State Secures Restitution for Over 100 Customers, Under $400,000
Settlement with Modeling/Talent Services Company
A modeling and talent services company who the State alleged misled customers into signing expensive contracts for photo shoot services has agreed to pay the State $400,000 to settle the lawsuit filed by the Office of the Attorney General and the State Division of Consumer Affairs. As part of the settlement, the company will refund almost $100,000 to its customers.
Defendants Industry Model and Talent Studios, LLC, its successor corporation, InterFACE1, LLC, and their owner Roman Vintfeld, also agreed to retain an Independent Compliance Monitor who will ensure that the company complies with the improved business practices mandated by the settlement for two years at their expense. The Division will approve the monitor and receive reports from him/her on whether Vintfeld and InterFACE1 are complying with the terms of the Consent Order.
"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.
The State filed its lawsuit in July 2011 in State Superior Court in Middlesex County. Among other things, the lawsuit alleged that the defendants misled consumers into believing they were a model or talent agency that could place someone in the modeling or entertainment industries when in fact they were only providing photo shoots and access to a web site where consumers could post their photos. The lawsuit further alleged that Industry Model materially misled its customers about the cost of its services and the terms of the contracts.
Based on complaints the Division received from consumers, the companies typically stationed employees in area malls and amusement parks and sought out parents with young children. The parents allege that they were told to come to the company's office for a free evaluation, at which time they allege they were pressured into signing contracts. The parents claim the sales solicitations never disclosed the fees they would be charged.
"Our settlement addresses the company's past alleged bad practices and protects future customers by eliminating any ambiguity in its contracts, and by inserting a monitor to ensure compliance," Acting Director Kanefsky said. "We always advise consumers to get all the relevant terms in writing and to understand what you are paying for before signing any contract."
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.
Any additional consumer complaints received over the next year must be reported to the Division by Vintfeld and InterFACE1, along with details on how such complaints were resolved.
The restitution owed to the 104 past customers identified in the settlement will be paid within 15 days of the Consent Order taking effect.
In addition to $99,590 in restitution, the defendants will pay the State $300,410, which encompasses civil penalties and reimbursement for its legal and investigative costs.
Assistant Attorney General Brian McDonough and Deputy Attorneys General Jeffrey Koziar and Kourtney J.A. Knop in the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section of the Division of Law represented the Division in this case. Investigator Lee Petrowski in the Division's Office of Consumer Protection conducted the investigation.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.
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