In the past couple of decades, the children’s talent industry has been booming. Although the number of children who actually land a profitable modeling or acting gig is tiny compared with the number of those who dream of hitting the big time, promoters are still making millions by stoking those dreams of success.
While believing their child could be a budding star is a wish for many parents, it’s important to go into the search aware you could be investing in a scam. Not all child talent search companies are fraudulent, but many parents have spent their hard-earned money on companies that are outright scams or just can’t do what they promise. And, in some cases, you could be putting more at risk than your money.
The Federal Trade Commission recently settled charges with Nevada-based Prime Sites, a web-based talent search company going by the name of Explore Talent. The FTC said the company not only “misled consumers about the benefits of its premium paid services,” but also failed to obtain parents’ consent before collecting personal information about the children. Explore Talent has agreed to pay $235,000 in civil penalties to settle the charges.
In its complaint, the FTC alleges Explore Talent violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by “collecting and disclosing children’s personal information without obtaining parental consent and by failing to detail to parents and the public its collection, use, and disclosure practices.” The federal law, which went into effect in 2000, regulates what and how websites may collect information about children 13 or younger. Specifically, it requires that operators of websites must seek parents’ permission before collecting personal information about younger users.
Explore Talent’s website bills itself as the “Internet’s largest audition, job and casting call resource for actors, models, musicians, dancers, and production crews” and claims more than 10 million members. I couldn’t find any specific response to the FTC action, but the website contains two articles titled “ET is not a scam” and “ET is legit,” in which the company defends itself and its practices from charges of fraud and misrepresentation.
Additionally, the FTC says the company deceived consumers by “baselessly representing to prospective purchasers of its premium services that casting directors either had interest in them or had specifically chosen them for upcoming roles.” For example, one user reported being told by a telemarketer that speaking roles in an upcoming “Jack Reacher” film would be chosen from among Explore Talent users who signed up for a $39.95 per month “pro membership,” but the film’s casting director, when contacted by the user, denied the producers were working with Explore Talent and that the film’s speaking roles had already been assigned.
“Explore Talent collected the personal information of more than 100,000 children, but failed to adhere to the safeguards required by law,” said Acting FTC Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen. “Today’s settlement provides strong relief for consumers and will help ensure children are protected going forward.”