A federal District Court in New Jersey has issued a permanent injunction against a New Jersey seller of child-modeling services, at the Federal Trade Commission's request. National Talent Associates (NTA) and its president, Jerome P. Ashfield, had been charged by the FTC with misrepresenting their ability to place children in high-paying modeling and acting jobs, in violation of a previous consent order. The court also ordered the defendants to pay a $160,000 civil penalty.
The court order stems from FTC charges filed in June 1996 against National Talent Associates, Inc. and Mr. Ashfield. NTA is headquartered in Fairfield, N.J., and has offices in the Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan areas.
In commenting on the court decision, Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection said, "National Talent Associates preyed on parents' pride in their children. NTA and Ashfield blatantly ignored our previous orders and continued to do business as usual. But the FTC is persistent in enforcing its orders and determined to stop deceptive practices."
In 1974, the FTC issued a complaint charging NTA and two of its officers, including Ashfield, with misrepresenting their ability to place children as models and entertainers. In 1975, the company signed a consent order permanently prohibiting misrepresentations about its ability to place its clients in modeling positions and requiring it to disclose specified information and provide customers with a three-day cooling-off period when signing contracts. In 1979 and 1985, NTA agreed to pay civil penalties of $25,000 and $150,000 respectively to settle charges that it had violated the order. In 1986, the order was modified to clarify certain information the company was required to provide to prospective clients.
The court's final order permanently prohibits NTA and Ashfield from misrepresenting that NTA and its sales agents have the expertise to judge the suitability of people as models, actors, or entertainers in the commercial advertising, talent modeling or entertainment industries; misrepresenting that signing with NTA enhances the prospects of being signed up by a talent agency; misrepresenting what clients can expect to earn from modeling or acting if they sign up with NTA; making representations that contradict the disclosures required by the previous FTC order; failing to refund all payments received under the contract within 10 business days after receipt of a valid notice of cancellation; and failing in any other way to comply with the provisions of the Commission's modified order.
The order further prohibits the defendants, starting on July 6, 1999, from making any in-home, in-office or other in-person sales presentations unless they have satisfactorily demonstrated to the FTC that they have instituted reforms that would prevent future violations of the Commission's order.
In its continuing effort to educate consumers on how to avoid being victims of modeling scams, the agency today released a new consumer brochure, "If You've Got 'the Look' ... Look Out! Avoiding Modeling Scams." The brochure cautions consumers about what unscrupulous model and talent scouts say versus what they may mean. It explains the difference between modeling or talent agencies and modeling or acting schools, and offers tips on how to avoid being a victim. The brochure also tells consumers where to complain if they think they have been scammed by a bogus model or talent scout.
"What could be more flattering to a parent than someone telling you that your precious little one is model material and their little face could appear everywhere -- in tv commercials, on the cover of a well-known magazine, in product ads for major companies -- everywhere," Bernstein said. In offering the following tips to consumers Bernstein added: "Be cautious! Don't let your emotions - and the company's flattery - take control! Unscrupulous model and talent scouts have their acts down pat. Read between the lines. Listen carefully to what they say versus what they mean."
Judge Katherine Sweeney Hayden entered the order for permanent injunction on May 4, 1999. The Department of Justice filed and litigated the case at the FTC's request.
Copies of the order of permanent injunction are 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. Copies of the news release, the consumer brochure, as well as other documents associated with the case, are also available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
(FTC Docket No. D.8960)
(Civil Action No. 96-2617)