Updated - Mon 4 & 8 September 2017 - see bottom of blog for latest
I am very empathetic. I pride myself on being able to put myself in different people's situations & see things from their point of view. But I find it almost impossible to understand someone who sets up a business with the sole intention of scamming young women, exploiting their vanity and ambition at an age when they are most impressionable. What sort of person can sleep at night knowing that their business is preying on people, living a huge lie & hiding in the dense electronic jungle?
We have all been there, I'm sure. Taken in, or nearly taken in by a scam that we really want to look real because it appeals to us so much in some way. Of course, if your inner voice is sensible enough to listen to the whispered words, 'if it looks too good to be true, it probably is', then you can pull yourself back from the brink. But all of us at some point are vulnerable to being exploited. As a group, young women wanting to be models are probably amongst the most vulnerable, which is why people who set up fake 'modelling agencies' are so awful. Of course, it isn't just fake agencies. The world is full of fake photographers as well, who simply want to exploit young women for their own nefarious ends. As a professional photographer, I am sometimes hurt by the actions of others, just as accountants must feel slight embarrassment when one of their own is caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Actually no, that comparison is not valid, since most of the fake photographers are just that, fake. The word 'photographer' should not be applied to them simply because they wield a camera.
Words are powerful, and just as we shouldn't endow the shysters with the title photographer, nor should we normalise the scam artists by calling them modelling agencies. They are simply thieves. I've often wondered why the world allows our current batch of loonies to be called 'Islamic State' when they are patently neither. Surely it would be better to call them DMs, the Delusional Murderers, or some such derogatory title, then we could all look at them as they really are.
I digress. I was contacted last week by a girl I photographed a short while ago who wanted to know whether an offer she had been made sounded genuine or normal to me. Of course, it didn't! Everything about it screamed scam, but then I was not looking at it through her eyes. She wanted it to be true because she wanted a modelling job & of course, if she turned it away there was always a chance she'd be turning away the opportunity of a lifetime, right? Well at least she was sensible & did turn it away, but I wanted to alert potential models out there to this scam & to watch out for others. She was approached in May & all the information is from then. She turned the offer down then, but was approached again last week for an apparent Gucci offer - same company, same agent, same terms!
She was approached by an agent for Silverline models & basically she was supposed to pay US$500 up front, or possibly $US700, or possibly even US$800 - there was confusion over the amounts - to cover costumes & travel expenses. OK, I know, the biggest red flag of all! A model, paying up front a sizeable amount that would then get reimbursed with the fee at the end of the shoot? I didn't have to do much checking, did I? So, models; never, ever, ever, ever pay anything up front for a modelling job. If you are paying a photographer for portfolio shots, that may be different, although personally, I would advise not paying up front for those either. The screenshots my lady took of her messaging conversations with the agent are bizarre (I attach just some) to say the least & reads like a badly written comedy script…
Not much checking was really required, but I did do some & I'd like to explain what I did because this is the minimum a model should do when presented with anything like this.
Check on the sources of all communications. Emails - check the actual email address, not the 'name' that appears. Doing this varies between systems, but right-clicking on the email name should reveal it. Do this for all potential scam emails & unless it's from a proper domain - apple.com / Microsoft.com / .govt.nz etc, treat it with extreme suspicion.
Check the country source for any phone number given. Go to countrycode.org to find it. In this case, the number given was from Nigeria, ostensibly because the agent was there doing a Unicef shoot. +2348154783867...
Keep copies of all communications & screenshot any messaging to ensure it's kept.
Ask for identification. My lady did & got a photo of the agent's driving license. I can't check the validity of it, but at least it gave up some useful info.
As it turned out, this lady's name is actually Jody Louise Corcoran. No possible relation of the Natascha Corcoran listed under contacts on the site (separately from Jody Louise) or the Natascha van Heerden on the about page as one of the founders, surely? I think you can see how these lies are all intertwined. What is it they say? If you are going to lie, keep it as close to the truth as possible? I think this lady has kept things a bit too close! Certainly, her address doesn't look like the residence of a successful NY agent!
Check the website address. In this case, the URL was www.silverlinemodel.com</a> even though they called themselves Silverline Models. www.silverlinemodels.com is not owned by them but is for sale. You can check ownership of website addresses by going to the whois checking service - they are the organisation that manages all website addresses (or URL's). From here, I established that Silverlinemodel.com is owned by Sophie Reid, 16 Thirsk Gardens, Bletchley, Milton Keynes UK. Sophie.Reid@gmail.com. Silverlinemodels.com is owned by Domain Registries Foundation - e.g. For Sale.
Check the website detail. While browsing through the pages, I noticed different URL's flickering on & off, especially for the FAQ page. The address www.steelemodels.com appeared briefly then disappeared & was replaced by a silverlinemodel.com address. This can happen if someone is using a web page but 'masking' the real address with another one, or has copied the content. Using a web inspector, I confirmed this & discovered all the pages were actually copied from this domain (but I wouldn't expect you to be able to do this without instruction). You shouldn't be able to see the real one, but with faltering connections & speeds, you can sometimes see the transition - worth watching for. Steelemodels.com is not currently being used & is owned by Mario van Heerden in South Africa. The reason I mention these names is that often different scams like these are run by the same people, so it's worth having question mark names to look out for. Also, variations. As it happens, the agency photographer named on their site is called Mardo van Heerdenk. A coincidence? I think not.
Check the website content. If you read the content in detail it is badly written & isn't really coherent, leading me to think it has been pulled from different sources. There are no terms & conditions on the site - a big flag. There is no way of contacting anyone real. The address for the agency is a 52 apartment condo block in New York, not a top notch agency location. Then look more closely. The gallery of photos on the home page - the Prev & Next buttons don't work because there are no more images. They have misspelt their own name - "Welcome to the home of Silverlne Models'. The contact email is firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you try & log in, you should get an authentication warning about a site called Steelemodel.com! Always look carefully at the detail… there is a lot more too!
Check all other available electronic sources, such as FaceBook & Instagram. In this case, their FaceBook page - @silverlinemodels (plural again) goes back to 26 Sept 2015 but has very few posts, only 183 likes & 185 followers. Not a good sign for a thriving agency. Even worse, the website link from their FaceBook page goes to silverlinemodels.com (the one they don't own, that's for sale). Pictures are dreadful, information is sparse & language is entirely uneducated. One of the 'likes' was by a photographer I knew online from New Zealand, so I asked him about them. He had no knowledge of the like or who they were, so if you have any people in common, ask them. You'll also find Silverline Models' (note the plural) Scout, Jody Louise who was the one communicating with my lady, on FaceBook at jody.louise.585. A similar story of sparse information. I didn't befriend her to get more info as I really didn't have the stomach! On to Instagram, they have only 6 posts & 24 following….
If you go so far as to get a contract, then simply read very carefully (or better still get someone independent to read it without those rose coloured specs) & check all details. The Silverline contract was written by a child & one without any knowledge of any legal contractual terminology that exists anywhere. Apart from the whole payment thing, I checked the address that the 'model' was supposed to go to for the shoot, which apparently was the address for Mary Kay Collections in Wellington. It is actually the address for Space Place at Carter Observatory...
So, beware. Once you've stripped all detail down it does become quite obvious that it's a scam, so please do tear apart anything you are offered & protect yourself. There are thieves out there, hiding in plain sight.
Update - Mon 4 September 2017
Since I wrote this blog, I've had a great deal of positive feedback, both from those thanking me for simply detailing an ongoing scam and those who have also been touched by it. Over the weekend I received an email from Kath in Canada who has been approached by a scout for none other than Silverline Models! This time the scout said her name was Diana Budiachenko. Kath kindly provided screenshots of her conversations, and this is just one of them...
Now, there is an active profile on FaceBook from a model of that name & one of her photos is exactly that used as the profile photo of this lady. However, I have no way of knowing whether she is the one operating the scam or whether it is our good friend Jody Louise Corcoran who has hi-jacked Diana's name. I strongly suspect the latter, because Diana's FaceBook profile looks genuine to me. If you are or know of, the real Diana Budiachenko, do let me know if she is the latest victim of this fraud...
I also then received an email from Mardo van Heerden of Steele Model Studio. Mardo, as it turned out (and I spelt his name incorrectly in my blog, apologies) is the real deal, as is Steele Model Studio outside of Pretoria in South Africa. Their site, which wasn't responding when I wrote my blog, is operational again & you can see where Silverlinemodels ripped off most of its resource material! Apologies if I maligned you, Mardo, you are a victim in this as well. Mardo is working through the internet registrars to try & ensure his logos and content & details are not misused any longer. Of course, Ms Corcoran & Silverline Models will undoubtedly pop up with different content ripped off from somewhere else, so do keep an eye out! If you are a model & have had any experience with Steele Model Studio, do get in touch; I'd love to confirm some real life contact! And if you have been contacted by Jody Louise or Diana Budiachenko or anyone else from Silverline Models, keep details & do let me know. I'm happy to keep everyone updated on the actions of this predator.
Update - Fri 8 September 2017
I have been amazed at the extent of this scam. Of course, I shouldn't be since the web is international... This week, Steele Model Studio have been pressing forward to get their ISP to stop Jody Louise & I was contacted by a representative from StarNow in the US. They have alerted the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) in the US and eConsumer in the UK. So I have communicated my concerns to the Commerce Commission here in New Zealand. Amongst other girls who have contacted me, my favourite has to be Ewelina who actually used my blog to call her out - yess!
What can I say? Keep it going. Keep alert & keep spreading the word. The more information there is out there, the less chance this predator will have of finding success. This is what Jody is offering: