An East Brunswick modeling and talent services company the Attorney General's Office contended misled its customers has agreed to pay $400,000 to settle a 2011 lawsuit brought by both the AG and the NJ Division of Consumer Affairs, it was announced Wednesday.
Industry Model and Talent Studios, LLC, and its successor corporation, InterFACE1, LLC, both owned by Roman Vintfeld, also agreed to refund almost $100,000 to 104 customers complaining about being misled into signing expensive contracts.
As part of the settlement, Vintfeld also agreed to hire an independent compliance monitor to watch over the company's business practice for two years. The monitor will report to the Division of Consumer Affairs, the agency said in a statement.
The company had received 160 complaints against it on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website.
The BBB explained that in the complaints, parents said they were approached by "talent scouts" at shopping malls, sporting events, movie theaters, theme parks, and other venues. The "scouts" would tell parents their children could be models or actors and then schedule a "free" screening at the company's office which was then located in Edgewater.
During the screening and evaluation, complainants said they are pressured to schedule a date for a photo shoot and sign a contract, and make immediate payment (ranging from $500 to $1500). The BBB complaintants reported that the contract has a clause that said the contract couldn't be cancelled once the photo shoot was scheduled.
The parents said in their BBB complaints that they attempted to contact the business within hours or days to cancel the contract and request a refund, but were denied by the company. Others who completed the photo shoot were asked for additional fees (ranging from $400 to $1800) to post photos online, producing composite cards, and providing photo negatives.
The BBB reported that Vintfeld responded to the complaints by saying they delivered the services for which the customer paid. In some cases, they offered free online membership, and in a few instances, gave the customers a refund.
“We alleged that Industry Model and Talent Studios misled many parents about what services they were paying for. This settlement will not only get these consumers their money back, it also will ensure that going forward this company operates with complete clarity and transparency,” said Eric T. Kanefsky, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs.
While not admitting guilt or wrongdoing, Vintfeld and InterFACE1 agreed to the following in the Consent Order with the State:
- Not make any oral or written representations to consumers about the merchandise offered for sale which differs from the actual terms of any written contract or agreement;
- Clearly and conspicuously disclose in its contracts what the merchandise purchased consists of, namely photography, and the maintenance of and the posting of the digital composite card online;
- Clearly and conspicuously disclose the actual fees to be paid by the consumer under its agreements;
- Not require consumers to execute written contracts or agreements without providing them with sufficient and meaningful opportunity to read and understand the terms thereof, including all fees to be charged;
- Provide consumers with a full and accurate copy of any document, contract or agreement;
- Within fifteen (15) days of the Effective Date (of the Consent Order), clearly and conspicuously post the InterFACE cancellation and refund policy on InterFACE’s website. In addition, InterFACE will provide a written brochure that will clearly and conspicuously disclose the InterFACE cancellation and refund policy to all consumers who completed an InterFACE Information form;
- Within fifteen (15) days of the Effective Date, disclose its prices on the InterFACE website. In addition, the brochure shall contain at least general information about such prices;
- Affirmatively advise consumers that, unless specific arrangements are made in advance to do so, no photographs will be taken at the time of the initial evaluation or meeting;
- Within thirty (30) days of the Effective Date, implement a “Do Not Call” system which will enable consumers to advise InterFACE that they do not wish to become a client; and
- Continue in their written contracts to provide consumers with a right to cancel the agreement(s) without charge within at least three days of the consumer’s execution and receipt of the agreement.
In addition to $99,590 to customers in restitution, the defendants will pay the State $300,410, which encompasses civil penalties and reimbursement for its legal and investigative costs.