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Acting Scam Avoidance 101 and What To Do If It's Too Late

Scams abound in the acting and modeling businesses. Why? Probably because we're so incredibly desperate for jobs and gigs that we're willing to overlook the danger signs. However, forfeiting common sense is a really bad idea, because these scams could mean you won't get paid or that the work you've done may be deep-sixed, consigned to a professional bone yard. And who needs that?

What should you be watching out for?

  • Any talent scout or agent who guarantees to make you a star. No one can give that sort of guarantee. The audience holds that card.
  • Any agent who asks for money upfront to get you work. A genuine agent works for a percentage of what you're paid, which means you get paid first.

    Talent scouts or agents who insist you take their acting or modeling course before they'll get you work or that you use their photographer for your composite. These folks are making money off the courses and photography alone. They have no motivation to find you work.

    Anyone who insists that contracts aren't necessary. Verbal agreements are not enough.

    Any agent who promises to fill out the contract for you. You must fill it out AND get a copy.

    Agents who contact you but whose names you don't know, NO MATTER HOW FLATTERING THEY ARE. Many of them are here-today-gone-tomorrow. Before you sign a contract, check out the agent with the Better Business Bureau, SAG, or the state Film Commission. And ask other actors/models you know for their recommendations.

    An agent who will only allow contact by letter or e-mail, not phone. You need an agent who's responsive to you. However, don't waste the agent's time by calling constantly. A good portion of a reputable agent's time is spent trying to book you.

    Any photographer who insists you come to his place to have photos taken. Even if you go to a studio, don't go alone: take a friend. Be sure you know what pictures are taken and what will be done with them. A reputable photographer will have a contract for you to sign that explains exactly what things can be done with your photos, which things are excluded (for example, pornography or ads for cigarettes), and how much you'll get paid from any use of your photos (usually 10% of the use fee)

Finally, you need to watch out for anyone whose promises sound too good to be true. Because chances are, they are.

What to Do if You've Been Scammed and How to Stay Scam-Free

Okay, we've all been there. Stop crying, and contact the Better Business Bureau, SAG, the Consumer Protection Commission and tell everyone you know in the biz in order to keep the creeps from victimizing them, too.

This, however, may not get you your money back. To do that you'll need a lawyer, and lawyers are expensive, unless you can get someone who will take your case on a pro bono (unpaid) basis. Then, again, if you're lucky, you may have an attorney among your relatives who can go to bat for you.

There is another way to get legal advice whenever you need it. If you go online, you'll discover there are several legal "insurance" plans that enable you to pay a small amount every month to have a lawyer at your command at no extra charge -- not unlike health insurance, except that legal insurance costs much, much less. Even actors can afford it.

Furthermore, legal insurance plans can help with other legal issues that screw up your life: traffic tickets, landlord-tenant disputes, tax audits, consumer problems, disputes with contractors or service people, etc. The oldest and most highly-rated legal insurance plan is Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc., which began in 1972. It pays selected top-rated law firms a hefty retainer to serve PPL clients. For only $16 per month, you're entitled to unlimited phone conversations with a lawyer; having your contracts reviewed; having letters written on your behalf; representation for you and your dependents on moving traffic violations; trial defense services -- and even having your will drawn up (and updated every year!). Legal insurance plans are defensive, however: they won't help you sue anyone, but they'll help you defend yourself in a civil or work-related criminal suit. And they won't represent you on traffic charges that involve alcohol or other drug use.

It's Not Just You, Really

Finally, know that you're not alone if you've been victimized by a scam artist. All of us have succumbed to quick talkers from time to time. The important thing is to do something: report the scam artist now, tell all your friends right away and get legal advice in the future whenever you smell something fishy.

By Penny McCanles

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