WASHINGTON -- Shea Winpigler is hoping to make it big in entertainment. The broadcast journalism major at the University of Maryland found a summer job that she thought would be a good fit: working at InterFACE, a talent marketing firm that claims on its website that it's helped "over 10,000 people get started in exciting Entertainment and Fashion opportunities!"
Instead of getting an enriching experience -- and a paycheck -- Winpigler says she left the job after just a few weeks, without the $600 she says she was owed. And when she finally got a check, it bounced.
In an email to WTOP, Winpigler said she quit after the Fourth of July.
"And now I'm broke. My first paycheck was going towards rent for college. And now, I have no money and am in debt."
Winpigler put WTOP in touch with another former InterFACE staffer who said she'd also been stiffed when it came to payday.
"I hadn't been paid in a month. You know -- they just didn't have a paycheck for me. So I left."
She spoke to WTOP on the condition that we not use her name.
She explained that in order to get her check after more than a month, she and another staffer actually drove to InterFACE's New Jersey office to get their pay.
"We feel like since we quit, that's why they were holding our checks -- because we just up and left the company."
Employees aren't the only ones waiting for cash from the talent marketer. Shannon Wallace says she's waiting for a refund that she asked for back in January.
Wallace says she sought out InterFACE on the Internet; as the mom of a 3-year-old boy who constantly hears how cute her toddler is, she figured she'd look into modeling opportunities. At first, she was sold on InterFACE. She went to their Gaithersburg office, and recalls that "They really showed that they cared about you. And they were so friendly!"
Wallace paid $1,645 for a photo shoot package. It was pretty steep, but she figured it was an investment that would eventually be worthwhile. Yet, as she headed home to Baltimore, she had a nagging feeling.
So she searched the company on Google, and was rattled by what she found: Other consumers claimed they'd been ripped off, and employees claimed they hadn't been paid. And then there was the press release from the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, saying that the company that now operates as InterFace LLC had agreed to pay the state $400,000 to settle a lawsuit. The state alleged that the talent marketing firm misled parents and employed high-pressure sales tactics to get them to sign contracts for services.
"That night I actually called InterFACE and asked for my money back!" Wallace says. And she's still waiting.
Wallace is one of three people who filed a complaint with the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection. Eric Friedman, director of the OCP, said his investigators have been at work on three cases -- one was resolved; two, including Wallace's, are still pending.
Court records on Maryland Judiciary Case search also show two other people have sought money from InterFACE. Those cases are designated as "Active" on the court site.
Friedman says InterFACE's business model is a familiar one, and they operate where the lines between a photo studio and a talent agency are blurred. InterFACE's own site contains disclaimers that it is not a talent agency, and doesn't guarantee work, but that's in the fine print. At the top of the website's pages are blurbs such as "Imagine the chance to get on a real TV or Film set!"
"InterFACE clients have gone on to secure acting jobs through industry professionals on TV projects such as Nurse Jackie, Boardwalk Empire, The Big C, The Sopranos, Gossip Girl, Law and Order, and film projects like Sex and the City: 2, Get Him to the Greek, The Sorcerers Apprentice, Brooklyn's Finest, and Something Borrowed just to name a few!"
WTOP visited the Gaithersburg office of InterFACE. Music thumped and empty chairs lined the lobby in the office on Gaither Road on Thursday at about 2 p.m. A receptionist introduced a reporter to a woman who gave her name as Brittany. She politely declined to answer any questions, but handed the reporter a card and said to call that number. The number went to a voicemail; WTOP has not yet heard back from InterFACE.
Friedman says that when considering firms such as InterFACE, consumers have to ask themselves, "Are they selling photographs or are they an agency that provides jobs? When you confuse the two, that's when you get into trouble."
Wallace agrees. She hopes to get her money back, but worries she's stuck having learned a very expensive lesson.
"Research everything before you sign anything, talk to anybody, make an appointment, anything," she tells parents.
Watch a video of testimonials for InterFACE:
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