There is a whole industry that has developed to take advantage of those who would like to become models. They are far removed from the world of actual professional modeling. This modeling scam and rip-off industry makes its money by alluding to or promising great careers in modeling, but first you have to pay them up front. Of course your modeling career never comes about and your money is long gone. These enterprises prey upon your hopes and dreams of becoming a star and they are betting on your lack of knowledge about how the modeling industry really works. This leach industry seems to be getting bigger everyday.
These enterprises fall into three categories: the scam, the rip-off, and those that just run bad businesses. All will take your money and give little or nothing in return.
The scam operation conducts fraudulent and illegal activities. This type of enterprise has no intention of delivering on what it promises. They make big promises and guarantees and usually ask for a substantial sum of money up front, and then they vanish in the night.
The rip-off is a big category, and it’s not illegal. Companies operating rip-off schemes make vague promises or they tout one or two models (out of thousands whose money they’ve taken) that actually succeeded in a career. They will work with anyone who pays money up front, and they tell everyone they have some type of talent, whether or not they really do. The rip-off companies can include modeling agencies that charge up front for signing fees and photo shoots, or that require you take their class before they will work with you. Also in this category are some of the modeling conventions, talent searches, virtual modeling sites popping up all over the web and competitions (see below). New rip-off enterprises are starting up every day.
The bad business category includes enterprises that are trying to conduct a legitimate business, but just don’t know what they are doing. They do not have the essential knowledge of the industry they need or they may be poorly located. These businesses might include someone who sets up a modeling agency in a too-small market area, or a photographer offering to shoot professional modeling portfolios but does not have the skill level to carry it off, or it might be a modeling school that should really be called a finishing school (offering classes in image enhancement, or using outdated teaching materials). I think these businesses mean well but they still cost money for classes or photos that are ultimately useless.
Scams and Ripoffs are discussed further to give you a better idea of the types of business setups you want to stay away from – BEWARE !!!
THE FAKE AGENCY
BEWARE the fly-by-night “agencies” that charge so-called “registration fees,” and are more interested in getting you to pay for expensive portfolios than finding you work.
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. Real agencies don’t want to be bothered with a roomful newbie’s with amateur snapshots. Be even more suspicious if all of the people in the room have recently attended 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. When you approach an agency, check them out, make sure they’ve been around for more than three months, and have a nice big ad in the Yellow Pages.
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 decor or photos on the wall. They will have pictures of famous New York supermodels on the walls of their offices, or famous models’ comp cards on a wall rack. Top New York fashion models do not need a modeling agency in small town USA.
Also, if the space is quite large with lots of different rooms, beware. This may actually be 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.
You can also go online and check them out with the Better Business Bureau. If there are any complaints against this agency it will come up for all to view.
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 website, they simply present their talent for clients to view.
Beware of the agency that advertises in local papers or on the radio, in newspaper classified ads or display ads looking for any kind of model or talent (other than nude glamour modeling, i.e. models for the adult entertainment industry).
Reputable modeling agencies receive plenty of would-be model inquiries so they don’t need to advertise for models. If they are short of talent they will send their scouts out to public places to look for potential talent. A real agency doesn’t pay to advertise for new talent, word of mouth and referrals bring people in.
THE PHOTO MILL
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 for their models. They make money by selling pricey photography. They will sign up anyone with a credit card.
Beware of any up-front fees. These could be signing fees, new account fees, evaluation fees, etc. If an agency has to charge money at the front end it means that there is not enough money at the back end. It also means that the agency probably does not have enough modeling work to be able to survive on commissions, and therefore, not enough work for a model to survive on either.
IF THEY SAY . . .
“We are interested in you but you need to go through our classes first and it is going to cost you.” Again money at the front end means not enough modeling work at the back end. A combination school/modeling agency has a conflict of interest. For example, SAG (Screen Actors Guild) member agencies cannot offer both.
“We guarantee you will work.” Modeling agencies are not employers. They represent you and try to get work for you. Most of the time they don’t know for sure what type of job will come in or what ‘look’ may be needed, thus there is no way a legitimate agency can guarantee you work. The best they can do is to give you an idea of their track record on placements. But remember that past performance is no guarantee of future performance.
“We need to get a ton of cards out there.” 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 cost around $1.00 per card to produce.
THE ONLINE PITCH
Another scam is the agency that tries to sell you their online website. Most agencies have websites 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.
Conventions are not necessarily scams. They usually deliver exactly what they say they will, the opportunity to show yourself to a panel of agencies at one shot.
But, honestly if you live in a large market or very close to one there is no reason to pay someone money to meet with agents in your backyard. You can do the same thing on your own for a fraction of the cost.
Most conventions cater to the fashion model types, so if your not 5’9 or taller you’ll get few callbacks and end up getting lost in the sea of long legs. There are conventions out there that are designed more for commercial types and actors.
Before signing up for a convention, ask for the list of agencies that are attending. You can call them to confirm they will in fact be in attendance. Make sure that they are the heavy hitter’s not new agencies just starting up. The same applies here with investigating complaints online with the BBB.
Check out what the convention fee includes. These conventions not only make their money from the registration fee you pay but also from the following: ticket sales, dinner banquets, required photo shoots pre-convention and mark ups on your hotel room.
Look for a convention that is all inclusive and doesn’t require you to shoot beforehand with a staff photographer. It should be a flat price. They shouldn’t require you to stay at the host hotel as you can usually find a budget hotel a few blocks away. Most people don’t know this but the hotels will offer a large discount to the convention on room rates do to the fact that they will be booking up the entire hotel for a weekend. This is big business! The convention will then mark up the room rates for another source of income. No convention should cost you more then $600 total or it’s just not worth it as you can do it cheaper on your own. And remember, it’s not a scam just because you didn’t get any call backs. Usually there are 800 plus attendees and it’s difficult to stand out in such a large crowd. You need to weigh the good and bad and then decide.
These are just a few of the scams that are out there. Unfortunately there are plenty more and several new ones popping up this very moment.
The world can be a scary place and the modeling industry is not immune. The bottom line is to make sure you are well informed, make sure to use common sense and most importantly if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.