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Crackdown on 'rogue' model agencies

By Dave Howard
Newsbeat politics reporter

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Model twins talk about their experience

It usually happens one of two ways.

It could be a 'scout' coming up to you in the high street. He'll say something like, "Hey, could you see yourself on a catwalk?!"

He'll flatter you, give you the hard sell and take your contact details.

Or, you could go to a hotel or conference centre for an 'audition'. Again, you'll be flattered, told you could be the next big thing and asked to sign on the dotted line.

Either way - for many - it's a first step towards realising a lifelong dream.

But all too often there's a big catch.

They're cashing in on people's hopes and dreams
Karen Diamond, Models One

Not every fashion agency that attracts clients in this way is a scam artist.

But it's enough of a problem that the government's telling victims to come forward.

For 24-year-old identical twins Danielle and Michelle, it was the 'hotel' route.

They saw an advert in a magazine that said a modelling agency was auditioning people, so they decided to go along.

Danielle said they were made a fuss of the minute they walked in.

"They told us, 'Ooh, identical twins! This is brilliant! We've not had identical twins for a while. You're going to do really well,'" she said.

They felt uneasy about paying nearly four hundred pounds upfront, but they were told they had no choice, and were even assured they'd get plenty of work.

So they handed over the cash.

Scam artists

"They really prey on your dreams, don't they?" said Michelle. "They know you really want it."

"It wasn't until we got home that we wondered, 'What if…?'" said Danielle.

They checked the company out - and found warnings about them on the internet.

Michelle and Danielle never got their money back.
Aspiring models Michelle and Danielle
The twins' experience hasn't put them off modelling, however

They didn't even manage to trace a business address for the 'agency' they dealt with.

They were never offered any work - modelling or otherwise - off the back of the audition.

"We felt sick," explained Michelle. "That was over a week's wages for me. And while we were there, there were thirty people signing up."

Karen Diamond, from leading fashion agency Models One, says it's hard to say exactly how many 'wannabe' models have been in Danielle and Michelle's situation over the years.

"Victims don't talk about it much," she said. "I think they feel foolish.

"That's what's so awful about the people who do this," she added. "They're cashing in on people's hopes and dreams".

Government crackdown

Employment Minister Pat McFadden says he wants help to crack down on rogue agents.

"I don't want to tread on anyone's hopes or dreams," he said, "but I don't want to see these hopes and dreams exploited."

It could eventually lead to tougher rules, and even a total ban on agencies charging up-front fees.

Karen Diamond from Models One says no 'wannabes' should have to pay.

"Don't hand over the cash!" she said. "These people are just cashing in on people's dreams.

"They're taking money under false pretences, by pretending that these people have got what it takes to be models - and I think it's really low."

Danielle and Michelle still dream of working in fashion or on our TV screens, but they say they're now much wiser about who they deal with.

"They just prey on people's hopes," said Michelle. "They're taking the most vulnerable people, who are just desperate to get into a job they've always dreamed of doing.

"They're taking their money and giving them nothing in return."



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