UK

The companies that prey on aspiring models

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Media captionDominika: "I begged my mum for model fee"

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.

Image copyright Sadurek family
Image caption Dominika had her hair and make-up done at the studio

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.

Image caption Karen Diamond says such companies "suck in these youngsters who desperately want to be models"

"Now you have someone scouting them on the street or social media, who then lures them into a studio environment that can look very professional.

"There is a flashy website, and all of these things will encourage people to think they have a good reputation, and will suck in these youngsters who desperately want to be models.

"It absolutely destroys these young people's confidence."

'She looks beautiful'

Mirela, from Hertfordshire, wanted to help her stepdaughter become a model.

They uploaded a picture to the same company website used by Dominika and received a call offering a photoshoot.

At the studio, the staff laid on the compliments.

"He said, 'She looks beautiful. She will get a job in no time, no problem'," says Mirela, who asked us to withhold her stepdaughter's name.

"And then he started to list names [of brands who would want to work with her].

"Because of the marketing speech he gave us we were feeling like we were doing something great for my stepdaughter.

"He said we could pay £2,500, and I said we couldn't afford it - so finally we said we could pay £1,000."

Image caption Mirela paid the company £1,000

But when they returned home they knew there was a problem.

"We couldn't read the DVD [which was supposed to contain the portfolio of images]. There were no pictures," she says.

"And then I tried to call them three times, and I knew it was bad. There was no customer service."

Mirela was not given back the money she spent.

The company used by Dominika and Mirela's stepdaughter was London Fashion Models.

The Victoria Derbyshire programme has spoken to other people who have had similar experiences with the business.

The programme tried to contact it by email and letter, but has had no response.

Another company, The Studio Works, is registered at the same address as London Fashion Models.

The phone numbers for London Fashion Models and The Studio Works now lead to a call centre for a different model "platform".

In a phone call last week they said they no longer dealt with aftercare enquiries for London Fashion Models.

There are other companies operating with names similar to London Fashion Models and The Studio Works which are not connected to them and have not formed part of our investigation.

'Bunch of lies''

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."

Watch the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News channel in the UK.

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