Scam Alert: Beware of Casting Scams!
The Back Stage Casting Department puts great effort into stopping scams from being published in Back Stage; blocking spammers, scammers, and other bad guys from using the BackStage.com Multimedia Resume Talent Database for illegitimate purposes; stopping acting scams and modeling scams; and removing scams from Back Stage whenever a casting notice turns out to be bogus.
However, sometimes con artists still slip through the cracks — so we depend on our readers to let us know if they run into a problem. If you report a scam, we'll quickly investigate and remove any fake casting notices and scammers.
Here are five casting scams and suspicious situations to watch out for:
1) THE BAIT-&-SWITCH: If a company is charging any fees or trying to sell a product or service, it should be clearly listed in their casting notice; they shouldn't surprise you with hidden or unexpected fees after you've applied to the project. You should always know about all possible fees and costs upfront, whether it be membership dues for theater groups and film collectives; tuition for workshops and classes; registration/application fees; recording fees; mandatory photography and marketing costs; etc. And talent agents and managers should never charge upfront fees; they should only be paid via a percentage-based commision when they book you work. Keep an eye out for projects that try to "bait" you with a cool-sounding casting notice and then "switch" things around at the last minute by trying to charge you for something that wasn't mentioned in their original notice.
The charging of fees is often questionable. However, depending on the situation (and state law) the fees may be totally legal. Regrettably, fees are becoming prevalent among low-tier regional casting and talent agencies (that might not try to illegally charge you for representation, but instead will try to upsell you on photo packages and classes and charge fees for including you on their websites, even though they're representing you for "free") and recording studios and music producers (that might put out a call to find talent for a band or music label, but then try to charge some of the singers and musicians to record and produce their tracks to help them "break into the industry"). But if they're legit at all, they'll at least let you know about all the required fees upfront.
2) CHECK FRAUD & WIRE-TRANSFER SCHEMES: A common scam involves a person or company (usually operating under a fake name or stolen identity) offering to cast you in a project that will later turn out to not exist. They might mention their company name and send you a link to their website; but in reality they're not really associated with the company or website they say they're working for. And usually they won't even bother auditioning you; they'll just say they want to hire you right away. And then they'll offer to pay you upfront, before you've even done the gig. This is a classic case of, "it's too good to be true."
What happens next is that they'll either ask you for your banking information so they can deposit money into your account (but instead they'll try to steal your money). Or, to make themselves seem less suspicious, they'll send you a check in the mail. Sometimes they'll even send the check via next-day-delivery. And the check will be for even more money than they said they'd send you! This is where things get really tricky: The con artists will come up with an excuse for why they sent you too much money. They'll ask you to send them some of the money back. To sweeten the deal, they'll probably offer to let you keep some of the extra money for yourself, as a bonus, in exchange for sending them some of the money back or for sending some of the money on to someone else that's also supposedly working on the project.
They might ask you to send the money through the mail, but more likely they'll ask you to send the money via a wire service like Western Union. The name and address you wire the money to doesn't really matter; money-transfer services like Western Union allow anyone to pick up funds from anywhere in the world regardless of the name and address the money was sent to; all the scammer needs is the access code for picking up the money. Eventually you'll find out that the check they sent you was a fake or stolen or connected to an empty account; your bank won't give you the money (or they'll take it back) and you could be fined for trying to cash a bad check. And by then the scammers, somewhere else in the world, will already have the "extra" money you wired them — your money. And they'll be untraceable.
These types of scammers usually have terrible grammar and a bad understanding of entertainment-industry terminology. And they're especially fond of offering fake modeling jobs for clothing catalogs, textile companies, and commercials for projects that involve lots of "exotic travel" and "great pay." But beware of any gig that offers to pay you upfront with a check or asks you for your bank details before you've even auditioned.
3) AUDITION & SUBMISSION FEES: There are a few times when it might be legal to require an actor, model, or performer to pay a fee to be considered for a project. For instance, a live talent competition or an online video contest can charge an entry fee. And some professional dance organizations charge a small fee to take a choreography class before their auditions (a number of professional sports teams do this for their dance- and cheer-squad auditions). However, charging audition and submission fees is not typical in most cases; it's frowned upon by the unions; it could be considered a "pay to play" scam; and it may be in violation of several state and federal labor laws that prohibit employers from charging prospective employees for the opportunity to be considered for a job (an audition is a job interview, even if you're working for free). If an audition, submission, registration, or entry fee is required, then at the very least this requirement should be clearly listed in the project's casting notice in Back Stage, or else it falls into the "bait & switch" territory mentioned above.
4) UNEXPECTED NUDITY: If a project is casting for a role that requires any nudity or sexual situations, then reference to the nudity and sexual aspects of the plot should be included in the project's casting notice. Typically, any nudity requirements for a specific role will be listed in the character's breakdown (the character description) in the casting notice; but sometimes there will be a note somewhere else in the casting notice that explains that multiple roles will involve nudity or sexual situations.
If a casting notice does not say anything about nudity, then the project indicated to Back Stage that no nudity was involved. If they surprise you with a request for nudity after you've applied to the project, then something is amiss; if they were being honest, they would have listed the nudity in their original casting notice.
Also, even for projects that have been upfront about nudity requirements, it's usually very inappropriate to ask for nudity at the first round of auditions. Beware of projects that require nudity at your first audition; this could be a serious danger sign, or at least a sign of unprofessionalism. Don't cave in to pressure or aggressive tactics; simply decline. If the people casting the project made you feel uncomfortable, then don't work with them. If a project is serious, they won't ask for nudity until the call-back auditions or possibly not until you're actually on set; you'll know well ahead of time about the requirement; and everyone will behave in a professional manner.
It's also always a good idea to bring a friend along with you to any audition location that you think might be questionable; or any out-of-the-way audition location you haven't been to before; etc. There are perverts and dangerous people out there, so be safe, be cautious, and always let your friends know when and where you're auditioning and when you'll be back.
Also beware of projects that ask you to appear nude while auditioning you online (e.g., a video-chat audition through a service like Skype). To make themselves appear innocent, sometimes these webcam scammers will come up with "good" excuses for why the nudity is required: A common scam is for the fake producer/director to say they're casting for a commercial, infomercial, or documentary about breastfeeding, breast pumps, or nursing bras. The projects aren't real, and the scammers could be secretly recording your "online audition" for their own purposes.
5) BOGUS CASTING WEBSITES: Watch out for casting websites that promise casting calls for big-name movies and television programs — a lot of disreputable casting sites have fake casting notices for real projects. They might grab the real project details for major feature films and TV shows from legit websites like BackStage.com and IMDb, to make their casting notices sound real; but when you use these sites to submit to projects online, your submissions will go nowhere.
Sometimes scammers will even include an email address in their fake casting notices, but the email accounts are secretly being controlled by the swindlers and not the real casting directors; when you email your pix & résumés, you'll get added to the scammer's spam list but you'll never get cast. Or the site might be stealing old audition notices and breakdowns from real casting sites — bad casting sites have been known to edit old casting notices copied from other websites, making the notices sound like they're still current and calling for submissions from lots of different types of actors, but in reality the projects have already finished casting, and the casting directors will have no idea that their casting notices are still running on these other casting websites they've never even heard of. For instance, ActorsClub is a known spammer with lots of complaints on file. Check the Back Stage forums to get feedback on sites you're not sure about.
The FTC also advises, "If you think you've been scammed by a bogus model or talent scout, contact your local consumer protection agency, state Attorney General, or Better Business Bureau... To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov."
If you know about any scams that actors, models, and performers should avoid, please leave a comment below.
-- Luke Crowe, National Casting Editor, Back Stage