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 obvious who was what. Lately, even I have been shocked at what these crooks have cooked up. These individuals have gotten smarter and realize new faces in the industry are more educated, thus they have gotten more creative in their attempts to hide the real deal.

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


Legitimate agencies make their money by taking a percentage from models and clients off the work they book. I’m surprised that people don’t realize agencies make 40% of each booking.

As a standard – many agencies take 20% from the model (commission) and another 20% from the client (agency fee). Meaning, if they book you for a full day for $1,000, they actually will bill the client $1,200. When the model gets her check, it will be for $800 and the agency’s profit is $400. That is how an agency makes their money!

Unfortunately almost half of the agencies existing don’t work this way. That is a lot of opportunity for all of you to get taken.

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. Legit agencies don’t want to be bothered with a roomful newbie’s with snapshots. Be further suspicious if all of 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 thru the door.

Also, if the space is quite large with lots of different rooms, be suspicious that this is actually 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. 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.

How to recognize a modeling scam

THE PHOTO MILL Modeling Scam

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 only selling 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 rather suggest one but let you do it on your own should you choose to.

Also, 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 shouldn’t cost more then $1.00 per card to produce.

You shouldn’t have to write your check out to the agency, rather to the printing company directly.


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.

CONVENTION Modeling Scams

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.

What I find 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 say Tulsa, Oklahoma you may want to consider a convention as you couldn’t possibly see 20 agents on the East Coast in two days and it would cost you far more to travel to see them. Also, make sure your picking the right convention for your type.

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 space doesn’t allow for me to touch upon all of them.

Hopefully you found this 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 cracking 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!

Recommended Reading about Modeling Scams

  • How to discover a modeling scam