wedding scamsAlthough the most popular time of the year to get married is during the warmer months, particularly June, a significant amount of engagements happen during the winter holiday season. According to a 2013 survey by event planning service Chilisauce, the most popular day of the year for people to get engaged is Christmas Eve, followed by Valentine’s Day and Christmas Day. Newly engaged couples are often thrown into the fast-paced world of wedding planning without much knowledge about how the industry works or what dangers to watch out for. Unfortunately, the minute you start planning a wedding, you make yourselves the targets of all kinds of scams designed to take advantage of the stress and excitement brides- and grooms-to-be experience. How can you avoid falling victim to one of these scams? We’ve outlined some tips for you to follow as you start the preparations for your big day.

4 tips for avoiding the most common wedding scams

1. Research vendors before forking over a deposit. Between photographers and caterers to venues and florists, the wedding industry is brimming with all sorts of vendors that want to offer couples their wares and services. When it comes to planning the wedding of your dreams, you might be tempted to hand over a deposit as soon as possible to ensure you secure the elements that will make the day perfect. However, you can’t always trust a glossy portfolio or brochure to paint a realistic picture — every year there are hundreds of couples across the country who wind up getting scammed by phony vendors.

Use Google and other research sources to check out a vendor’s reputation before making a decision, and try to see if you can get in contact with real couples who have used the vendor for their wedding in the past to get a firsthand account. Always be suspicious of anyone who tries to pressure you into paying in full or making a deposit before you’ve had time to think it over or meet them in person. At best, you could end up with less-than-stellar photographs, but at worst you could be out a deposit when the scammy vendor cuts and runs.

2. Don’t let the promise of “free” cloud your vision. Unfortunately, many newly engaged brides and grooms find themselves on the receiving end of phone calls, letters and emails about special prizes they’ve won — such as wedding bands, home goods like cookware and even honeymoon packages. The catch for most of these free prizes is that you need to attend an information session in order to claim them; once you’re there, you’ll realize the entire thing is an elaborate scheme to get you to pay more than you should for products or services you don’t need. Although it wasn’t wedding specific, this investigation by ABC News explores what happens when you attempt to claim one of these prizes. Still other scammers might send phishing emails hoping to prey on engaged couples eager to cut some of their costs by taking advantage of something free. Always be suspicious, and always do your research.

3. A good deal might not be worth it in the long run. Of course, every couple wants to cut costs and keep their wedding budget from going overboard. There’s certainly something admirable about thrifty people who can turn second-hand finds into treasures or take advantage of great deals and discounts they hunt down online or from local sources. But as with many things, cheap isn’t always going to translate to a good deal. A bride’s wedding dress is one of the most important — and often one of the most costly — elements of the entire celebration. Many women fall in love with a gown in a bridal shop or online, only to realize it’s way out of their budget.

Although you might feel elated when you find someone selling a secondhand or replica version online for far less than the cost of buying the real thing, you also set yourself up for potential disappointment and disaster. An awful lot of the cheap replica dresses sold online are produced in foreign countries, and more often than not they arrive looking far from the images advertised on the website. Think carefully if you’re considering buying something cheap or secondhand, and make sure you’ve got a backup in place should your good deal turn out to be a terrible mistake.

4. Be careful who you give your information to. This is practical advice for any situation in life, but it is worth revisiting for couples getting married. Many wedding shows and other events feature vendors and salespeople with clipboards asking for your personal and contact information, and while you might think it’s worth giving it out to try and win free prizes or stay in the loop, you don’t have a way to know for sure that your information will stay between you and the vendor or company you gave it to. Some companies sell information collected at wedding shows or from signups on their websites to marketers who then harass victims with endless phone calls or spam mail. Sharing your information can be more than just annoying, though, it can also be dangerous to your identity.

Planning your wedding can certainly be stressful, but if you keep your head about you, scammers won’t stand a chance. Learn more about protecting your identity at all stages of life by following our identity theft protection blog.