Every year thousands of new people flock to Los Angeles in search of fame and fortune, and in search of the Southern California lifestyle that has been the source of so many mythic films and songs.
Waiting patiently for those new star struck arrivals are just as many scam artists, scumbags, sleaze balls, and low-life’s. These nefarious characters, many former aspiring artists themselves, thrive on sucking the lifeblood out of the hopes and dreams of the desperate and naïve.
I wish a website like this existed when I was moving to LA twenty years ago. Back then, we had to scour through newspapers and trade papers for information and the internet was still in its infancy. Checking out people’s backgrounds was much harder, and although the internet is a fantastic resource for valuable real information, it is also the favorite tool of pimps, perverts, and bullshit artists.
Although there are literally thousands of different scams in the City of Angels, I will divide them into three general categories:
1) Scams that Prey on People’s Hopes and Dreams
2) Employment Scams
3) Rental Housing Scams
Scams that Prey on People’s Hopes and Dreams
Los Angeles is still a magnet for thousands of aspiring actors, models, musicians, writers, and thousands of people who desire some type of work in the entertainment industry. The legitimate industry itself can be brutal, and its underbelly can be deadly. I’m not trying to scare anybody, but if you are coming here to be an actor, you need to have your eyes wide open and know the realities. It is going to take hard work and dedication to achieve your dream and anybody who tells you otherwise is lying.
Here are some people to watch out for:
1. Agents who want a fee up front, or who want to sell you an expensive photo package or reel in order to get you work. You will need those things, but if somebody insists that you use their photographer for instance, run – it is a scam. Real agencies are signatories of the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG). Legitimate agencies get their ten percent when you are working and never up front. Extra casting agencies may charge a small $15 or $20 fee to sign up with them, but never pay more than that.
2. Managers that are going to nurture your career and know the president of Warner Brothers, and the Vice Present of Paramount in Charge of Production, and that drop names right and left and then want you to pick up the lunch tab. They don’t have an office and are working out of their apartment in Tarzana. You are wasting your time with these people no matter how bad you want to believe them.
3. Agents or managers that try to coax you into topless shoots, or that expect sexual favors for their services. Pretty self explanatory, but new victims come to town every day for these people.
4. Photographers of all kinds. Look at their websites carefully. Do some research online and never go to a photo shoot alone, especially if you are a woman. There has been countless case of creeps and perverts posing as photographers. Their models end up under freeway overpasses and worse. Many of these guys want you to do “tasteful nudes”. Remember, naked photos last forever and can be distributed everywhere. People will say they are for private use and nobody will see them. Everyone will see them and they will likely come back to haunt you. There may be some very good photography students who need models and are willing to do work for free or very cheap, but remember you often get what you pay for. Common sense is the rule here. If a photographer advertises on Craigslist and doesn’t have a link to a website, forget it.
5. Literary agencies that say they can get writers work and ask for up front fees. They may ask you for “reader’s fees” and “script coverage fees”. Run, don’t walk from these people.
6. Acting classes and instructors that promise the world and then charge exorbitant fees and want huge chunks of your time, and also want you to purchase expensive headshots and reels from their photographers.
7. Production companies that want you to do free internships in order to “get your foot in the door”. Yes, even some of the big studios do this, and people have gotten in that way, but often it is just a way for fat cats to get free labor. They never seem to run out of people willing to do it either. Everybody wants in the entertainment industry.
8. Scientology, no explanation needed.
These parasites that prey on people’s hopes and dreams are the worst kind of scum imaginable. They are usually very slick and may look impressive and drive fancy cars. They make their money by scamming vulnerable people who want in the worst way to believe them. If you are truly talented, and dedicated, the right people will probably find you. The problem is that these scam artists tell everybody that they come into contact that they have what it takes to be a “star”. It just isn’t true.
These may be related to the hopes and dreams scams, but these scams primarily prey on people’s desperation. People become desperate for money and desperate to get a job. They want to believe job offers that seem too good to be true. If they seem too good to be true, there is a 99 percent chance they are. Most of the scams are related to temporary gigs, part time jobs, and “survival jobs”.
Of course there are probably scams that target career seekers in high end fields. I have had good luck with Craigslist over the years getting full time and temporary jobs, but I know the site is also full of scams – I’m just good at spotting them after all these years.
Here are some scams to watch out for:
9. Jobs that seem too good to be true. You have seen the ads – make $10,000 a month, working just a few hours a day. Travel internationally and meet beautiful women….No education or skills required….It sounds too good to be true because it is, and when you show up for the interview you will probably be asked to pay some up front fee to get started.
10. Jobs that say you will be working for a multi millionaire entrepreneur. I went to one job interview years ago and I am embarrassed to admit it. The ad went something like this : Work for a Multi Millionaire Entrepreneur, drive him around in his Bentley, visit top resorts and nightclubs. Much room for advancement. I went to the interview and somebody in the office was drinking a beer at 10 am. The “entrepreneur’s” desk had no papers or anything else on it. He tried to sell me a multi-level marketing scheme.
11. Ads that have very little information. If an ad on Craigslist for instance, has no link to a website, company name, or other pertinent information avoid it. These people are likely hiding something. They ask all kinds of information from you, including your phone number, resume, and picture etc. Don’t fall into this trap.
12. Ads that offer quick cash for nudity. Craigslist is full of ads in almost every job category offering money for all kinds of nudity. They want naked bartenders, naked house cleaners, naked secret shoppers, topless card dealers, bottomless pool boys. Do you really need the money that bad? They offer a pittance for these services. Even the porn industry, as sleazy as it is, has certain professional standards.
13. Employment agencies that require you to pay an up front fee. Legitimate employment and temporary agencies are paid by the employers. Some of these employment agencies promise you jobs working for the “studios” and then they send you to some warehouse or boiler room job.
14. Continuously running ads. Some restaurants for instance, are continuously running ads for new people. You do some research about these companies and find out they are a nightmare to work for and that is why they continually need new people. Telemarketing rooms are often running continuous ads.
15. Jobs that say you can be your own boss and set your own hours. These are not really jobs, and are most likely multi-level marketing people looking for new prospects. If you want to go that route, why not research the top multi-level marketing companies and seek out the one that interests you?
16. Jobs that require you to attend an orientation “meeting”. These are usually multi-level marketing pitches or outright sales pitches. These people prey on the unemployed and desperate.
17. Jobs that require you to drive your own car to deliver things. You will wear your car out and get paid almost nothing.
18. Jobs that offer less than minimum wage. It is unbelievable the gall of some of these people. They will offer you $50 to work ten hours and say that it is a good “networking opportunity”. They are preying on people’s desperation and unfortunately they get all the takers they need.
19. Jobs that mention somebody coming in from out of town. They need a driver, an escort, or temporary assistant. These are Nigerian scams and at some point they will offer to send you some up front money to cover your expenses. Don’t fall for it.
I will be very blunt – these despicable people prey on people’s desperation and are looking to exploit their fellow human beings on many different levels. People want to believe they will be making a killing, doing very little work. I have worked all kinds of different jobs in LA from limo driver, to bartender, to screenwriter, and it is all hard ass work – every single bit of it. Also, some of these “dream jobs” are flat out illegal. I have friends who are doing hard time in federal prison because of employment choices they made. Easy money often comes with a price…
Rental Housing Scams
So, as we see most scams are related to people’s basic needs – food and shelter. We need jobs to get food and shelter. We need shelter to get jobs. As you will see all around Los Angeles, once people become homeless, they probably are going to have an impossible time finding a job. So the sociopathic sharks among us will prey on people’s need for shelter.
Here are some of the rental housing scams to watch out for:
20. They sound too good to be true. The ads go something like this: 3 bedroom house in Glendale close to good schools. New hardwood floors. Sparkling pool. Pets and kids ok. $1000 a month, $500 deposit. Move in today, no credit check. Folks, I have bad news for you – an average one bedroom apartment all around town in the Los Angeles is $1,100 a month. Most places require first and last month, plus a pet deposit. Ads like these are likely some kind of bait and switch or Nigerian scam.
21. Sober living and recovery houses. This is the biggest scam of all under the guise of “recovery”. The owners of these human warehouses are getting filthy rich off of people’s desperation and affliction. These places usually stack two to four people in a room. Bedbugs abound. They are usually the blight of the neighborhood. Nobody is actually sober and the houses are full of ex convicts and registered sex offenders. They usually ask for a monthly or weekly fee with no deposit. There are a few real recovery homes in the Los Angles area, but they are not in houses in residential neighborhoods. Avoid!
22. Ads that say it is cheaper to buy than to rent. These are bait and switch ads. Real estate people will try to get you to buy a condo. Buying may be a better choice for you, but don’t be fooled that it is cheaper to buy than rent. You still have to come up with down payment, get approved and go through a long process. These people should not advertise in the rental section.
23. Rooms for rent in Malibu Mansion, or a “mansion” anywhere. Seeking attractive young men and women to live in a ten bedroom Malibu Mansion. Must be party friendly. Full pool privileges, just steps from the beach. Must be open minded…
24. “Free” rooms for rent. Friendly older man seeks voluptuous young woman to live in guest bedroom. Free rent in exchange for “light duties” around the house. Need I say more? Nothing is free in LA.
Do your research when applying for jobs and housing. Don’t sign any entertainment contract without letting an entertainment lawyer see it. Always check the companies and people out as much as you can. Do they have a Yelp page? Are they a member of the various trade organizations? There is much information online and don’t just take their word for it. If you get a bad vibe from somebody over the phone and they refuse to answer your questions, move on. Be honest with yourself. Does it sound too good to be true, and do you believe it because you desperately want to believe it?