Modelling scams – protect yourself from becoming a victim

For many years now, the modelling industry has been rife with scams. Young hopefuls with big dreams can easily be taken advantage of and ruthless con artists seem to become more cunning and ingenious each year. Here’s our guide on how to spot a scam and protect yourself or your loved one from becoming a victim:

There are a variety of scams out there. Who can forget the reality TV Show scam in 2009 when aspiring models paid to register for ‘Africa’s Next Top Model’, only to discover the show did not exist? Or Alan Bester, the man who became known as the ‘Facebook rapist’, who targeted young females online by telling them that international modelling scouts were keen to meet them. Bester has faced numerous charges including rape, kidnapping and even the murder of a young model in Milnerton.

Some of the more common and less extreme scams involve fake agents and facilitators who insist on shooting over-priced portfolios for aspiring models. The facilitators claim to send these expensive portfolios on to an agent – although facilitator, agent and photographer are all in on the scam. According to Jade Sham, women’s division booker at ICE Model Management, some girls get tricked into paying between R 20 000 and R 70 000 for sub-standard photographs which do little or nothing to get them signed with a reputable agency. “These girls have clearly been taken advantage of,” says Sham. “Agencies do not need a book in order to sign you.”
So how can you to tell the difference between a con artist and a genuine opportunity? Here are a few warning signs:

1.    Big promises and ambitious guarantees
No agency can make upfront promises about your career – ultimately, it is the client who decides which models to book. Lavish guarantees of imminent jobs are a usually a sign that you’re being conned.

2.    Being signed up on the Internet
A genuine agency will insist on meeting you in person before signing you up.

3.    Upfront payment or registration fees
“Any requests of upfront payment to an agency are a sure sign you’re being scammed,” says Sham. “Genuine agencies do not require upfront fees.”

4.    Paying for portfolios
Be wary of agencies which insist on immediately creating a portfolio for you at a cost. A legitimate agency will help you get your book started once they have signed you, although the process for creating your portfolio differs at each agency.
At ICE, the newly-signed model will need to do two test shoots to get their book started. Costs range between R 1 800 and R 5 000 per shoot. Should you be unable to cover the costs of both shoots, ICE will supplement the cost of one shoot. This can be paid off once you start working.

5.    Paying for castings and updates
A trustworthy agency will let you know when castings take place – you do not need to pay for this service.

6.    Aggressive sales pitches and pressure to sign
No good agency will make you feel uncomfortable or pushed into making a decision, nor will they hurry you into signing a contract.

7.    Agencies that don’t require parental consent
No reputable agency would sign an underage model without a parent present.

8.    Being contacted by a scout over the Internet or What’s App.
Legitimate agencies will not send you What’s App or Facebook messages.

9.    Requesting lingerie or swimwear pictures prior to meeting
Another sure sign you are being scammed. Never send any pictures to strangers on the internet.

10.    Castings advertised on Gumtree
These tend to be scams. “Models should not attend castings without being officially represented,” says Sham. “The agency is there to protect them.”

So what is the standard process of getting signed with a good agency?
Basic requirements: Height (about 1.75 for girls and 1.85 for boys) and weight (hip measurement in women should not exceed 95cm) are critical. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule. However, if you are considerably shorter or larger than this and are scouted on the street, it is possible that you are being taken advantage of.
Get in touch with a legitimate agency by visiting the National Association of Model Agencies‘ website for a comprehensive list of legitimate agencies, then contact them to book an appointment. Most agencies will request that you send a couple of snapshots prior to meeting – these can be casual photographs so avoid paying someone to take them.

Remember to review your agreement: Should the agency decide to sign you, the next step would be to provide you with an agreement. “We no longer call them contracts,” says Sham, “it is important that models have the freedom to leave an agency at any time, so long as their debts are honoured before they depart.”

Start building your portfolio: Together with the test shoots and bookings provided by the agency, your portfolio should start to grow as you begin to work. There is no shortcut – like any job, modelling takes practise and diligence to become a success.

Tips to keep you safe:

1.    Trust your instincts
If you feel uncomfortable, leave. Professional agencies would never push you into making decisions.

2.    Speak to legitimate agencies
If something doesn’t feel right, call up a reputable agency and ask them if they have heard of the ‘agent’ who contacted you. You never know, you might be preventing a scam from affecting others too.

3.    Do your  research
Make sure you know everything about an agency before meeting them. It is up to you to protect yourself. “Sadly, those who have not done their research are most likely to be taken advantage of,” says Sham.

4.    Protect your privacy
Never give your email address, phone number, bank details or ID number to a scout or an agency. Should you get spotted on the street, offer to take the scout’s card. Even if it has the logo of a reputable agency on it, remember that this, too, could be faked.

5.    Do not rush into signing a contract
Never sign on the dotted line of a contract until you are certain that the agency is legitimate. Read your contract carefully and discuss any concerns with legal professionals or the agency itself.

What do you do if you’ve been scammed?
If you are not a member of an agency which is part of NAMA, then report the incident to the police. If you are a member of an agency, they will contact NAMA on your behalf.

Unfortunately, most con artists do get away with far more than they should. “Models who have been scammed tend not to get their money back,” says Sham. “Your best bet is knowledge and prevention.”

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