Prom time can also be scam time

Prom can be one of the most expensive nights of the year for students. Before teenagers dance the night away, families need a checklist to prepare for a scam-free evening. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns families to beware of a variety of prom scams, especially when purchasing items online.

Formal wear, flowers, photography, transportation, hair and make-up are just some prom-night expenses. The latest social media trend is the elaborate "promposal" where students go to great lengths to ask their dates to prom. When setting up promposals and other elements of a perfect night, BBB urges consumers to shop carefully. Be especially aware of ads on social media for goods and services.

BBB Scam Tracker has received reports of consumers never receiving items, receiving additional unauthorized charges to their credit cards, or receiving poor-quality merchandise.

BBB offers the following advice to avoid prom scams this season:

Formal Attire: Be on the lookout for fake websites selling prom dresses. Problems can range from receiving a dress that looks nothing like the pictures on the site to not receiving anything at all. If the site is legitimate and secure, its URL (web address) should start with “https://” and include a lock icon on the purchase or shopping cart page.

Locally, for students who many not go "all out" with prom spending, the Cinderella Project hosts a formal wear giveaway each year at Renys Plaza in Belfast. The program provides free prom gowns to Maine high school students every April, with the promise that the student will “pay it forward” by doing something nice for someone else in their community. This year's date is Saturday, April 7, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; no advance registration is required. For more information about the Cinderella Project, visit cinderellaprojectofmaine.org.

Transportation: Costs for limousines and party buses can vary from $65 to $400 per hour depending on the type of vehicle and number of passengers. Check BBB Business Profiles and make sure the company and the driver are properly licensed for commercial transportation. Will the driver be paid by the hour or for the evening? Are there any limits on the mileage for the ride? Be sure to get everything in writing and double-check all details.

Cosmetics: Stay clear of offers for free trials or samples, especially when advertised on social media sites. Ads may seem official, but scammers can easily make websites and advertisements look similar to popular brands.

Floral Arrangements: Visit your local florist or research on BBB.org to find a trustworthy business to create quality boutonnieres and corsages. Compare prices to see if that “Prom Special” is really a deal.

Photography: Professional photographers can capture a special moment, but it can be expensive. Be sure to read the fine print for any photographic packages and understand exactly what you are getting. Pay attention to anything that could change the cost after the event (i.e., getting the photos printed vs. downloading them).

Splitting the costs with friends: There are many new sites and apps to make it easier to transfer money between friends. Research them carefully before connecting them to your bank accounts. If you are using one to pay a business, make sure you check the policy regarding what happens if there is a problem with your purchase. You have more security against fraud or problems with your purchase if you use a credit card.

If you suspect you’re the victim of fraud or a scam, report the information to BBB Scam Tracker. BBB uses the information to track fraud, inform others, and work with law enforcement to stop scammers.