Modeling Scams, Rip Offs and Bad Business

There is a whole industry that has developed to take advantage of those who would like to become models. They are far removed from the world of actual professional modeling. This modeling scam and rip-off industry makes its money by alluding to or promising great careers in modeling, but first you have to pay them up front. Of course your modeling career never comes about and your money is long gone. These enterprises prey upon your hopes and dreams of becoming a star and they are betting on your lack of knowledge about how the modeling industry really works. This leach industry seems to be getting bigger everyday.

These enterprises fall into three categories: the scam, the rip-off, and those that just run bad businesses. All will take your money and give little or nothing in return.

The scam operation conducts fraudulent and illegal activities. This type of enterprise has no intention of delivering on what it promises. They make big promises and guarantees and usually ask for a substantial sum of money up front, and then they vanish in the night.

The rip-off is a big category, and it's not illegal. Companies operating rip-off schemes make vague promises or they tout one or two models (out of thousands whose money they've taken) that actually succeeded in a career. They will work with anyone who pays money up front, and they tell everyone they have some type of talent, whether or not they really do. The rip-off companies can include modeling agencies that charge up front for signing fees and photo shoots, or that require you take their class before they will work with you. Also in this category are some of the modeling conventions, searches, and competitions. Many virtual modeling sites are springing up all over the web. New rip-off enterprises are starting up every day.

The bad business category includes enterprises that are trying to conduct a legitimate business, but just don't know what they are doing. They do not have the essential knowledge of the industry they need or they may be poorly located. These businesses might include someone who sets up a modeling agency in a too-small market area, or a photographer offering to shoot professional modeling portfolios but does not have the skill level to carry it off, or it might be a modeling school that should really be called a finishing school (offering classes in image enhancement, or using outdated teaching materials). I think these businesses mean well but they still cost money for classes or photos that are ultimately useless.

If your goal is to become a professional model, remember that all of the scams, rip-offs, and bad businesses that promise to take you to that goal are, in fact, barriers to it. Watch for the warning signs.

Warning Signs

Warning signs of a scam, or a less than legitimate, or a poorly run agency. If you find any of these warning signs, it does not necessarily mean the business is a scam operation but be sure to ask a lot of questions, and be sure the business gives good answers. Always check references! New York City is the exception to many of these warning signs.

1) Newspaper classified ads or display ads looking for any kind of model or talent (other than nude glamour modeling, i.e. models for the adult entertainment industry). Reputable modeling agencies receive plenty of would-be model inquiries so they don't need to advertise for models. If they are short of talent they will send their scouts out to public places to look for potential talent.

2) Pictures of famous New York supermodels on the walls of their offices, or these models' comp cards on a wall rack. Top New York fashion models do not need a modeling agency in small town USA.

3) Up-front fees. These could be signing fees, new account fees, evaluation fees, etc. If an agency has to charge money at the front end it means that there is not enough money at the back end. It also means that the agency probably does not have enough modeling work to be able to survive on commissions, and therefore, not enough work for a model to survive on either.

4) "We are interested in you but you need to test shoot with our photographer and it's going to cost you." Legitimate agencies will provide you with a list of photographers that you may go to on your own. Many will have a place by the front door for photographers' business cards that you can take on your way out. You should be free to go to any photographer you choose. If the agency tells you that you must use their photographer, watch out. A twist on this theme is when the agency provides the photo session at no charge, then charges you a high fee(example, $700) for a "professional" makeup artist. You will need photos at some point but you should be free to shop around and find your own photographer and makeup artist.

5) "We are interested in you but you need to go through our classes first and it is going to cost you." Again money at the front end means not enough modeling work at the back end. A combination school/modeling agency has a conflict of interest. For example, SAG (Screen Actors Guild) member agencies cannot offer both.

6) "We guarantee you work." Modeling agencies are not employers. They represent you and try to get work for you. Most of the time they don't know for sure what type of job will come in or what 'look' may be needed, thus there is no way a legitimate agency can guarantee you work. The best they can do is to give you an idea of their track record on placements. But remember that past performance is no guarantee of future performance.

7) "As it says in our ad in the local newspaper we guarantee you work, just like the famous models on our walls, just as soon as you go through our modeling classes, shoot with our photographer, and pay our agency fees." RUN, do not walk, to the nearest exit.

A Modeling Scam

One scam operation targeted a small town in Oregon. A Los Angeles company looking for models for TV commercials ran ads in the local newspaper. Applicants were told to send in some personal information and a couple of snapshots. After that the company would contact the applicants and let them know whether or not they had the look that was needed. Then the would-be models were signed up for a commercial that paid big bucks and told that a test shoot was needed before shooting the actual commercial. Contracts, airline vouchers, and lots of official looking paperwork were sent to the would-be models. The company would pay all the expenses except for the makeup artist, for which they required $500 up front. Having a contract in hand and not understanding how the modeling industry worked, the small-town would-be models sent in their $500. Once the checks were cashed, the scam company vanished. The commercial, contracts, airline vouchers, and guarantees were all bogus. It is easy to con someone who is not educated about the industry. As the song says, "The lure of easy money has a very strong appeal."

Classic Rip-off

Modeling Advice received the following letter telling a story that is not uncommon. It shows what can happen when you are not prepared for the shysters that are out there. It began with a newspaper ad, a request for payment on photos, and a promise of immediate work (after only the barest of interviews and without photo testing). The operation is not illegal, just a rip-off. The sender agreed to let me share it with others. She writes:

Hello. I read your section on modeling scams. I know this e-mail may be long, but please hear me out. I really need your advice on this one. I feel really stupid now. I went to a modeling/talent agency so that I could get my singing career started. I found this agency in the newspaper (one thing you wrote about). I didn't even go there for modeling I went there for the agent to listen to a demo tape I had done. He told me he could not do much for me in that field, but asked if I would consider modeling or doing commercials, etc. He told me I would have to take pictures and gave me a chart to look at. Three pictures cost $475. I had taken a friend with me who advised me to do it, because through this I could always meet people and start my singing career. There were many other people in the office - for example, teenagers and babies. He asked me how I would feel about doing a fashion show this weekend and also said he got called for a video. Now, anyone who has met me knows that I am a bit shy and have low self-esteem, so why would you want me for this job? He even told my friend that I had to break out of that and be more aggressive.

Of course it was after I paid him that these questions ran through my head. I had never done anything so stupid and rash in my whole life. I think it was the rush of thinking I might finally go out there and sing. He didn't tell me that I needed to change anything about myself, which I personally thought was odd. He had the secretary come in and take one of the photos I brought in to FedEx it to the people making the video. Personally I think it was all a big act. He also said it was good that I lived in a particular area. He took pictures of me (I don't even know if there was film in the camera) and said I could come back in another day to take the other pictures. I was going back today, but got stuck on the highway and did not make it on time. I called and said I would be there in 10 minutes and the secretary told me that I would have to reschedule because the agent was going to a meeting, so I rescheduled for Thursday. When I had called to cancel the initial appointment she jumped down my throat saying that they are a professional agency and that she didn't think I was serious about this. But this time she most easily rescheduled, after they got my money. The contract he gave me said that they would get 10% of what I make. I paid with a credit card and called the company and froze my account, but it will probably go through anyway. I'm not sure if they are for real or not, because I just did this on Saturday, 4/1/00. I probably won't be able to do anything about it now, but I still want people to know about this and to be more aware. What can I do as far as that goes? Maybe you can let the people know since you have a web site. What can I do to protect myself as far as this matter goes? I was also thinking about the fact that if he is not legitimate and he does have pictures of me would he use them for other purposes? I also called the Better Business Bureau and they said that this company has been around since 1993 and they have had 14 complaints in the last 36 months and they had responded to all of these complaints. Please e-mail me and let me know how much of a scam this sounds like if it is. I appreciate your time. Thank you.