Beware of Film Scams
Joseph Medawar was arrested last Friday for bilking $5.5 million from investors for a TV series on the Dept. of Homeland Security that never materialized. Investors included churches and even California state legislators. Medawar fraudulently claimed that the series was endorsed by President Bush himself.
Showbiz has always had a very close ugly stepsister: scams. From minor offenses like a "producer" inflating or being vague about his credentials, to the "casting couch," to bogus film investments, to film festivals that charge high submission fees and make false promises of distribution, to script stealers, the entertainment industry has always attracted con artists, crazies, and crackpots.
Hawaii's film industry has had its share of scams over the years. Most of these have been targeted toward Hawaii's aspiring actors, many of whom are attractive, young, and naive folks who have an earnest desire to "make it" and live the glamourous Hollywood life.
Yesterday, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin's Tim Ryan alerted the Hawaii Film Office to one such scam that he recently found on Craigslist. The scam involves a "casting service" called "Global Casting Network" that poses as various film productions seeking non-union extras and actors, offers a toll-free number to call, then does a bait-and-switch by asking you to pony up over a hundred bucks for your portfolio to be featured on its Web site. Tim will cover the story in his weekly column next Wednesday, but in the meantime, here's what I've been able to dig up:
- Global Casting Network is a widespread entertainment scam that started several years ago under the name Exposed Casting. After getting tons of complaints, they changed their name to Star Search Casting, then PrimeTime Entertainment, then ShowTime Entertainment, and now Global Casting Network.
- The company has managed to scam thousands of unwitting aspiring actors, despite many complaints logged with Attorney Generals all over the U.S.
- The company takes your money and never makes good on its 30-day money back guarantee.
This is just the most recent scam in a string of Hawaii entertainment scams. Past scams include:
- a modeling agency that charged exorbitant fees for photos and "workshops," and never paid its models;
- a company purporting to represent Warners, Fox, and Columbia for casting and hiring production assistants, only to make people rack up minutes at a 900 number;
- a phone scam in which fake mainland producers called up Hawaii actors and told them to wire money in exchange for a role in a feature film;
- an "entrepreneur" who tried to enlist the state's help to acquire the Walt Disney Company and relocate it to Hawaii;
- a company charging $7,000 in exchange for training and a job as a production assistant;
- and a "movie producer" looking for a "tennis & golf partner, to train for a movie. Raw food chef a plus."
To everyone reading this: please be skeptical of EVERY ad, service, claim, product, person, production, company, or organization you encounter in the entertainment industry. For every legitimate thing, there are probably 10 scams. Do your research before applying, submitting, calling, paying, etc. Here are a few tips on how to check if something's legit:
- Google it: The commercial Internet has been around for over ten years now. Use it. Try other search engines too (Yahoo, AskJeeves, MSN, etc.) to get different results.
- Ask around: Chances are, scammers have scammed before.
- Look for bad grammar and bad spelling: Most con artists aren't Ivy League graduates. Though Ivy League grads have their share of phonies and crooks (oh, and bad spellers) among them.
- If a URL is provided, look for shoddy Web site design.
- Do a WHOIS search to find out whom a Web domain is registered under.
- Check the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection site for the latest Hawaii scams and for what to do when you think you've fallen victim to a scam.
- Check the Better Business Bureau site to seek out past complaints by company or charity name.
- Check About.com's Urban Legends & Folklore site.
- Go with your gut: if it smells like a scam, chances are, it is a scam.