A growing number of teenage girls are being approached online by fake model recruiters who lure them into sending indecent images of themselves, which are later used to extort money.
Facebook and Instagram accounts are being set up in the names of leading model agencies such as Storm Model Management, which discovered Kate Moss and represents Cindy Crawford.
Girls receive messages from someone who claims to be recruiting for the agency; they are encouraged to send topless photos or conduct a Skype interview in which they are asked to remove their clothes or wear lingerie.
Sarah Doukas, the managing director of Storm, said that in the past two years the number of calls the agency had received about scam agents had risen from one a week to almost daily messages.
“The rise of social media has impacted greatly on why modelling agency scams are increasing,” Doukas said. “Firstly, a lot of young people’s Instagram accounts are not private, and consequently they are easy to approach. Secondly, fraudsters are becoming more sophisticated because of social media generally.
“We are getting more scammers posing as ‘friends’ of the model agency and offering an introduction to us, and this is not legitimate. There was one example recently, which went on for several months, where a vulnerable girl was invited to a shoot and she ended up taking her clothes off. She had been approached by a fraudster claiming to know me.”
In the UK last year there were 327 reported cases of scam model recruiters. DI Chris Felton, crime manager at the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, said a “significant” number involved scammers operating on social media.
“Social media means [scammers] can now reach a larger audience than previously, and if you are after a younger demographic then it’s an easy way to reach them,” he said. “[The number of cases of scam model recruiters] may have gone up slightly, but if you look back, social media will have played a bigger role because it’s how people communicate now.”
In other instances, girls are asked to pay extortionate amounts of money to get portfolios or “comp cards” (essentially a business card). A legitimate agency would offer these for free.
Doukas said: “Young people and their parents or guardians must be vigilant and defensive – do not trust anyone until you have established they are legitimate, and do your research.”
Alex Haddad, the director of BMA Models, said his agency was receiving 10 phone calls and 20 emails a week about scam agents – nearly twice as many as last year.
“[Scammers] use names from our agency, a booker or agent. They have used different people in the past – our website has a history of who works here on it. They then contact people from Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook and pretend to be a headhunter or recruiter,” he said. “They will say they are scouting for models and ask for pictures, sometimes they ask for naked shots … We are getting phone calls from concerned parents saying, ‘Is this a scam? What is happening?’
“Some of them do Skype calls which are so-called interviews, and they ask things like, ‘Would you shave your head or go topless?’ It’s always young girls who get targeted.”
Jessica Barker, co-founder of the cyber security consultancy Redacted Firm, said she had heard cases of girls being lured into sending sexually explicit images and told the photos would be posted online unless the scammers were paid.
“Teenage girls using Instagram and sharing pictures get approached by someone who has a profile looking like a modelling scout or talent scout for TV and film, often in the US,” she said. “They say the girls look great and have the right look for film or whatever modelling campaign they are supposedly doing. Then they ask, ‘Can we see some more pictures?’ They flatter the girls a lot and give them hope in terms of what they are looking for. They encourage the girls to then share explicit pictures, and when they do they try to extort them of money.”
Barker added: “Awareness is key. This form of attack is very unknown and people are not talking about it much in media. If you’re in this situation, approached by someone asking you for explicit images, don’t send them. A reputable model agency, for example, would never ask for someone to send naked images of themselves. If you have sent the images and are worried about being scammed, or you have received threats, tell a trusted adult.”