Beware of world wide prom dress scams

Posted at: 04/08/2013 11:40 PM
By: Dan Levy

PITTSFIELD - More than half a million teenager girls are being taken for a ride this year on the way to a high school prom -- and it has nothing to do with a limousine rental. It has everything to do with counterfeit clothing -- cheap replicas of stylish prom gowns.

What's happening is: companies are stealing legitimate images of prom dresses from legitimate websites, then posting those pictures on their own web sites, offering bargain basement prices, but shipping shoddy replacements to unsuspecting young girls.

Pittsfield High School senior Sarah Rayner was shopping for a prom dress Monday night at Deidre's in downtown Pittsfield, preferring bricks and mortar to any cyber selections.

"It's so easy to get ripped off on line," Rayner says, "There's a lot of people posing as other people they're not and it's very hard to tell."

In Chatham, New York, high school junior Hannah Gregg selected her dream gown, a beautiful sequin and gold dress on the internet, a few months a go, and for just sixty dollars, thought she found a bargain.

"Just the color, you could tell, it was really, really bad," Gregg recalled, "It was like brown and it was supposed to be gold and sparkly, but it was mustard (colored)."

But color wasn't the only problem.

"It looks like someone is just beginning to learn to sew," said Deidre Torra, holding up the hem line inside her South Street store, where Hannah's disaster-of-a-prom-dress is on display side-by-side with the real one Hannah thought she'd be getting. "The more attention that's brought to this, the more weary people are going to be about what they purchase on line."

The American Bridal and Prom Industry Association (ABPIA)-- the industry's trade group -- estimates at least 2,500 illegal websites offering counterfeit dresses to young girls.

"The sad thing is that there are legitimate websites, selling legitimate prom dresses and they're really taking a hit," said Joe Torra.

Joe Torra thinks because our country puts so much emphasis on proms, American teens have become sitting ducks.

"The fly-by-night companies, the illegitimate companies that are out there," Joe says, "There's no way to trace the. There's no way to track them."

That's why young girls, Joe says, need to exercise due diligence. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is, he cautions, but there's another key red flag as well.

If there's no way of contacting the company other than making a payment, if there's no telephone number, or no physical address, you should be weary.

ABPIA says they've made progress fighting counterfeiters, convincing a federal judge recently to issue a temporary restraining order to shut down several web sites that use trademarked or copyrighted images, but there are many more.