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Look Out for Modeling Scams

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Could you really be a model or actor? Or maybe it’s your kids that have the right look? If a talent scout says you’ve got a future in the business, you might be flattered. Then, be skeptical. You could be the target of a modeling scam.

How Modeling Scams Work

Someone stops you at the mall and says you could be a model. People have always said you're good looking, and the idea of a glamorous career is hard to resist.

But when you show up for a follow-up appointment, you find yourself in an office with other hopefuls. Once you finally get your turn, you find out that what you thought was a job interview with a modeling or talent agency is really a high-pressure sales pitch for modeling or acting classes, screen tests, or photo shoots that can range in price from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

Here are some signs you might be dealing with a scam:

You have to use a specific photographer.

To break into the business, you need professional photos. But you should be able to choose your own photographer. An agency that requires you to use their photographers likely is a scam.

You have to pay a fee to them to serve as your agent before they'll do any work on your behalf.

Modeling and talent agencies get work for experienced models and actors. Some agents require that you sign up exclusively with them, while others allow you to also register with other agencies in town. Either way, legitimate agencies don’t charge you an up-front fee to serve as your agent. They get paid when you get paid.

Modeling agencies aren’t the same as modeling and acting schools. These schools claim to provide instruction — for a fee — in poise, posture, diction, skin care, make-up application, the proper walk, and more. But after you take their classes, you may be on your own, despite their promises that attending modeling school will ensure you make it as a model.

You’re told the opportunity could disappear if you don’t act now.

You need time to check out a company before you give them any money or personal information. If an offer is good today, it should be good tomorrow.

They guarantee a refund.

They may say your deposit is totally refundable. It's more likely that your deposit would be refundable only if you meet very strict refund conditions. Or, you might be told that talent experts will evaluate your chances at success in the field, accept only a few people into the program, and give refunds to anyone not selected. What they don't tell you is that the program takes virtually everyone.

They only accept payment in cash or by money order.

It's a sure sign that they're more interested in your money than your career.

They talk about big salaries.

Even for successful models, work can be irregular.

They guarantee you’ll get work.

No modeling or acting job is ever guaranteed. And depending on where you live, the market for those types of jobs may be very small.

Could Your Child Be a Star?

Think your baby or child is model material? Fake talent scouts want you to, and will gladly set up a photo shoot or classes to help you get modeling or acting jobs for your tyke. What they don't tell you is that the market for child models and actors is very small. And because a child’s looks change quickly, legitimate agents, advertising agencies, casting directors, and producers generally ask for casual snapshots, not professional photos.

What about the casting calls you hear about on the radio, looking for the next child star? While they may be real in that one or two kids in the country are “discovered,” the agencies holding the calls often use them as a way to get parents to enroll their kids in expensive acting classes.

What to Do

Still not sure if an offer is honest? Take the time to check the company out before you give them any money or personal information.

Check its reputation online.

Try searching for the company’s name with words like “scam,” “rip-off,” or “complaint.”

Ask if the company or school is licensed or bonded, if that's required by your state.

Verify this information with your local consumer protection agency or your state Attorney General. Make sure the license is current.

Get references.


  • Ask for the names, addresses, and phone numbers of models and actors who have gotten work — recently — based on the company's training. In some cases, companies have put up pictures on the walls of successful models they didn’t actually represent.
  • 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.

Get everything in writing.

That includes spoken promises or assurances.

Keep copies of all important papers.

Documents like your contract and company literature should be kept in a safe place.

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