In January, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced criminal charges against 53-year-old Debra Baum, who allegedly was charging a 19-year-old woman who had been singing in a hair salon $10,000 a month to handle her vocal career. The singer allegedly paid Baum $70,000 in management fees, plus thousands more for services like vocal training, before finally breaking off the contract.
Baum, who declined to comment when contacted by "
American Greed," pleaded not guilty. She could face up to two years in prison and $20,000 in fines if convicted. No trial date has been set.
In a statement in January, Feuer said the case is a cautionary tale.
"Thousands come to Hollywood every year to pursue their dreams in the entertainment industry," Feuer said. "We need to protect them from those who would dash those dreams by taking unfair advantage of them."
But not every state has such strict protections for budding entertainers, so Feuer offers some warning signs if someone is promising to make you a star. According to the list, that person might be scamming you if he or she:
- Requires you to pay upfront for representation. "Legitimate agents and managers don't charge for services. They are paid on a commission basis only."
- Charges you for an audition.
- Approaches you in a public place like a shopping mall, or advertises on radio, TV or sites like craigslist.
- Promises special connections, and "name drops" famous actors or musicians he or she has supposed worked with.
Also, beware of agents who require you to use specific third parties for head shots, demo tapes and other services. Agents can make recommendations, but the final decision should be up to you with no obligation.
If you are a parent hoping to help your child break into show business, do your homework with the help of the BizParentz Foundation, a nonprofit coalition of parents, government and industry organizations. (Be sure to spell the name correctly — ending with a "z" — or you could find yourself at a website promoting — you guessed it — kids' talent agencies.)
It may be a necessary evil in the entertainment business that you have to "fake it to make it," but beware — there are plenty of people out there who are faking it just to scam you.
Watch "American Greed," Thursdays at 10p ET/PT on CNBC Prime.