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Avoiding floral scams and flowery disappointments

What's worse than forgetting to buy flowers for your momma on Mother's Day? How about ordering long-stemmed red roses and yellow carnations arrive? Or, getting charged more than the agreed cost? Or, worse yet, paying for flowers that never arrive.

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Unfortunately, these things can happen -- especially if you order your bouquet of filial piety from a florist you've never worked with before. Even if you find the florist listed in your neighborhood phone directory, you could be in for a nasty surprise. Sometimes a company will advertise themselves as a local florist when in reality they're simply a telemarketing firm hawking flowers. The Federal Trade Commission has a name for these unscrupulous florists -- petal pushers.

Weeds in the garden
According to the FTC, these " petal pushers" place bogus listings in local phone directories. When you call the local number listed or given to you by the operator, you're unknowingly forwarded to an out-of-town telemarketing operation.

The telemarketer takes your order and credit card information, and then forwards your order to an area florist. The telemarketer pockets a processing fee and usually a percentage of the total order. You don't know you've been scammed until you learn you've been charged more than you planned, the flowers aren't delivered as ordered or worse -- not delivered at all.

"They're not florists, they're a bank of phones," says Jennifer Sparks, director of marketing for the Society of American Florists. "The best way to avoid them is to know where (the florist) is specifically located," she suggests.

What's a good kid to do?
The FTC recommends asking family, friends and co-workers for referrals to a florist they've used. If you find a florist from the phone book, look for a listing that includes a local address. When you call, ask for directions to the store -- if they hesitate or refuse, hang up.

Visiting the shop is another way to determine if your florist is reputable. Check for the quality of the flowers in the shop and the overall appearance of the business.

"A good rule of thumb is to look for Holland-type flowers like lily, tulip or orchid," says Sam Conte, owner of Le Jardin Florist and Interiors in North Palm Beach, Fla.

He says all good florists will be concerned with the appearance of their store. "It's the best way to determine what sort of a florist you're dealing with," says Conte. "Is it neat, presentable?"

You can also ask for a guarantee.

"Professional florists will have a satisfaction guarantee," says Sparks. "You want to buy from someone that will be there the next day. If you buy flowers from a roadside truck and the flowers are dead the next day, chances are the truck will be long gone."

A big loss considering that the average cost of a dozen long-stemmed roses is $50 to $90 and should last up to a week.

Conte, whose store is in its 17th year of business, says you should ask how long a florist has been at its present location.

"You don't stay in business as long as we have if you don't stand behind your products," says Conte. "Word of mouth can kill you faster than anything else."

Next: "Do women even like flowers that aren't roses?"
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