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Uncovering the Truth about Fake Modeling Agencies that Exploit and Traffic Models

One of the five things a legitimate modeling agency will almost never ask its clients is to take suggestive or nude photos—especially if they’re underage.

“I remember scrolling through my 17-year-old sister’s Instagram profile to see these newly tagged ‘modeling’ photos of her,” 26-year-old Riley tells us in an exclusive interview.

“The thing was they weren’t just normal photos—or even normal modeling photos. You could see everything… She was completely naked,” he said, horrified.

Riley’s sister, who we’ll call “Shauna,” had been doing some amateur modeling when she received a direct message over Instagram by a “professional modeling agent.” This agent told her she had a “knack for modeling” and he could “definitely do something with that talent if she’d be willing to meet with him.”

The place he wanted to meet her? A hotel right on the Mexican border. And, of course, he wanted to meet her alone. Shauna was slightly concerned, but the agent assured her that there was nothing to worry about because he “took all his promising clients there.”

Related: How One Teen’s Dream “Modeling Opportunity” Turned Into A Sex Trafficking Nightmare

The first time they met, the man took photos of Shauna in a sports bra and short shorts. The second time, it was in a bikini. And the third meeting was what led to the pictures Riley saw on his sister’s Instagram profile.

Riley immediately called his mother, who checked in on his sister. According to Shauna, these were apparently the kind of photos she needed to take in order to catch her “big break.” What Shauna didn’t realize, however, was that the photos the agent was taking of her were considered child porn and thus illegal for him to be taking. Another thing she didn’t realize? The agent who was taking pictures of her specialized in “directing models” in Bangkok, Thailand—a prominent child trafficking location.

After talking with her mother, Shauna cut off communication with the modeling agent and got Instagram to delete the photos of her. Fortunately, Shauna cut ties with the “modeling agency” quickly, without further exploitation.

Sadly, stories much worse than Shauna’s are more common than they seem as they might seem—fake “modeling” agencies are as common as they are exploitative, and can often traffic or exploit teens without them realizing it.

Let’s get the facts.

What are fake modeling agencies?

Where there is a legitimate product or service that makes money, there is also usually a company that makes or provides generic, knock-off products or services that are of lower quality and being sold for less.

These companies are smart; they see a product or service in the market that has high demand and they capitalize on it.

Fake modeling agencies are just another version of these counterfeit companies.

Related: Rape, Drugs, & Porn: Online Modeling Scams Continue To Lure Unsuspecting Victims

However, the fake modeling agencies we’re talking about here take advantage of consumers in a way that is much worse than you might think—they don’t just take lower quality photos and pay you less. Instead, they take and share illegal photos of you while promising much and paying nothing.

Just take it from the six girls, ranging in age from 12 to 16, who Stephen McGrath coerced into sending him nude and sexually explicit photos. According to court filings, McGrath did so by posing as a modeling agent.

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How are real and fake modeling agencies different?

According to LiveAbout, a website of experts who are committed to helping people cultivate their own lifestyle brand, one of the five things a legitimate modeling agency will almost never ask its clients is to take suggestive or nude photos—especially if they’re underage.

Related: This Makeup Artist Was Offered A Dream Job, But Discovered It Was A Sex Trafficking Scheme

In other words, as LiveAbout puts it, “If an agent asks you to take sexy photos right away, walk out the door and don’t look back.”

Why this matters

In a culture that glorifies outer image—just look at the popularity of social media—and porn which makes up 30% of internet content, it’s no wonder people think they can run a modeling agency scam and make some quick cash off of child porn or just plain exploitative images of even those who are of age.

More so than that, it’s no wonder unsuspecting teens are willing to pose for explicit photographs—the promise of fame, fortune, and hundreds more Instagram followers is just too alluring.

While it may be normal for teens to desire those fame and fortune today, it’s definitely not normal for a 44-year-old guy to use internet-based chat applications to communicate with and solicit explicit photos from children under the guise of being a modeling agent.

Related: Why Do Some People Fight Against Sex Trafficking But Unconditionally Support Porn?

As Shauna shared with her brother, “I could feel in my gut that there was something messed up about what [the modeling agent] was having me do.”

And the law backs that up that feeling when it discusses child porn: “any visual depiction (photographs, pictures, and more) of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (someone under 18 years of age)” is a violation of child porn and can lead to serious personal and legal consequences.

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At the end of the day, whether it’s a picture of you, someone else you know, or any form of child porn altogether, it needs to be reported. By doing so, you protect lives and help shine a light on “modeling agents” like Shauna’s and McGrath’s and protect future victims.

To report an incident involving the possession, distribution, receipt, or production of child pornography, file a report on the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)’s website at www.cybertipline.com, or call 1-800-843-5678.