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How to Spot a Scam

May 03, 2017

Scam: slang, n.
A fraudulent business scheme; a swindle.

The old industry adage, "Don't pay anyone any money up front," just isn't enough of a guideline anymore.  The truth is, you will need to make an investment in your showbiz career just as you would any other new business, and it is important to remember that this is a business first and foremost.  As with any business, the best question to ask is, "What's the bottom line?"  When you're investing money, what will your ROI (return on investment) be?  Your end goal, is to attract the eye of a reputable talent representative and to then get cast on a variety of projects.

In order to accomplish this, yes, you will need to invest in things like head shots, classes, and travel expenses but we recommend that before making these investments you do your homework and weigh your options.  Utilize the Ratings & Recommendations sections of our website before you choose what services are worthy of your dollar.

Things that are okay to pay for upfront:
  • Headshots (photography fees and printing fees)
  • Classes/Conventions/Seminars/Workshops
  • Some online resumes/listings
  • Travel and transportation fees (especially when you're just starting out - flying to go to a meeting or participate in an audition is rarely paid for by the industry pro)
Things that are NOT okay to pay for upfront:
  • Representation
  • The ability to attend an audition
  • Talent "preparation" or "assistance" (aka if someone offers to "get your child ready" for a fixed fee and act in a way that an agent or manager would)
* Remember, with all of the above, you are the consumer choosing a service and you have the right to choose which service you will go with.  A potential rep should never require you to use a specific photographer or list yourself on an expensive website as a condition of being represented.

In this article, we hope to equip you with some basic "red flags" so that you are able to spot scams like a pro.  For example, which one these scenarios seems suspicious to you?:
  • Someone approaches you in a public place, like a mall, and tells you that your child has a great look and that they want to set up a meeting to evaluate her.
  • You hear a radio ad inviting you and your child to attend a free seminar to "learn more about the exciting world of showbiz."
  • You read an ad for a company that is looking for talented children for print ads and they ask you to submit a head shot for consideration.
  • You're invited to attend an event, but it is going to cost hundreds to participate.
Did you catch the scams?  Unfortunately it is hard to tell because there are actually very reputable companies that sometimes use approaches like the above, that would otherwise be deemed fraudulent.  All of the above have the potential to be a scam, but all of the above could just as easily be legitimate.  If, however, you know the right questions to ask, you won't get held up in an industry pitfall. 

Let's do some dissecting:
  • Someone approaches you in a public place, like a mall, and tells you that your child has a great look and that they want to set up a meeting to evaluate her.

This scenario is okay if the person is an agent or a manager and wants to meet to discuss potentially representing your child.  No money will be exchanged upfront, and no work is guaranteed.

This scenario could be a scam if the person first convinces you that they want to put your child on a specific commercial/show/film, and later (once you're in their office) tells you that "after evaluating your child" they feel they have potential but they need to first take classes.  You find that the classes are expensive and you feel pressured to purchase them because the person says that your child will book a role if he or she joins the class.  This "misleading approach" is why this is a potential pitfall or scam.

How to avoid a pitfall:  Ask the person if he or she is an agent or manager.  Their answer should be a simple yes or no, followed by the name of their agency which you can later research.  If not, ask the person if they represent a talent school or acting coach.  If they do, thank them for the information and let them know that you will look into the details and pricing. Stay grounded in your responses and decisions.

  • You hear a radio ad inviting you and your child to attend a free seminar to "learn more about the exciting world of showbiz."

This scenario is okay as long as you understand that they are likely selling a class, workshop, camp or seminar.  As we've mentioned before, there is nothing wrong with choosing to attend a class as long as you do your research upfront and understand that attending a class is never a guarantee of representation or booking on a project.

How to avoid a pitfall: Monitor your expectations upfront. Situations like the above are never a guarantee.  A lot can be learned, progress can be made, and success stories can happen, but they are never a given. 

  • You read an ad for a company that is looking for talented children for print ads and they ask you to submit a head shot for consideration.

This scenario is okay if the company is a casting company or modeling agency searching for kids for a specific paid opportunity.  Do your research ahead of time.  Who is the company? Who is the casting director?  What is the product or commercial for which they are casting?  If your child goes to the audition and is then "booked," it is appropriate to ask what the pay scale will be and when the gig will be shooting. 

This scenario could be a scam if they draw you in with the mention of a specific opportunity, but you later find out that there is no specific opportunity, but rather that they want you to pay for something upfront.

How to avoid a pitfall: Know right off the bat that you will never have to pay to attend an audition, to be represented or to participate in a production of any kind.

  • You're invited to attend an event, but it is going to cost hundreds to participate.
This scenario is okay if you understand the situation beforehand and have done your research. Companies like Barbizon, IMTA, iPOP and other talent classes and conventions aren't cheap, but they've been known to churn out stars like Ashton Kutcher, Eva Longoria, Jessica Biel,  Elijah Wood,  Ryan Phillippe, and Carmen Electra.  The question becomes how much will you eventually have to pay?  It seems that when a parent pays 10k for one of these programs, it becomes a scam when it fails and an investment when it succeeds.   

How to avoid a pitfall: Again, manage your expectations upfront and do your research so that you are choosing a class/convention/workshop that is reputable. 

While you may be faced with a scenario that isn't clean cut, we can provide you with a few no-fail tips for identifying scams. 

  1. Do they ask for money upfront? if you are signing with an agent or manager (as opposed to attending an event or taking classes) there should be NO upfront money required. Agents and managers make a commission from bookings only. Extras casting companies may require a small registration fee, usually under $100.00.
  2. Do they tell you they are offering classes and coaching but not guaranteeing jobs? while having an agent or manager does not guarantee you will book work, legitimate agents will never force you to pay for specific classes, coaches or photographers. They should, however, provide you with a list of several recommendations. You can also search our database of industry pro's and read their ratings and recommendations to find out what other members think.
  3. Do you know if the agent or manager is legitimate? Do they have any credentials? In many states talent agents are licensed. Check if the agency is licensed in your state or registered with one of the actors unions (SAG, AFTRA, EQUITY) or the Association of Talent Agents (ATA). Managers are not required to have a license, but you should see if they are registered with the Talent Manager's Association (TMA).
  4. Is the audition being held in a temporarily rented out space, hotel or conference room as opposed to a permanent office space or bonafide casting facility? Auditions/interviews with talent agents should be held in a legitimate office building, not in a private home. Managers however, are not bound by the same legal requirements. Casting auditions can vary, but should be professional. If an audition is being held in a home or warehouse, question your child's safety. Never let them go alone. Talent search conventions like IMTA or IPOP are held in hotels to accommodate size. If their office space doesn't feel legitimate or makes you feel uncomfortable, think twice. Trust your instinct. If it sounds fishy, it probably is.
  5. Do their claims seem far-fetched? - there is no easy way to the top in this industry so be aware of phrases like "instant stardom," "get your face in front of hundreds," and "meet the hottest agents in town..."
  6. Did you find out about the company in an ad? - even reputable sources like Back Stage and the LA Times post ads for opportunities that may or may not be scams. When ad space is paid for, there isn't necessarily a background check on the company. An exception to this rule happens to be ChildrenInFilm.com. We check in to all of our sponsors before they are approved to promote services to our members via an ad. Do your homework.
  7. Who owns the company's website domain? - you can go to a WHO IS website registry to find out the names associated to the site registered. If it was registered only a few months ago, things aren't looking too good. Also check the .org, .biz, .net, etc. Unfortunately reputable companies don't always buy all their domain variables and different extension of the same name can be purchased by someone else and used unjustly.
  8. Do you feel pressured? - if you feel like someone is using a hard-sell tactic like a car salesman, trust that uneasy feeling you get. A reputable agent doesn't have to pressure you because they know people are lining up to be represented by them. A scam company wants you to make a decision right away so they don't loose the sale.
  9. Are you paying to get a SAG card? - SAG rules prohibit paying any form of compensation for vouchers or for assistance in obtaining vouchers, so if someone is claiming they can help you get into SAG at a cost to you, they are involved in a scam and you could be putting your own SAG eligibility at risk.