FTC Seeks to Close Down Fraudulent Model and Talent Scout Operation
Parents should not be fooled by ads that promise modeling or acting jobs for their children, the Federal Trade Commission said today as it announced charges against a bogus model and talent scout operation, Screen Test U.S.A. In television, radio, Internet and newspaper ads Screen Test U.S.A. seeks children to appear in t.v. commercials and magazines. It boasts that it has created more stars than any other company and that its clients appear in national advertising campaigns. The FTC alleges that these claims are false and that Screen Test U.S.A. misrepresents its expertise at judging the suitability of children to become models or actors. It also misleads consumers to believe that their chances of being picked up by well-known talent agencies are enhanced by being represented by Screen Test U.S.A., the agency said.
A federal District Court in New Jersey temporarily halted Screen Test U.S.A.'s operation, froze their assets and appointed a receiver, pending a hearing for a preliminary injunction, at the FTC's request. A preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled for 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, June 8. The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, and the Attorneys General for Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Florida also are filing separate lawsuits against the defendants and provided tremendous assistance to the FTC.
According to the FTC, parents are enticed by the company to buy a "screen test' to see whether their child has the potential to become models or actors. This "screen test," the FTC alleges, is a come-on to get consumers to buy an array of costly modeling or acting programs.
"This screen test was a smoke screen," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "It concealed a barrage of misrepresentations, deceptions and hype used to convince consumers that it was easy to get into professional modeling and that modeling jobs are plentiful. Consumers who bought products and services from these individuals thought they were getting good advice from seasoned professionals, and they weren't."
To add credibility to their activities, Screen Test U.S.A. claims it is endorsed by the American Child Actor and Modeling Association (ACAMA) - a so-called "leading independent, nonprofit consumer protection organization formed to protect consumers from unethical business practices" -- and encourages parents to contact ACAMA to check Screen Test U.S.A. out. In fact, according to the FTC, ACAMA is nothing more than a shell corporation created and controlled by the owner of Screen Test U.S.A., Fred Vanore. The FTC further alleges that the defendants refuse to give refunds to consumers who are not satisfied with their services, in violation of the FTC's Cooling-Off Rule.
The FTC's complaint names Screen Test U.S.A., Inc., based in Wayne, New Jersey, Fred Vanore, and American Child Actor and Modeling Association, Inc.; Premier Marketing Inc. (New Jersey) based in Kenilworth, New Jersey, and Alice McManus; R.J. Ims Corporation and Richard J. Ims Jr., based in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania; Premier Marketing Inc. (Connecticut); Show Biz Central of Westchester, Inc. and John Yannielli; Tomorrow's Stars, Inc. (based in Boca Raton, Florida), and Edward J. Bauer and Helen J. Bauer. These corporations and individuals formed a common enterprise to control and operate Screen Test U.S.A., the agency charged.
According to the FTC's complaint, once consumers call the telephone number listed in the ads, they are told that they will receive a "screen test" conducted by a professional "talent director" to determine whether their child has what it takes to become an actor or model and that only select children pass the screen test. Once the consumers have agreed to the screen test -- which costs approximately $45 -- they are encouraged to buy a copy of the test for an additional fee. The talent director fills out a form printed on ACAMA letterhead, stating that the child has passed the screen test and can begin earning money. During the initial visit, the FTC alleges, the defendants pressure consumers into buying an "agency introduction program," which consists of photograph packages ranging in price from $495 to $795.
The consumers are told that people who buy and complete Screen Test's program have a much higher success rate or are more likely to get agency representation or acting or modeling jobs. Consumers are then encouraged to contact ACAMA to check out Screen Test U.S.A.'s reputation. Consumers who call ACAMA or visit its website at " http://www.acama.com " believe they are dealing with an independent organization, when in fact, ACAMA shares an address and telephone number with Screen Test U.S.A., Inc. and defendant Vanore owns the web site. At the end of the "agency introduction program," consumers receive 100 color portrait-type photos of their child, envelopes and address labels, and a list of addresses of modeling or talent agents. If consumers were dissatisfied with the programs and wanted to cancel, Screen Test refused the cancellation request, citing the "no refund" wording on their invoices or receipts, according to the FTC.
Because the defendants conducted business at locations other than their permanent offices, they are required to give consumers who buy at these locations the option of canceling their purchases and getting a full refund, the agency said. The FTC alleges that Screen Test U.S.A. violated the FTC's Cooling-Off Rule by failing to provide consumers with the appropriate forms or notices of their right to cancel. (Under the Cooling-Off Rule, the salesperson must tell you about your cancellation rights at the time of sale. The salesperson also must give you two copies of a cancellation form -- one to keep and one to send-- and a copy of your contract or receipt. The contract or receipt should be dated, show the name and address of the seller, and explain your right to cancel. The contract or receipt must be in the same language that's used in the sales presentation).
The Commission vote to authorize staff to file the complaint was 4-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, in Newark, on May 24, 1999 under seal. The seal was lifted at noon today.
As part of its continuing effort to stop the deceptive practices of bogus talent and modeling scouts, the FTC announced on May 26, 1999 that a federal district court issued a permanent injunction against National Talent Associates, Inc. (NTA), based in Fairfield, N.J., with offices in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. The court order stems from FTC charges filed in June 1996 against N TA and its president, Jerome P. Ashfield, alleging that they violated a previous consent order by continuing to misrepresent their ability to place children in high-paying modeling and acting jobs.
To educate consumers on how to avoid being victims of modeling scams, the agency also 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 victimized. The brochure also tells consumers where to complain if they think they have been scammed by a bogus model or talent scout.
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, "If You've Got 'the Look' ... Look Out! Avoiding Modeling Scams" are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and copies of the FTC's complaint and other documents associated with this case, 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. 982 3634)
(Civil Action No. 99-2371 (WGB))
Office of Public Affairs
Cleveland Regional Office
Eaton Center, Suite 200
1111 Superior Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44114
216-263-3404 or 216-263-3414
ATTN: Screen Test U.S.A.
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 2058