Studio Models USA
Complaints / Concerns

To Whom It May Concern:

This website has given me some great advice and I was previously scammed by Manhattan Model Search, and I am taking legal action against them.

But my question is regarding Studio Models USA in Philadelphia, PA.

Studio Models USA
209 N. 3rd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
P- 215-627-3244
F- 215-627-3248

I recently went to Studio Models USA after seeing their newspaper advertisement for open calls.

When I got there, the man who interviewed me took seven minutes to discuss the company, and then gave me a card, and told me to call at 7pm that night.

So I did. When I called, he told me that he and the agency were interested in signing me, and asked if I was available to come in on Saturday.

I said yes.

Now in the first interview, and also listed in the newspaper, it says free screening, which is true, and then free portfolio to those who qualify.

On the phone, however, he stated that the pictures are free, but there is an registration fee of $95, and then it would be $19.95/month for a contract of one year to have my picture on their web page.

In the modeling industry are there things such as registration fees? And is it legal to charge monthly fees for picture preview for the clients?

On their web page I have yet to see any tear sheets or models for any clients to look at.

For my next interview on Saturday he told me to bring $114.

I didn't bring the agency any photos of myself, and so he was just going off my face-to-face looks. Is this also normal to just sign someone by the way they look in person and no photos? And he's not even taking the pictures on Saturday; he said that will be on another day. Is this normal?

What would be the best way to handle this? I am sorry I have so many questions, but if you could help, it would be great.


Aspiring Model


They want upfront fees, not just for one thing, but two things, which is never a good sign, and also recurring fees. This is what people do when they are looking for fast, easy money, and a reliable cash flow.

In this case, the money is fast, because they get it within days. The money is easy, because they do nothing to get it. The cash flow is reliable, because it is a fixed amount every month.

Advance registration fees are illegal in some states, although in PA they may not be.

What exactly do they do in registration which makes the registration worth $95? It doesn't take much time, skill, or effort to "register" a new model. Even if it were legal, it is not worth $95. It takes less than an hour and it is not worth $95/hr.

The website advertising is probably a total waste of money. There are scam businesses and websites which charge $19.95/month in recurring fees for model comp card hosting. Who do they think they are? AOL?

It may be worth $19.95/month for AOL or your ISP, if you use the internet all the time, but in the case of comp cards, agencies and clients probably never use them. You have no way of knowing if your online portfolio is being seen by potential clients.

This is why the industry standard for online advertising is performance. Instead of paying recurring monthly fees for advertising online, companies pay for results. Affiliate programs, for example, reward affiliates when the consumer buys something, not when they click on the banner ad or view the website.

The industry standard for internet access is recurring monthly fees, which may explain why some people are willing to pay recurring fees for comp card hosting, but internet access and portfolio hosting are completely different and should not be confused. Recurring monthly fees for internet access is fair; recurring monthly fees for advertising internet comp cards is not.

More significantly, a lawyer recently pointed out it is illegal in New York state for a modeling agency to make money from advertising. It is illegal, therefore, for a modeling agency to charge models for internet advertising. (It is one of several kinds of upfront fees illegal in NY.)

The Studio Models website home page said: "Advertise your skills for runway, commercials, ads, movies and more with the world's premier online booking agency."

Why does "the world's premier online booking agency" not have tear sheets to prove it? Why make a claim of global domination with nothing to back it up? How is that not ridiculous?

The staff page did not list any credentials for anyone. They said: "Our staff is always ready to work hard to get you the hottest models for clients, and the best exposure for our talent. We look forward to working with you."

Another website indicated Studio Models accepts model scouts from off the street, basically. They pay other people to scout for them. There is no indication, however, either their scouts have any qualifications to scout, or the scouts they would pay would need any qualifications or industry experience to scout. This approach and business model fits sales and upfront fees but not genuine model scouting.

Interestingly there appears to be a double standard. Because the model scouts from outside they pay by commission, but they want upfront fees from the models. Why are they not paid by commission, i.e. after the site gets models work?

Studio Models provided a client list, but, as you already noted, there are no tear sheets, so you don't know if they are just making it up the way scam agencies do.

You don't want to assume advertising is true in the modeling industry when there are no tear sheets and the company wants upfront fees.

There is a BBB listing for Studio Models in Philadelphia, which has a different address from the one you provided, but the principal or owner in the BBB record matches the name of the owner on the Studio Models website.

The BBB consumer complaint information: "Complaints against this business concern selling practices and service issues."

You raised an important topic when you said: "I didn't bring the agency any photos of myself, and so he was just going off my face-to-face looks. Is this also normal to just sign someone by the way they look in person and no photos?"

No, not at all. Because there are people who look great face to face, but they do not photograph particularly well. Just as there are those who do not look particularly great face to face, but they are great in front of a camera.

There needs to be a test shoot. You need to question any company or agency that wants upfront fees or skips the test shoot and wants to go straight from seeing you to an expensive portfolio, comp cards, or any upfront fees.

The website provided no history, no date of origin, no success story page. There are no quotes from leaders and clients who said they used the website.

The conclusion, therefore, is either Studio Models is successful, but does not advertise well; or they are not successful, so they have nothing to promote themselves.

Of course this begs the question, if they cannot promote themselves well, why would you trust them to promote you to clients?

For several reasons, therefore, it is difficult to justify paying this company for anything.

There are three main issues in evaluating a modeling agency, three basic questions to ask:

1) Are they reputable?
2) Are they successful?
3) Are there upfront fees?

In this case there is no indication they are reputable or successful, but they want upfront fees.

Shop around. In a city as large as Philadelphia, you must be able to find agencies which are reputable, successful, and do not charge upfront fees.

Redacted Info

To Whom It May Concern:

I only recently came upon your website and noticed that Studio Models USA was listed.

The address I visited was the same as the one listed in the letter that already exists on your site:

Studio Models USA
209 North 3rd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

(215) 627-3244

I had a similar experience to the girl whose letter appears on your site in that I saw an ad in a local paper, called, and set up a meeting time. This was in early November.

At my meeting, I provided them with a few pictures, filled out a little form about my experience, asked a few questions; then was given a business card and asked to call back a day or two later to find out if they were interested in me.

I did as I was asked and was told that they were interested, and that I should come back in to discuss plans for a photo shoot.

I was asked to bring a check for $114.95; $95 was for an "online set-up fee," and $19.95 was for my first month's "monthly marketing fee."

When I went back, I was told that they had no contract and I could cancel at any time. They asked for my check and then the photo shoot was discussed.

The photo shoot was to be with their photographer and a makeup artist was to be provided at their studios later that month.

The photo shoot was free; however, I had to do my own hair and makeup. I actually found out that I needed to do this by accident.

They called me the day of my shoot to see if I could come in earlier, and I said that I could not.

I then asked if I should bring my own makeup for the makeup artist.

The person talking to me said, "You have to do your own makeup and hair at home before you get here. Our person will only do touch-ups."

This made a little nervous, because I am no professional, but I went ahead that evening, because I had already paid them money, and had been told that canceled shoots would cost an extra $100 for the photographers' and makeup artists' wasted time.

At the photo shoot, I was given a name and a password to access my online comp card to update the information.

That evening I went home and followed the supplied directions to update my information.

When I checked a few days later, my pictures and information was not on the site. When I checked a week later, and still nothing appeared, I contacted the agency.

I was told that the pictures had just arrived and would be updated on the site by the end of the week with my information.

I checked back a week later and my pictures were loaded, but there was no information.

I called again, and was told that in time my information would appear.

That was in mid-December, and now it is late January, and still the information has not been updated.

Currently, limited information appears, but only because I pressured them to type in the information themselves.

As for the photos, I was given a CD of the pictures that they took; however, they were not good in quality at all.

I was not consulted about which pictures were to appear on the site, nor given any chance to see the pictures in advance.

I was also given no instructions as to how to access and print off pictures from the CD, such as which photo program to use.

Consequently, even though it was free, I have not been able to use this to my advantage.

The part that really made me upset was that when I received my bank statement for December, I saw that this agency had made a withdrawal from my checking account for $19.95.

I never signed any papers allowing them to make such withdrawals without prior consent. This made me feel as if my money was being taken from me. Theft.

After this occurred, I called the agency and left a message asking to be called back. I did not say why I wanted them to call me back, only that I wanted to discuss with them what services I was being provided.

Weeks have passed, but still no one from their agency has called me; in fact, they have not contacted me at all. On the contrary, any contact has been through my steadily pursuing them.

Recently, I began to search every page I could access of their website. I came across a contract, even though I was told that their agency had no contract, and that I could cancel any time.

I also came across a statement in the frequently asked questions page that said: "We do not charge a set-up fee to post your photos. You pay only a small fee of $19.95/month to be in our database."

But I have a receipt from the agency that clearly states that I was charged $95 for an online set-up fee.

I emailed their customer service department today, asking that they stop "representing" me (which in truth they are not really doing, anyway), and that they explain why they have charged me a set-up fee when their website says that the agency does not charge one; why I was charged a monthly posting fee in November when nothing was posted until December; why they took money out of my account in December without my authorization; and why their site has a contract posted, but I was told that nothing of that matter exists.

I have received no email back yet; however, not much time has elapsed since I sent my message.

Can you think of anything else that I could do to rectify this issue or any way that I could possibly get my money back from them?

Any information you could provide me with would be much appreciated.

Thank you in advance for your help.



Your complaints are reasonable and you make a good case.

Have you contacted your bank? Unauthorized withdrawals from your bank account is something you should discuss with your bank, especially if the company does not respond to you.

You can and probably should also contact the BBB. At the time of writing the BBB record for SM USA says: "The company has responded to customer complaints brought to its attention by the Bureau." Therefore if you direct your complaints to the BBB, you could get their attention.

The BBB record also included Customer Complaint Information: "Complaints against this business concern selling practices and service issues."

Service issues could obviously include customer service, which is a part of your complaint.

The basic problem with upfront fees is a company can lose interest in you pretty quickly.

If your complaint with the BBB does not produce a satisfactory result, you can escalate and file a complaint with the Attorney General's office.

Finally you could ask for your money back since they have done nothing for you with their virtually worthless online photo post. It probably gets most of its page views from their webmaster.

Paying $95 for the "online set-up fee" is ridiculous. Find out where they come up with that price. A teen or even a preteen could upload a digital picture. Many of them do.

The "monthly marketing" for $19.95 every month is a scam if nobody sees your picture, either because it is not online, or nobody downloads it. If it is not seen, no marketing has taken place. If no marketing has taken place, but they say it has, that is fraud. If they want you to pay (in advance) for something that does not happen, it's a scam.

In any case, if an agency has to make money from upfront fees, it is probably pathetic because it cannot get models good enough modeling jobs to earn them a significant income on commissions.

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