Online scams

Not sure if an opportunity is legit. These tips will hopefully give you more information to sort out scams from real gigs.

My model and photographer friends, please be wary of people who claim to be art directors, photographers, or international modeling agents for publications such as major men’s lifestyle brands such as Maxim or Playboy. I know the excitement this can generate as we instantly get stars in our eyes and feel as if our big break is happening. Well, it’s too good to be true and may actually be a scam.

I’m writing this blog because the majority of casting scams are for modeling gigs. Although there are lots of real model casting calls as well, be extra cautious when considering modeling opportunities. The key to avoiding disappointment is recognizing how these scammers work. That’s the point of this blog…


Here’s how it works: These people claim to be authorized by these brands to find new talent for them and typically offer to pay for traveling expenses and modeling fees for a photo shoot, or they will offer to buy photographs from you. Once a fee is agreed, they send you a bogus check for an amount that is much higher than the amount that you agreed to. Then, they ask you to wire the excess amount back to them.

The same scam has been attempted against me twice by criminals pretending to be magazine editors who saw my work and wanted to hire me. They waste a good bit of your time, getting you all hyped up with excitement about getting published in a major brand and promising a big check as well. I’m instructed to have money wired to a modeling agency providing the talent I’ll photograph. This “prepayment” method among scammers is to FedEx or priority-mail a check to their intended victim to gain their trust. The scammers will try to trick you into sending them money before you discover that the check is worthless.

money offerSure enough, a check written out for $5,000 arrived in the regular snail mail after I responded with interest. The first red flag was the name of the company on the check differed from the editor/website I was supposedly contacted from. I took the check to my bank and deposited it that day. I carried on with planning this big photo shoot. Meanwhile, I started getting daily emails from the “editor” wanting to make sure I had sent the portion left over after my fee by cashier’s check to this agency. I had a funny feeling and sat on it for 3-4 days. By which time my bank informed me that the check was bogus. When I emailed the contact, he became very angry and threatened to sue me if I did not immediately send a cashier’s check.

Guess who didn’t send a cashier’s check and who didn’t sue me…

A variation of this is the “Family Reunion Photography” scam:

“I am very much okay with your price and am ready to make my payment but I need a little favor from you concerning the event planner fee, have not paid the event planner and I want you to add his fee of $3500 to the invoice because she does not have facility to accept credit card and she needed payment to proceed on booking the event and all the decorations and more, you are to wait for the funds to clear approved into your account before you pay the event planner and I will be responsible for the 3% extra credit card charges and a tip of $100 for your stress.”

Gimme a Break…

Major brand sites or publications generally do not hire agents to locate new talent for photo shoots. If someone contacts you by email, on Facebook, or other chat or social sites regarding photographs or modeling for such publications, please be very cautious.


disgusted bikini modelIf you are on Model Mayhem, watch out for this shenanigan…

A message arrives: “Hey, your port caught my attention while looking for an interesting profile for PHOTOGRAPHY collaboration fashion week project. If you will be interested in taken up the position, kindly view the company MM profile THROUGH the below link by LOGIN IN your MM profile to view the full details and application form.”

I get a message:

“Webroot has blocked the website you are trying to access for your protection: Detected Phishing Site. This site might try to trick you into disclosing your login, password, or other sensitive information by disguising itself as a website that you trust.”



scammed modelA common modeling scam is where an “agency” actually doesn’t book any jobs (or very few jobs), but instead just sells the prospective models their own portfolios (which the agency should have provided for free or at cost) They get you to show up, charge you money, keep you waiting so you can convince yourself to go through with it, then charge you big bucks.

They urge you to move quickly and get photos made and require you to use their own photographer. You ask if this constitutes a contract, and you’re told no, this is just a meet and greet, where they get a few pictures to see if anyone else would want to book you. You have to build a portfolio first, they emphasize. And that costs money. You are told you need to pay a $100 photographer’s fee for the session and lectured about how important a portfolio is for a model.

Variation #1: Any agency requiring the use of their “exclusive” photographer is likely a scam, even if the photographer may be a legitimate guy. Somebody is getting a kickback (i.e. padding the bill).

Variation #2: The photos are not all that good, but they charge you money, keep you waiting so you can convince yourself to go through with it, then charge you big bucks.

In the second one, you may be told that you need to pay them a lot more to establish a permanent portfolio (perhaps $1,000 to $2,500) in order to find work. They claim this is the cost for your online portfolio, professional photography, and 500-1000 “comp cards” of your best shots that will be sent to prospective clients. They’ll also refer you to more model training, acting classes, make-up artists, and much more for even more money. You’re told that unless you pony up the larger amount of money right then and there, the photographer is going to purge all the pictures (he has another job later and he needs the space on the memory card) and your entire day will be wasted. You’re tired, and you don’t want all these hours to go to waste. Worn down by this psychological manipulation, you pay up and hope for the best.

Listen, I think there’s a special place in Hell for photographers or anyone who falsely claims to be in a position to help someone achieve his or her dream just to make a quick buck. While there may be some initial investment to have professional modeling photos made, I’m very careful not to promise anything I cannot deliver, be completely upfront about pricing, and I don’t toy with emotions, threatening to delete the photos if they don’t write me a big check in the moment. They used to do that at photo studios, printing up big prints of the family session then threaten to cut them up right in front of customers if they did not save them from the shredder.

Reputable agencies may require you to pay for a test shoot, comp cards or a portfolio, but this is generally deducted from the proceeds from the first paying job they book for you. A legitimate agency, once they sign you, should get you what you need to be properly promoted for minimal cost or completely free. It is their JOB to promote you, as it benefits them. If they pressure you into buying stuff up-front at outrageous prices, they are likely cheating you.

Also, watch out for “Modeling Schools” – If the “agency” keeps pushing you to go to learn how to model from an etiquette school or instructor, it may be a scam as they are probably getting a kickback from the school to steer you that way. There can be value in learning skills, but you can likely learn just as much by testing with experienced photographers and gaining insight into what you do well and need to do differently. Honestly, most models I’ve shot with have invested in self-training in front of a mirror and just grow more comfortable and confident the more they shoot.

Be careful of Exclusivity agreements you might be asked to sign. Most models I’ve worked with are signed with several different agencies that are all out there promoting them simultaneously. If an agent wants to prohibit any other opportunities you might have to get modeling work through other agencies or freelance, they damn sure better be getting you enough paid work consistently to make up for it. I’ve encountered a couple of models who wanted to shoot with me but were restricted from shooting with anyone who was not on their list of approved photographers.


unethical behaviorThese aren’t scams as much as questionable ethics by cheapskates. When submitting for such magazines or websites, it is also important to be very cautious about the contract/release for the images that you may be asked to sign in order to appear. For example, If you’ve ever take a moment to read the entry form for one major publication that a lot of girls want to be featured in, you’ll see that they are asking for the full, un-restrained, forever usage of the images. This means they can use my images (your likeness) for free, forever. So anytime from now till eternity, you can open any number of the magazines owned under their label and you may find your image for any kind of use that they wish and you get nothing from them in return! So, you’re letting a big company with investors use your likeness to make money… and not give you anything.

I’m often contacted by women wanting me to photograph them for free “for my portfolio” so they can sign away the rights to the images for nothing in return so a third party can use the images to potentially make money off of my hard work and creativity. Can you see where that might be a problem? I wouldn’t even get a nod for my contributions to the magazine. Not only are they taking my photos for their use and not compensating anyone, but they are aren’t even giving the courtesy of a photo credit or link back to my website.

If these women want to hire me and then submit, at least I am getting something for my time and effort, even if I would prefer they go the more official route and work with me to put together a submission package for them for regular features sold either directly to the editors or through a third-party image syndication agency like Picdesk.


skeptical-girlSo how do you know what’s for real and what’s bullshit? Look for some common threads, courtesy of, Tough Nickel and other sources:

  • Bad Grammar & Strange Emails: The majority of casting scams are from foreigners with a bad understanding of English.
  • Prepayment: No real project will offer to pay you upfront before you’ve actually done any work for them. Scammers try and trick you into revealing your banking details or to try and talk you into wiring them some money back in return, etc.
  • Check Sent in the Mail: As described above, the check will bounce within a few days after you deposit it, and they’ll hound you to send them money before the check is revealed as worthless.
  • False Identities: Part of what initially fooled me was the Scammers using the names of real people and real companies. I’m savvy enough (or jaded enough) to check the email address, phone number, and project details against the details of the real people to make sure they match up. Part of what tipped me off was that I was supposed to forward money to an “agency” that had no website I could visit to verify authenticity.
  • Casting Without an Audition: Be wary of anyone claiming they want to hire you without even meeting you first. And if they do want to meet in person, make sure friends and family know where you are, possibly having someone come along with you for protection.
  • No Locations: Casting scams will often say they’re “shooting near you” without being specific about the state where the project is taking place. Or they’ll even change the state to match your location if you tell them that you’ve moved.
  • Address Requests: Scammers will often imply that you’ve been hired but ask you to send them some additional info first, including your home address. Don’t fall for it!
  • Lack of a Paper Trail: If they only take cash or money order, that means no refund, no dispute, and no paper trail on where the money actually went. When any professional can get a Square or Paypal reader linked to a commercial checking account, not having one practically screams “Beware!”
  • Dropping Big Names but Hesitating to Offer Actual References: There are so many bullshitters in the entertainment. They may try to intimidate you as a bargaining tactic or to pressure you to “stop wasting time” and not “miss the opportunity” because you are lucky such influential people are even taking the time to consider you at all when they could be talking to people way prettier or more experienced than you. Any reputable modeling agency or photographer is happy to provide you with verifiable references. Look at some of the people they’ve worked with and contact them independently to check.
  • Agency Busy Promoting Itself Instead of Its Models: A real talent agency’s purpose is to promote its models to the clients, so the models should be front and center on its website, and any information about itself secondary.
  • Wire Transfers: Never wire any stranger money, ever.
  • No Casting Notices: If someone you’ve never heard of before emails you out of the blue offering to cast you in a project and they don’t have a casting notice that they can link back to for more details, then you should be suspicious!
  • Nudity & Inappropriate Requests: If a project asks you to send them anything you’re not comfortable sending them, or if they ask you to do anything at an audition or on set that you’re not comfortable with – such as an unexpected request for nudity or any other unusual, strange, unprofessional, or innappropriate requests – don’t be afraid to say “no.” Trust your instincts, and walk away from potentially bad situations. They may want to see what the proportions of your body look like, but this can be accomplished by sending a snapshot wearing swimwear or skinny jeans with a fitted shirt. You can communicate how many tattoos or piercings you have without having to send a naked photo via text message or email.


Get as much documentation as possible, including contact information, screengrabs of conversations, documents you were asked to sign, etc., and report these to your local police fraud division, the Better Business Bureau, or your state’s attorney general.

Be skeptical and choose your opportunities carefully.

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Photo: © Steven Stiefel | Stiefel Creative
Featured Models: Chelsea, Amy, and Kelly. For booking information, please send a message I can forward to them.
Blog © 2018 Steven Stiefel
Fort Payne AL 35967