Models, do your homework, part 1

Avoid getting scammed for your money
By T Martin

“I paid $600 and was told that I would get work as a model, but the people never called me back. They took my money and ran!” This is a common complaint for any model hopeful unfortunate enough to become the victim of a modeling scam. These scams come in many forms and from many and varied sources. Fortunately, there is help! There are numerous resources on the web to help models avoid these scams, and with lawmakers cracking down on perpetrators of these scams, victims can make a few phone calls to get things set straight again.

According to national reports on modeling scams, 99% of the scams take place before the model actually does any model work. While some hitches might occur after the model has begun working for a company, the majority of issues are with agencies and photographers eliciting money from models before they find any work.

In a September 2003 news conference on protecting young people from modeling scams, Joel Wilkenfeld, President of Next Model Management Company, said that aspiring models don’t have to spend a lot of money up front just to get started in modeling.

During the same conference, Teresa A. Santiago, Chairperson and Executive Director of the New York State Consumer Protection Board (CPB) cited Wilhelmina Scouting Network as one of the biggest scams in operation to date, “taking thousands of dollars from young people or their parents through high-pressure, misleading sales.” In return, the Network only gives empty promises of a career in modeling.

Santiago’s dismay with the Network turned to joy when Wilhelmina Scouting Network left the state of New York in November, but warns against other misleading and fraudulent model offers.

“Young people and their parents have to be wary when talent scouts or companies seek them out, offering them the dream of becoming a model while charging them exorbitant upfront fees,” she said at the November press conference announcing the demise of Wilhelmina Scouting Network.

There are many scams out there ranging from how models are “scouted” to how they are “selected” by a so-called agency. Most common are scouting scams, selection scams, fraudulent model searches, bogus conventions and competitions, modeling school scams, sleazy photography scams, model agency scams and more.

The best way to avoid being the victim of such a scam is to do your homework. Learn about these scams and how they can be avoided. Be wary of people walking up to you, telling you that you “have the look.” Be particularly careful about putting money up front for a bunch of glamorous promises that could lead to an empty future for you.

Agencies shouldn’t need help
While it is true that models may be referred to an agency, reputable agencies do not rely on newspaper ads seeking models “with no experience needed” or on talent scouts beating the streets. Models serious about promoting themselves into a modeling career will approach agency after agency until they find a company willing to represent them or to help them find employment as a model. As such, legitimate model agencies have more models than they need already making their way into the agencies’ offices. If an agency does have a shortage of models or is seeking new faces, they will send out scouts to public areas to find them.

Model agencies accept models that they feel have potential or that meet certain criteria or goals of the agency. When a client contacts an agency for models, the agency selects models that fit the clients’ current needs. The agency earns a commission based on its ability to find gainful employment for its models. If that’s the case, the legitimate model agency does not need money up front unless they are trying to cover expenses that won’t be made up on the back end. Pay attention to agencies that direct all their models to one photographer; it could be that the agency is splitting profits with that photographer, so investigate that avenue if it comes up.

Even in North Philadelphia, companies like Martin Picturesque offer free and discount model photography services to help model hopefuls get started building their portfolios. Other photographers might have similar rates or packages. Some agencies will even review photos taken in your own home, though the rule of thumb is that they prefer glamour shots of the model for review. In either event, there is no need to spend hundreds of dollars for these photos since they are no guarantee for success.

Professionals in the field say that a model should not put out a lot of money up front for any aspect of this kind of startup. You definitely shouldn’t pay agencies for services they haven’t performed. Legit agencies do not have their own photographer on staff, especially with an “evaluation” or “screening” fee. Sometimes, though, an agency might point only to one photographer, as mentioned before, and that’s something to question. The same applies to modeling schools that channel all their students to a particular agency instead of offering choices based on individual model needs or performance, but that’s a topic for another article.

The point here is to learn when to run, not just walk, away from offers no matter how they come to you. This is not to say that you should pass up every opportunity to be “discovered.” It is to say, however, that you should learn the difference to avoid being scammed. Do your research. Ask agencies or photographers for references to top clients or to clients with success stories resulting from working with them.