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Modeling Scams - If you have the the look, Look Out!

What could be more flattering? Someone approaches you at the mall and says, "You could be a model. You've got the 'look' we're after. Here's my card. Give me a call to set up an appointment."

People have always said you're good looking and now visions of glamour, travel and money flash before your eyes.

If and when you make that follow-up appointment, you'll probably find yourself in an office filled with lots of other model and actor hopefuls.

Then the sting starts. What you thought was a legitimate job interview with a talent agency turns into a high-pressure sales pitch for modeling or acting classes, or for "screen tests" or "photo shoots" that can range in price from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

It's true that some successful models have been discovered in everyday places like shopping malls, boutiques, clubs, and airports but the vast majority of would-be models knock on door after agency door before work comes their way.

Bogus model and talent scouts - What they say vs. what they mean

Man, woman, or child - it makes no difference to bogus model and talent scouts. Often, these scouts are after one thing - your money - and will say just about anything to get it. But what they say isn't always what they mean.

What They Say vs. What They Mean!

Unscrupulous model and talent scouts have their acts down pat.
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.


To break into the business, you - the talent - need professional photos. There are two types of standard photographs - a "head shot" and a "composite card."

The typical marketing tool for an actor, experienced or not, the head shot usually is an 8" x 10" black and white photo of the face, with your resume printed on the back.

A "comp card", the typical marketing tool for the experienced model or the wannabe, usually features several shots on the same sheet, showing off the talent in different attire or settings.

Agencies and schools offer separate and distinct services. Make sure you know the difference.

Modeling (or talent) agencies secure employment for experienced models and actors. Some agents require that you sign up exclusively with them; others may allow you to register with them as well as with other agencies in town.

Modeling and acting schools claim to provide instruction - for a fee - in poise, posture, diction, skin care, make-up application, the proper walk, and more. Modeling schools do not necessarily act as agents or find work for you - after you take their classes, you may be on your own.

Talent Tips

Steer clear of modeling companies that require you to use a specific photographer. Compare fees and the quality of several photographers before deciding which one would be best for you.

Be suspicious if a model agency that requires an up-front fee to serve as your agent.

Be cautious if the school has a special referral relationship with a specific modeling agency. The two could be splitting your fees, or the agency may not be suited to your needs.

Avoiding a Model Rip-Off

Ask yourself, "why me?" Don't let your emotions - and the company's flattery - take control. Think carefully and critically about how you were approached: if it was in a crowded mall, think how many others also may have been approached.

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. Read it as a strong signal that the company is more interested in your money than your career.

Be wary of claims about high salaries. Successful models in small markets can earn anywhere from $45 to $100 an hour, but the work is irregular.

Ask for names, addresses and phone numbers of models and actors who have secured successful work - recently - based on the company's training.

Be skeptical of local companies claiming to be the "biggest" agency or a "major player" in the industry, especially if you live in a smaller city or town. If two modeling agencies say they are the biggest - one of them must be wrong? 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.

Ask if the company/school is licensed or bonded, if that's required by your state. Verify this information with the appropriate authorities, such as your local Consumer Protection Agency, Consumer Affairs Department or State Attorney General. Make sure the agencies license is current.

Ask your local Better Business Bureau, Consumer Protection Agency, Consumer Affairs Department or State Attorney General if there are any unresolved consumer complaints on file about the company.

Get everything in writing, including any promises that have been made orally and keep copies of all important papers, such as your contract and company literature, in a safe place.

Realize that different parts of the world have different needs. For example, New York is recognized for fashion modeling; the Washington/Baltimore area is known for industrial or training films. Sydney, Australia is more recognized for high fashion, video clip and movie production and promotional modeling, whilst the Gold Coast has a large swim suit, promotional and commercial modeling market. Other areas of Australia have mostly promotional work, amateur photography, commercial and print modeling.

You've Got the Cutest Little Baby Face

A special word to parents of infants and toddlers.

Think your child is model material? Bogus talents scouts do!
And they'll gladly set up a professional photo shoot to allegedly help you get modeling and acting jobs for your baby or child.

Of course, they don't tell you that the market for infant models and actors is very small. What's more, because an infant's looks change quickly, the photos become outdated. In truth, few infants are marketed with professional photos.

Legitimate agents, advertising agencies, casting directors and producers generally ask for casual snapshots of infants that have been taken by family members or friends.

Where to Complain

If you've think you've been scammed by a bogus model or talent scout, contact your local Consumer Protection Agency, State Attorney General, Better Business Bureau, or Consumer Affairs Department. You can find them in your local telephone directory or by calling directory assistance.

For a more detailed information check out


Ways to Discover a Modeling Scam


Legitimate agencies make their money by taking a percentage from models and clients off the work they book. I'm surprised that people don't realize agencies make 40% of each booking.

As a standard - many agencies take 20% from the model (commission) and another 20% from the client (agency fee). Meaning, if they book you for a full day for $1,000, they actually will bill the client $1,200. When the model gets her check, it will be for $800 and the agency's profit is $400. That is how an agency makes their money!

Unfortunately almost half of the agencies existing don't work this way. That is a lot of opportunity for all of you to get taken.

First and foremost, realize that agencies are a Monday-Friday, 9-5pm business.

If you are contacted to attend an "Open Call" or "Talent Review" make sure it's between these hours. Be very suspicious if they ask you to come in later in the evening or a weekend. Legitimate agencies don't do weekends !

Also look around at the caliber of the folks attending. Legit agencies don't want to be bothered with a roomful of newbie's with snapshots. Be further suspicious if all of the folks with you recently went to a modeling convention. Most of these fake agencies buy "leads" from these conventions. They will pay up to $5.00 per lead just to get your name and phone number!

Also, look to see if there is a license on the wall. ALL agencies must be licensed . If they are not, chances are there's a reason.

Listen to what's going on around you. Are the phones ringing? Do you hear actual work being booked? Does the staff look busy? Don't base your opinions on décor or photos on the wall. I've heard of fake agencies simply cutting ads out of magazines and placing them on the walls. They'll pretend they have launched so and so's career or have booked this job all to impress the people walking thru the door.

Also, if the space is quite large with lots of different rooms, be suspicious that this is actually a training center rather then an agency. You can further protect yourself by asking around before you even get there. Contact some other models and talent see if they have had any experiences with this company.

Another way to investigate is to contact some of the local casting agencies and see which agencies they work with. If the company you are considering isn't mentioned then it's just not worth your time.

Check out their web-site. A real agency doesn't "sell themselves" to the public on their web site, they simply present their talent for clients to view. Finally, be weary of any agency that advertises in local papers or on the radio.

A real agency doesn't pay to advertise for new talent , word of mouth and referrals bring people in.


By far, the most popular scam is what we call a photo mill.

This is an agency that makes their money by sending models to photographers that are ON STAFF to shoot expensive photos and produce a comp card.

These agencies don't make their money by booking work only selling pricey photography. They sign up anyone with a credit card and book few jobs.

Be suspicious of any company that forces you to shoot with a certain photographer. Normally, that means someone is getting a kick back!

A legitimate agency will give you what they call a testing list. This is a list of all good photographers in your area that you'll be able to contact and pick on your own. A good agency shouldn't force you to use their printing company rather suggest one but let you do it on your own should you choose to.

Also, a brand new model should never print more then 500 cards at one shot. If you're new, chances are your first card isn't going to be strong. It's simply just a way to introduce you to clients. You're going to want to keep shooting to gain experience and update your cards within a few months. So, 500 cards isn't a good idea. 100-200 cards are enough to get started and they shouldn't cost more then $1.00 per card to produce.

You shouldn't have to write your check out to the agency, rather to the printing company directly.


Another scam is the agency that tries to sell you their online web site. Most agencies have web sites and yes it will cost you something and yes this is a good tool. However, you shouldn't be forced to sign up for this on the spot.

My advice is to be on the agency roster for a few months and see if you are contacted for bookings and castings. If it looks like they are working for you, then consider this option. Just like with the photo mill scam, the online agencies make their money by you laying down your credit card rather then booking work for their clients.





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