactory manner. It'll also include what is expected of the client in order to maintain a good working relationship. Make sure to read the contract and that you understand everything in it.
The vendor won't show a full wedding gallery when asked
A wedding photographer should be able to display what a full wedding gallery looks like from getting ready to the end of the reception. If they refuse to, you have to wonder why? Is it possible their work isn't consistent? Or possibly that they've only done styled shoots? If a vendor only has styled shoot experience, it's safe to assume they have no actual wedding experience. Or possibly even the worst case scenario, the pictures in their portfolio are stolen. Any one of these scenarios is a good reason to move on to the next vendor.
The vendor's offer seems too good to be true
There's a popular saying that goes like this: "Everyone starts somewhere." And while that's true, you need to be very careful when you come across a photographer who is offering something that seems too good to be true. For example, a photographer who is just starting out offering 8 hours of coverage and digitals for $800 is reasonable, though you should still be cautious because they might not have the experience to handle an unexpected situation. However, a photographer who has 10 years of experience and is offering full-day coverage and unlimited travel plus videography for $1000 is an offer that's too good to be true. This kind of pricing is not sustainable or profitable and will leave the photographer in the hole. It's likely that this photographer will overbook themselves and then realize they're losing money, resulting in them going out of business and possibly leaving couples without a photographer. That said, there are plenty of talented and reputable photographers out there with a lower price point, however, you still need to do your research.
The vendor is a big company that hires contractors to fill jobs
Full disclosure, I sometimes work as a contractor for a big company to fill in some of my less popular wedding dates. It keeps me shooting. However, I went through an application and interview process to become a photographer for this company. My artist profile is listed on their website as part of their Pittsburgh Team. As long as I have the date available (and I am in control of my calendar), you can specifically book me through that company. But other big companies operate on a bidding system, where the lowest bidding photographer gets the job. Oftentimes, companies like this don't vet their vendors before they entrust weddings to them, handing over someone's precious memories to unworthy amateurs. Couples might book these companies based on their portfolios, featuring their best work, but receive photographers who don't and can't match that work. The reason for this is often that the company will book weddings, but not fill in the contractor until weeks, sometimes days before the event.
These are just some red flags to look out for. You want to make sure you're proactive in this, so make sure you're asking the right questions.
Things to ask your photographer:
Are you a registered tax-paying business owner?
Your photographer should be able to give you their EIN or even their tax number. You can also look up their business through the secretary of state's website. I've linked Ohio's below.
Do you have insurance?
Photographers running legal businesses should have insurance. It's becoming common practice for venues to request proof of insurance before they allow vendors to work there. It's very easy to send proof of insurance to those who ask and vendors should have no problem doing so.
How do you accept payments?
Most legit businesses should be able to accept all major credit cards through the use of a card processing company like Strip or Square. Many websites allow the use of invoicing systems to make payment plans easy.
What happens if you can't attend my wedding?
The photographer should have a backup plan in place in case something happens that prevents them from being able to fulfill their contractual duties to the client. Whether that's having an associate shooter go in their place or refunding all payments, the client should feel as though the photographer will ensure their wedding day is covered.
When will I get my deliverables?
While this can range from anywhere between 24 hours to 16 weeks or more, the average delivery time is between 4 to 8 weeks. However, none of this matters if it isn't clearly stated and put in the contract.
Can I view a full wedding gallery?
As stated above, a photographer should be willing able to show a few different wedding galleries that have consistent work.
What is your photography experience?
Knowing how your photographer got started and how long they've been doing photography can be a major deciding factor when choosing your vendors. Are you okay with someone just starting out, or would you prefer someone who has years under their belt and personal experience at your venue? Everyone is different, but it's still important to ask.
These are just a few things that will help you in your search for the perfect wedding vendors. As long as you keep an eye out for those red flags and do your research, you'll be able to spot the scammers. And if you're not sure, there's no shame in asking others about their experiences with the vendors you're considering. Client reviews and referrals are a great way to determine whether a vendor is legit. If you have questions about how we operate at Cyn Davis Photography, check out the FAQ on our Investment Page, or you can get in touch with us directly using the form at the bottom of this post.
Spring Mini Sessions
Spring Mini Sessions are now available to book! They'll be held on Saturdays in April and May at Oglebay Park.
This is a special rate for couples, seniors, families, and kids portraits, only $175 for a 20-minute session, 7 digital image downloads, and a personal phone app. If you need more time, please specify it in your message when booking. Online galleries will be delivered within two weeks. Limited slots. Book now!
It's easier to book than ever before. Just go to our BOOKING SITE and select the service and your preferred date from the available dates shown on our calendar. Enter your information and submit payment. We'll contact you within 24 hours with your booking details. Or simply use the form below to contact us.