Scams are one of the sad facts of this business. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard of parents approached in a mall by someone who says they can get their kid into the business, or even make them a “star.” The person may say they are a talent scout, or an agent or manager.
Sometimes there is a free consultation, and then lo and behold, a slew of expensive classes, often an entire program, and usually linked services—you are required to use that person’s photographer for headshots, for example. If you are pushed or required to sign up on the spot because “there are only a few spaces left,” or before a huge price break expires, be doubly suspicious.
This kind of scam is particularly cruel because it plays on both the secret hope of most parents (my child is so special that even a stranger can see it!) and most kids: (I’m going to be a star!). Our need to be and feel special is so strong that it can easily blind us to what common sense might tell us are warning signs, and keep us from doing the bit of research that might show us that these people are not in fact able to deliver what they are promising.
Some operations are more technically rip-offs than outright scams. They cost serious money, offer fairly generic training, and frequently wrap up representation in the package—in other words, you are paying the person who is supposedly acting as your child’s agent, which is actually illegal. Interestingly, these sorts of operations are often found outside of Hollywood—where the parents are less likely to know better.
Mixing representation with classes/workshops/fees is perhaps the biggest red flag: a legitimate, professional agent never asks for or requires payment. The agent only makes money on commission when your child is paid for performing, and then they get 10%. If I can save even one parent their hard-earned money with this paragraph I will feel very happy.
To restate: LEGITIMATE AGENTS DO NOT ASK FOR FEES! If you are talking to someone who promises to represent your kid for a fee, run the other way.
More red flags: long-term contracts that require upfront payment; anyone who calls themselves a “talent scout” (these are actually not used anywhere in the legitimate structure of the industry); travelling groups who set up in hotels for “casting calls,” “open calls,” etc but are actually selling services. No legit casting agents/directors EVER charge fees for representation.
Don’t lay out money or make a commitment to anyone or any business on behalf of your child before going home and doing some research online. Look up the people or the business that is asking you to sign up and see if they have been reported to the Better Business Bureau or have many entries in Google with the word “scam,” “ripoff,” etc. attached to their name. Of course any business can have a couple of upset customers. But if there are many complaints, or any sort of pattern, stay away. For that matter, if they seem to change the name of their business regularly that is likely another red flag.
Don’t just research the name of the business—research the names of any people running the business or working for it too. Often the borderline scammers will move from business to business to stay ahead of their reputations. Interestingly, many do not see themselves as con artists—just people who are trying to “help” young artists. But if they are mixing training packages with representation, the only one they are helping is themselves. To your wallet.
NEXT: Avoiding Scams and Rip-Offs: Part 2
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