Losing Face: 'Model search' hits the Doubletree

Yet another "modeling agency" came to town last month, offering entrée to a world of fashion and travel and high pay. If you attended but went away skeptical, good. If you attended and stayed to sign up, not good. Why? Let me count the ways.

The company, Face National Modeling and Talent, is the fifth such business I've written about in the last year. Face set up shop at the Doubletree for open information sessions on January 28 and 29, and then, on January 30, made contracts with willing signees who had been "selected."

I spoke with two readers who had attended a session with teenage children and wanted to learn more about the company before spending any money. Their daughters should thank them– because, based on my internet research, Face is even more controversial (and expensive) than most of these groups.

The Modeling Fraud Investigation website, angelfire.com/space/modelingscams/letters.fnmt.html#complaints, includes reports on the company's practices from the New York State Consumer Protection Board, the Charlotte (North Carolina) Better Business Bureau, the Memphis Flyer, and TV stations in New York, Idaho, Wyoming, California, and North Carolina.

For instance, the BBB in Charlotte– Face's hometown– received 61 complaints about its practices over a three-year period. "Based on BBB files," the report states, "this company has an unsatisfactory record with the Bureau due to a pattern of complaints."

Face's operation is typical. It rents space in a local hotel, runs ads with such lures as "New faces wanted" and "Models needed, all ages, no experience necessary." The spiel is slick and the psychology subtle.

That's what fascinates me most about these scams: the way they convince tens of thousands of people every year that it's actually easy to get into one of the most glamorous– and cut-throat– businesses in existence. Not that they actually say it's easy; in fact, most of them go out of their way to appear frank. For instance, they'll stress that to make it as a model you have to work really hard.

In other words, This is a dog-eat-dog business, but I'm going to give it to you straight. You can trust me.

 Once they've convinced you of their honesty, the next step is to persuade you to buy whatever package their company is selling. In Face's case, it's $650 worth of slides that will then be made into what's called a composition, or "comp," card. These postcard-size arrangements of a model's pictures and personal information are an industry standard and can be sent, by either agency or model, to potential clients.

What Face doesn't say up front is that the $650 covers only the photo shoot, not the comp cards; the cards cost another $400. And what Face especially doesn't make clear is that both pictures and comp cards can be had elsewhere for about one-third of what Face charges.

Using that "you can trust me" tone, reps state that you can provide your own comp cards and not use Face's photographers and printers. I spoke with Doug Hill, who describes himself as a "consultant to Face's print division," and he insisted that the agency distributes client-submitted cards as aggressively as they do the cards they produce.

Hill says ad agencies and similar businesses call Face "all the time" for models. Judging from the company's record with the BBB, however, and the claims of former clients from around the country, I'd take that statement with a large grain of salt.

On the website of the New York State Consumer Protection Board, Chairman and Executive Director C. Adrienne Rhodes is quoted as saying, "Becoming a model requires more research and work than attending a local talent search. Young people and their parents should not spend any money unless they fully understand the risks and benefits, and that means doing your homework."

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.