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How to Discover a Modeling Scam before it’s too late!

I have noticed a trend in the past few years: modeling scam artists are getting smarter in the modeling biz! Years ago there were only a few and it was actually pretty obvious which companies were running modeling scams. These individuals have gotten smarter and realize that new models are more educated thanks to the internet and websites like this, so they have become more creative in their attempts to hide the scam.

I hear of new start-ups in the agency business, scouting companies, not to mention the entire online modeling circuit on a weekly basis. Here are a few reoccurring modeling scams I’d like to point out to help you save time and money!

It may also help you to check out this article on Modeling Terms A-Z.

THE FAKE AGENCY Modeling Scam

A legitimate modeling agency makes their money by taking a percentage from both models and clients on the work they book. Most people don’t realize that modeling agencies generally earn 40% on each booking.

This is a standard industry practice and very similar to how employment agencies and recruiters operate. Modeling agencies generally take 20% from the model (commission) and another 20% from the client (agency fee). That means that if they book a model for a full day of work at $1,000, they actually will bill the client $1,200. When the model gets his / her check, it will be for $800 and the agency’s profit is $400. That is how a modeling agency earns money!

Unfortunately many modeling agencies have developed other methods to make money directly from their models. This results in what I like to call a “legal modeling scam”. In other words, the agency will deliver what they are promising, but they are promising you something that is not needed or something that they have greatly exaggerated its value in order to profit from the model.

When we talk about modeling scams, it is important to understand that even the best modeling agencies sometimes participate in certain legal scams.

PLEASE READ THIS CAREFULLY

I am not saying nor implying that all modeling agencies are bad or trying to scam you. I am saying that a modeling agency like any other business exists for one simple reason — to make money. Making money by connecting clients with models is hard work, very competitive and for modeling agencies in smaller towns and cities, there is not enough work for them to sustain a business just by booking jobs for models. So they look for other ways to make money. Classes, photography, conventions, website fees, etc. are all things that agencies offer to generate revenue. It becomes easier to make money from the talent than trying to find them actual work and making money the way that a modeling agency was intended to profit.

For the sake of this article, I am defining a legitimate agency as one who only earns its money by securing work for its talent. Not by offering services to its talent.

Here are a few things that should always raise a red flag about the potential of a modeling scam when you are first meeting with a modeling agency:

The Red Flags

Realize that modeling 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 because their clients are companies who operate from 9-5pm Monday – Friday.

Look around at the caliber of the folks attending the open call or sitting in the agencies waiting room. Agencies who actually book work for models don’t want to be bothered with a roomful newbies with snapshots. Be further suspicious if all the folks with you recently went to a 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.

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. I’ve heard of fake agencies simply cutting ads out of magazines and placing them on the walls. They’ll pretend they have launched so-and-so’s career or have booked this job all to impress the people walking through the door.

Also, if the space is quite large with lots of different rooms, you should be suspicious that this is actually a training center rather than an agency. You can further protect yourself by asking around before you even get there. Contact some other models and 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. Do a Google search for the name of the agency and add “+ scam” to the search bar. You will find any scam complaints, charges and articles about the agency that way.

Another way to investigate is to contact some 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 website. A real agency doesn’t “sell themselves” to the public on their website. They simply present their talent for clients to view. Finally, be weary of any agency that advertises in local papers or on the radio.

A real agency doesn’t pay to advertise for new talent. Word of mouth and referrals bring people in.

THE PHOTO MILL Scam

This is by far the most popular modeling scan. It occurs when an agency 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. They only sell pricey photography. They sign up anyone with a credit card and book few jobs. Be suspicious of any company that forces you to shoot with a certain photographer. Normally, that means someone is getting a kick back!

A legitimate agency will give you what they call a testing list. This is a list of all good photographers in your area that you’ll be able to contact and pick on your own. A good agency shouldn’t force you to use their printing company, but rather suggest one and let you do it on your own should you choose to.

Also, new model shouldn’t print comp cards until they have met with and been signed by an agency. Ten years ago, it was mandatory to have the comp card before you met with an agency, but in today’s digital world, most agencies have dropped the comp card requirement. If the agency you meet does require comp cards, know that they shouldn’t cost more than $1.00 per card to produce. If you do use their printer, you shouldn’t have to write your check out to the agency, you should be paying the printing company directly.

THE ONLINE PITCH Scam

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 than booking work for their clients.

CONVENTION Modeling Scams

They usually deliver exactly what they say they will: the opportunity to show yourself to a panel of agencies at one shot.

What is disturbing about conventions is who attends them. 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. Meaning, if you live in Philadelphia, why travel to Washington D.C. to see agents in Philadelphia and New York? You can do this on your own for a fraction of the cost. But if you live in a rural area of the country, you may want to consider a convention as you couldn’t possibly see 20 agents in New York in two days and it would cost you far more to travel to see them.

Make sure you’re picking the right convention for your type. Most conventions cater to the fashion model types so if you’re 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 hitters, 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 before the convention and markups 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. The hotels will offer a large discount to the convention on room rates since 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 than $600 total or it’s just not worth it and you can do it cheaper on your own.

Also, understand that it’s not automatically a scam just because you didn’t get any call backs after the convention. Usually there are 800 plus attendees and it’s difficult to stand out in such a large crowd, which is another good reason to avoid conventions. You need to weigh the good and bad and then decide.

Summary

These are just a few of the scams that are out there. Unfortunately there are plenty more and space doesn’t allow for me to touch upon all of them.

Hopefully you found this modeling scam information to be useful and will be mindful and informed the next time you meet with an “agency”.

State laws and the labor boards have gotten more informed in recent years and have learned the tricks and are tracking these guys down. The media has also helped to spotlight the biggest ones to the public. But with new ones popping up all the time, it’s hard to keep up and state laws require a certain amount of consumer complaints before they are even allowed to even investigate. This could take months, plenty of time for a company to saturate a market.

Be a well-informed talent and let’s all help to shut these guys down for good! You do not want to be the victim of a modeling scam.

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Joe Edelman

Joe Edelman is an award winning Olympus Visionary Photographer, Photo Educator and Model Mentor. Click Here to learn more about him and view his portfolio.
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