Like so many 16-year-olds, Angel Bloss of Waterloo, N.Y., dreams big.
She wants to be a runway model, or maybe a film producer. She likes acting, singing and photography.
On Facebook recently, she found Interface Talent Network of South Norwalk, which calls itself a talent company that's helped more than 10,000 people "get started in exciting entertainment and fashion opportunities." Here's a company that could help her reach "top industry professionals."
This could be her ticket, even though many of these talent/modeling agencies often build up hopes and deliver little more than an expensive photo shoot.
Yet her mother, Linda Galloway, was willing to listen. She drove Angel 300 miles and about five hours from Waterloo to South Norwalk in early May for an interview with Interface. They spent close to $100 on gas, $200 on a nearby hotel and by the time they left the interview, dazzled, they agreed to a professional service agreement for $595 they didn't have. It was an exciting, if expensive, stay.
"They helped our daughter feel like a star," says Galloway.
Interface offered a payment plan with four installments of $100 in May and the final $200 on June 1. The photo shoot was scheduled for June 2. After making three payments, Galloway found an Internet news story from 2011 about a three-year investigation by the state attorney general in New Jersey that resulted in a suit charging two modeling and talent companies with fraud.
One of them, Interface Talent Group, was owned by Roman Vintfeld, who also owns the Interface agency in South Norwalk. The two New Jersey businesses were charged with signing up parents at theme parks and malls after promising to get their children into modeling and acting careers. The businesses were accused of misleading parents into thinking they were modeling or talent agencies when, in fact, they only offered photo shoots.
Galloway, panicked, called The Bottom Line. She had already made three payments and her daughter's photo shoot was scheduled in two weeks.
"Is this a scam?" she asked.
As it turns out, the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection investigated Vintfeld's South Norwalk business three years ago. As part of a voluntary agreement, Interface promised to continue offering a three-day cancellation and refund policy and revised its advertisements to solicit information from parents instead of children.
The DCP has not dealt with Interface, which has operated under more than 20 names in at least three states, since. (Interface did not TBL's return calls requesting comment.)
"Complaints that have come to us since 2009," says DCP spokeswoman Claudette Carveth, "tend to be from persons who have tried to cancel but after the three-day cancellation has expired. There is nothing we can do at that point. The company is operating within the law."
So, no, it's not a scam. It's not a good investment, either.
After talking with TBL, Galloway made the final two payments and returned to South Norwalk with her daughter on June 1, again paying for a hotel room. Here is essentially what they got for the $595 and all the extra expenses: 48 photograph poses.
They also got a comp card, a mini-portfolio used as a business card by models, and an Interface "talent card." Galloway paid $50 for copies of some photos. When Interface asked for a $200 "marketing" fee due July 1, though, she canceled.
In the beginning, she says, "we were supposed to go down there and find out what it was all about but it was all about the money. It was really nothing about Angel."
That's the talent of many agencies of this type. They make a child feel like a star at first, feed the dream to parents, then send a bill.
"Connecticut BBB hears from consumers who get buyer's remorse and struggle to get a refund," says the Better Business Bureau's Howard Schwartz. "Unfortunately, they sometimes miss the deadline or don't meet the terms and conditions of the contract."
Galloway says her daughter had an "awesome time" at the photo shoot and still wants to be a plus-size runway model. They're still chasing the dream, only now hoping for a scholarship to a modeling school in Syracuse.