Become a K-Pop idol is challenging, but fake agencies are making that dream even harder to achieve. With so many real and fake agencies out there, how do you avoid being scammed? YouTuber Evangeline Pang, better known as Ploopy678, purposely auditioned for questionable “companies” to find out what separates an audition scam from a legitimate opportunity. Read more about her experience here, and check out the red flags she encountered below.
1. A small social media presence
Real K-Pop companies generally have a large following on Instagram, Twitter, and other social media sites. Hundreds of thousands of followers, plus high engagement on their posts. Scam companies usually have a significantly smaller following and low engagement.
A modest social media presence, however, isn’t a foolproof indication of a company’s legitimacy. It isn’t uncommon for new, smaller K-Pop companies to start off with a low number of followers when they are just beginning to establish themselves.
No matter how small a company is though, it should have a professional website with its own domain name, along with a company email that is not from a free service like Gmail. The company website should include contact details, including an address and phone number. Also, search for any artists who have debuted under the label.
2. Poor quality promotional images
Real K-Pop companies do occasionally end up creating a less than appealing image, but this is a rarity, not the norm. If the K-Pop company you’re thinking about applying to has consistently bad images that scream “graphic design is my passion”, then pass. A real company will have high quality images because marketing and brand promotion is everything in K-Pop. Low quality equals low profits.
If a scam company does happen to have high-quality images, that doesn’t automatically mean they are the real deal. It just means they have a talent for Photoshop. If the company’s images are gorgeous, but they are raising other red flags, walk away!
3. Requesting personal information
Never give personal information, such as your home address, unless you are 100% sure that a company is legit, and even then it is better to avoid giving this information until later in the audition process. During her investigation, Evangeline found that scam companies asked applicants for a lot of personal information right away, using Google Docs forms.
4. Asking for money
Now here’s a huge red flag! A company should never ask for an audition fee or a fee for a pre-audition “training program”. One of the scam companies Evangeline auditioned for asked her to pay $70 USD for a training program that probably does not exist.
To add pressure, the company stated that the program was highly competitive and that she must pay the fee within 48 hours to avoid losing her spot.
When she did not pay, the company contacted her the next day, claiming that they were still holding a spot for her.
When she still did not pay, the contacted her again and tried to sweeten the deal with a discount.
The final red flag was manipulation. They tried to use Evangeline’s idol dreams to guilt her into paying the fee. This is especially nefarious considering that Evangeline’s fake profile stated that she was only 16 years old.
5. Unprofessional writing
Language barriers can lead to poor or slightly weird translations, even on real K-Pop company websites. Plus, everyone makes the odd typo, including SM Entertainment.
Evangeline noticed that her scammers had consistently bad grammar, misspelled many words, shortened words (“hru”), and used Internet slang.
Also, pay close attention to tone and content. Real K-Pop companies send professional messages that don’t refer to their would-be trainees as “cute” or “dear”.
6. Vague answers
If a company representative if giving you vague answers about the audition process, the company’s business model, or other important details, move along. A real representative will be able to answer your questions and provide resources or direct you to someone who can.
Scammers might also try to redirect the conversation to another topic, such as you sending them money.
7. Asking for video clips and photos, especially “sexy” ones
It’s normal to send photos and videos in for online auditions, but be cautious. Some K-Pop audition scams are a cover for human trafficking. Think like a scammer. Why would you go searching for young trafficking candidates when you can lure them in by using an audition that will provide you with their personal information, photos, and videos, not to mention money?
Human traffickers have used modeling scams for years; K-Pop auditions are just a newer version.
In fact, this particularly insidious scam is a big part of the reason why Evangeline decided to go undercover in the first place.
One “company” she was conversing with asked her to try out a “sexy” concept, despite knowing that she (or rather, her persona “Sunny”) was only 16. They were sneaky about it too, stating that she should only do whatever she was comfortable with.
By being ambiguous about what kind of sexy content they wanted, they created a loophole. If “Sunny” had sent an explicit video or photo, the company could claim that it wasn’t the kind of content they were asking for in the first place, shifting blame to the applicant if the police were to ever become involved. Keep in mind that submitted images/videos can also be used for blackmail.
The company also attempted to manipulate Evangeline into sending sexy content by implying that she didn’t have what it takes to be a star.
8. Manipulation tactics
As mentioned above, scammers will use manipulation tactics to trick their targets into sending money, personal information, and content. They will prey on an applicant’s fear of missing out on an opportunity by pressuring them through fake deadlines, guilting them, or telling them they aren’t good enough.
Scammers will use an applicant’s dreams of stardom against them in any way they can. They may threaten and pressure, or on the other hand, flatter and compliment an applicant’s skills and looks. Long story short, a real K-Pop company doesn’t need to beg for applicants. They know K-Pop is a booming business, and there is no shortage of people who want to perform on stage.
9. Bogus contracts
Never sign a bogus contract, and never sign a real contract without a lawyer present. Even legitimate contracts come with fine print that that to-be trainees need to know about to avoid future legal problems and/or moral conflicts.
Read more about Evangeline’s investigation here, or watch her full video below.