Having an hour to kill at Westfarms in West Hartford I had a chance to watch four “sales” men and women working at the interFaceÂ Talent Network booth on the first floor.
Even though I wrote several columns about the Connecticut and New Jersey operation as well as dozens of blog and blog items while the Watchdog for The Courant, I had a second-hand view of its problematic sales tactics.
The salesman and saleswoman were young, knew little about the business model, and were there to make a few bucks. The company has similar operations in seven other Connecticut malls.
They focused on parents with young children and teenagers, hoping to talk them into going to the Norwalk office for a “free evaluation.” They told me that up to 50 percent of the children they see walking by them look good enough to be models, actors or actresses. Honest to God.
Trust me, other than for free samples at Costco, nothing is free.
Those who end up going to Norwalk go though high pressure sales techniques – according to complaints I have received and the complaints sent to state officials and to the Better Business Bureau – with the goal being that the customer sign up for photo sessions that could cost as much as $5,000.
There are assurances that 80 percent of clients are successful. But try to pin them down on what they consider success.
Here is some information that may help you decide whether you want to steer clear of this outfit or not:
Last June Connecticut officials cracking down on interFace, claiming the firm used “pressure and deception” to get some parents to pay thousands of dollars for photographs of their children to help them with modeling or entertainment careers.
InterFace Talent Network agreed to refund a total of $21,610 to 18 families following an investigation by the state Department of Consumer Protection.
Consumer Protection Commissioner Jerry Farrell Jr. said that his department has asked InterFace to change its contract to make clear its refund policy and what it promises.
Farrell said that his department will continue to monitor the firm,Â which, according to the Better Business Bureau, has sister companies inÂ New Jersey that have had similar complaints and an overall poor rating.
“Given that they are working with children, who are impressionable andÂ who could be easily interested in a modeling-entertainment career, theyÂ should have been clear about how limited their services actually were,”
Farrell said, referring to InterFace.
Farrell said those complaining to his office raised these issues:
â€¢Poor quality of photos.
â€¢It was difficult or impossible to use the promised three-day cancellation policy.
â€¢”Extremely rude, deceptive and unresponsive” customer support.
Roman Vintfeld, head of the firm and its New Jersey sister companies,Â acknowledged that there were problems last year because it was a start-up operation. He said that with an improved team, theÂ issues are now behind the company.
He said that the complaint rate is small compared with the number ofÂ satisfied customers.
“We are not a scam,” Vintfeld said in a statement, adding that as manyÂ as 8,000 people had signed up in Connecticut last year. “Nearly all of our customers who complete our marketing services are satisfied by our
“In fact, in 2008, over 80 percent of our marketed clients received aÂ request from an agent, manager, or casting director,” he said. “This success rate is astronomical in our industry. As a result of some of
these requests, our clients have gone on to have opportunities in film, television and commercial modeling, working with people like Jennifer Lopez, Nicole Kidman, Harrison Ford, Jennifer Aniston and more.”
However, state consumer protection commissioner Farrell said in June:
“I think they clearly left the impression that they were doing moreÂ than just taking pictures,” Farrell said. “The combination of theirÂ advertising, their sales techniques and their contracts misled manyÂ parents and children on what Interface would actually get done for the money.”
Farrell said that people who feel they were taken advantage of by InterFace should seek a refund. If the company rejects the request, they should then contact Farrell’s office.
“We are also insistent that they give refunds to consumers who want one. We would certainly act on any complaints that come into us now, orÂ on any complaint that existed where the consumer remains unsatisfied,”
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