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Brief cases: nearly £2,000 lost to modelling scam

Enticed with hopes of a successful modelling career, here’s how we helped a member get her money back after her bank refused to help her reclaim her cash.

Last April, Which? Legal member Lisa’s son attended a photo test shoot with Media Style in London’s West End.

They paid a £50 deposit, which Media Style promised to refund on the day. During the six-hour session, the ‘model assessor’ and ‘director’ enticed them with hopes of a successful modelling career, calling Lisa’s son ‘a natural’ and highlighting the potential to earn thousands.

At this point, Media Style demanded a payment of £1,975 for the portfolio of photos it had taken, saying that if the family didn’t pay that day, the portfolio would be destroyed.

As a result of the high-pressure selling tactics, they paid using their HSBC debit card. But they never received the CD-Rom of pictures or modelling business cards.

Lisa researched the company and realised she’d been scammed. She contacted HSBC to try to get her money back.

Our advice

HSBC told Lisa she had no grounds to reclaim her money, and refused to start its chargeback procedure.

We advised Lisa to escalate the matter to the Financial Ombudsman Service, which decided that HSBC didn’t treat her fairly.

We also advised Lisa to threaten to take Media Style to court by sending a ‘letter before action’, but encouraged her to hold out for the ombudsman’s investigation first, as there was no guarantee that Media Style had any money or assets to repay her.

The law on being misled

As Lisa had been misled, she had a valid claim against Media Style for a
refund under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. But enforcing this could have been difficult.

Chargeback is not written in law, but is governed by the terms and conditions that each bank offers its customers.

It usually only applies where goods or services have not been supplied. In July HSBC reimbursed the full amount, saying that it never disputed the claim, and in December the family had confirmation from the ombudsman.

Media Style didn’t wish to comment. HSBC apologised to Lisa that ‘due to a miscommunication’, customer service hadn’t met ‘the standards we strive for’.

This contribution to Which? Conversation first appeared in the April 2019 edition of Which? Magazine (page 47 – Brief cases).

If this story sounds familiar to you, were you aware of the options available to get your money back? Have you ever sent a ‘letter before action’? Let us know below, and please do warn others about such harsh practises.

Comments

Not being given the photos in return for the money amounts to fraud, if that is exactly what happened, and the money should have been returned of course.

This is described as “Lisa researched the company and realised she’d been scammed.“. It would be useful if the link to evidence was given. A scam would be this company routinely taking money without producing the goods. I can find no reports on the web. It seems odd that a company with premises in London could routinely defraud customers without being reported and prosecuted.

I disagree that “Not being given the photos in return for the money amounts to fraud“. It’s simply a breach of contract. Only if one can prove that the business asked for the money in bad faith with no intention of supplying the photos would it be fraud.

As I said earlier, if Media Style routinely took money but did not supply photos……. I see that as fraud. But I’d simply like more information so that Media Style can be assessed.

Hi Malcolm. This case is specifically about Lisa’s experience – all of the facts of what happened have been set out here, and the advice we gave resulted in Lisa being refunded via her bank. The team approached Media Style to comment, but as you’ll see above, it did not wish to.

From reading the reviews, it looks like a number of people have had poor experiences. Whether any of them will match exactly what happened to Lisa we won’t know, as Which? Legal can only help members of its service who contact them for advice, setting out the details of their personal experience.

Ultimately we know that Lisa paid £1,975 and received nothing in return – the Legal team was able to recover this successfully, and that it was this topic sets out.

@gmartin, George, I don’t doubt the experience. I know nothing about Media Style and have no interest in modelling, but what concerned me was that one instance given in this Convo labelled them as a “scammer” – “Lisa researched the company and realised she’d been scammed. “.

I do not consider one bad experience as sufficient to put such a blanket description; in my book it needs a clear intent to defraud as a regular occurrence to define a “scam”. I have asked for more evidence of MS repeating this practice but have seen none. It also seems that other agencies use MS for photography and those “agencies” might be the scammers, according to online reports. I won’t repeat names here.

This is a very old scam and was, I think, featured in W? sometime in the 1980s. Like Malcolm, I can’t find anything about Media Style, other than numerous links for their site claiming to advise potential models to avoid scams…

The Guardian did a piece 18 months ago, which is interesting:

In 2010 modelling agencies were banned from charging upfront fees and a mandatory 30-day cooling-off period was introduced before charging for photographs.

So that appears to suggest Media style has committed an offence. The article also had a list of what to watch for:

Warning signs

Reputable modelling agencies earn their money from commissions paid by the advertising and fashion firms who employ their models. They are forbidden by the Conduct of Employment Agencies Regulations 2010 to charge an upfront fee, including a deposit to secure an appointment or an administrative charge to add you to their website. They can charge a fee for photo services, but only after a 30-day cooling-off period.

Steer clear of companies that:

• Describe themselves as “platforms” and offer to assess your chances of being accepted by a modelling agency.

• Ask for a refundable fee to ensure you turn up for an assessment.

• Claim that you need a portfolio to break into the world of modelling.

• Tell you after a photoshoot you have potential, and introduce you to an adviser.

• Insist that the photos will be deleted unless you buy them there and then.

This does prove that we all need to research anything that seems too good to be true.

I presume that it might have been easier to make a claim under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, had the bill had been paid by credit card.

Here is a link to the article mentioned by Ian: https://www.theguardian.com/money/2017/dec/18/modelling-agencies-platforms-scam-studio-collective

Thanks, Wave. I should have included that link.

I am slightly confused with this story. Is the company the same one that put out warnings of this type of behaviour before the photo shoot?

Action Fraud produced an article in November 2017 warning:
Fraudsters pressurise victims into sending an upfront fee to book a slot for the test shoot.

The suspects will also convince the victim that in order to become a model, they will need to have a portfolio. The fraudsters will recommend a number of packages and stress that if a package is not paid for in advance, the process of becoming a model cannot continue.
https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/news/fake-modelling-jobs-advertised-online-and-through-social-media

What this story does show is that people need to be educated to do thorough research and consider scam before pot of gold.

I believe it is.

Lisa’s son attended a photo test shoot with Media Style

Media Style are currently running a seri4es of online articles on how to recognise and avoid scams.

On the main question asked in the header, I’ve used Section 75 to get money back only recently. An online retailer had advertised an item for £70.00 and charged my card for £140. I rang the bank and disputed the charge. They asked me to send a scan of the receipt and of the original advertising (I always keep copies of anything I order online but not through Amazon) and refunded the money immediately while they investigated.

@gmartin, Morning George. Could Which? provide more clarity to this story? Are there other instances of customers being “scammed” by Media Style as implied by Lisa’s research?

I’ll be inviting a member of the team on to answer some of the questions raised.

From what I’ve found myself, yes there are other examples of people reporting them: https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:H45UaWPGVRoJ:https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/showthread.php%3Ft%3D5025784%26page%3D19+&cd=12&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk

Thanks George. The link seems to be about the general scam by some so-called model agencies, rather than about the specific one accused here. It is mentioned, but one post suggests they went to an “agency” that apparently then “ used Media Style in Bateman street for us,“. I wonder whether Media Style were complicit or simply used as a photo service by the perpetrator.

I’d also have a read of the Google reviews, which feature a number of people reporting the same story as Lisa’s experience:

https://maps.app.goo.gl/UaWso

I’ve just read those Google reviews and they are so conflicting, my thought is ……….Which ones are fake?

The allegation in this Convo is that Media Style took nearly £2000 for a portfolio of photos but then refused to hand over the photos. As far as I can see non of the reviews in the above link said that had happened to them. Most negative reviews complained that they were asked to pay for the photos that had been taken.

Whether Media Style operates by misrepresenting what they will achieve is a different matter.

Some say they used a different “agency” that sent them to MS for the photography; I presume Lisa did not take this route? I’d simply like to see evidence that taking money without giving photos is a practice – “scam” – , as alleged, that Media Style indulge in as it is a serious accusation..

I agree with others’ comments about using a credit card, because Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 is a statutory right that is much stronger than the contractual right provided by chargeback. Why anyone uses a debit card instead of a credit card for such transactions is beyond me.

The only purchase for which I use a debit card is buying lottery tickets, because the National Lottery web site doesn’t accept credit cards or charge cards, and Curve isn’t a workaround in this case because Curve doesn’t allow gambling transactions.

Until surcharges were banned it was often more expensive to use a credit card, but that is history.

I cannot understand why anyone buys lottery tickets because there is not much chance of winning and if you want to support charities it’s better to do that directly.

Lottery tickets – the same reason people gamble on the pools, horses, casinos online. They will, as a group, always lose because the prize money is less than the stake. But some do win and it is for many the only way they might have a (slim) chance to become substantially richer.

I only buy one ticket in each lottery draw, just so I have a chance, albeit a tiny one, of winning millions of pounds. It’s better to have a tiny chance than no chance. I often win small amounts and once won £1500, which significantly funded the purchase of more tickets. Since a very young age, I’ve been lucky with winning money, and you can’t win unless you have a ticket.

NFH, many older people don’t possess credit cards. They have bank accounts and will have been issued with debit cards, but having used cash all their lives have never seen the need for credit cards and write cheques for any larger payments.

It’s not that long ago I realised my dad doesn’t have a credit card, only a debit card that does get used in a few High Street stores. I think have scared him enough to never use it online. He is under strict instructions that if he wants anything online I will get it for him and he then calls his bank to transfer the money to my account.

I don’t accept the argument about older people preferring debit cards over credit cards. Credit cards existed long before debit cards first appeared in the UK in the late 1980s. Before then, if you paid by card, it was a credit card. So older people are generally more used to credit cards than debit cards. If there’s generation that favours debit cards over credit cards, it’s the youngest in society.

DerekP says:
20 April 2019

Actually, within the limited subset of older people that I help in my role as a volunteer computer buddy, I tend to see greater use of debit cards than credit cards.

Possible explanations are that drawing cash, even over the counter, requires the use of a debit card and that using a credit card entails the risks of neglecting to pay the bill and/or spending beyond ones means.

The interest rates charged on credit cards are so high that unless you are an organised person or pay credit cards by direct debit you are at risk of interest charges.

I suspect that many are simply accustomed to using debit cards. Until card surcharges were banned it was necessary to check for surcharge fees, which were far more common with credit cards than debit cards.

I didn’t say older people preferred debit cards, some have just never got credit cards. Years ago, I heard my Dad talk about his Barclaycard, but only recently realised he was just referring to the debit card on his Barclays bank account.

Older people will have bank accounts that initially came with a cheque book and cheque guarantee card. The cheque guarantee card automatically turned into a debit card at some stage. If they wanted cash, they wrote out a cheque and went into their bank to cash it. If they made a large payment, they wrote out a cheque. And that is the way many still operate their finances especially if they are not well-off.

You have to physically apply for a credit card, they are not given out automatically, and why apply for one if you live within your means and are happy with the way you handle your finances?

This sounds very similar, but not the same, to an experience I had many many years back… it’s my birthday soon, and let’s just say it’s more than a decade ago…

I responded to a ‘free photoshoot’ offer ‘worth £200’ in London. I went to big city of smoke, with a fair few different outfits, and got my photos taken. They were taken in a studio, but let’s just say the set up was a little ‘cliche’. After the shoot, I was then taken into a room and showed the photos themselves. Some of them were OK. Then came the hard sell and it very much felt like they would not let me leave the room until I had bought all or some of the photos at £50 a pop. I wasn’t willing to buy them there and then and wanted to think about it – that didn’t go over very well and so I decided to buy a couple to get out of the place.

It wasn’t a nice experience and it did feel like a con… the fact it’s happening more than a decade later and in a more serious way is very annoying to hear.

Someone knocked on my door the other day and showed me an aerial view of my house and garden – taken by their light aircraft he told me. £99, then when I demurred reduced to £45. I had no intention of buying one and he flew off.

I would have security concerns about such activity. Presuming that the aerial photograph is at a much higher resolution than is provided by Google Earth it could reveal features or private objects whose images should not be tradable without specific prior consent. Even if you had bought the picture, I bet you would not have owned the underlying data rights to the image; in the wrong hands they could be valuable. I can’t believe this isn’t somehow illegal.

I might have been sunbathing naked on the lawn – not for public consumption. Otherwise nothing to hide and no WMDs.

Not sure about the law, but Google land images are presumably legal, as are satellite images. Aerial surveys will also photograph private property in the course of their task. Does anyone know? Which? Legal?

We bought an aerial shot of our property at the door quite a while before they appeared online. I can’t remember how much, but we thought the price was reasonable at the time.

There are such good aerial views online now, I would not have thought there was a market for hawkers trying to sell them.

Apart from Google, I found this site not long ago that has some quite good aerial shots although it might depend where your are.
https://www.getmapping.com/
You click on buy to view various years.

It’s a bit of a rat’s nest: “Firstly, it’s legal to take photos in a public place. There is no right to privacy that forbids you taking a person’s photo so long as you are standing on public property. You can even take a photo of someone in their house or backyard so long as you don’t step on their private property.

Secondly, nobody can claim copyright to their own image. So long as you are on public property you can publish the photo. But if you publish a photo taken by someone else you run into copyright issues. Get permission to use it.

Using a photo for commercial purposes is different. You are welcome to take happy snaps of the Opera House, but if you then use the photo to advertise a product without permission of the Opera House you will be in trouble with the managers. This is “commercial use” and needs approval.

Similarly if you are standing on private property it is illegal to take pictures or film without permission. This includes shopping malls, industrial sites, farms and office blocks. Technically it’s illegal to use your camera phone to film a rock concert, but they’ve given up policing it.”

“Generally you have the right to photograph anywhere that is public property, including public roads, footpaths, rights of way and between high and low tide at least if not the entire beach areas throughout the UK. Generally no person has the right of privacy of themselves or their property photographed from such a place.”

Switzerland is one of a handful of countries that has prohibited street view imagery.

I suppose if something is visible from the public highway there can be no objection to filming it [Google Streetview], but people are surely entitled to privacy in their back gardens? I assumed there was some form of control over aerial surveys, but perhaps not. Certainly, aerial photographs taken for military purposes show an incredible amount of detail – but they are not hawked around for monetary gain or used for inappropriate purposes [I hope]. I recall the hoo-ha when it was suggested that the water companies would spy on people using a hosepipe during a water shortage. Publicly available satellite images are too blurry, or are obscured by shadows and trees, to provide much detail but a plane at low altitude [or a drone] can be manoeuvred to get the full picture. Of course, from a more useful point of view, a heat sensing camera could probably register the hot air coming out of a tumble dryer vent pipe should there ever be a need to identify the locations of such appliances.

Thanks alfa. Shows my property in 2015 and I could have a pic for £18.90+vat.

Did you click on the show preview to check the quality?

I would not be surprised if it was extremely similar to the one someone tried to sell you at the door.

I suppose a ‘light aircraft’ could be a drone with a camera.

I did. It was OK. A pilotless light aircraft – even more worrying than a driverless car.

For drones and aerial photography generally there’s some guidance from the ICO: https://ico.org.uk/your-data-matters/drones/. Basically, if it has a camera, it can present a privacy risk and falls within the remit of the Data Protection Act and the General Data Protection Regulation. From what I understand the legal obligations are slightly different for professional use, but the idea of privacy by default and design should apply.

We can certainly put this on the runway for its own convo, as the legalities around this are a bit hard to unpick as Ian’s noted above, and this thread is flying a bit from the original topic.