I was approached at Queens Center Mall while browsing with my 3-year-old daughter. A young man asked if I had ever considered getting my "stunning" daughter into various modeling and commercial jobs. I said I didn't know too much about it, but that a relative had suggested it in the past. He took down some basic information and said the company would call me to set up an "interview." I asked him if there were any charges and he told me it was completely free. (The "interview" is free but of course he didn't specify then).
I was called several times in the next couple of days and when I spoke to a representative on the phone, she tried to schedule me for an appointment for that same week. (I suspect this rushed process is all so naive people such as myself, have no time to poke for information about this company). Again, I asked if the services the company offered were free. She told me there is no charge for the interview. When I asked her if there were any charges later, she got flustered, and told me that she didn't really know, I would have to talk to the people that do the interviews.
When we arrived on Friday for our "interview," we waited for about an hour in the lobby, which had a giant and very loud TV showing celebrities such as Katie Holmes and Jessica Biel making statements that insinuated they got their start from this company or one of its relative companies.
There was also a runway in the large room behind the front desk. Seeing the runway, the large posters of models, and hearing the celebrity loop over and over gave quite the impression. It felt like a place where things are happening.
When it was finally time for the interview, the very amicable, engaging woman who worked with us kept stressing how she is there to help people, but only has time to work with those who are "serious" about taking these opportunities for their children. She said that they were entering an extremely busy season (the holidays) and that there was a huge demand for new talent and models. Because of this, she has to be picky about who she works with. She doesn't want to work with people who won't make time in their schedules for commercials and modeling projects. She told me that if I wasn't sure about taking the opportunity that I probably shouldn't be there, and that she doesn't usually ever give second chances. She said either people are ready or they aren't, and due to volume and demand, she simply doesn't have time for the ones who aren't sure.
By the time we got down to business, she had very craftily given me a desire to show that I was a flexible, serious-minded parent, who really would follow through if given the chance. She gave the impression that there were a lot of high profile modeling jobs available or soon to be available (through exposure from New Face D. C.) due to the holiday season.
I told her that I was a single-mom, had recently moved to NY due to personal issues, and was trying to start over and make a better life for my daughter and myself. I told her I was currently on unemployment and was a student. I told her finances were tight, but I had saved a bit of money for my daughter that I had wanted to invest in some manner to be able to build a trust account for her, for her college or if for some reason something ever happened to me. I told her I could not invest money into this project if there was a good chance my daughter was not suited to it, or if there was not work for her, etc. She ASSURED me it would be a wise investment and that because of my daughter's beauty and outgoing personality, she would have absolutely no problem getting work. She said that she felt very confident about us, that we exceeded all theirs standards and that she was very interested in "working" with us.
The price for the photos seemed very high, but she assured me that the comp cards stood out more than regular photos, and that it was very important to show the versatility of the child. She kept showing me the comp cards of successful children and what made them stand out.
I picked a comp card package with two outfits because I wanted to have my daughter shown in more than one look, but I didn't want to spend more money. The saleslady smiled conspiratorially at me and said she really thought I should get the comp card showing 4 looks. This is the one that is going to grab the most attention, she said... I'll give it to you for the rate of the 3-look comp card. Your daughter needs it.
So I agreed, naively thinking this woman was on my side and understood both my financial situation and my desire to do something positive for my daughter's future.
I was at my $1000 limit of the savings I could invest into this project. She told me that there were some additional fees but they were not bad and that one was even optional. She said that after the photoshoot, I would have to buy the comp card, and that a comp card costs $4.50. Optionally, I could buy the rights to my daughter's photos, which would cost $45. So, even though I was at my limit of $1000, I thought I could stand to pay an additional $49.50 at a later date.
The paperwork was pushed in front of me in rushed manner. She said she knew my daughter was probably tired of being in that office. Forms were put in front of me, one after another. She was verbally highlighting points and circling or underlining places for me to initial and sign. Later that night, when I was at home, I read the contract and saw that she completely left vital points out all together, misrepresented others, and misled me as to the nature and conditions of the business.
She asked me when they would be able to do the photoshoot for my daughter, giving me two choices, Saturday or Sunday, which was the very next day or two days later. She reminded me of the busy season and wanting to have my daughter ready and available to get calls. I picked Sunday.
Before we left, she asked (as if it just popped into mind) if she could put my daughter in front of a camera to see how she does. I pointed out the obvious: my daughter had a runny nose for the entire time we were there and was generally unprepared to take a picture today. I told the lady that I wanted to get my daughter's haircut professionally, since I usually cut it at home and one side looked like a hack-job.
She insisted saying my daughter just looked so adorable and that she actually really liked the way I had dressed her that day, as if moms don't usually dress their children so model-ready and as if she were impressed. She also said it would give my daughter a chance to warm up to the camera before her big photoshoot in two days. After that, I accepted.
I took my daughter to lunch then back again for the shoot. I thought it was strange that they would get set up for just one photo when she was coming back in two days, but I didn't really question it too much. I assumed that they were just being nice and wanted to give my daughter a chance to get used to being photographed.
I was a little disappointed with the makeup room and photo room. Both seemed cheap and sparse. A woman applied a quick blush and gloss to my daughter, and sloppily curled the ends of her hair. But my daughter was delighted so I was happy.
A photographer set up my daughter in various poses and with simple props (some didn't go with the fall style of her outfit at all!). Not too much direction was given although the photographer was very polite and complimentary. My daughter loved the process so much that tears came to my eyes at one point. I felt so happy that I had found something she seemed to really enjoy that would also help her financially in the future.
We went home, with instructions for what to do/not do before the photoshoot on Sunday and what to bring. My daughter and I were both very excited.
At home that night, I took my copy of the contract out of its envelope to read. That is when I was hit with the shock and horror that I had been SWINDLED out of my $1000 of savings for my daughter.
After I put my daughter to bed, I cried for being made a fool of, for my naivete, for the loss of what is such a huge chunk of money to us. I cried for the deceit that was done to the happiness that we had both felt when she was enjoying her first photo session. And just like that, my money was gone!!
The things that are the most deceiptful of this whole ordeal are as follows:
1. Comp card are $4.50, but the fine print says there is a 100 order minimum. Comp cards= $450 minimum.
2. Rights to the photos are $45, but the salelady neglected to say that $45 is the price per roll. 4 rolls= $180
3. The is a separate fee for having the comp cards/photos on their website, which is implied as being part of the package. The fee is not stated, but says "comparable."
4. Saleslady knew I only had $1000 to spend, therefore knew I could not afford to complete the process for service, yet pressured me to pay anyway, fully aware that she had misinformed/misled me.
5. Contract states that refund policy is made void if any part of the photography session has taken place. !!!!
I was obviously tricked and pressured into doing a photo that day to give up my right to a refund. She knew I was unaware of that clause, that I would never be able to afford to complete their service for my daughter to be possibly hired as model through them, and that $1000 was an amount I had carefully saved to do something for my daughter's future. All this and she still pressured me to turn my money over to them!
I have submitted a request for a refund from this company, with an explanation of why I feel I deserve a refund in full.
I think it is absolutely scandalous that a business would use these unethical tactics to lure decent people into throwing away their money. The fact that they exploit and make mockery of the love and hopes parents have for their children is despicable.
If they acknowledge they were wrong and return my money to me, I will update this complaint with that information.
I called the Naussau County Office of Consumer Affairs. The woman I spoke to told me they refer these complaints directly to the Naussau Attorney General's Office. That number is (516) 248-3302.
If you are interested in making a formal complaint, you may call this number and they will mail you an official complaint form. I would urge everyone who has been scammed by this miserable company to voice their outrage and prevent other families from being victimized.