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Model Scam

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This is a type of scam with a broad range of utility. Sometimes it can even be pulled off without a camera, but photos are usually involved. It requires approaching the victim of the scam and convincing them that they are the most beautiful person the scam artist has ever met. Or at least in the top 10%, and if they would be willing to take a chance on the artist, the victim can make it big.

At this point, the scam starts to vary. Those who are looking to scam the victim out of their money will require upfront payment (usually expensive) and take photographs of the person, promising to spread the photos and contact information of the victim around the market, getting important people to check them out, typically national model scouts and internationally famous modeling agencies. It's "guaranteed" to work. However, about half the time the camera was just a prop and the victim is out a few hundred or more with nothing to show for it. There's more legitimate versions of this type of scam, where the pictures are real, but the victim is paying the scammer to submit a resume for an embarrassing mascot costume job or something else that the victim could have done for free.

Another version that is less about taking money from the victim and more about exploiting the victim, gets its money from selling pornographic pictures. The scam starts out the same way, and usually has a legitimate photographer who does make money by doing photoshoots, but they see an opportunity to exploit and they take it. The photographer asks for just a slight change in clothing, pulling one sleeve down and showing a little extra skin. Bit by bit, the photographer wears away at the confidence of their victim, snapping pictures the entire time and rewarding them with praise whenever they obey the suggestions. This will go all the way to naked photoshoots if the victim lets it. Then, the photos can be sold to perverts and the negatives used as Blackmail to coerce the victim into more exploitation.

Such sexual exploitation can end up very similar to Casting Couch, where the scam artist is trying to convince the victim to have sex. The difference is that in the Couch trope, the victim gets a job, while in the Scam, the job was never really going to the person in the first place. Shameful Strip is also similar, as the victim may be ashamed/embarrassed to undress, but in this case the victim isn't being tortured (it just feels that way). Situations where the scammer is trying to exploit the victim for money or some other gain with nothing sexual involved are common enough to be Truth in Television. A Sleazy Photoshoot is similar, but is intended as an actual shoot even though the model goes through similar circumstances.

The very darkest of versions has the scam being used as a front for a Human Trafficking operation. Victims unfortunate enough to be lured into this version of the scam can expect even worse than the above sexual exploitation — oftentimes their fate is to be made some variety of Sex Slave.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Hiroaki Samura's Bradherley's Coach has a very dark variation in which the eponymous Bradherley, a European aristocrat, routinely adopts beautiful girls from various orphanages across the country with the promise of training them as actresses and making them a part of his famous opera troupe. But while some of these girls do get the chance to perform on the stage as promised, most never even make it to the troupe. Instead, they are sent to a prison to be gang-raped by long-term and lifetime prisoners in order to make them "vent" their sexual and violent urges and prevent them from committing an uprising.
  • Subverted in Great Teacher Onizuka - Tomoko thinks this is what's going to happen to her, but ends up getting discovered by a real talent agent.
  • Happens in Key the Metal Idol, to the very naive title character. Fortunately, the scumbags ordered delivery, and her friend Tomoko who brought the food figured out what was going on, and saved her.
  • The "Debut Scam" arc from Kurosagi deals with this. A fraudulent entertainment production company goes around picking up girls and offering them model jobs, then trick them into taking loans to buy expensive accessories for gigs that only pay a small fraction of the loan's amount.
  • A variation of this occurs in Season 2 of Nogizaka: Haruka no Himitsu. The main heroine, Haruka, is told by some modeling agents that she should participate in a beauty contest as a placeholder contestant. Unknown to her however, the agents really have her in mind to become the actual winner, and turn her into an actual model for their agency. The main protagonist, Yuuto, has to go through a lot to expose them, which at the end of the arc, causes the two agents to be Hoist by Their Own Petard when Haruka's exceedingly wealthy father buys out the agency, then promptly fires the two agents for their charade.
  • In one chapter of Sgt. Frog, Tamama tries to discredit Angol Mois by posing as a sleazy camera man (with the help of a robotic exoskeleton) and telling her that she can become more "mature" by doing a photo shoot.
  • In one Samurai Champloo episode, an artist offers to sketch Fuu and it turns out that he's aiding a sex slavery ring — he sketches women and people make "orders" based on the drawings and the models get kidnapped and sold. Fuu is rescued before anything bad can happen but presumably, this trope was played straight for the other women.
  • Happens to Anzu/Tea of Yu-Gi-Oh!, who is promised a chance to be a dancer like she's always wanted. In the original, Anzu was blackmailed to come to the gym under threat that the blackmailer would reveal her true age to her workplace and get her fired. The blackmailer was the gym teacher and wanted to videotape her body. In both versions, this leads to a Rescue Romance, as she fell in love with the Pharoah after he saved her from the pervert.

    Comic Books 
  • A Wonder Woman/Batman graphic novel, The Hiketeia, involves a young woman whose sister was lured to Gotham City under the lure of this trope and quickly dragged into prostitution enforced by (forced) heroin addiction before eventually being murdered. The woman's vengeance against her sister's enslavers/killers leads her to ask for Wonder Woman's protection from Batman (since she had, y'know, murdered her sister's killers).
  • Parodied in Superman: Metropolis Secret Files & Origins: Jimmy Olsen, of all people, tries this on Lex Luthor's Amazonian bodyguards when he meets them in the Planet's elevator. The next panel shows them exiting the elevator, leaving a semiconcious Jimmy behind them.
  • Implied Trope in Sin City: That Yellow Bastard. When Hartigan meets with Nancy at Kadie's, Agamemnon approaches him and asks Hartigan to put in a good word for him, claiming he's a world-famous photographer. He's definitely full of shit, since Agamemnon is a lazy slob who is established in Dame to Kill For to get by doing "cheating spouse" photo jobs and similar low-rent stuff.

  • Chicago: A Black-and-Grey Morality variant. The main character is sleeping with a man mainly because she thinks he's a producer who can help her career. He's not.
    "Tell me I'm a star!"
  • In Dracula's Daughter, the (ambiguously) Lesbian Vampire invites a pretty young girl to model for a portrait and then attacks her.
  • The Girl in Gold Boots: Buz claims he can get Michele a career as a dancer. The fact that Michele wants to get away from her father is what ultimately convinces her to go with Buz. Surprisingly, Buz is being completely honest with Michele, but she eventually finds out that her new employers are mobsters (and the venue is a seedy go-go club).
  • In the film Human Trafficking (2005), the Big Bad has a model agency in East Europe. In a twist, the agency actually is a model agency (i. e. they make photoshoots for low-grade papers and such), with the main goal of it to launder the money made with said trafficking. However, many models still end up kidnapped and sold into prostitution.
  • In The Movie of the Neil Simon play I Ought To Be In Pictures, shortly after her arrival in Hollywood Libby is approached by someone to make a "film," and she takes his card. Another girl tells her that they guy wanted her for a porno, and Libby replies "I know. It's just nice to be asked."
  • In I Spit on Your Grave 2, Katie Carter is initially lured into the hands of the Human Traffickers that put her through hell by means of a modeling scam. The horrors that she suffers set the stage for one hell of a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.

  • The "Are you really a producer?" meme alludes to this.

  • Happened to Whitney in the Ellen Hopkins novel Tricks. The "photographer" in question seemed like a really nice guy... until he got her addicted to heroin and started pimping her out for drug money.
  • A depraved pimp in the Harlan Coben novel Gone For Good used this technique to drug, rape and prepare unsuspecting girls for prostitution. He got his retribution in the end, but how he recounted this was still pretty shocking.
  • In Swedish novel Juliane och jag by Inger Edelfeldt, the main character's classmates gossip about this happening to one of their friends (though she gets away before the "photographer" has a chance to try anything).
  • In the Miss Marple story The Body in the Library, this was how the murderers obtained one of their victims.
  • This happens to Zoe in Saving ZoŽ, twice and she falls for it. Her friend's sleazy boyfriend claims that he will help her become an actress, and forces them to act in a porno. The second "photographer" actually approaches her on MySpace, and she goes to the man's house and is brutally murdered before the book starts.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Subverted in the TV miniseries The 70s. A photographer approaches a young woman in a nightclub. After taking several legitimate pictures of her, he entices her to take her clothes off. Realizing his true motives, she flees in tears—but without anything happening to her.
  • An episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 had Sophie fall prey to the "coerced into nudity" variant, the photographer played by a charmingly loathsome Robin Atkin Downes.
  • In the ITV adaptation of Agatha Christie's The Body In The Library, one of the murdered girls is approached by a 'film director' who wants her to star in a movie. This is in fact an excuse to dye her hair and make her up to look like the other murdered girl. The girl only went along because the director was actually a woman, and she couldn't imagine a woman to be a danger to her.
  • In the series The Commish, there is an actual professional photographer who works for a couple of questionable papers which require shots of underage (though not child: ages 14-18) models. What many find too late: he also works for a child porn ring. The girl who used to babysit the Commissioner's son is among the victims...
  • This was the tactic of the killer in the Criminal Minds episode "Fear and Loathing." Although he doesn't rape his victims. He records their voices as trophies and kills them by drugging and strangling them.
  • Fame. Coco is approached in a diner by a sleazy guy claiming to be a director. She goes to his apartment for a "screen test" and he orders her to undress in front of a camera. She does so, and starts crying from embarrassment and shame.
  • Power Rangers Ninja Storm: G-rated version in "Beauty and the Beach", when Marah and Kapri invite Tori to a photoshoot for a fake sports magazine in order to trap her and replace her with an evil duplicate.
  • In the Quantum Leap episode "Miss Deep South", an unscrupulous photographer talks a beauty pageant contestant into a "tasteful" photo shoot by promising that he can get her modeling work. Then he gets her drunk and persuades her to take off more clothing, reassuring, "I won't shoot anything that will embarrass you." The photos show up in a nudie calendar a few months later, ruining the girl's career (unless Sam can stop it from happening).
  • Scoundrels (2010): Heather's Smooth-Talking Talent Agent is not only scamming her for money but when she confronts him, attempts to rape her by Slipping a Mickey on her drink. But she sees it coming and switches the drinks without him noticing. Then she undresses him, leaves him Chained to a Bed and robs him.
  • Occurs in an episode of Sister, Sister, when one of the girls goes to a "photographer's" apartment for a shoot. Luckily, the girls' parents arrive in time to save her.
  • The low-budget 80s anthology series Terrorvision had an episode where a couple of girls answer a modeling ad in a store window. No warehouse, just a small clothing store with a photo studio out back. Turns out the girls are actually modeling for mannequins.
  • An episode of the 1990s TV version of The Untouchables involves one of the agents discovering his sister has fallen prey to this (with the same application of drugs-as-control used in the Wonder Woman/Batman example in the Comics section above).
  • Part of the prologue to an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger, where a serial killer would entice his victims this way.
  • In the early UK run of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, a scene suggestion that started out as simply 'a talent scout' is immediately taken in this direction by Mike McShane and Josie Lawrence.
    Clive: [Do it in the style of] Pantomime.
    Mike: Today's letter is 'C'! C is for Couch, as in Casting Couch!
    Josie: The lady sits on the Couch!
    Mike: And the agent takes off his Clothes! (frantic buzzing from Clive)

    Video Games 
  • This is a storylet in Alter Ego (1986).
  • A man on the streets of Betancuria offers to pay the Princess to pose for a nude painting in A Dance with Rogues. Should you accept, the bad guys show up and confiscate the painting, forcing you to sneak into their administration building to retrieve it.
  • Tanaka, the Devil Social Link in Persona 3, pulls the "scamming for money" variant on the Player Character, stringing it out until the protagonist has shelled out 40,000 yen before finally admitting that there's no such opportunity. Naturally, falling for the scam is the only way to begin his Social Link.
  • One of the Mementos targets in Persona 5 has been doing the sexual extortion variant on wannabe idols.
  • In Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, your character is offered a job via someone else's phone as a model for a prosthetic maker in LA. His "studio" is in basement of another building, and filled with cages, containing other "models", most with missing limbs.

  • This Subnormality strip, which does feature a deserted warehouse. The girl in question is turned into a figurine for the Franklin Mint.

    Western Animation 
  • An episode of All Grown Up! has Suzie meet a woman who offers her a chance to audition to be a singer. The only catch is, she has to pay a fee for a studio session in advance. When she shows up to the "studio" it turns out just to be an office building.

Alternative Title(s): You Would Make A Great Model