Moms and pops are suckers for their own little ones, especially in those sunny preteen days when nearly every kid could be a Gap model or at least mug on the cover of a cereal box, you know, before little Timmy and Sue get mugged by puberty. That brand of potent parental affection is exactly the lever that a Boca Raton talent agency allegedly monkeyed with to illicitly snag cash. According to a lawsuit recently filed by the Florida Attorney General's Office, these guys filled parents' ears with slick talk and big promises, then tangled them in webs of fine print before walking away with thousands of dollars.
The lawsuit filed by the AG's office is against InterFace 3 LLC, a Boca business that operated as a half-dozen other businesses in Florida, New York, Atlanta, and New Jersey. What links the various companies are the main player -- Roman Vintfeld, of New Jersey -- and the same alleged scam.
According to the court filings, the businesses tried to get parents to sign up with the company as talent scouts for "models, singers, musicians and actors in exchange for fees," boasting of having helped "over 10,000 people get started in exciting Entertainment and Fashion opportunities," the complaint states.
The company's sale pitch was down pat: InterFace "scouts" would approach parents at malls across South Florida -- Sunrise, Miami, Pembroke Pines, Doral, Boca Raton, Wellington, and Fort Lauderdale.
They'd hit parents right in the sweet spot where familial affection and financial possibility cross: "profusely" complimenting the kids' looks and talking up their potential in modeling and acting. Parents would fill out cards and later receive calls from the company claiming a "director" wants to meet the family at no cost to the parents.
You probably see where this is going -- but you can imagine it's hard to see clearly when your kid suddenly think she's a lock for the next Ariana Grande.
According to the AG's office, the company's representatives pulled no stops in the initial meetings: Lowly employees with no industry experience were given flashy titles like "evaluation director"; promising the kid had "the look"; pressing parents to "invest" in this "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity"; bragging up bogus connections to real deal talent agencies and companies like Gap, Nickelodeon, and Disney; and boasting about an 80 percent success rate.
All these claims, the AG's office claims, were "false and misleading." What actually happened was parents were pressured into signing "professional service agreements," which came with a price tag of $575 to $5,645. This was supposed to include the cost of a photo shoot, outfits, and headshots. But days after the photo shoots, parents were corralled again by company reps, who explained they'd need an additional $800 to $2,400 to successfully market the kid. "Notably, all the above sales tactics are employed on parents in the presence of their children," the complaint notes.
And what did that expensive market amount to? "[A] total of three emails containing the child's profile page sent to 'industry professionals,'" the complaint states. "In most cases, these emails are no better than spam mail, and are completely ignored by reputable agencies and casting companies."
InterFace also allegedly told parents there was a three-day cancellation period during which they could walk from their contract. Turns out, the fine print was such that it was hard to bail on the contract; the InterFace employees would ignore parents who were trying to get out of the deal.
InterFace isn't a stranger to angry costumers. In the past year, news stations in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta have both featured spots on the company's shady dealings. The New Jersey attorney general also sued Vintfeld and company; in 2013, the company agreed to a $400,000 settlement and $100,000 restitution to former clients.
The recent Florida suit, which is based on the same kind of allegations, charges the company with violations of the state's deceptive and unfair trade practices statute.