Whether you're new to Hollywood or have been around, always be vigilant: Old scams never die, and new scams are forever being created. If only they'd put that creative energy into scripts...
Guarantees, promises of employment: Unless it's a production company that has a contract with you to do a job, no "agent" or "manager" can guarantee that you'll get work from him or her.
Upfront fees. California Labor Law clearly states that no one shall pay a fee to procure employment. Hollywood is not exempt from this rule. You should not have to pay to audition, nor should you have to pay for representation. Your agent or manager gets paid only when you do--after a job. However, extras casting agencies may provide a registration and/or photo fee based service to be included in their permanent files for consideration on all project. The average fee is $20 and should be a one-time deal.
Advertising. Think about why you see a certain company's ads everywhere, or those telephone pole fliers from which you can tear off a phone number. If the company were so great and doing such good business, why would it be advertising? Wouldn't past clients spread the good word? Also, think about why certain advertisements are so vague. Why isn't the name of the company included? Why doesn't it list some of its past credits? Why doesn't it say how much the "small processing fee" is?
They call you. How did they get your number? Many companies, often "acting workshops," will contact you pitching their services, although you never contacted them. Usually they bought your name and number and a thousand others when you submitted for some project or signed up for some other company's services. Always proceed with caution when they say you've got "star quality" and talent when they've never even seen you.
Hidden costs. Watch for hidden fees, outrageously expensive services, required classes before representation, or conflicts of interest, as when a manager also has an acting school or when an agent is also a casting director. Also look out for companies that recommend getting new headshots taken by their own "in-house" photographer. More often than not, the company and the photographer have an underlying agreement with each other to split the profits from your photo session.
Your safety. Avoid auditions at unsafe locations, abandoned buildings, private residences. If you are required to come alone to an audition, chances are reading a script is not the only thing you may be asked to do. You should never be asked to disrobe at an audition. Even if the role you are auditioning for involves nudity, there are ways to assess your body, as in form-fitting clothes or a swimming suit. And under no circumstances should you be videotaped or photographed nude for an audition. These tapes and pictures can end up on pornographic websites without your consent.
And if you've got a bad feeling that you've been ripped off by a phony manager or one of that oily ilk, there are a number of places to report this. The Better Business Bureau can tell you how many complaints there have been against the company you're dealing with and how they've been resolved, if at all. The number is (909) 835-6064 or visit www.betterbusinessbureau.com. The L.A. Department of Consumer Affairs is another good place to call for information and help, at (213) 974-1452. Or call the L.A. City Attorney's Consumer Protection Service: The helpful people there might not be able to go after the alleged suspect, and they can't disclose complaints they've had, unlike the BBB, but the City Attorney's Office does take note of repeat offenders, and it has successfully prosecuted management and extra casting scams in recent years; call (213) 485-4515.
Actor Information Services, which puts out the monthly guide The Agencies, wants to know if a supposedly legit agent is doing something questionable so that its agents listings are accurate, up-to-date, and reputable; (818) 905-1345.
And finally, please call us here at Back Stage West also, whether the sleazebag in question advertised in our paper--but especially then. We have a list of these people so we won't make the mistake of running their ads again--and occasionally, actors' complaints have led to exposes and investigative stories; (323) 525-2356.