2003-10-03 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Beware Of Modeling Scams
By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer
Notes On Consumer Affairs By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer Beware Of Modeling Scams


Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer

The lure of jet setting around the world, hobnobbing with the rich and famous, wearing clothing designed by top designers, and above all, the possibility of making a tremendous amount of money are some of the reasons people want to become models. Some modeling agencies exploit these desires and promise prospective models lucrative careers but only deliver unnecessary and expensive photography packages along with broken dreams. Bogus model and talent scouts will use any line, promise or other hooks to get at your money. Teresa A. Santiago, Chairperson and Executive Director of the New York State Consumer Protection Board ("CPB"), said, "One of the biggest scams operating today is the Wilhelmina Scouting Network. It takes thousands of dollars from young people or their parents through high-pressure, misleading sales. All it gives in return are empty promises of a career in modeling."

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) listed common lines uttered by unscrupulous model and talent scouts. Theses lines are used as puffery to give the feeling that the model and talent agency are selective and influential within the industry. It is also used to flatter and pressure the potential model into buying unnecessary services. Listen carefully to read between their lines.

"We’re scouting for people with your ‘look’ to model and act."

I need to sign up as many people as possible. My commission depends on it.

"Your deposit is totally refundable.

Your deposit is refundable only if you meet very strict refund conditions.

"You must be specially selected for our program. Our talent experts will carefully evaluate your chances at success in the field and will only accept a few people into our program."

We take almost everyone.

"There’s a guaranteed refund if you’re not accepted into the program."

Everyone’s accepted into the program. Forget the refund.

"You can’t afford our fees? No problem. You can work them off with the high-paying jobs we’ll get you."

We demand payment, whether or not you get work.

"Commissions from our clients are our major source of income."

Our income comes from the fees we charge you.

Bogus modeling and talent agencies rely on a person’s preconceived notion as to what is necessary to break-into the industry. The most common modeling scam is the photo modeling scam where the model or talent agent tries to get as many people as possible to buy photography and prints. The reason this pitch works is that it seems legitimate, and there is no reason to be suspicious. The sales pitch is simple. You need to advertise to get modeling jobs; you need pictures to advertise to get modeling jobs. Modeling is all about photography.1

The reality in the modeling industry is that modeling agencies ask prospective models for amateur snapshots not professional photography (Snapshots can be underrated; a girl once got the Guess campaign with only four snapshots!). After getting representation by the agency the payment for the photography and/or prints etc. is deducted from the first modeling job paycheck. If the agency is not a photo mill, and they know who is model material and likely to get modeling job offers, they will not have a problem taking the risk.

If you are interested in being a model, the FTC has laid out a few guidelines for avoiding becoming a victim of a "Model Rip-Off". Some of its suggestions are: Ask yourself, "why me?" Don’t let your emotions — and the company’s flattery — take control.

Avoid high-pressure sales tactics. Never sign a document without reading and understanding it first. In fact, ask for a blank copy of the contract to take home and review with someone you trust. If the company refuses, walk away.

Be leery of companies that only accept payment in cash or by money order.

Be wary of claims about high salaries. Successful models in small markets can earn $75 to $150 an hour, but the work is irregular.

Check out client claims. If an agency says it has placed models and actors in specific jobs, contact the companies to verify that they’ve hired models and actors from the agency.


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