If someone stops you on the street, hands you a card, and tells you "you've got the look," you may be on your way to becoming the victim of a modeling scam, the Federal Trade Commission advises. That was the case with three Washington, D.C.-area modeling agencies that, the FTC alleged, lured consumers into making substantial investments in their talent management services by promising high-paying assignments with well-known entities in the entertainment and fashion world. In fact, the FTC said, the companies' primary business was enrolling consumers in modeling and acting classes. The FTC has charged Model 1, Inc., Creative Talent Management, Inc., and The Erickson Agency, Inc. with misrepresenting their ability to get lucrative job assignments for consumers as models and actors. The defendants have agreed with the FTC to an interim court order not to engage in the practices alleged in the complaint pending final resolution of this matter.
"If someone approaches you on the street or on the subway, and flatters you by saying 'You've got the look that we are looking for,' hold on to your purse strings, " said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "You may be on your way to being a victim, not playing a role or posing for pictures."
This case is part of recent Commission efforts to stop bogus talent and modeling agents from engaging in deceptive practices. On May 27, 1999, the FTC announced that a federal District Court had temporarily halted Screen Test U.S.A., a New Jersey based company, and its affiliates, from misrepresenting their expertise at judging the suitability of children to become models and actors, and misleading consumers to believe that their chances of being picked up by well-known talent agencies were enhanced by the consumers' affiliation with Screen Test U.S.A. The Commission announced on May 26, that it had won a permanent injunction against National Talent Associates, another New Jersey-based seller of child-modeling services. In addition, to further educate consumers on how to avoid being victims of a modeling rip-off, the Commission has published a consumer brochure, "If You've Got 'the Look' ... Look Out! Avoiding Modeling Scams." The brochure tells consumers what the unscrupulous model and talent scouts say versus what they actually mean.
The FTC's complaint names Model 1, Inc., based in Tyson's Corner, Virginia, and its president, Jason Hoffman; Creative Talent Management, Inc. and its president, Ralph Edward Bell; and The Erickson Agency, Inc. and its president, Patricia Erickson. Both Creative Talent and The Erickson Agency are based in McLean, Virginia. According to the complaint, the defendants represent themselves as talent management agencies. The defendants' salespeople approach consumers in public places -- in shopping malls and metro stations -- throughout the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area with a line and a card. When consumers come to the defendants' office for what they believe is a job interview, they are instead sold a package of training classes and photographs that costs anywhere from several hundred to more than a thousand dollars. In order to convince the consumer to pay for the training program, the defendants falsely represent that they are highly selective in their scouting, screening and review process; that acceptance into their training program is extremely limited; that they have placed models and actors in many glamorous jobs, such as popular movies, tv shows, or print ads for major retail department stores and associations, and that the applicant can expect substantial pay as a model or actor, if accepted.
To further boost applicants' interest, the defendants claim that their primary source of income comes from the commissions on the modeling and acting jobs they get for consumers. In fact, according to the FTC, consumers who completed the defendants' training program seldom receive any paid employment, and as a result, the defendants get their income from fees paid by consumers for their management "services" including modeling and acting classes, not commissions as they claimed.
The Commission vote to authorize staff to file the complaint was 4-0. The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, in Alexandria, on May 25, 1999. The FTC received tremendous assistance from the Washington, D.C. Better Business Bureau, and the Fairfax County (VA) Department of Telecommunications and Consumer Services.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has "reason to believe" that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law. The case will be decided by the court.
Copies of the news release and the consumer brochure are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and copies of the FTC's complaint, as well as other documents associated with the modeling cases are also available from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-FTC-HELP (202-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
(FTC File No. 962 3251)
(Civil Action No. 99-737-A)