Crimes of Persuasion

Schemes, scams, frauds.

Great American Model and Talent Search (Aquarian Associates, Inc.) by Sam Manfredi

February 27, 2006

I wanted to share my experience with this organization. I attended a free "open casting call" with my two-year-old son at a local hotel in Richmond, VA. We were invited to pay to come to the Pittsburgh event. Interestingly, the staff at the Richmond casting call show up later in a variety of positions at the paid event in Pittsburgh. One of the "casting agents" behind the desk in Richmond was running the p.a. at the Pittsburgh event. The photographer at the Richmond free casting call became the M.C. on stage at the Pittsburgh event. That is when we started realizing we'd been duped. We received our offer to come back -- to Pittsburgh the following year, and then, if we elected to do that right away, our son would receive a $50 job to be photographed for a calendar for Aquarian. Like they were making up a job. For some reason you had to sit through 45 min. of this Vegas style singer -- the kids were miserable so that was another red flag... why? Total rip off... I hope people read this and don't get duped like we were.

Concerned Mother

February 13, 2006

I received a post card in the mail from Aquarian Associates wanting my daughter to come in for an evaluation. When we got there we had to fill out papers and a self-addressed envelope. After being called (by numbers) to stand in front of a video camera and recite a commercial we went home with high hopes. We received the self address envelope saying she had been chosen and I was to come back for a meeting. I decided to get on line and check out this scouting service. I came across this website and found out I was being SCAMMED!!!!!

Thank you for saving us from wasting our time and money.

Concerned Mom in Birmingham, AL

September 6, 2005

Re: Upcoming Event in Reno, NV - Aquarian Associates, Inc.

I got a big postcard in the mail and torn it in half before I even did a
search (I used to live in LA and now that these are [. . .]) for fun I put
their name in and came across your site! Good Job!!!

I thought you might be interested in the upcoming date on the postcard.

Aquarian Associates, Inc

Wednesday September 14, 2005
2 PM - 8PM
Holiday Inn Reno Downtown
1000 E. 6th Street
Reno, NV

I know a lot of people will get ripped off. Why can't they stop these guys??
Complaints have been coming in for the last few years?

Concerned Mother

July 9, 2005

I hadn't seen a new update to this complete and total [...]. I feel like a moron for not having investigated the company before we went so far. Would love to get our money back but only the expenses of travel and entry tickets were paid with traceable paper; their "entry fee" was a money order; that is all they accepted.

Here is our experience...

July 31, 2004. I took my son on his 3rd birthday to their "open casting call" held at the Holiday Inn in Shawnee Mission, KS. There was over 700 kids there and all very cute.

We were told to fill out paperwork and then by number to get in line for a quick snapshot of the child. If we were deemed "marketable" we would be notified via snail mail.

Within two weeks we got the letter saying congratulations, your child is deemed marketable and we would like parents only to attend an information session.

I was excited about this as they stated at the session that they had to narrow down from 700 to 200 kids.

It was a long meeting just to find out they want you to pay to enter a "talent search." Oh, and not to mention the pressure to bring your downpayment by the next day at noon at the latest. And of course the search itself was in November, so that means extra money for the trip and hotel room.

So I had the pressure to get the downpayment and find a way to pay the rest of the fee via money order by mid-october.

I was able to find a job to get this done but being a new employee I couldn't take the time off for the November trip to Los Angeles. I had to call and cancel and ask for entrance in the June 2005 search in Pittsburgh.

I did learn the fee, which I can't remember if my total was $485 or $525, is for flying all the "talent scouts" in from all over and for their stay at the expensive hotels they decide to hold the events in.

Around the time for your search you get a letter telling you what hotel and how much a room cost per night. We couldn't afford to fly so decided to drive there. I was not paying $97 a night to stay in a hotel; we opted for Motel 6 at $33 a night.

So this meant I paid the entry fee, then gas money, hotel, and then also the tickets ($59 a person) so non-search participants could even be in the same room. Funny, because if your child is under 4, you have to carry them across the stage but yet have to pay to get in the room.

I agree it was so unprofessional. When we got there no one could give me a straight answer on where I should be taking my child to get his picture taken and make sure we were entered for the next day's event. I was told to go here and there and someone telling to go the other way. I was frustrated.

And they make you fill out two self-addressed envelopes--they say so you can receive your offer letters in--but I learned the real reason and so will you below.

Then for the event they make children ages 2-4 sit through 45 minutes of credentials. Oh, sure, they have entertainment, but it may not be entertainment you approve your child of seeing, as was the case for us, since the lady sang songs about things our family doesn't agree with.

By this time my son was grouchy and tired of sitting. Thankfully we were number 2 to walk across the stage. My son leared at the "scouts." At least he was facing them and not the wall (as he said he was going to do, because he was getting mad).

We get told at the end that our son looks good on camera. Then to go home and wait to see if any scouts want further contact. We are not to call Aquarian Associates, they emphasize this a lot.

Within a month of the event we received a self-addressed letter saying our son was one of many being considered for commercial print work and to send in the enclosed form saying we want him considered or not. That was envelope number one we filled out in Pittsburgh.

Within the week of sending in the letter, I received envelope number two, with a registration card for the 2006 Pittsburgh event. Saying that we get $250 off the fee (big deal, since I'd still have travel expenses), and my son could be in the promotional print ads, but only if he is pre-registered asap for next year's event.

Ok, so I am sure everyone is as baffled and upset as me. Throw the postcard announcing their "open casting call" away and call the hotel hosting it and tell them to turn down their business.

Thank you for letting me share. It does help to admit I have wasted time and most importantly about two weeks of my son's childhood days.

Concerned Mom

April 22, 2004

I took my daughter to an open call held in Bensalem, PA. I later received a letter stating she received a favorable rating and I would need to come to a meeting to discuss what the company offers.

I attended the meeting with my husband and, when they asked for $525.00 by the end of the day or the next day, I became a little suspicious, so I searched the internet and came upon this site.

Not Paying!

April 20, 2004

We were excited to hear our children were picked to be a part of the Aquarian Associates and to find out that the company is a [...] before we go to the apt. is good.

We will go and tell them of the information we have learned and we will tell them if they are interested in our children they will pay us.

This response is from two different families that got chosen. Also my aunt's family, my cousin's family and my sister's family all went.

We were shocked we had ALL of our children picked; that made us very suspicious; that's why we looked up the company online.

Concerned Parents

April 8, 2004

Last April, my husband and I took our young daughter to the open call call held in New Orleans. She received a "favorable rating" and subsequently we took her to the search held in Pittsburgh, PA.

She also received a "favorable rating" there and was given an opportunity. She had her picture taken at a local hotel in New Orleans and received $60. Of course, we had to pay an advancement of $284 for the upcoming year's search in order for her to participate.

We were GREATLY DISAPPOINTED in the search and will never ever participate in it again. They were far from professional. The search was low budget and I don't believe any of these children go on to do great commercial and movie work.

The only reason we allowed our daughter to participate was because we had already spent in excess of $800 for plane tickets and lodging.

They do enough to legally stay in business, but your child will never be greatly exposed through their company. You can and should do what they offer on your own.

Concerned Parent in New Orleans

March 20, 2004

I also attended the "Open Call" a few weeks ago in West Palm Beach. I did
this without doing my research. Now I wish I had since I feel that I wasted
two hours of my life I'll never get back!

Of course, I got my letter last week that "my child received a favorable
evalution." Right. The meeting is tomorrow (Sunday, March 21, 2004) and I am
tempted to go just to see what they have to say. I feel that it is my duty
as a knowing parent to inform other parents who did not do their research of
the [...] this company is pulling.

I know several people in the entertainment industry so I already knew some
things. For example, agencies are not supposed to ask for a registration
fee. Agencies get paid when your child gets work -- they receive a

Also, when dealing with infants and small children, professional
portfolios are not necessary since their faces are constantly changing. For
this reason, reputable agencies only ask for snapshots/ Polariods/ etc. of
the child periodically. There is no reason that you should be paying
hundreds -- even thousands -- of dollars for a photo session. It's ridiculous!

As I said, I am considering going to the meeting so that I can confront this
company and see what they have to say. If nothing else, maybe other parents
will listen to what I have to say and reconsider associating with this
[...]-bucket company.


March 17, 2004

I recently received an "open Casting call" from this company. I took my daughter and a few weeks later in the mail got a "call back" letter.

At this call back, we were told that it would cost almost $500 for pictures for the "big event" this coming June. Also another $55.00 to get in.

Have you heard that this company is a scam. It just seems suspicious to me. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Concerned Parent

March 15, 2004

They just recently came to West Palm Beach, Florida & did there whole stupid casting call. I am glad I came to this website before becoming another VICTIM.

This should be against the law. Since I work in the legal profession I am going to try & protest this company ever coming back to WPB, Florida, and taking people's time & money.

I will make sure the Crowne Plaza where this is held knows what a [...] this place is & how it gives their hotel a real BAD NAME associating with [...] companies like this!

I am going to also inform the BBB in both the corporations' hometown of PA and in WPB so they are aware of these BIG [...]!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

March 8, 2004


Like many other concerned parents on your background check, I was quite
suspicious with our meeting today in Indianapolis with Aquarian Associates.
After reading the posting from P.H., I am convinced to not enroll my child
with them and spend several hundred dollars.

I noticed these listings are from Oct. 2003, and I am curious if there are
other more recent "victims" of Aquarian Associates.

My husband and I attended the "call-back meeting"
today in Indianapolis, and found it quite fishy that they didn't mention the
$485 required until the last 10 minutes of the presentation. In addition, I
have found that any company giving you 24 hours to make a decision is
usually fishy as well.

Lastly, the company "flew in" a mother from North
Carolina to talk about the wonderful "resume" her 8 year old son has thanks
to Aquarian Associates. She spoke for approximately 30 seconds and seemed
quite rehearsed.

I am THRILLED to have read the things I have read tonight
before falling victim to this agency and losing so much money. If you have
any additional information or complaints, I would love to hear about them.

Thank you for posting so much information --and especially to P.H., who has
confirmed my suspicions!

Please respond at your convenience if you have any
additional writers writing in about Aquarian Associates.

Thank you!



October 1, 2003

I'm interested in finding out info on this company, they have three different names -- Aquarian Associates, Model Management, and the Great American Model and Talent Search.

I took my one-year-old and two-year-old to the "open call." They got three seconds in front of a video camera and were then told we'd get a letter in the mail if the kids were "marketable."

A couple of weeks later, we got the letter that our one-year-old had a "favorable evaluation," and to attend a parents' meeting on October 1st.

I went to the meeting and they described their philosophy, etc..., all the while emphasizing that they are not "agents."

They then want us to fork over a registration fee of $450 for a three-day talent search where casting directors, producers, etc., will all see the children.

$450 covers the price of pictures, too; however, they are "client use only" pictures. (Clients being the casting directors, not me or my children.)

This seems very fishy to me. Also, I have to decide by tomorrow if I want to do it. The official talent search is the weekend of November 21-23. I think that they'd be able to let us think about it for a while.

Please let me know if you have any dirt on these people because I also have two friends whose children were given the favorable evaluation, too.

I hope that we don't make a big mistake (I'm leaning toward not participating but they aren't.).


October 1, 2003

My son just received a letter for a meeting with Aquarian Associates Inc. / Great American Model & Talent Search, and I would like to check on how legitimate this company is.

Thank you,


October 1, 2003

Please send any information you have.

Thank you,


October 1, 2003

Please send information on Aquarian Associates : The Great American Model & Talent Search.

Thank You,


September 29, 2003

Please send info on the Great American Model & Talent Search through Aquarian Associates (Sam Manfredi, president) out of Pittsburgh, PA.


September 28, 2003

I am trying to research this company. My daughter had a favorable evaluation at one of their castings and we have been asked to attend an upcoming meeting. I appreciate any info you may have regarding this company.

Thank you,

A concerned parent


September 26, 2003

Can you tell me if this company and function is legit?
Great American Model & Talent Search




September 24, 2003

Wondering if this company is a scam. We went to an open casting call which was free and involved a brief (30 sec) interview on camera. We received a letter in the mail letting us know that our child had a favorable evaluation and parents need to attend a meeting at a hotel. The letter also states not to call the hotel for information nor will information be given on the phone if we are unable to attend.



September 24, 2003

My wife and I just recently attended an "open call" with "Aquarian Associate" and they wanted $459.00 to attend their "Great American Model and Talent Search" plus $45.00 per person to attend.

I have read that if any company that charges money is a scam. Can you give me any feed back on this company or the talent search?

The man that runs the talent search was at the presentation but got annoyed with my question and brushed me off. So I didn't get a good feeling about the company and how legit they are.

I am interested in getting my child into modeling, though, and would not like to pass up an opportunity for that.



September 21, 2003

I did not see Aquarian Associates from Pittsburg, PA, on your list for background information. There company is also listed on line as the Great American Model & Talent Search. Please let me know if you have any information about them.

Thank you,


Archive (2002)

I was hoping that maybe you had heard of Aquarian Associates, Inc., also known as the Great American Model and Talent Search.

We already paid $440 to attend a convention in Los Angeles, California, at the Sheridan Hotel. It will cost us another $800-900 to fly us out there and pay hotel expenses.

What advice or info could you give me?

Thanks so much,



The mailing address is:

394 Rodi Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15235

The website address is:

The BBB record said:

Information supplied by the company indicates they advertise a modeling & talent search called an open call. At the open call there is a brief interview and an on camera evaluation. Those of school age, or older are also provided a script to read. Infants and small children are just filmed.
Participants in the Open Call who are deemed by industry professionals as having potential are sent an acknowledgment letter inviting them back for a meeting reviewing the company's offer to participate in their annual Event held in Los Angeles, California, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Participants are divided into age group and display their talents to what the company calls industry professionals. To participate in the Event consumers are required to pay a non-refundable registration fee. All expenses to and from the Event are at the participant's expense.
Consumers are advised that Aquarian Associates and Great American Model & Talent Search do not offer employment nor do they provide representation or agent services.

Although the BBB said: "This company has a satisfactory record with the Bureau," it may not have a satisfactory success rate, and it probably does not have a satisfactory screening process.

Their website said:

The Great American Model & Talent Search is a division of AQUARIAN ASSOCIATES, INC. The company was founded in 1969 and the search was established in 1986. We have provided men, women, teens and children exposure to talent agents, casting directors, producers, personal managers, photographers and clients resulting in numerous opportunities in the model and talent industry.

Numerous opportunities? What about successes? Why don't they tell you their success rate? Opportunities is not the issue; the issue is successes. Is it just me or does that not sound vague and flaky?

There was no disclaimer, either in the BBB record (like MSA and NYC Fame), or on their website, saying their success rate. The website itself only showed about 10 pictures, none of which are named, none of which are claimed as successes. They look like stock photos. They are not tear sheets. This is all very unconvincing.

You should know the success rates of modeling conventions are typically very low. Which is most likely why the organizers do not tell you. The failure rate is probably 90% at most conventions. For this reason, they obviously need outside help. Professional help.

The BBB record said they have "industry professionals" who think certain people have potential. But if their success rate is as low as other conventions (and there is no reason to believe it is any better, since they don't tell you it is higher), these "industry professionals" are incompetent.

Find out if Great American Model and Talent Search screens prospective models using qualified and competent industry professionals, i.e. the agents who are going to attend the convention. The pictures should be sent to the agents for review and screening before you pay. Then you attend the convention based on unbiased opinion.

You could ask for cold hard data with regards to success rates. The questions are very simple. Ask them how many people attended their last convention. Ask them how many people who attended the last convention were signed with a reputable agency. Then ask for names (model/agency).

If they had a low success rate, or if they don't give you a straight answer, or if they don't have that information, you will be better able to figure out whether or not you should cut your losses ($440), instead of paying more ($800-900), and risking losing about $1,500.

Please note you don't need a search or a convention to get discovered. You can visit local agencies free, or send pictures to reputable agencies.


I am interested in learning anything you know about Aquarian Associates.

We recently attended an open call and were "selected" to attend a convention. My daughter is two years old.

The cost is approx. $400, and we would incur very little travel costs, because the convention is not far from where we live, and we have friends in the area with whom we can stay.

I have been reading about the conventions on your website, and I am now feeling that this is all a scam. As far as I can tell there are no additional costs for photographs, video, or classes.

I understand the chances of being picked up for a print ad or something similar not only at this convention, but anywhere, are very slim. So am I crazy to still attend? Are they really that bad? Or should I just get some pictures of my daughter and start sending them to different agencies?

Thanks for your help,




There was an inquiry about the Great American Model and Talent Search earlier today.

To add to that, you should know the odds are against you, not just because it is a convention or because there is limited work available for most models, but also because there is very little work for two-year-old children.

Quite frankly it is suspicious that your daughter or anyone at two years of age was "selected" to pay for a convention, but if they are chosen, why isn't it at a reduced price? Why does she have to pay the same price as an adult?

Did the Great American Model and Talent Search not explain the low demand for child modeling and child models?

You could visit local agencies, or at least focus on the local agencies. It is highly unlikely that an agency is going to fly in a two-year-old child model for modeling work. It is much more likely they will go with a child who is near; it is more convenient for them and the parents.

If the agents are only going to be serious about local child models, it makes no sense to go to a convention. You can find the agencies in the phone book, hold onto your $440, and visit them for FREE.

Therefore you would not have to send pictures anywhere. At that age, the family portrait style picture should be enough. Their look changes fairly quickly. You don't need special professional pictures taken. See if you can find any local and reputable child modeling agencies.


Thank you for your prompt response.

I called a local agency and have an appointment today and am saving my $400.

Thanks again,



I would like to share my experience with the Aquarian Associates Great American Model and Talent Search.

We live in the Pittsburgh area, and first learned of the open casting call on a radio advertisement for the Aquarian Associates Great American Model and Talent Search.

We took our four-year-old son to the event which was held at a local hotel where they first had the children approach a panel of so-called industry professionals.

The children were introduced and asked some basic questions along with some small talk.

Next, they were instructed to walk across the room for a brief video filming where the photographer asked them their name, favorite food, friends, etc.

The first "hook" was cast when one of the industry professionals told me that my son was amazing, and how would we feel about a trip to Hollywood?

The second hook came while we were in the lobby getting our coats on when one of the Aquarian Associates staff (who we later found out was the president's wife) informed us that the woman who made the fuss over our son was a casting director for the Power Rangers TV show, and very seldom gives out compliments.

Well, after that I was star struck! Hell, at that point they probably could have taken me for three times the amount we eventually paid!

There was even an embarrassing scene where two parents and their children were asked to leave due to the children misbehaving. The president of Aquarian Associates became very loud as if he wanted everyone to see and hear him. It was almost like he was acting.

Looking back, my husband now feels that the whole thing could have been staged to give the other parents a feeling of confidence knowing that their children were model citizens, very cooperative and well behaved.

As anyone would have guessed, we received our letter a few days later informing us that our son received a favorable review, and an invitation to the parents' meeting.

The meeting was held at their Pittsburgh office where the red carpet was rolled out with all the visual effects (movie posters, advertisements, etc). It was a small group with about 15 parents.

We first watched a video highlight film from the previous search along with commercials containing children. Seeing only 15 parents made you feel good. You felt that your child was special, since they saw so many at the open call, and only invited a small amount back.

The president then spoke where he kept re-emphasizing that Aquarian Associates was not an agency. They even had signs posted everywhere stating "not an agency."

We were told that the biggest obstacle in an acting or modeling career is exposure, and his company can put you in front of top industry professionals at a fraction of the cost if you were to set out on your own. He said that you don't have to live in NYC or CA to be successful.

The casting directors also understand that parents have obligations to work, and children have an obligation to school, resulting in most commercials being shot during long-weekend-type arrangements.

He went through all this and still hadn't mentioned money.

Finally, at the end of it all he stated that for only $435 "All this can be yours! Don't miss out on your opportunity. Attend the Pittsburgh search."

It was kind of an "act now" type thing: they only gave you one day to make up your mind.

Oh, and how could I forget? They charge $45 each for tickets (child goes free), cash only, which can be paid the day of the search.

My husband and I left and hung out in the parking lot for a while pondering the situation when all of a sudden here comes the next wave of cars for the next meeting!

It seems that they had many small meetings. They wanted you to think that your child was so special. They didn't tell you that there were other groups coming in. All of a sudden I became a little disappointed. We should have left and never returned.

We decided to pay the money, attend the search with about 188 children from all over the east coast. It was quite an event.

They introduced about 30 scouts/casting directors from prominent modeling and talent agencies. It all seemed so legit. We were told that anyone who had conversation with the scouts and agents would be automatically disqualified.

They had the children do a runway presentation, a photo shoot (at which they'll sell you an 8X10 B/W, for another $45), and a small commercial read which they say was videotaped.

At the end of it all, acknowledgments were given for each category along with opportunities.

My son received acknowledgments in each category along with an opportunity. Then they announced the names of only six children out of 188 to remain after the search to speak to the Aquarian staff.

Well, as luck would have it, my son was one of the six. We were in shock! We were told that a major agency in California was interested, and at this time only wanted to know where we lived.

I thought: "Isn't that strange? Whatever happened to the crap he told us about it not mattering where you live? And furthermore, why in the hell would an agent from California attend this search in Pittsburgh, and then ask where we're from? Not our address, only where we're from?"

This event is also held in California, so you would think they would know that the Pittsburgh search covers the east.

About a month after the search, I hadn't heard anything, so I called the agency in California, and asked to speak to the person who liked my son at the Pittsburgh search.

Well, as you would have guessed, I never reached her; even though I left three messages, she never returned my calls.

In August, we finally received our opportunity letter. What could it be? The Power Ranger Lady? The Hollywood casting director?

We were so excited until we opened the letter and found it to be a local TV commercial for a country club. It was printed on a cheap run-off paper from Aquarian Associates.

It turned out to be an outdoor swimming pool shot with about 50 kids from the search. The kids sat around the pool where a low budget film crew shot about 15 seconds!

What a joke! The event was supervised by the president of Aquarian Associates, who put on a phony show as if he were some Hollywood casting director.

We were paid $40 in a check made out by Aquarian Associates, which seems odd, since they claim not to be an agency.

In closing, I feel that I've learned a valuable lesson. This outfit was very clever in how they presented themselves. We were definitely misled, duped, and outsmarted by this jerk.

The opportunities were just as phony. It's like telling someone that you're giving them a Corvette for their birthday, and then hand them a match box model.



Your information saved me a lot of time and money and from my child being very dissapointed.

Now that I know that we would have to pay hundreds of dollars to receive probably nothing in the end, we will not be attending the so-called meeting with Aquarian and Associates on Tuesday, January 28, 2002 in Birmingham, AL.

I hope others do not waste their time as well.


Modeling Scam News Reports

Some Mid-Columbia parents wary of modeling company

This story was published Tuesday, September 13th, 2005

By Mary Hopkin, Tri City Herald

Kyle Thompson, 8, has one of those faces, one he can easily contort into comical expressions.

Maybe that's why he was one of the "special" children who received a call-back letter for a casting call from Aquarian Associates.

But Kyle's mom, Heather Thompson, believes the Pittsburgh-based company that has come to Kennewick for its "Great American Model & Talent Search" is simply trying to get at her wallet.

Sam Manfredi, president of Aquarian Associates, said he is just providing a service and trying to fulfill dreams for aspiring young models, actors and actresses. He's quick to say his company is not a "talent agency," instead it connects talent with scouts.

Several weeks ago, Thompson, of Burbank, and several hundred other Mid-Columbia residents received post cards inviting them to bring their children to an open "casting call" at the Kennewick Red Lion.

The postcard piqued Thompson's curiosity and her children's enthusiasm.

"They were excited," she said. "They'd done plays and sang in church. But I told them we would just go for fun."

So Thompson, and hundreds of other Mid-Columbia parents, took their kids, from tots to teens, to the hotel.

"We had to fill out forms for each of the kids with their age, height and weight," said Shyla Thomas, of Richland, who attended with her four children.

Thomas said if the kids were under age 7, they just stood in front of the camera for a "screen test." Older children had to recite lines from a commercial.

Last week, Thomas and Thompson received letters from Aquarian Associates. The form letters, with each boy's name written in, said the boys had received positive reviews and their parents should return Wednesday for a private interview.

The moms and kids were elated -- until they looked up Aquarian Associates on the Internet.

A quick Google search turned up dozens of complaints against the company. Most complained that at the casting calls they were made to feel as if their child had "it," but they suspected at least one child from each family in attendance has "it."

While money isn't mentioned at the first casting call, by the time parents leave the second many are digging in their pockets for fees that can top $500.

"Actually, the chance of getting picked for something is pretty small," Thompson said. "It sounded like a scam. A lot of families will spend their money and nobody gets picked."

Manfredi said he doesn't promise to make any kid a star, or even to get a child a job in a commercial or print ad. What he does promise to those who pay is that they will receive an invitation to the "Great American Model & Talent Search," where they will have a chance to be discovered by talent scouts who will be there.

Manfredi said he organizes three of the events a year, two on the East Coast and one on the West Coast.

Manfredi likens the events to a convention, where parents and their kids can mingle with casting directors, producers and others in the industry. That's part of what the parents' fees cover, he said.

There's also advertising, bringing the professionals in from different cities and paying for the venue.

And, it's his business, he added.

"We are here to make a profit," he said. "We provide a forum of exposure. We don't guarantee they are going to be stars."

Manfredi said the Internet complaints are from unnamed people who may have been competitors.

He said a better source of information about his company and its success can be found on its Web site, where families who have found success through his program share their experiences.

But Thompson hopes people will be wary of giving money to Aquarian Associates.

Liza Maslow, a booking agent for Seattle Models Guild, said reputable agencies don't charge fees up front. "The key to a legitimate agency is that they make money when you make money," she said.

Maslow said Seattle Models Guild, which represents more than 800 models, has open casting calls three days a week, and prospective models know before they leave if the company is interested in representing them.

Maslow also said her company, which provides models for everything from runway shows to catalogs and commercials, allows prospective models to e-mail photos in for consideration.

"We actually prefer they aren't professionally taken," she said. "It gives us a better indication of their potential."

If the guild does decide to represent a model, the model is responsible for providing his or her own photos and composite cards, which is a model's business card that contains photos of the model.

Modeling Agency Dashes Mom's Hopes For Daughter

Agency Asks Parents To Pay Money Up Front

POSTED: 3:26 pm EDT July 12, 2005

CLEVELAND -- In May, 5 On Your Side alerted consumers of a modeling service who asked hopeful parents to pay hundreds of dollars to get their kids seen by Hollywood agents.

But as NewsChannel5's Angie Lau reported, some parents heard the warning too late.

The alert was regarding the Pittsburgh-based Aquarian Associates.

An open casting call was put together by the company, which said it would connect parents and kids with agents for an advanced fee of a couple hundred dollars.

The company's practices prompted the Consumer Protection Board in New York to issue a warning against Aquarian Associates.

"If we had seen the story, we would have been alerted and we would not have paid the money," said Akron mother Adriana Aaron.

Aaron had hopes for her daughter, Alasia, who barely survived as a preemie but is now a beautiful little girl who just turned 2.

Aaron said, "We really are struggling, you know, to the point that some, a lot of our bills are past due because we chose to try to get her somewhere, thinking that down the road it's going to pay back -- and we got hit hard."

Aaron agreed to pay Aquarian Associates $599, and she put $200 down.

The contract stated that Aaron had, "purchased an entry in the Great American Model & Talent Search," and that Aquarian is, "not an agency, nor do we guarantee work opportunities for participants."

"They told us, 'OK, it's going to be $500, but it's a great investment, your kids are going to go somewhere, they're going to get in all these commercials, and this and that, but you only have 24 hours to decide,'" said Aaron.

Aaron is certain her little girl will make it one day.

It's exactly what companies like Aquarian Associates bank on -- selling a dream.

NewsChannel5 contacted Aquarian Associates for comment, and also contacted the Better Business Bureau of western Pennsylvania, of which Aquarian said it was a member. Responses are still awaited.

Lau reported that if anyone truly has a chance at modeling, no legitimate modeling agency would ask for money up front -- they wouldn't have to, if they think they can get you work.

Experts say a demand for money up front is a sure sign you'll be disappointed.

Kids modeling gig could be scam


Herald Staff Writer

Posted on Thu, Sep. 08, 2005

Maybe it's the blue eyes and red hair.

Or that "awesome smile," as her daddy describes it.

Either way, U.S. Army Major Stephen McCullough's initial reaction to the flier in his Fort Ord mailbox wasn't surprising.

The mailer, announcing an open casting call for children and teens at a Carmel hotel Thursday, seemed like an easy way to start a college fund for his 2-year-old daughter. After all, strangers frequently comment on Kayleigh's looks when he and his wife dine out with her.

McCullough admits he's biased, as are most parents when it comes to their own children.

But he's sure he almost got scammed, and worries that other parents may fall victim to a company he sees as preying on false hope.

The flier, from a Pittsburgh, Pa.-based company called Aquarian Associates, Inc., promised free evaluations for children ages 3 months and up today at Carmel Mission Inn. Although the mailer doesn't name past clients, it does say past participants have been in ads for Baby Gap, commercials for, and movies featuring Brad Pitt and Will Ferrell.

The flier McCullough got in the mail provides few details, but on Aquarian Associates' Web site, its office is described as "the hub of operations for the Great American Model and Talent Search." Between 30 and 40 agents and scouts are promised at each event, although it doesn't identify who those agents and scouts might be.

Initially, McCullough and his wife postponed a family trip to visit his 86-year-old aunt so they could attend the casting call. But then doubt crept in.

An online search of the company's name brought up hundreds of complaints by parents misled by Aquarian.

Most complain that at the casting calls, they were made to believe their child was one of only a few singled out of hundreds as having career prospects. In reality, they say, nearly every applicant makes the cut.

And while the first evaluation is free, the subsequent evaluation could be as much as $500.

Aquarian Associates, in business since 1968, has been a member of the Better Business Bureau of Western Pennsylvania since 1993. According to the information provided to the agency by Aquarian, the open call comprises a brief interview and on-camera evaluation. School-age children read a script, and young children and infants are filmed.

Participants from the open call "who are deemed by industry professionals as having potential" are invited back for a meeting about Aquarian events in Los Angeles or Pittsburgh, before what the company calls "industry professionals."

But to take part, parents must pay a non-refundable registration fee, travel and lodging expenses.

Aquarian doesn't actually promise employment, nor does it provide representation or agent services. The problem is that most parents assume otherwise, or wouldn't know to inquire about what the company does provide. And none of that is listed on Aquarian's flier.

Calls to Aquarian's headquarters Wednesday were not returned.

Warren King, president of the Better Business Bureau of Western Pennsylvania, says the company has an acceptable record based on the consumer agency's information. In the past three years, Aquarian had eight complaints to the bureau, said King. His bureau does not disclose the nature of complaints.

But in general terms, he advised consumers to be wary.

"Before committing to an agency, do some due diligence," King said.

Companies sometimes use images of famous models on their promotional material, suggesting ties to the company. Ask whether such connections actually exist, he advised.

Understand what the company is offering, and ask what fees are involved, he said. Agencies that place models must be licensed as employment agencies, so inquire as to the exact nature of the company.

"So far as any type of advance fees or registration fees, consumers should get everything in writing prior to making a decision," he said, "and they shouldn't be pressured into leaving a deposit or signing a contract immediately. Legitimate companies would have no problem with clients making that decision without being pressured."

Before signing an agreement, read it carefully and understand what the company offers. Ask about its success rate and ask for references. Verify claims made by the agency and make sure any oral promises are included in the written agreement.

And if an agency indicates there will be talent scouts, they should identify in writing who those scouts are.

McCullough won't be at the casting call, and he said he's glad he's a little cynical.

But he worried that others might not have the same reservations when dealing with modeling pitches.

"My dad always said, if it's too good to be true...."

The Silicon Valley Better Business Bureau, which represents Monterey County, lists modeling agency scams as a common fraud.

They advise watching out for some common advertising claims:

• "No Fee." If a modeling agency advertises that there is no fee for its services, you should be wary any time you are asked to pay. Most legitimate agencies make money only by taking a commission from their models' work. (An exception, however, is that you may be charged for your picture to be in an agency book that they send to clients who hire models.) Make sure you pay only your portion of the printing costs. Also, ask to see a copy of the agency book before you pay any money.

• "Earn high salaries." Only experienced, top models can expect to receive large salaries.

• "Work full or Part Time."The hours of a model are uneven and sporadic. You will not have the flexibility to choose your own hours.

• "Real people types should apply." Some ads encourage people of all shapes, sizes, and ages to apply for commercial modeling work that involves the sale of a product. Opportunities do exist for "real people" models, but they are rare.

How to Protect Yourself

The best protection against losing money to a phony modeling agency is to take precautions before signing a contract or paying anything.

Realistically assess your chances for being a model. Ask yourself: was I chosen by the agency because they believe I can make money for them--or just because I can afford to pay money to them?

Check out all claims made in agency advertisements, sales presentations, and literature. For example, if they say they are the largest modeling agency in the country, contact other modeling agencies and ask if this is true.

Ask for the names, addresses, and phone numbers of models who work through the agency and clients who have used its models. Contact the models and clients to verify the information.

Ask if the agency is licensed and bonded, as is required if they claim they will find modeling work for you. If so, verify this with the State Department of Industrial Relations.

Get a reliability report on the modeling agency from the Better Business Bureau.

If you sign a contract, be sure to get all verbal promises in writing. Keep a copy of your contract and all other important papers, such as agency literature. You may need these if you have a dispute with the agency.

If you cannot verify the agency's credentials and the agency is asking for money in advance, you may be better off saying no.

If you have paid money to a modeling agency, and believe they are involved in a scam, first contact the company and request a refund. If you are not satisfied, register a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

If you suspect fraud, contact the Federal Trade Commission. Although the FTC cannot represent you directly in a dispute with a company, if the Commission finds evidence of a pattern of deceptive or unfair practices, it can take action.

Some parents cast doubt on casting call

Monterey Herald Staff Report

Wed, Sep. 07, 2005

Some Peninsula residents may have found a flier in their mailbox recently advertising an open casting call for children and teens. The flier, from a Pittsburgh, Pa.-based company called Aquarian Associates, Inc., outlines its evaluation and casting call for children ages 3 months through teenagers, at a six-hour event Thursday at Carmel Mission Inn. Although the mailer doesn't name past clients, it does say past participants have been in ads for Baby Gap, commercials for Yahoo, and movies with Brad Pitt and Will Farrell.

An online search of the company's name, however, brings up hundreds of complaints by parents who claim they were misled by Aquarian.

Most complain that at the casting calls, they were made to believe their child was one of only a few singled out of hundreds as having career prospects. In reality, they say, nearly every applicant makes the cut.

And while the first evaluation is free, the subsequent evaluation is not, with costs up to as much as $500.

Aquarian Associates, in business since 1968, has been a member of the Better Business Bureau of Western Pennsylvania since 1993. According to the information provided to the agency by Aquarian, the open call consists of a brief interview and on-camera evaluation. School-age children read a script, and young children and infants are filmed.

Those participants from the Open Call "who are deemed by industry professionals as having potential" are invited back for a meeting about Aquarian events in Los Angeles or Pittsburgh, before what the company calls "industry professionals."

But to take part, parents must pay a nonrefundable registration fee, travel and lodging expenses.

Aquarian doesn't actually promise employment, nor does it provide representation or agent services. The problem is that most parents assume otherwise, or wouldn't know to inquire about what the company does provide. And none of that is listed on Aquarian's flier.

Calls to Aquarian's headquarters Wednesday were not returned

Warren King, president of the Better Business Bureau of Western Pennsylvania, says the company has an acceptable record based on the consumer agency's information. In the past three years, Aquarian had eight complaints to the bureau, said King. His bureau does not disclose the nature of complaints.

But in general terms, he advised consumers to be wary.

"Before committing to an agency, do some due diligence," King said.

Read the entire story in Thursday's edition of The Herald.

7 On Your Side: Casting Call


"Open casting call for children and teens!.. for one day only!" says the postcard mailed to East Texans. Aquarian Associates, Inc. out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania claim they can put you in front of major casting directors, model scouts and agents. Just attend this "free evaluation" in Tyler.

But the Consumer Protection Board in New York is sending a warning to East Texans. "We have information that leads us to believe that everyone is evaluated and that everyone is invited to the next step and that next step costs them more than $500 dollars," says Jon Sorenson with the Consumer Protection Board. "7 On Your Side" found several postings on a web site called "Easy Background Check" to support this.

After attending the free evaluation, pre-selected kids are invited back for a "call-back meeting". This parent says it wasn't until the last ten minutes of their session they were told about a $485 fee to attend a national search in another city. Another parent says they had good reasons to be "greatly disappointed". "The only reason we allowed our daughter to participate was because we spent in excess of $800 for plane tickets and lodging," reads the web posting.

The director of Aquarian Associates denied our request for an interview but did fax us a written statement saying: "...anyone with a legitimate complaint can file with the Better Business Bureau" and "...if someone is expecting to be assigned a work opportunity at our meeting, this will not be the case." "The key here is you can get these opportunities for free," says Sorenson. "You don't have to pay somebody to introduce you to the right people if the right people want to meet you.

It could take more work than simply paying a fee and going to one session." 7 On Your Side is not suggesting you not to take your child to this open casting call. But just like any endeavor you take on know what your options are, don't be afraid to ask questions or just say no.


Child Modeling: A Primer (Must Reading for Parents)