Film Job Scams and How to Avoid Them – Take Two

I’ve written about it before, and I’ll likely write about it again — there’s many people out there taking advantage of folks desperate for work, a large percentage aimed directly at those trying to break into the film industry.

I actually had to push back on publishing this blog as more and more scams were outed daily on Facebook. Here we are going to look at some examples and discuss how to tell a job offer is actually a scam.

General Advice:

  • Actors should never be charged for a role or an audition. Never.
  • Actors do not pay to be represented by a casting agency. A legit agency makes money when you book roles. There is no upfront cost.
  • Anyone: If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is.
  • Beware of jobs offering weekly rates instead of day rates.
  • Be cautious with a job that seems to put the wrong duties on a job description (like a PA being expected to run sound or do payroll).
  • Do not trust someone who tries to send you a check before you do the job.
  • Be very cautious of anyone offering a big position above or below the line without seeing if you meet qualifications (I.e. Director of Photography job being offered without them seeing your resume or reel first.)

Check Cashing Scams

One of the most common scams we see in this business is the check cashing/phishing scam. In this one, the fake job provider sends you a check BEFORE the job in order for you to purchase equipment, pay other crew, or something similar. Usually this is aimed at production assistants and people new to the industry.

Nobody will send you a check before a job and nobody will expect a PA to purchase equipment or personally pay crew. The scam only serves to empty the unwitting person’s bank account, usually of thousands of dollars.

A play on this scam was posted on a Facebook group by Randy Swieca, adding in the New Coke flavor of Bitcoin to the mix. An applicant to the job said he was sent a check in the mail and told to deposit it in his account and send bitcoin to an undisclosed location. As the Facebook poster explained, money matters are a production accountant job, not something a PA is expected to do. The would-be applicant rightfully determined it was a scam and immediately posted a warning on the group where he saw the original post.

The Trying-Too-Hard Scammer

Zach Barry posted about a scammer going by the name Ann Gendry who sent an enormous block of text via e-mail.

For your sanity, I detail the red flags in the e-mail with this bulleted list:

  • Bad grammar examples: “I will like to thank you.”
  • Claiming the job will lead to a long-term opportunity. How?
  • Production assistant job that includes A LOT of duties that aren’t typical PA duties like check processing. She claims she is doing a short documentary, so it’s hard to believe she’ll need travel booking, making/distributing copies of scripts (for a documentary, remember), getting approval of copyrighted clips/music, assisting with pilot logistics (wasn’t it a documentary a minute ago?).
  • “Run errands such as purchasing supplies, props and other necessary items for the project.” This part is the check cashing scam. They will claim you need to purchase things and you will be reimbursed or they’ll send a fake check. YOU are the one out the money.
  • “Basic wage is $900.00 first two weeks preparation period and after which you will be paid Rate: $200./10hr on set.” No. You will not. This is not normal.
  • Then my favorite, the “About Me” section. Gendry claims “I have been short movie producer director in many places in Europe…I will travel a lot, hence the reason why I need an assistant to handle affairs for me on the home front when I am away on business which is usually quite often. This position is home-based.” This is very similar to a car selling scam on Craigslist where the scammer pretends to be abroad or in the army.

The Copy/Paste Scam

I’m calling it that because I’ve seen the exact same scam e-mail with only names and titles changed. For instance:

“I’m Vincent TONG I’m a producer for Reforma films I saw your profile posted on film production directory, I want to inform you about a upcoming short film project coming up in your area Titled ( Grateful ) Start date: May ‪25-30-2020‬, pay is $1800, I’m in search for effective FIRST CAMERA ASSISTANT kindly reply with your updated resume for more information and consideration thank you.

Kind regards
Stay blessed”

Vincent TONG (make sure you shout that last name!) e-mailed me May 4 2020. But then there’s also:

This particular scam usually comes in via e-mail, though I’ve seen it in a text message before as well.

The red flags in this “job offer” are:

  • film production directory (for some reason a lot of scams reference this vague nonexistent service)
  • Bad grammar/spelling/awkward wording from a non-English speaker
  • “Stay Blessed” and “Kind Regards” are often used to sign off on scam emails.
  • Unusually high pay for a position (especially for Production Assistant)
  • Job offers for jobs you don’t do — I’ve gotten this same one for Makeup artist.
  • Weekly or lump sums (“pay is $1800”) instead of day rates.
  • Scam emails will sometimes steal famous peoples names and production company names to try to sound legit.

Casting Scams

Alan Baltes

A community member in the Atlanta Film Production Group recently posted about Alan Baltes, a scammer who is well known for casting scams.

Alan gets his own heading because he’s made it a point to be a jerk scamming prospective actors time and time again. Baltes has previously tried to con people by pretending to cast for Jurassic Park: Dominion and sequels to Crazy Rich Asians. You can read about his exploits here in this article related to his Crazy Rich Asians scam. Now he’s focusing on John Wick 4.

Baltes claims he’s casting for movies while insisting on a $99 fee to submit, ironically to his own Cash App.

Actors — you do not PAY for casting calls or auditions.

NDA

Another similar scam popped up on a Facebook group where someone said they were asked to pay for an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). Again, that’s not a thing you pay for.

You can read further on how to avoid scams targeting actors here. And another helpful Backstage.com article on identifying scams here.

Modeling Scams

Vina Kent shared screenshots of a modeling scam that targeted her family and probably many others. Screenshots are attached and we’ll touch on a few details that mark this an obvious scam.

  • Models are asked to pick the date of the shoot
  • The locations for the job hasn’t been determined yet
  • A “modeling coach” could be provided for new models.
  • Weird hourly rates
  • A depot of $500 will be sent before the job (possible check phishing scam)
  • Weird wording/bad grammar
  • Giant block of text with no breaks

This one is clearly aiming to scam aspiring models out of their money.

So…How Can I Tell if a Job is Real?

Use your best judgement. If you’re uneasy, do your research. Google whoever is contacting you, the company, the producer, whoever you can. If someone has worked with them before, ask them before getting into a potentially dangerous situation. Keep in mind that scammers often steal the names of real production companies and producers. Chances are that Steven Spielberg won’t be contacting you personally for a production assistant gig, sorry.

Usually, legit jobs are really basic and to the point. For some reason many scammers send giant blocks of texts overexplaining everything. You could see that in the modeling scam and the email bullet point summary by Ann Gendry. They’re backpedaling. They’re trying to overwhelm you and get you to let your guard down.

Many of the gigs I’ve gotten boil down to this: “Are you available July 23-28? We need a cam op for a reality show.” I respond with my availability and then we discuss specifics like rate and job specifications.

Scammers try really hard to get your money. Don’t let ’em. Come across a scam? Feel free to post a screenshot on social media and inform your friends in the industry. A well informed community is safer because of it.

Special Thanks:

To everyone who allowed me to use screenshots and their personal interactions with the scammers to write this blog: Zach Barry, Vina Kent, Cyntoria Mccarroll, Alexandria Denise.

References:

Fake Production Assistant Listings

Crazy Rich Asians 2 Scammer Responds, Claims He’s the One That Got Scammed Movie Web

13 Signs of an Acting Scam – Backstage.com

How to Spot a Casting Scam – Backstage.com

“It’s a F–king Scam”: Beware the Hollywood Con Queen – Vanity Fair

Common Film Job Scams and How to Avoid Them – Bridget LaMonica

Common Film Job Scams and How to Avoid Them

Unfortunately, there’s plenty of people out there taking advantage of hungry film crew members looking to get work. It’s time we fully prepare our fellow film makers with the knowledge to avoid these scams like the plague.

One of the most common scams is a check cashing scam. Someone asks you to cash a check, saying you’ll get part of it and someone else gets the rest. In the film world, I’ve seen this come across as you needing to pay another crew member with the payment they send you. Jokes on you though – the check is fake and you’re out thousands of dollars. I’ve seen this scam numerous times around Georgia, but it’s definitely an international problem. It’s not exactly a Nigerian prince, but it’s still an old standby scammers use to great effect.

Then there was this story of a woman posing as various high profile female producers who lured people in all facets of production to Indonesia. The scam included real-looking wire transfers and the unwary crew member losing thousands of dollars on a movie that didn’t exist. This article from Deadline is definitely worth a read.

Deadline boiled it down to this: “If a high net worth producer with a seductive voice calls with an employment offer that seems too good to be true, it probably is not real. At the very least, people who receive such a call better contact the actual offices of that producer to find out if in fact that call was made.”

How to Spot a Scam

When you receive an e-mail or text message for a job, be careful of these common scam elements:

  • bad grammar/spelling
  • the word “kindly” – seriously it appears in a LOT of scam messages, it’s almost a meme by this point.
  • “We received your profile.” Weird wording.
  • Says your skills are highly preferred.
  • Asks for you to send your job position and resume – if your skills are highly sought after, surely they already know what you do?
  • Reply to secure your slot.
  • The message comes from a foreign company/name or a real production company whose name has been stolen to trick job seekers
  • The pay is suspiciously high for the job like $1500 for 3 days of PA work.

Examples

Here are some examples culled from members of various Atlanta film groups on Facebook, reposted with permission.

Red flags:

  • “Your swift response highly appreciated.”
  • “Your ____ skill needed.” Nobody in production talks like this.
  • Generally bad grammar.

Red flags:

  • E-mail comes from Gauri Khan, but name in the message is Blesson Oommen.
  • Asks a production assistant to “receive camera equipment.”
  • Daily rate for a PA (part-time!) listed as $500-$3800. I would PA forever if that was a real rate.
  • Exceptionally bad grammar, spelling, punctuation.

Scam 3

Red Flags:

  • Isaac Yu – common scam name.
  • Vague details “your city” and “your skillset.”

What Can You Do?

It’s pretty much the same as avoiding most scammers – be careful what information you share online. Most of these scammers appear to get your information through information you post online. I personally started getting many scam emails and texts after I posted my resume to Georgia Production Directory/Reel Scout but can also happen when you post your info anywhere online – Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

You’ve got to self promote to get yourself out there, so don’t relegate yourself to the life of a hermit and delete your social media.

As a general rule, don’t accept random friend requests. When in doubt, send them a message.

If a scammer contacts you, ignore the email, block the phone number, etc. Post the scam on a site like Atlanta Film Industry Watch to warn your fellow filmmakers. If a company or person’s likeness is being used to sell the scam, send them a message to inform them.

If you receive a job offer that you’re just not sure about, ask them for a deal memo before moving forward and research the company. If anything seems fishy, bow out of there. Avoid anyone who is trying to send you a check in order to pay for equipment or another crew member’s rate.

Special thanks to Brittany Edwards and Ashley Nelson for allowing me to repost their scam findings. An informed film industry is a better one for sure.