Young, aspiring models are being lured into parting with cash by the increasingly sophisticated methods of companies which falsely promise them the chance to work with top brands.
“I just felt like it was my fault,” says 16-year-old Dominika Sadurek, from Chiswick, west London.
“Having this happen to you leaves you in a really vulnerable position and makes you wonder how you were so stupid.”
Dominika was finishing her GCSEs when she decided to submit her picture to a company offering a gateway to the modelling world.
Friends had been telling her to go for it, and while she did not expect it to lead to anything, the thought of being able to make her own way in life appealed to her.
“It had exactly the same criteria on its website as some of the big agencies,” she says, explaining why she thought it was legitimate.
A week later, the company called her mother, Wioletta – as Dominika was under 16 at the time – inviting her daughter to a photoshoot at a small studio in Mayfair, an opportunity she could not wait to embrace.
“I took five outfit changes because they wanted to see me in different looks,” she says.
“The staff were really welcoming – I had my hair done, my make-up done. They did soft looks, hard looks.”
So far, so good – a professional operation with a knowledgeable team, it seemed.
‘Manipulation game’-But then came the hard sell.
Wioletta felt uncomfortable, having been asked to invest in one of their package deals, which range from £500 to £6,000 – some of which included having her daughter’s photos displayed on the company’s website.
“I could see almost straight away that this was a kind of manipulation game going on,” she says.
But her daughter did not want to lose what she thought could be her big chance in the industry.
“She got tears in her eyes – ‘Please, please, I beg you, I really want to do this. This is my lifetime opportunity’.”
Wioletta eventually agreed to hand over £400, which Dominika was to pay back.
They were led to believe this would lead to modelling work, but Dominika never received any approach and the pair’s calls were never returned. After a month they gave up.
‘Destroys confidence’-There are dozens of such companies preying on teenagers who are desperate to get into the industry.
The Victoria Derbyshire programme has spoken to families who have handed over thousands of pounds for photographs in the belief their child could be a model.
Karen Diamond, director at Models1, who has 30 years’ experience in the industry, says such companies’ behaviour is becoming more sophisticated.
“When I first started it was all about the lone photographer who would charge for a portfolio,” she says.
For Dominika, it was not just about the money, but also the dip in her confidence, at a time when she was already struggling under the pressure of imminent exams.
“All of it was a bunch of lies and she was really frustrated,” her mother says.
“I could see her being lied to and cheated.”