Types of Modeling Scams
In addition to the companies offering
something more or less real, but of little actual value, the world of modeling
has been around long enough that it has been infested with all manner of
low-lifes. These are the companies that promise great things for you with no
intention of delivering anything of real value. Some of them look real; others
rely on no more than hype and bluster to separate you from your money:
Model “Exposure Books”
The Pitch: A model or actor pays to have their
pictures put into a book or magazine, the book is to be sent around to Casting
Directors and/or agencies who would “discover” their new talent by finding them
in the books.
The Reality: These books look something like a
legitimate agency marketing tool: the headsheet book. Nobody ever explains why a fashion agency in New York might want to “discover” a 5’4” model in North Platte, Nebraska. But
never mind that - send in your pictures and your money and take your chances.
A few of this sorry breed of entrepreneur actually does produce the books and
deliver them to some casting directors and agencies, where they hit the
wastebasket within minutes of arriving at the office.
This scam has been going on for decades
and still is, although it is much less prevalent these days. Now the Internet is used instead of a printed book; it’s cheaper
for the scam artist.
Model Scouting Websites
A few of these are entirely legitimate and
valuable, even if not always in the way the customer anticipates. The trouble
is, there are lots of others. The largest scam in the history of the modeling
industry used this approach.
The Pitch: Model “exposure” Internet sites are a
new wrinkle on that old “exposure book” theme. The premise now is that a model
would pay to have their pictures on the site, the site would be seen by Casting
Directors and/or agencies who sit in front of their computers each day, just
waiting for the next batch of hopefuls to be put on the site, and the CDs and
agents would “discover” their new talent. Nobody ever
explains why a fashion agency in New York might want to discover a 5’4” model
in North Platte, Nebraska – but never mind that. Sound familiar?
The Reality: In fact the better of these sites
actually do have some such value, at least for people that agencies are willing
to search for (read: fashion models, or good commercial models in the agency’s
area). As long as the cost is not too great they may be a good idea. $30-$100
a year seems reasonable, especially if there is high-quality content and a good
modeling forum to add value to the purchase price. But a high percentage of
their subscribers will be disappointed: no agency will call. With the best of
them most people use it for what it is really good for: an opportunity to
learn about the business and network with people in it. With the worst, it’s a
total waste of money.
The Casting Calls Scam
The Pitch: They have hundreds of castings from
producers and casting directors around the country that you can use to
submit yourself for jobs. The site may want you to pay a monthly fee for
access, it may be a come-on for a model listing site, or it may be used by a
“model agency” that requires upfront fees or is a portfolio mill. Sites that claim to be free usually will ask
you to “upgrade” to get the “full benefit” of their services – at extra cost.
The Reality: There really are two or three sites
with relationships with mainstream casting directors, which get breakdowns for agencies. None of them charge models or actors for access. Some of these breakdowns are available
to the public. But there are dozens of other websites who make these kinds of
claims and have little of real value to offer. The “casting calls” may really
be ads by model or talent agencies to recruit talent (and may not even placed
by the agency itself). Jobs may be lifted from public sources such as Back
Stage, The Ross Reports and legitimate, open casting websites or
even craigslist. They may simply be made up. These sites tend not to ensure
the reality and quality of the jobs posted, and they often are open to anyone
at all to list a “casting call”.
Some online “agencies” have been using
this “stolen casting calls” technique to make themselves look legitimate, so
they can attract applicants that they can extract money from in a variety of
The Traveling Portfolio Mill and Agency
The Pitch: we come to your city, take “professional
pictures” of you, we list you on our nationwide roster of models, and then we
get you modeling work.
The Reality: Nonsense!
These people will take your money for those pictures, the pictures will be far
from professional quality, and you will never make your money back on modeling
jobs. Sometimes they do have some promotional jobs to give out, so you can
make your thousand dollars or so back at $12 an hour passing out flyers. Is
this what you had in mind when you set out to be a model? Here’s a hint: if
they are from a long way away from you and they aren’t a famous fashion agency
it’s almost certainly a scam.
The Local Portfolio Mill and Agency
The Pitch: The agency photographer is chosen
because he knows how to take the kinds of pictures we need.
The Reality: That may be true, which is why it’s so
hard to tell if this is real professional advice or part of a scam. Outside the major markets there may be no more
than one (or perhaps there is no) photographer in the area who can reliably
deliver the kinds of pictures models need. A primary job of a good agency
is to find good photographers, make sure they know what is required for models,
and make them available to you. If they don’t do that, you are likely to
waste a lot of time and money on inappropriate pictures.
But it’s also true that scammers arrange
kickback schemes and make a lot of their money getting you to shoot with their
photographers. Those pictures may or may not do you much professional
good. From the scammer’s standpoint it doesn’t matter, since your check
cleared and he isn’t much worried about you getting modeling work. A
legitimate agency is motivated to send you to photographers who can get you
what you need to be successful. A scammer isn’t. It’s amazing how long
things like this can stay in business. Sometimes they exist for months or even
years before they disappear, only to show up in another name, or in another
The Catalog Scam
The Pitch: buy our clothes, have pictures taken of
yourself, and you can be a model in our catalog (or calendar, or other publication). We’ll even pay
you for it!
The Reality: Nobody needs
that many pictures to put into their catalog, and nobody wants the kind of amateur shots you are
likely to produce in their catalog. In fact, there probably isn’t going to be
a catalog. You send hundreds of dollars to them, you get some cheap, cheesy
clothes back in the mail, and nothing else of any value ever comes back to
you. If you’re lucky (sort of) you may get some home-made “ad” that they
cobbled together on their home computers that they claim you can use as a
“tearsheet” – but it’s worthless in the real professional world.
The “We Don’t Trust You” Scam
The Pitch: we will get you work, but you need to
leave a deposit with the agency as insurance against your performance, or for a
The Reality: clients do want to be sure the models
they hire are reliable, and the agency has to guarantee that reliability. It’s
also true that making the model invest in his career greatly increases the
probability the model will follow through on his commitments.
So, as in any good scam, they use that
truth to separate the model from his money. They charge an up-front “insurance
fee to indemnify the agency if you don’t do a job you’ve booked”. Or they make
you pay for an up-front “background check” which they claim is needed to keep
“convicted felons” from being hired by their clients. Real agencies don’t do
that; they may make you spend a lot of money, but it will be on things that do
you good, not things that just line their pockets.
The Pay to Play Scam
The Pitch: Some promoters will advertise
“opportunities” for models. Typically it is to be in a fashion show for some
designer or retail store. The catch is you have to pay to audition for the
show – sometimes as much as $25-$100 just to get into the audition. Then, if
you are very lucky, you might get chosen and you may get paid some small
amount. Or the promoter will advertise what great “exposure” you will get from
their event, and pay you nothing.
The Reality: These things are almost always of
little to no real value except to the “hobby model”. They are simply another
way for scammers to separate you from the contents of your wallet. Some of
them are also run by modeling schools, which use the “opportunity” to tell
applicants that they need training which, by great good fortune, they can
provide - for a price. Some are merely another form of “party promoter” exercise, where the point is to charge people tickets
to see a fashion show, or to use the “fashion show” as a draw to bring patrons
to a night club or restaurant. The professional press and fashion industry
have little interest in such things, and they rarely to never lead to anything
for a professional model.
The Pitch: A person claims the identity of a real,
highly respected and well known personage in the industry: a famous fashion
photographer or producer, for instance. This happens most frequently on the
Internet, where it’s easy to create email addresses in any name you like. The
scammer will ask a model for things he wants, usually revealing or
fetish-oriented photos. Only rarely does this scam involve a request for
money, but it can turn into stalking.
The Reality: Famous photographers and producers
don’t go roaming around the Internet looking for models. Models approached by
“someone famous” should ask for their office telephone number and call the
office during business hours. If that request is refused it’s a virtual
certainty that the person isn’t who he says he is. If he complies, the model
should check on the telephone number and make sure it is listed in the name of
the company he says it is.
The Vertical Integration Scam
An agency in New York has hit upon a new way of making
money. They advertise that they “no longer deal directly with the public”, and
that models who wish to work with them have to do so through referral from an
industry professional or a search company. Another well-known agency in Miami is doing something similar. Helpfully, they refer models to such
a company, which they say will screen models’ applications for them, and
present qualified models to “agencies”. What they don’t tell you is that the
search company is owned by the same person who owns the agency, and that the
“screening fee” is really just an up front application fee under another name.
Other real agencies allow models to apply in person or by mail for free.
The Nigerian Scam
Various versions of this have been around
for nearly a century, but with the advent of the Internet the scammers have
gotten more sophisticated and are able to target likely victims with a pitch
tailored to them. Although most of the scammers using this technique seem to
be in Nigeria (which has a very permissive government when it comes to
things like this), they could be located anywhere. Lately the UK has been a favorite claimed location for them.
The Pitch: We want you to do something for us,
and we will pay you a very large amount of money for it. It could be a
“commercial job” or a “fashion show” or anything at all related to the
industry. The specifics of who they claim to be and what they are offering
change, but in all cases they will say they will pay you a lot of money up front,
even before you do the job. They may refer you to real-looking websites
announcing the event, and use the names of real designers or clients.
The Reality: There is no commercial job, no
fashion show, no nothing. Never was. Any website they refer you to
either has no association with them, or is made by them to dupe you. If you
give them your contact information, they will send you real-looking certified checks
just as they promised they would. But “Oops! We made a mistake! We overpaid
you and need you to refund some of the money to us.” They hope you will
deposit their check in your account, then send them real money in return before
your bank notifies you that their check was a forgery.
There is a variant, where all they do is ask for your
identification information – enough that they can do an
identity theft and charge things to your accounts.
These Nigerian Scams are so prevalent
on the Internet that we have written an extensive article about it here.
The Webcam Interview
The Pitch: The scammer claims to be a scout or
booker for a well-known model agency, and says that he found the model’s information on a model listing site or something like myspace.com.
The contact will usually be made using an interactive system like AIM, where the model and scammer can interact in real time. The
scammer says they are interested in the model, but need more information and pictures to make sure she fits their requirements.
The model is sometimes asked to email additional pictures, but most often is
asked to do things for her webcam so the scammer can see her. As the
“interview” progresses, the model is asked to do ever more revealing things for
The Reality: Major agencies rarely go cruising
around myspace.com or model listing sites looking for models. If they happen
to find one on such a site, they don’t contact them with a yahoo email address
or through AIM. They might contact a model through
email, but using their company domain, and asking for a telephone interview.
They will never, ever ask for nudes to be sent to them, or for a model to do
anything at all on a webcam.
The Model’s License/Work Permit
This one has been around for years, and
seems to be making a comeback.
The Pitch: The model is told that she is wanted
for work (or for an agency) in Europe, and is made all sorts of promises, often
using real-sounding names. Preparations are made for a trip, and it all begins
to sound very good. Then in the middle of the conversation, the scammer will
tell the model that to work in Europe she needs a “modeling license”, and asks
her to confirm that she has one. She won’t have one, of course, so the scammer
tells her he has an attorney who can get her one – for a fee.
The Reality: There is no such thing as a
“model license” in Europe (although there are a variety of visa
issues, depending on the country, that the European agency will have to take
care of). Money sent to the scammer for the “license” buys nothing at all, and
once the money is sent, communications stops. There never was any work or
agency for the model in Europe.
A variant of this is a claim by some
“client” that the model, typically one in the US,
needs a work permit to take a job offer in Europe. They
may even supply a link to an official website, such as in the UK, which shows that it’s true. Like all good scams, there is a
veneer of reality behind it – models really do need work permits to come to the
US or to Europe. But
they are not something that clients have models pay for. Almost always, the
work permit (or work visa) will be arranged through a model agency, and will
allow them to work for an extended period. It is never true that a real
client will ask a model to pay for a permit up front.
The Fake Magazine
This happens mostly on the
The Pitch: Work with me and I’ll put you in
this new magazine I’m about to publish. It’s a come-on line used by mediocre
photographers to entice models to shoot with them, or shoot in a way they
normally would not.
The Reality: There is no magazine, there never
is going to be a magazine. At best the photographer will put up some kind of “magazine”
on the Internet, as though that means something. Appearance in it is worthless
to the model, and cannot be counted as a tearsheet.
The Sort-of-Real Magazine
Recently online print on demand services like Magcloud have made it easy for anyone to create digital magazines which can be ordered in print form. Some of these have become "pay to play", offering "guaranteed publication" for payment of a fee per page. Such magazines typically are of low quality, have vanishingly small distribution, and exist solely to make money from the models they publish pictures of. They also have "staff photographers" who are encouraged to sell you photo services with the promise of "guaranteed publication". The photographer, typically one who is not good enough to get paid or published on his own merit, then takes some of your money and purchases pages in the magazine.
If you are desperate to be in something that looks like a magazine, and don't much care about the quality, they will do that for a price. These kinds of "publications" are simply a form of vanity press that nobody in the industry takes seriously.
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