New rules introduced to crack down on scam model agents

01/10/10

It's a scam that's gone on for years - you get stopped in the street, a model scout slips you a business card and suddenly you've signed up to a free shoot or casting session.

But of course it's not really free.

By the time you've worked out the whole thing is a con, you've spent hundreds on agency fees or a bunch of grainy photographs.

Now rules have come into force to crack down on that shady practice.

Some campaigners though think the new law isn't strong enough and rogue agencies will still be able to operate.

WHAT'S THE SCAM?

A woman stopped me in the street and said, 'Can I take a picture of you and pass it on to one of our senior agents?' I thought nobody would ever come up to me in that way. I didn't think I was ever going to be in Vogue but I thought maybe I could get some catalogue work or as an extra in an advert. I got invited in to speak to the people there and they said I had to get photos taken for their website so clients could look at them. When I got there they told me how much it was going to cost - more than £700
Annisha, 20, London

It works in two ways.

The model 'agent' will butter you up and tell you that it should be easy to find paid work.

First of course you will need to pay an 'upfront fee' to cover administration and the cost of being listed in a directory.

You cough up the money but you never get offered any work.

Or you turn up at the casting session, get a makeover and someone takes your picture.

It's made very clear that the grainy photos are your passport to success in the industry and paid work will, almost definitely, follow.

You are pressured into paying a 'copyright fee' so the images cannot be used by anyone else and then extra cash for copies of the pictures themselves.

By the end of the session you might have handed over hundreds of pounds.

WHERE DOES THIS HAPPEN?

Some people get stopped in the street by a scout and invited to a casting.

Others read an advertisement in their local paper and turn up to a group session at a hotel or conference centre.

These days it has also spread to the internet with some firms charging an upfront fee to appear in online directories.

In most of these cases the person gets flattered and told they have the right look so it should be easy to get paid work.

As soon as the money is handed over the agent vanishes and the work never materialises.

ISN'T THIS ALREADY AGAINST THE LAW?

It's a very grey area.

I was approached by a woman in Manchester who told me that I had the look they wanted for TV and advertising. She sold me on the idea that all I had to pay was £150 and she could get me paid work. In the end it was just a scam and I never heard back. They had my bank details and started taking more money out of my account so I lost about £250 altogether. It made me feel stupid and naive that I didn't see the warning signs. If you want to get into modelling, there are reputable people and agents out there who will help you, and they will never ask you for money to do so
Toyin Adebiyi, 21, Bradford

As long as the agency doesn't actually promise to find work they could always claim the individual was unlucky and didn't get picked.

This is especially true if they can prove a handful of people on their books do manage to get the odd job even though the vast majority are quickly forgotten about.

Charging money for taking photographs is something hundreds of legitimate companies do all the time.

Rogue agencies rarely mention the cost up front.

Instead you are invited to a photography session, pampered for a couple of hours and told the grainy, unprofessional pictures they have taken are the key to success.

Only then is a fee mentioned and it's often suggested you will quickly make that cash back as soon as clients see the pictures.

Sometimes it's claimed the photographer is independent from the model agency arm so can't be charging a rip-off price.

All too often this isn't true and the expensive photographs you are left with are next to useless.

WHAT'S THE CHANGE IN THE REGULATIONS?

From 1 October it is illegal for model agencies to charge any type of upfront fee before finding a client work.

Any company trying to do that could face an unlimited fine or be banned from operating for up to 10 years.

A 30-day cooling off period for photographic work is also being introduced.

So if you fall for that trick and pay for a portfolio of pictures you no longer want, you have a month to change your mind and ask for your money back.

SO THAT'S ALL SORTED THEN?

Not necessarily. Critics say the new rules are not strict enough.

The main complaint is technical. The law only stops model agencies from charging upfront fees, but allows firms to continue to ask for that money if they are representing actors or extras in TV commercials.

So campaigners like Clive Hurst say rogue model agencies can simply change the small print on their contracts, claim they now offer TV and film work, and continue to operate as they have in the past.

He also says there is no requirement for photographic firms to publicise the 30-day cooling period.

So even though customers might be able to demand their money back under law, they might not be aware of their rights.

I'M STILL BEING RIPPED OFF. WHO SHOULD I SPEAK TO?

The body to speak to is the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate which is responsible for making sure model agencies stick to these rules.

Make sure you keep any emails, texts, letters or paperwork from the agency as they may be useful in any future investigation.