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You've got the look _ if you've got the cash

Do you think you have what it takes to be a model? Unscrupulous "talent scouts" will lead you to think that you do. Many consumers have been victimized by bogus modeling agencies and schools that make big promises about money, glamour and stardom but don't deliver. Use these tips to protect yourself from being scammed:

1. Ask yourself, "Why me?" Don't let yourself be overcome by your emotions or the company's flattery. Think carefully about how the talent scout approached you. If it was in a crowded mall, reflect on how many other people may have been contacted.

2. It's a tough business. Successful models are rarely discovered in everyday places such as malls and airports. Most would-be models solicit agent after agent in the hopes of finding someone to represent them.

3. Brace yourself for bait and switch. Don't be surprised if what you thought was going to be a job interview turns out to be a high-pressure sales pitch for modeling or acting classes, "screen tests" or "photo shoots" that cost hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.

4. Understand the industry. While legitimate modeling agencies secure employment for experienced models, modeling schools claim to provide instruction _ for a fee _ in poise, posture, skin care, the proper walk, etc. Even if school representatives strongly suggest they will be able to help you find work, they may not do so.

5. Don't pay upfront fees. Legitimate agents earn a commission on the contracts they obtain for you, which means they make money only when you make money. Steer clear of companies that ask for fees in advance or only accept payment by cash or money order.

6. Know what you're signing. Never sign a document without reading and understanding it first, especially if you are being pressured to sign. Ask for a blank copy of the contract so you can take it home and review it.

7. Do your homework. Ask for the names, addresses and phone numbers of clients who recently secured work with the help of the agency or school. If an agency says it has placed clients in specific jobs, contact the employers to verify those claims.

8. Don't be fooled. Fraudulent agencies and schools often display pictures of famous models on their walls to make you think they represent those models. They also use names that sound similar to widely known agencies, and they place phony ads that say something like "new faces wanted" and "no experience necessary."

9. A special warning for parents. Bogus talent scouts often prey on parents, getting them to pay for photo shoots of their child, even though the market for child models is small and advertising agencies and casting directors usually prefer to see casual photos of children.

10. If you think you've been scammed. File a complaint with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (800-HELP-FLA, or 800-435-7352) and the Better Business Bureau (800-955-5100). If the company is not in Florida, contact the attorney general's office in the state in which the company is based.

_ Compiled by Laura T. Coffey.

Sources: Federal Trade Commission (http://www.ftc.gov); and the Better Business Bureau (http://www.bbb.org).

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