SIKESTON -- Southeast Missouri residents are encouraged to do their homework before getting into any contract with a St. Louis modeling and talent agency.
Connie F. McDonald, trade practice consultant for the Better Business Bureau in St. Louis, said during its 36-month reporting period, the BBB received 16 complaints and reports against Images of St. Louis -- a modeling and talent agency that has extended its auditions to the Southeast Missouri region.
The BBB logged more than 10,000 requests for a reliability report on the company in the past 36 months. Complainants primarily allege the company engaged in misleading advertising and sales practices.
"Most of the people I've talked to have been from the metro area ... Just in the last week or so, I've been getting calls from folks who were outside the area," McDonald said.
The premise of consumer complaints is basically the same: The company advertises for acting or modeling jobs, and when the consumers come in for auditions, they're directed to taking classes from the agency, McDonald said.
"Consumers are telling us they feel it was misleading on the company's part to advertise they had a job opening because consumers got the feeling the agency is looking for candidates for their school," McDonald said.
Also common in the complaints were consumers being told they had to use the agency for headshots and prompted to pay $395 for the agency's photographer and photo processing. Consumers were also asked to take classes that cost thousands of dollars.
"It's a good thing if an agent is looking all over for clients, but if they're looking solely to recruit students, that's another issue all together," McDonald said.
BBB representatives began on Thursday calling newspapers in Hannibal, Cape Girardeau, Jefferson City, Fredericktown, Fulton, Columbia, Alton, Belleview and Sikeston.
Images of St. Louis has been advertising with the Standard Democrat for the past four or five years, Standard Democrat General Manager DeAnna Nelson said. After learning on Thursday of the recent complaints and requests for reliability reports, the newspaper will not run any ads until all questions about the agency are cleared through the BBB, Nelson said.
Images is owned by SBS Enterprises Inc., which also owns the John Robert Powers name and franchise of the national modeling school system.
According to a BBB news release, SPS Enterprises President Nancy Barrett said: "In our ego business, we document every detail in writing and have people sign exactly what will be happening."
Barrett said the company does not guarantee job placement and that "everyone is told they can use any source for pictures and training." Fortunately, many consumers contact the BBB before they sign a contract, McDonald said.
She added: "If they're going to invest money and time, they want to make sure they're doing a good job on their homework."
The Better Business Bureau warns that questionable talent and modeling agencies often:
-- Ask for up-front money, which may be called "registration," "consultation" or "administrative" fees. Normally agents work on commission. They don't receive any money until you are paid for doing the work they have obtained for you.
-- Pressure you to leave a check or cash deposit or sign a contract immediately. The agent insists you take acting lessons at a particular school or from a particular teacher or may try to sell expensive photographs, audition tapes or other services or materials offered by someone the agency suggests. An agent's time should be spent finding work for his or her client -- not selling products and services.
-- Display pictures of famous models or celebrities on the walls to make you believe they are represented by that agency, although they are not.
-- Use names which sound familiar to similar well-known agencies.
Fraudulent companies will sometimes do this to give the incorrect mpression that they are connected to a legitimate agency.
-- Place phony ads in the help wanted section newspapers that say something like, "new faces wanted" for commercials, movies or modeling or claim that "no experience is necessary."