The Wilhelmina Scouting Network, or TCT Trans Continental Talent, was a purported modeling and entertainment agency that was disbanded around 2003. Its owner, Lou Pearlman, was indicted and convicted of fraud charges and is now serving a 25-year prison term. Many don't realize the difference between a reputable agency and a scam operation, and WSN educated many about the seamy side of the modeling agency business.
The Wilhelmina Scouting Network, or Trans Continental Talent, was a modeling and talent operation owned by businessman and NSYNC/Backstreet Boys creator Lou Pearlman. Launched in Florida by the music promoter, WSN franchises sold bundled services to entertainment industry hopefuls for substantial sums of money. In addition, WSN promised to assist talent in finding work in their fields.
After several investigations by state consumer boards, WSN became known as a scam operation. Teenagers were warned to steer clear of salespeople in malls and other popular hangouts. To avoid fire from the prestigious Wilhelmina Agency (a reputable, well-established modeling firm), Wilhelmina Scouting Network attempted to change it's name in 2003 to the "Web Style Network." In 2003, pressure from the New York State Consumer Protection Board and law enforcement forced Pearlman to close his agency for good. Fraud charges were filed against him and later dropped due to bankruptcy filings, but other indictments led to his arrest and imprisonment.
The Wilhelmina Scouting Network was a modeling agency scam that opened the eyes of many hopefuls to the potential pitfalls of the industry. Because of Pearlman's actions, many in the entertainment sector began to spread better information about how to start careers the right way and avoid fraudulent deals. WSN serves as a cautionary tale to many who would pay large sums of money to make it in a very competitive field. Many modeling forums sought to educate young people about being business-savvy before starting their careers.
Potential clients were usually funneled into the business through advertisements on the Internet or in print, or through recruitment efforts in local hangouts such as shopping malls. Recruiters would hand clients referral cards, instructing them to give their scout name at the time of contact with the agency to earn a commission. The agency would set up an appointment with the client and then sell different products. Among the offerings were pricey photo shoots, pre-fab websites, comp cards or coaching sessions. Clients were told that without these services, there was no chance of help with auditions or job placement. Often the products were not up to the standard needed for professional work, leading to many complaints of fraud.
Franchisees, scouts and salespeople for the WSN were often very skilled at netting clientele with convincing patter and success stories. With the small amount of actual working actors and models, the entertainment business can seem a daunting one to enter. Many ended up becoming disillusioned by their experiences, not realizing that the WSN was a very elaborate, well-thought-out ruse. Read sites such as "The Rip-Off Report" linked at the bottom of this article to see first-hand accounts by ex-clients of WSN.
The best way to avoid scams such as this is to thoroughly educate oneself about the industry. Be realistic about your chances, and realize that very few people actually make it into the big leagues. If you have what it takes, a reputable agency will charge you nothing to establish a portfolio, find jobs and make contacts. Check out modeling communities such as Models.com for real agency listings, and call to find out if there are any open castings. Keep persistent and level-headed, and don't trust anything that sounds too good to be true.