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Modeling Scams

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Could you really be a model or actor? Or maybe it’s your kids who have the right look? You might be flattered — and interested — if a talent scout says you’ve got a future in the business. But you could also be the target of a modeling scam.

Modeling Agencies vs. Modeling Schools and Programs

Modeling and talent agencies find work for experienced and aspiring models and actors. They get paid when you get paid. Some agencies will let you sign up only with them, while others also will let you register with other agencies.

Modeling schools and programs teach you skills they say you’ll need to start a modeling career, like how to do your hair and makeup, use proper diction, and walk on a runway. You’ll typically have to pay in advance to enroll.

Before you sign up with an agency or school, do your research and make sure you have details in writing about what they’ll do for you and any promises they make.

Signs of a Modeling Scam

If you’re pursuing your child’s modeling career, watch for fake talent scouts. These scammers offer to set up a photo shoot or classes to help you get modeling or acting jobs for your child.

What they don't tell you is

  • the market for child models and actors is very small
  • because a child’s looks change quickly, legitimate agents, advertising agencies, casting directors, and producers generally ask for casual snapshots, not professional photos
  • casting calls for the “next child star” may be real, but the ads are often a way to get parents to enroll their kids in expensive acting classes

So, whether you run into a talent scout on the street, see an ad for a modeling agency online, or hear about a modeling school or program, here are ways to know you’re dealing with a scam:

  • The agency wants you to pay them. Real modeling agencies won’t ask you to pay for a test shoot, for your photographs, or to “secure your spot” for a modelling job. They’ll find jobs for you and pay you after the client pays them. The contract you sign with the agency should tell you what percentage the agency gets of any money you make on assignments.
  • They guarantee you’ll get work. Modeling assignments can be irregular even for successful models. There are never any guarantees. And depending on where you live, the market for those types of jobs may be very small.
  • They promise big salaries. Just like modeling assignments, what models can earn is also extremely irregular. If an agency or program makes these guarantees, walk away.
  • They say you have to use a specific photographer. While some agencies do have photographers they regularly work with, they shouldn’t make using their photographers a condition of your getting assignments.
  • They rush you to sign a contract. 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 brag about their success…but no one’s heard of them. Unless the agency is just starting out, they should be able to show that they’ve had success in getting work for models. If an agency brags about its track record, tell them to prove it. Ask for a list of clients, models, and actors who have worked with the agency. And if the agency doesn’t have a website, that’s suspicious. Even if they do, any promises or “guarantees” they make about modelling jobs and earnings, or any asks that you pay money upfront, still make it a scam.

How to Avoid a Modeling Scam

  • Research the company. Try searching online for the modeling school or agency’s name with words like “scam,” “review,” or “complaint.”
  • Never pay an agency up front. Any agency asking you for money to represent you is a scam.
  • Don’t deal with a modeling program that tells you how you have to pay. If a modeling program or school requires certain kinds of payments — cash, money order, gift cards, wire transfers through a company like MoneyGram or Western Union, or cryptocurrency — that’s a sure sign it’s only interested in your money and not your modeling career.
  • Don’t deal with an agency that makes you use its staff for your photo shoots or auditions. If an agency says you have to use its photographer or makeup artist, don’t work with them. You can hire your own makeup artist and photographer.
  • Ask if the company or school is licensed or bonded, if your state requires it. Check this information with your local consumer protection agency or your state attorney general. Make sure the license is current.
  • Get references. Get names and any available contact information for models and actors who have recently gotten work through the agency. Sometimes, scammy agencies have pictures on their walls or websites of successful models they didn’t actually represent. They also use names of well-known companies who have supposedly hired the models they represent, so get contact information for the companies at which the agency says its placed models and actors.
  • Get everything in writing. That includes spoken promises or assurances.
  • Keep copies of important papers. Keep your contract and other important documents in a secure place.

What to Do if You Paid a Scammer

Scammers often ask you to pay in ways that make it tough to get your money back. No matter how you paid a scammer, the sooner you act, the better. Learn more about how to get your money back.

Report It to the FTC

If a modeling agency or program has taken your money and didn’t deliver on its promises, report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

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