We’ve heard rumblings that some people think the topic of scams in the talent industry is controversial and unclear. There are those who will claim to be against scams, but who seem to pick and choose among the same business models which individual businesses they support. There are those who will claim to be against scams merely to combat having their name associated with the word “scam”. We disagree that there is any confusion. The educated experts in the industry are very clear on the subject. So clear that labor unions, MPAA, Disney Studios, the Better Business Bureau, law enforcement, and yes, Bizparentz, joined together to write a law about it. That law is the Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act.
Talent scams are nothing new. There have been people willing to exploit others for many years, even as early as the 1920’s. Of course the tactics that were effective in the 1920’s would not work well today. Likewise, the tactics that were used even 10 years ago (when we first authored our current “Avoiding Scams” article) have morphed, but the basis of a “scam” is still the same: you aren’t getting what you believe you paid for.
Scams are a topic that should be discussed and like everything else, there are lots of places to get information. So who do you believe? We suggest you do what the real experts do. First, it is important to separate FACTS from OPINIONS. Then, it’s really important that we attach appropriate weight to the person we are getting information from. “Consider the source” is always good advice.
Just the Facts, Ma’am
In the case of unsavory talent services, facts are often hard to find. Still, BizParentz suggests you make a list (yes, really write it down) of the actual facts you have about a business before you pay. Ignore all the “believe in you” and “once in a lifetime opportunity” stuff. Those aren’t facts. Stick to the black and white, basic stuff such as:
- Are they operating legally? For anything involving California, they would have to abide by the Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act. Are they on the Department of Labor Talent Services Bond list for this year? That is a publicly searchable list because the government wants you to know. Are they complying with the other restrictions under the Krekorian Act? Do they have business licenses in the state you are paying in? Does every employee have a Child Performer Services Permit (aka fingerprint clearances)? That’s also a publicly searchable database.
- What are the dates of service? How many hours of instruction are you actually getting?
- Who owns this business? Where are they incorporated? How long have they been in business?
- What are they REALLY selling? What does the contract actually say (not what is promised verbally)? We’ve noticed that the new trend is for businesses to gain your trust by saying, “there are no guarantees, but…”. Their contracts actually say you will receive nothing for your money! If they promise nothing in writing, that is exactly what you will get.
- What are the credentials of the teachers and the owners of the business? Do they have acting and theatre degrees? Were they successful in their previous industry jobs? Ask for proof–IMDB listings, ads from tear sheets, etc. Have they been fingerprinted, and have those with criminal records been weeded out?
- What are the results? Ask about their success rate. Ask how many actors have made enough money, NET, in professional acting / modeling, to cover the cost of this event. Ask for names. Know that misnomers such as “callback rates”, and even rates of “signing with an agent” are irrelevant because they are easily manipulated by scammers and are not the end goal.
- How much is this REALLY going to cost? Including photos, travel and future events or classes. Will they be asking you for more money later (for a subsequent event, camp or class) ?
Legitimate talent services have no problem answering all of these questions directly. In fact, most of them should be on the company’s website in easy view. If you feel resistance in getting any of these FACTS, consider it a red flag.
Opinions: Everybody’s Got One
Opinions from others are valuable and it is good idea to seek them out. The problem is, it gets a little tough to decide who to listen to. It’s really important that we attach appropriate weight to the person we are getting information from. Consider the source.
If you are talking to someone who works in the industry in some capacity (celebrities, agents, managers, etc) you have to consider if they personally profit from the business model in question. They might present themselves as an “expert” but do they get paid directly by the business? Are they in a position to receive kick backs by referring people to other services (housing, camps, classes, photographers, etc). Are they marketing their service to the potential masses who might be attending a questionable event? If it appears that they do have some financial interests, either directly or indirectly, you need to factor that in.
If you are relying on someone who is currently involved in a business that you might consider a scam, such as another parent, you have to realize that the hallmark characteristics of scams are that people believe in them. In the end, as in the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme case, EVERYONE is surprised. There is no doubt that clients of Mr. Madoff would have offered glowing reviews of his services, and probably did. The fact that they were being deceived doesn’t make them bad people, quite the contrary, but it does make their information, perspective and opinion not too valuable. This is a tough one, because we want to believe that here is nothing so valid as an eye witness. It seems that would be the most quantifiable, reliable information available, but it is not.
If you are researching via the internet, you are tapping into a couple of sources. You have anonymous people free to say whatever they want, and it may be true, partially true, or completely false. There is no way to remedy that completely. If you read similar (not identical) information in different sources, you can reasonably conclude that they are likely at least partially true. Depending on the topic and the volume of information available, sometimes it is very clear. Also, be aware that the companies in question often make posts posing as customers trying to refute the complaints. If you keep your eyes open, you will begin to notice these types of posts, as they are very different than the typical consumer.
If you are able to find an abundance of legitimate news media coverage in your Google search, it is probably reliable information. Consider that major news outlets (such as CBS, NBC, ABC, the LA Times, NY Times, etc) must go through significant fact checking and legal reviews before they allow a story to hit the air. Watch out for local advertising though — those are typically handled by a different department at the media outlet and they do not endure the scrutiny that “news” does. Advertising includes display ads, website banners, and even morning talk shows where products are lightly pitched (and the company paid for the exposure).
The positive outcome of internet searches will be information from advocates, well respected journalists, labor unions, etc. These entities usually have nothing to gain by providing false information, and generally have a fuller perspective of the issues than either of the sources outlined above. BizParentz prides itself in being the leading advocate in this area.
So, Why Do We Care?
Our mission is to assist families in the entertainment industry, and most of the scam events are tapping into people who aren’t in the industry, and never will be. The talent scammers are seeking the general public that has little or no understanding of the industry – or worse, a total misconception that they think what they see depicted on TV is real. Those families are not in our industry, so why does BizParentz care?
We care first and foremost, because this does have an impact on the legitimate industry (in a negative way); it affects our employment environment. We care because we help many families who were scammed earlier in their career and see the real damage done to them. We care because we are mothers, and this is something targeted at children. We care because exploitation of families is wrong.
Why Should You Trust Us?
BizParentz was conceived as a resource for families in the industry that would always remain free. We have the most comprehensive articles on the net: full of details, facts and referencing other reliable resources. These articles are available for free without even registering for our website. You will find no GoogleAds on our site, as we don’t want the subject matter “talent scams” to generate a match for the very entities that are scam advertisements. We forego the profit for our integrity. We will not be an organization that works to encourage people not to pay for things they shouldn’t, while charging them. The fact that our information is free, isn’t an indication of it’s worth, but of our ability to speak freely, clearly, and with great intelligence about talent scams without having to be concerned about profit from them.
Do we have an eye witness view? Yes. We have attended some of the events we now consider scams. But we don’t need to attend all of them to see the common threads and call a spade a spade. We have gathered facts and sorted through the validity of different opinions, just as we are asking you to do.
It should be mentioned that our efforts do come with a cost. We have been targeted with libelous statements and have endured a lawsuit that was ultimately dismissed, but not without great financial cost for us. To be honest, we did consider if this was a risk worth taking, but we cannot in good conscience let the exploitation continue unchecked. We join with various journalists, law enforcement and the Better Business Bureau (also the recipients of legal action) in our efforts to continue to educate others, and to that end we will not knowingly allow misinformation to go unchallenged.
Speaking of educating others, who needs educating? It’s not just the consumers, the families who attend and are often misled. Many of the professionals who attend questionable events don’t know the real story of how the families got to where they are. They don’t understand what parents were told, how much they paid. How would they know? The event organizers certainly don’t tell them. Once you see the inner workings, it becomes much clearer why a business model is a talent scam.
What Can You Do?
In California, consumers have the benefit of some laws specific to talent companies, and what they can and can’t do. Please familiarize yourself with these laws, and please speak out when you see violations. Even if you reside and work elsewhere, there is benefit to understanding the California law. The spirit and integrity of the law is universal – the protections it provides SHOULD be provided everywhere and the law reflects how REAL Hollywood (not the wannabe scammers) works. Like most laws, the most effected geographic area tends to legislate the fastest. Just because you see businesses operating outside of California doesn’t mean that you can’t apply some of the standards to their business – you just have to know that you don’t have a law to force upon them. Remember, this isn’t about a child’s dream, it’s about employment – adjust the view just a bit and the exploitative actions, ie scams, become very clear. For a start, here is the letter of explanation sent to all talent services businesses from the Los Angeles City Attorney in 2010 when the law was passed: AB1319 Notification Letter.pdf
Some people believe that something shouldn’t be classified as a scam if it benefits even one person. We suppose maybe one person survived Bernie Madoff, too… but the devastation for others is hard to ignore. In the end, there is no controversy about scams. To the real experts, along with those parents who analyze the facts and sort the opinions, the situation is crystal clear.