A Desert Hot Springs woman says a man approached her 13-year-old grandson at Desert Hot Springs Skate Park two years ago, claiming to be part of a modeling agency.
The name on the card was Jason Brock, one of the aliases used by the men now charged with running a child pornography ring, including John Yoder of Desert Hot Springs.
“You just have to be so careful,” said Cindy Romano, owner of Cindy Romano Modeling and Talent Agency in Palm Desert.
Romano opened her modeling agency 43 years ago and says in her entire career she’s only approached someone for modeling three or four times.
Romano says most legitimate agencies hire models through submissions. People send in a snapshot and Romano calls if she’s interested in representing them.
“I know even at the mall they will hand out cards,” Romano said. “You need to have credentials. Here’s our SAG-AFTRA franchise. We’re licensed by the state of California and we have a business license in Palm Springs and Palm Desert.”
Romano says if approached, don’t agree to anything before doing your homework. First, check if the company has a website. The one listed on Brock’s business card for example, didn’t even exist.
A real agency will also require a parent or chaperone to be present at photo or video shoots for minors. And all modeling and talent agencies must be licensed.
“Call the city and ask if they have a business license. If they don’t have a business license how can they be in business?” Romano said.
The Federal Trade Commission offers tips on its website for spotting a fake modeling or talent agency. It’s probably not legitimate if:
It has no current license
You’re told to use a specific photographer or asked to pose nude
You’re told to pay a fee to be represented
You’re told the opportunity could disappear if you don’t act now
You’re guaranteed work and a big salary right off the bat
“There are so many safeguards that people who just want it so desperately just don’t pay attention,” Romano said.