Modeling/Talent Agency Scams
The following is based upon a brochure produced and distributed by the Federal Trade Commission, Office of Consumer/Business Education, Bureau of Consumer Protection. The word "talent" has been added to the original brochure text because modeling and talent (usually meaning acting) scams are similar.
How The Scam Works
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently brought a case against a modeling agency that placed ads in newspapers to encourage potential models, both men and women, to meet company representatives for group screenings. Many of the newpaper ads stated, "No Fee." At follow-up interviews, however, the selected applicants were asked to sign a contract agreeing to participate in classes and to pay more than $1,000 in advance for photographs that were required before they could work as models. In the end, most of the would-be-models received no photographs and no job leads. The company simply packed up and left town.
How To Spot The Scam
It may not be easy to recognize a modeling/talent scam because many of the advertising claims and practices may resemble those used by legitimate talent agencies. However, listed below are some common advertising claims that should make you suspicious:
If a modeling/talent agency advertises that there is no fee for its services, you should be wary any time you are asked to pay. Most legitimate agencies make money only by taking a commission from their talents' work. An exception, however, is that you may be charged for your picture to be in an agency book that they send to clients who hire models and actors. Make sure you pay only your portion of the printing costs. Also, ask to see a copy of the agency book before you pay any money.
"Earn High Salaries"
Only experienced, top models and actors can expect to receive large salaries.
"Work Full or Part Time"
The hours of a model and actor is uneven and sporadic. You will not have the flexibility to choose your own hours.
"Real-People Types Should Apply"
Some ads encourage people of all shapes, sizes, and ages to apply for commercial modeling/talent work that involves the sale of a product. Opportunities do exist for 'real people' talent, but they are rare.
Watch Out For...
Since it may be difficult to recognize a modeling/talent agency scam only from their advertising claims, watch out for agencies that:
- Charge you money to take their classes before you are eligible for modeling or acting work.
- A legitimate modeling/talent agency may provide instruction on applying makeup or walking, but most do not charge you for classes. An exception to this is when a modeling/talent agency also serves as a modeling/acting school. A modeling/acting school does charge for classes, but that is a separate function from finding you work as a model/actor.
- Conduct an unprofessional photo shoot.
Once a modeling/talent agency agrees to represent you, you will need photographs for your portfolio. In the larger modeling/talent markets, such as New York or Los Angeles, the photographs typically are taken in separate photo sessions, each using differenct clothing, makeup, and hairstyles. And often a model's portfolio is put together with photographs from more than one photographer. In smaller markets, all photographs may be shot in one session by one photographer, but you should still look different in all your photographs by wearing a variety of cosmetics, clothes, and hairstyles.
- Require a particular photographer.
If the modeling/talent agency requires you to work with a particular photographer, chances are the photographer is working with the modeling/talent agency and they are splitting the fee. A legitimate modeling/talent agency may recommend that you work with a certain photographer, but be skeptical if they are insistent.
How To Protect Yourself
The best protection against losing money to a phony modeling/talent agency is to take precautions. The following list may help you reduce your chances of losing money:
- Realistically assess your chances for being a model/actor. Ask yourself: "Was I chosen because they believe I can make money for them - or just because I can afford to pay money to them?"
- Check out all claims made in agency advertisments, sales presentations, and literature. For example, if they say they are the largest modeling/talent agency in the country, contact other modeling/talent agencies and ask if this is true.
- Ask for the names, addresses, and phone numbers of models or actors who work through the agency and clients who have used its models or actors. Contact the models or actors and clients to verify the information.
- Ask if the agency is licensed or bonded as an employment agency, if that is required by your state. You local consumer protection agency can answer this question or direct you to the proper agency to get an answer.
- Keep copies of all important papers, such as your contract and agency literature. Be sure to get all verbal promises in writing. You may need these if you have a dispute with the agency.
- If you cannot verify the agency's credentials and the agency is asking for money in advance, you may be better off saying 'No.'
Where To Go For Help
If you have paid money to modeling/talent agency, and believe they are involved in a scam, first contact the company and request a refund. If you are not satisfied, register a complaint with your local consumer protection agency, Better Business Bureau, and state Attorney General's office. Also, contact the advertising manager of the newspaper that ran the ad you answered. For ethical and practical reasons, the advertising manager may be interested to learn about any problems you have had with the agency.
You should also write the Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580. Although the FTC cannot represent you directly in a dispute with a company, if the Commission finds evidence of a pattern of deceptive or unfair practices, it can take action.
The Federal Trade Commission has regional offices in the following cities. Check your phone book for the most current address and phone of the office nearest you.
- Atlanta, GA
- Boston, MA
- Chicago, IL
- Cleveland, OH
- Dallas, TX
- Denver, CO
- Los Angeles, CA
- New York, NY
- San Francisco, CA
- Seattle, WA
The main office of the Federal Trade Commission is in Washington, DC.