Predators are good at what they do! They have years of experience and plenty of money (taken from other parents) to make things look glamorous.
Scams have been a part of this industry for as long as anyone can remember. Although the “dance” may change, the “song” remains the same. It would be impossible to describe or list every questionable, unprofessional scam out there waiting. At the conclusion of this article, we will provide dozens of links to specific examples and other resource websites.
Still not sure you should believe us? We invite you to read more about why you should trust us here:
Who Do You Believe?
Ready for the the 411 on scams? Consider this list of questionable kid actor businesses:
Modeling schools and acting “academies”. Most of these types of business ventures aren’t scams in the term of “bilking” someone out of their money. The catch is that often, they tend to offer sub-standard quality for very inflated prices. And they do steal something else…your child’s time. While you spend months “training” at these places, your child could have been building their resume with legit training and jobs. Instead, if your child enters the real entertainment world, the modeling school training will be the first thing to be dropped from your resume.
Talent showcases and competitions. Some have been around for years, some travel through town and promise exposure to agents and casting directors. Usually, they are connected to the modeling schools above (and offer kickbacks to said schools for the sale of their packages). In the last 10 years we have seen the business names change dozens of times, but the organizers are the same.
Websites. They entice you to pay for exposure (photos on their website), and some even offer “casting notices” or connections to photographers offering TFP (free) photos. The casting notices are usually old, bogus, or low/no pay jobs. The reality is that real casting directors are not searching the many databases out there for “fresh faces”. It just isn’t efficient—there is an entire system in place for professionals – starting with producers who work thru ad agencies who work with casting directors who seek professional talent. These sites really serve only as entertainment for spectators, in the form of pedophiles and other unsavory strangers. In some cases, these sites are linked to other “membership” sites that include child erotica. Even if the site is free, they will be using your child’s profile to make money…in other ways.
Fashion Week. These businesses offer auditions and modeling spaces at New York Fashion Week, and the other less prominent, industry-adjacent “fashion weeks” around the world. These are pay-to-play events where a child is auditioned, and then parent is asked to participate in some way — pay for the opportunity to walk, buy tickets, buy the clothing, pay for photos of their child on the runway, etc. These business do not have any real participation in Fashion Week events. They are put on by promoters who rent space in a distant hotel and create “fashion show” in a low-rent hotel conference room, where parents are the audience. There are no established designers or fashion buyers at these events. In New York, NYFW is an actual event designed for retail buyers. Child models are exceedingly rare. That is because NY passed a law drastically restricting the use of child models in 2014. When children are used, they are always hired through legitimate NY agencies.
One Stop Shopping, “consultants” and “marketing companies”. These are businesses who offer you packages of services. Similar to the modeling schools in that they are not agents, but offer to use their “connections” to set you up with housing, photos, agents, managers, workshops, and even extra work. Again, they aren’t exactly a scam, but they charge money for something that could be done for free. Their “connections” are almost always the lowest level and lowest quality. These pop up most often in relation to pilot season, targeting kids from out of town. Sometimes you will see them marketed as short term “boot camps” or summer camps for young actors.
Mall scouts. Approached in Target or at a kiosk in the mall? You were at risk of getting scammed. There is no such job description as a “talent scout” in Hollywood. Rather these are front men for other types of scams and rip-offs.
Brand Ambassador Casting. When you set up an online profile for your child, be it Tiktok, IG or FB, you are asking for the scammers to come out of the woodwork. You essentially put up a billboard for bad guys. Their scams usually start by approaching child actors who don’t have a big following. They offer you the opportunity to work as a brand ambassador if you just pay a registration fee, deposit a check into your account and send part of it back to them (a version of the Nigerian check scam), or ask you to pay for the clothes you will model. This is not an entry to the legit modeling or entertainment industry. This is you doing their advertising for them for free, and giving away your only product — your child’s image. Real casting directors and agents don’t want to try and sell what you have already given away for free. Never, ever pay to play.
Voiceover Employers. Since voiceover artists often work from home and are solitary, it leaves them vulnerable to a host of online predators. The scams here are mostly financial in nature, like check cashing scams. Some take the form of businesses who ask you to voice an entire commercial “just to see what you sound like” (they are going to use it as the final cut later, so you just worked for free). There are also businesses who will help you produce a voiceover demo to post on online casting sites — similar to photo mills scams described in the one stop shopping paragraph above. A great overview of VO scams is here.
In general, we have to accept that there are many people whose profession comes from providing services to child actors and their families. There’s nothing wrong with legitimate business ventures, of course. The trick is to sort out the scams (people who mislead you and con you out of your valuables), the rip-offs (people who don’t steal, but overcharge for low-level services), and the just “bad business types” (those who aren’t doing anything illegal, it’s just not the best business decision to work with them).
The first rule of thumb is to understand that in this industry, more expensive doesn’t equate to better. If someone could ‘buy’ success everyone would. Sometimes the most expensive services actually provide the least benefit.
Most of the “scams” operate in a similar way. In our society, scams and rip-offs committed against elderly people are very common since they prey on the senior’s inability to understand. In Hollywood, scams committed against children and their families are very common because they prey on our love and pride for our children. That is one consistent across all scams – they all say everything a parent would ever want to hear about how great, talented, beautiful, “star in the making” their child is. That is closely followed by playing on the guilt for a parent who might not be “allowing their child to follow their dreams”. Many of them explain their lack of ability to provide what was “implied” by their advertising and sales pitch, but pointing out that the experience was fun and unique for the child (and family), a great memory.
So how does a parent spot a scam?
LISTEN. One step is to really listen to your instincts. What seems too good to be true, usually is.
RESEARCH. Researching every company and person (See How to Research People) you are going to work with is of paramount importance. Use Google and check the names of the businesses as well as the names of the people you meet. Ask other parents. Email us.
Look for common red flags. Some red flags of a scam or rip-off include:
- being approached in a mall, family store or other public place
- name dropping such as “a casting director from shows LIKE Stranger Things or Andi Mack ”, Does your child want to be on Disney Channel?” or naming famous alumni (which rarely turn out to be supporters of the program), or the use of Disney and Nickelodeon logos (trust us…they don’t support these things)
- promising work, access to breakdowns, or access to talent agents
- asking you to “dress for success”. They are judging the brand of your shoes and handbag, the value of your jewelry to see how much you might pay.
- using several different names for their business or they change the name frequently. Check your credit card receipt and see if it is from the same company name.
- seeing an ad on social media, Mandy.com, or hearing it on the radio.
- seeing an “sponsored content” show on a local news station, or seeing a sponsored news clip on the company website. These are tough to spot sometimes, but just know that they bought that interview, like a commercial. It is not an endorsement by the news station at all. You can watch more about this practice on a clip from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
- the terms “casting call”, “open call”, “audition” or “callback”. This is a mis-use of terms that refer specifically to a job opportunity, not to an opportunity to pay or go to a class. They are attempting to make you feel “chosen” or special.
- charging a fee for an audition or to submit an audition tape
- asking to send you a check for a job to deposit in your bank account. This is a sign of this sort of scam.
- bad grammar and signs that English is not their first language. Many showbiz scammers are located in countries like Nigeria, Latvia, India and Brazil. Trust us, every real casting director we know employs perfect English.
- use of the words “star”, “fame”, “you have the look”, “boot camp”, “Hollywood University”
- putting pressure or time limits on the offer such as “we only bring back 10% of the kids we see, not everyone makes it”, “we can only hold the spot for 3 days”, etc.
- use of the terms “top Hollywood talent agent/manager/casting director”
- charging upfront fees for representation. In California, this practice falls under the Krekorian Scam Prevention Act. This is why many scammers travel the country. Hollywood recognizes the scam artists so they can’t do business as easily here.
- long term contracts that must be paid for in advance. Legitimate acting classes are offered for 10 weeks or less at a time, with professional level group acting classes costing around $45 per hour. Anything longer, or costing more is a red flag.
- colorful, slick marketing materials. Full color brochures, television commercials and expensive presentations. They put far more money into marketing the “product” than they do into the product itself. Are the sales people paid on commission? Will they let you audit a class or see the final product without paying?
- exceedingly nice sales people. Predators have to be nice. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t get their prey.
- traveling “shows”. Beware businesses from out of town setting up temporary digs in hotels and convention centers. Would you give thousands of dollars to any other business that doesn’t have an office?
- an endorsement/welcome letter from a government official. These are typically provided as an encouragement for tourism to conventions buying large blocks of hotel rooms, and are not actually a researched endorsement of the acting business.
- a lack of the proper permits for the type of business they operate. In California, for instance, most of these businesses must have a Krekorian Talent Service Bond, and all their staff must have a Child Performer Services Permit. If they are missing these things, do not work with them under any circumstances.
WAIT. Leave your credit cards at home. Sometimes the best way to spot a scam is to separate yourself from the situation and sleep on it. Talk to your spouse. Run it by a friend. And if you don’t have your checkbook/credit cards, it forces you to think about it without that pressure. Real auditions don’t require payment of any kind.
“But some people say it is OK….”
Of course every story has 2 sides, and you may find a former client ‘vouching’ for a business because they *felt* successful or they had fun. Please read the companion article that outlines just who you should listen to, and why, (See Who Do You Believe? ) One very common example of these discussions revolves around talent competitions/showcases and talent/modeling schools.
Consider this perspective as posted on Backstage:
“If we view a child’s entertainment career as a business (because it is) – families who go the competition/convention route entering the business start off thousands of dollars in the hole – to “hopefully” get an agent and manager. For the people who really like their individual situation – ask them what’s the success rate of ALL the children in their child’s classes? Never mind their little budding star… what about the others?”
Getting an agent or manager can be accomplished for under $100 via picture submissions. Really. Honest. Your child doesn’t have to be at a showcase to have an agent notice them and see if they might fill a hole in their roster. Signing with an agent (and perhaps manager) is the very basic cornerstone of the industry. It’s not a guarantee of success. A good percentage of represented child actors never, ever work.
A child is going to need to book about $30,000 of work (at least) to even make up for the cost of the classes/showcase – depending on how many other people (agent, manager, trust account, and taxes) they are paying. It puts a tremendous strain on the child’s “business” to start out so much in the hole. The finances are often the source of many difficulties within a family.
The “awards” and training – will be the first thing to LEAVE the professional resume. The industry does not afford any respect to participation in talent competitions. Winning ‘Child Actor of the Year” isn’t going to bring you employment or success in the industry.
We understand why parents want to see it otherwise – but we have heard thousands of stories from people who experienced this. They describe that it’s a lot like a slick boyfriend. They say all the right things to get you interested, but later, looking back, you sort of regret the time you spent with them. There are many people who are angry out there. Yet, good news for competitions – there are still people willing to believe that it’s the best choice they can make to get their child an agent, when it’s really the only option they ever even considered.
I’ve been scammed, what now?
First, don’t be embarrassed. MANY, many of us stumbled our way into this industry in ways we would rather forget. But you can recover. Perhaps the scammer did you a favor, and made your realize that A. your child really has a gift, and B. you need to get your business in order if you are going to support them the way they deserve.
There are legal remedies to getting scammed. Please email BizParentz and we can point you in the right direction if you feel like that is a route you want to pursue. Many families just count the experience as a very expensive lesson learned. Others choose to tell their story and prevent others from making the same mistakes. We applaud them! Next, re-group. You can find an agent/manager without spending any more money.
Read our article entitled “Just Getting Started.”
There are respected and standard websites that exist for marketing and casting in the industry. There’s no need to seek out untested and dangerous alternatives. See also articles on this website – Online Casting and All Roles Aren’t Created Equal. Even if you are fortunate enough to find someone that is ‘safe” to work with from these alternative methods – there certainly won’t be the level of pay you might expect to receive for your work.
Remember – a child’s professional career is a business – and to give away their time, energy, and talent is unnecessary and unfair to them.
Helpful Resources to Avoid Child Actor Scams
Don’t Get Scammed: How to Set Yourself Up for Success and Avoid Predators in Hollywood by Justin Ray for Los Angeles Times
Nightmares in the Dream Factory — How Hollywood Scams Would-be Child Stars — Rory Carroll for The Guardian
A Talent Agent on Hollywood’s Fringe (Lynn Venturella)
Aspiring Actors Reeled in by Listing Firms (Explore, OneSource, Nine9)
The Troubled Past and Questionable Benefits of Hollywood’s oldest Awards Show for Kids — Daniel Miller for LA Times
Look Out for Modeling Scams — FTC Press Release
What Does It Take to be a Disney Star? –– Neil Swidey for the Boston Globe
Too Good to Be True? Dateline NBC gets Advice from SAG, BBB and NYC Consumer Affairs
Reality Bites: Scammer Promises Modeling Hopefuls They Will be Reality Stars Chris Hansen for Dateline, NBC
The BizzyMama: Is It a Scam? About the Facebook Child Model & Talent Scams Group Diane Parese Holland
Modeling Scams: What to Look Out For — AllMyFriendsAreModels.com
Kids Runway Facebook Page — No Pay-to-Play — Chris Bradbury Thompson
Scam Season — Bonnie Gillespie, author of Self Management for Actors
Modeling Scams — The Model Alliance
Scam “Agencies” vs. Real Talent Agencies (read comments!) — Larry Herring for Acting Career Info.com
The Working Actor by Jackie Apodaca
One Parent’s Story The Hollywood Sting: Life in the Star Factory — The Independent
Talent Website Company Collected Kids Info Without Permission Explore Talent — FTC Press Release
How to Avoid a Casting Scam — Paychecks — Andrew Salamon for Backstage
12 Tips for Avoiding Casting Scams — Luke Crowe for Backstage
Actor Convention Scam — Bonnie Gillespie for The Actor’s Voice
Book: Glam Scam by Erik Joseph
Book: Under Investigation by Les Henderson
Modelling and Talent Scam — Consumer Protection Ontario
How Predatory Agencies are Using Instagram to Target Young Women (and kids!) — Jenna Sharma for Flare
Avoiding Scams in the Acting and Modelling World — Faze Toronto
Child Modeling Scams Still as Popular as Ever — Clark Howard
0-1 Visa and Immigration Scams: Canadian Talent Consultant Charged — Hollywood Reporter
Young Artist Awards and O-1 Visa — Daniel Miller for The Los Angeles Times
Avoid Pitfalls on the Road to Fame — CTV News Calgary (JRP related )
You’ve Been Scammed: What to Do — Actors and Modelling Information Service (AMIS)
Dying to Model Around the World? The Murder of Canadian Model Diana O’Brien — Tracy Nesdoly for The Star
It is extremely unlikely that a child from outside the US will be able to legally work in the United States.
Legitimate agents will not represent you for this reason, so there is no reason to pay for a showcase in Hollywood. Scammers recruit in other countries because they know you are unaware of standard business practices, criminal records and laws in the US. Be extremely wary!
New Zealand: Convicted Hollywood Talent Agent Offered Kiwi Children Stardom for $14,500 — Glenn McConnell for Stuff
New Zealand: Child Auditions Just a “Money Making Exercise — Nicholas Jones for NZ Herald
UK: Any Dream Will Do: Talent Agencies that Take Your Money and Run — Cath Hames for The Guardian
London: Would-be Models Duped by Platforms — Anna Tims for The Guardian
Australia: Is Premiere Legit? This Company Says it Can Help Kids Become Disney Stars — Jessica Chambers for MamaMia.com
Schools, Showcases and Competitions
Stardom for Sale (Next, Premiere, IPAS, Donna Groff, Barbizon) — Lily Moore-Eissenberg for Yale Politic
A Christian Path to Hollywood (AMTC) — Daniel Miller for the Los Angeles Times
What Does It Take to be a Disney Star? (Premiere, fka “The”) — Neil Swidey for Boston Globe
How Global One’s Questionable Practices Entangled Politicians, Child Actors and the Homeless (Global One, Sunny Chae, Worldwide Star Search, Rejoice in Hope) — David Robb for Deadline
Parents Pay for their kids to models on the fringe of the children’s fashion business (Little T’s, Nancy Vuu) — Daniel Miller for The Los Angeles Times
Profiting Off Aspiring Child Stars (Premiere, fka The Event, John Robert Powers, Pacific Modeling and Acting) — Richard Verrier for Los Angeles Times
Disney and Nickelodeon Auditions: How the Scam Works — AuditionsFree.com
Investigation: Fake Disney “auditions” Misleading Parents, Kids (ATG, ACT, iPop *NOTE DISNEY STATEMENT) — Matthew Grant for Fox News Charlotte
“The Event”: How My Child Learned About Humanity’s Ugly Side (Premiere, fka The Event) — Catherine Crawford for Huffington Post
4 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Buy Your Child Stardom — Denise Simon for Backstage
Class Action Claims Talent Agency Cheated Kids (Erik DeSando, Be Productions *class action was WON in 2014, over 5000 victims)
GoBeonTV, Be Productions BlogSpot (re: Erik DeSando, Adrian R’Mante) — Blog by victims of scam *class action was won
John Robert Powers Discussion — Professional Actors Resource Forum (free to register)
WANNABE STARS PAY PRICE – BIG BUCKS CAN’T BUY CAREER (IMTA), NY Post (PDF)
Model Scams Check IPOP scam — Crimes of Persuasion
Internet Companies / Mall Scouts / “managers”
InterFACE to Pay Restitution (Florida, New Jersey) (InterFACE, Industry Model and Talent)
Mad About the Boys: Lou Pearlman (Wilhelmina Scouting Network, Fashion Rock, N’Sync) — Bryan Burrough for Vanity Fair
Casting Director Workshops
LA City Attorney Files Charges Against 5 Workshops and 25 Individuals in Pay-to-Play Scam
Casting Director Found Guilty in Pay-to-Play Scam — Gary Baum for Hollywood Reporter
Note: there are numerous articles on this topic in 2017 & 2018. All workshops and casting directors charged either pled no contest or were found guilty.
New Economy: Pay for Play Auditions for Actors Gain Dominance — Gary Baum for Hollywood Reporter
SAGAFTRA Warns Members about Casting Director Workshop Scams — David Robb for Deadline
Casting and Audition Scams
Director Jon M. Chu “Disgusted” by Crazy Rich Asians’ Sequels Casting Scam (Alan Baltes) — Audrey Cleo Yap for Variety