Warning after a fake model scout targets UK girls online

Ellie McCandles Image copyright Ellie McCandles
Image caption 19-year-old Ellie McCandles knew "something wasn't right" about the messages she received

Fake social media accounts have been used to deceive teenage girls into sending indecent images of themselves.

Snapchat profiles were set up in the name of Base Models, a legitimate company, not involved with the activity.

Girls received messages from the accounts, from someone who claimed to be recruiting models for the agency.

Base Models said anyone approached online by someone who claimed to work for them should contact their office.

Base Models, a London model agency, said it had received more than 40 reports from girls who said they were contacted online by someone claiming to work for the company as a model scout.

'Lingerie shots'

Using Snapchat accounts named after the company, somebody posing as a Base employee contacted girls aged between 14 and 19.

Girls were told they could earn between £500 and £50,000 working as models.

One report, shown to the BBC by the agency, indicated that a child was asked to send a naked picture of herself.

Base said it began receiving reports in October about a Snapchat profile named after the company that had asked girls to send indecent images.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The rise of celebrity culture has made model agencies a target for this type of activity

The model agency reported the account to Snapchat, who deleted it - but a week later another account named after the company appeared and the issue resumed.

Base Models does not have a Snapchat account, nor does it use the platform to recruit models.

The BBC heard from the mother of a 14-year-old girl from Hunwick, County Durham, who was "disgusted" to discover that her 14-year-old daughter, a child model, had been targeted.

The mother said: "They messaged her saying they worked for Base and wanted to hire her as a model, so she sent some headshots."

The girl told the "scout" she was 14 but was still asked to send lingerie shots - so she told her mother about the exchange.

The girl's mother said she was "immediately suspicious" about the messages, so she contacted Base Models, who confirmed the messages were fraudulent.

She said she was worried that others who were less knowledgeable about modelling could be more easily deceived.

'Kardashian fame wave'

"If you tell a child who knows nothing about the business that they could earn up to £50,000 [working as a model] - they might think that it sounds like a great opportunity," she said.

A 19-year-old student based in Manchester, Ellie McCandles, said she had received an almost identical approach on Snapchat.

After she was asked to send pictures of herself in her underwear, Ellie declined and contacted the agency.

"Something didn't feel right about it," the student said.

Base Models managing director Max Ridd said the rise of celebrity culture had made model agencies an "easy target" for those looking to deceive young girls.

Mr Ridd said: "Young people have always been seduced by the idea of fame and celebrity - but especially today with the Kardashian fame wave going on.

"Modelling is seen as a first step on the fame ladder - and I think that's one reason why we are being targeted."

Mr Ridd said anyone approached online by someone who claimed to work for his agency should contact its office.

Police in Scotland issued a warning last month after a girl in Lanarkshire was asked to expose herself on Skype by someone who claimed to work for Base Models.

An NSPCC spokesperson said: "Every child has the right to be safe online and reports of children being contacted in this way are troubling.

"No legitimate company would ever ask a child to send indecent images of themselves, and anyone who receives such a request should report it immediately.

"Children should remember to think twice before sharing pictures of themselves, and if they are ever unsure they can call Childline on 0800 11 11."

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