Cybercrime has permeated many industries and modeling is no exception.
For the past few years, agencies such as Model Management Group have been dealing with people misrepresenting themselves as employees to solicit models. The MMG homepage and all of its social media platforms have a warning so that prospective models know that people have been trying to solicit talent by misrepresenting themselves as MMG employees via “LinkedIn, WhatsApp, etc.” Elite also has a warning with a link outlining six safeguards as well as a link to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint center to report an online scam. IMG also has a “recruitment warning,” although that is not bannered on its homepage.
The New York-based MMG typically receives five or six queries each month from models asking to verify the identity of impostors who have approached them, according to president Jeff Cohen. Models are often approached via LinkedIn or WhatsApp, two platforms that MMG employees never use. One impersonator had the gall to reach out to Cohen via LinkedIn for verification. He said, “LinkedIn and other companies like that are not verifying any information so you can write down that you worked for any company in the world. That will be there until somebody reports it,” he said. “Someone made a profile for Bill Gates and had him working here.”
Impersonators soliciting models is an ongoing problem that dates back to at least 2015, Cohen said. “I think it’s [happening to] every agency. It’s way too easy. I mean, people impersonate police officers, FBI people and ConEd employees. Scammers are scammers. Con men are con men. They will prey on the people that they can.”
The first step to safety is for models to validate with the modeling company’s head office that the individual who has approached them is in fact an employee. Some models have been targeted for $50 test shots, unauthorized special events, and fashion shows that the solicitors have no affiliations with. Models should double-check the sender’s e-mail address to ensure it matches the company’s, as well as the signatures and logos. There have been instances where non-employees were sending out copies of MMG’s contract, Cohen said.
“We had a real problem for a couple of years in South Africa. Someone was posing as a scout for us in South Africa offering people our contract, which they could have gotten a million different ways. And people were going in to sign with them. But there were some people who were smart enough to confirm. They wanted to know if we have offices in South Africa or scouts there. We don’t have an office there. We don’t have scouts,” Cohen said. “The people who work here go to conventions, pageants and events. If they do see somebody, they will hand them a card. But they are not out there walking down the street, tapping somebody on the shoulder.”
Spelling mistakes and typos are also signals that the e-mail may be fake, but eager models may not notice or realize they are grammatically incorrect, Cohen said. “When people want to be in fashion week and they are 5’2”, they don’t use common sense,” he said. “It’s like the saying, ‘If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably not true.’”
Models should also be wary of anything that has to be downloaded, Cohen said. All in all, he doesn’t expect the problem to subside. “I don’t think it’s anything that is going to go away soon. If anything, more social media stuff will come out and there will be more ways of doing this. It’s not just a money issue. It’s also a safety issue. You don’t want people being lured to a location, thinking that they are going to our company or any other company and it is to meet an illegitimate person with bad intentions. That is the stuff you worry about. But all they have to do is to check the e-mail to make sure that it is legitimate,” he said.