Fake talent scouts have milked unwitting parents out of hundreds of millions of dong (VND100 million = $4,266) via social media child modeling cons.
Nguyen Thanh Tam from the northern city of Hai Phong was browsing Facebook last month when she came across a post seeking child models to promote a “major fashion brand’s” spring 2023 collection.
Her daughter, who is almost 4 four years old, loves having her photo taken. She often strikes poses when her mother brings out her camera phone.
Meanwhile, the single mom is too busy with work and has little time to spend with her child. So, she’s been wanting to find an extracurricular activity for her child.
After signing her daughter up for the modeling gig, Tam was added to a private chat group on the messaging app Telegram where a fake talent scout asked for the baby’s age, height and weight. This person later instructed her to contact a male coworker in a different chat group who would help her complete her daughter’s application.
The admin of the second chat group said the models could make VND7-15 million ($298-640) a month if the outfits used by the child commercial photo shoots sell well.
However, Tam was told that she’d have to demonstrate that she cared about the work and was serious about her child becoming a model.
She said this person forwarded links to five child clothing products to the Telegram chat group of roughly 20 individuals. She just needed to purchase an item from one of the links and they would refund her money plus a commission.
She agreed to purchase an item for VND590,000. But before she even sent a picture of her child back to the group chat, they transferred her money plus a VND50,000 commission back to her in 15 minutes.
The admin explained that the commission is for helping boost the company’s web traffic.
“But little did I know, this was just their first mission,” said Tam.
Then, they administrators added her to yet another chat group of five individuals and said she needed to complete two more tasks before her child could be named an official company model.
The administrator then asked Tam again to buy another product via another link and agreed to promptly send back her investment plus a commission. However, this time the item they wanted her to buy cost VND1.29 million.
Slightly suspicious, Tam message the four other members of the group chat and they all said that they had sent the money. So, she let her guard down and did the same.
She assumed that transferring once would be enough. But after doing so, she didn’t get the commission. Then the admin said that this was just the first task of the second round of verification, and Tam needed to complete one more “mission” before getting her money.
They next told her to purchase products totaling VND2.02. However, there was fine print stating one sale would equal three sets of this pair of baby clothes.
“Meanwhile the group chat admin pressured everyone to finish the transfer in 5-7 minutes,” said Tam. “I didn’t have time to read anything, so I merely sent VND2.02 million.”
The demand had also required Tam and those in the group to type in a complicated syntax code for the purchase.
The administrator messaged her after she sent the money to tell her that she had typed in an incorrect syntax code and that she’d need to send another VND6.06 million in total to complete the verification.
Tam then left the group because she was completely out of money. It was then she realized she had been conned.
“Only afterward did I discover that this was a collection of con artists. All of the other members were there to fool me and repress my doubts,” she said.
Tam is an example of a common child model recruiting fraud.
Police in HCMC issued a warning regarding child modeling fraud on December 4, 2022. Scammers post advertisements on Facebook and add parents who sign up to a private group chat on Telegram.
Each member of the group will be assigned a role, from assistant and specialist to general manager, in order to trick the victim into transferring money online with the promise of interest based on their progress.
When the victim runs out of money to join, the suspects shut the group down and seize all of the stolen money.
Bui Lam My in Hanoi has recently lost nearly VND600 million to scammers using this same trick.
She was distraught when the money she saved up for moving to a new home had been stolen in a matter of minutes,
“I was panicking. They said if I stop now, all the money I had paid upfront would be frozen for a year in their system,” she lamented.
When she tried to borrow money from friends at the time, they warned her to stop immediately because she was being scammed. Meanwhile, her in-laws have been criticizing for her gullibility.
Now the construction of My and her husband’s new house has been put on hold because they have no more savings.
Similarly, Nguyen Huong Mai in Vinh Phuc Province hasn’t had a good night’s rest since she lost over VND71 million as a result of a similar fraud. On top of that, all of the money she used had been borrowed from a personal loan provider.
“I suffered a mental collapse and couldn’t eat or drink,” she said. “I believe my chances of getting my money back are none.”
The fraud put the whole family in debt, and they are unable to pay off the debt since My’s income is just VND4 million while her husband’s is VND6.5 million. Furthermore, since the family has three little children, there is no extra money to spare at the end of each month.
According to their testimonies, victims fall for scammers’ attempts because their phony advertisements are so heavily promoted on social media that they look like the real thing.
Tam revealed that scammers pretend they are from ACFC, a major fashion clothing line. They put up product links and prices that match what’s on the official website of the fashion house.
Meanwhile, Mai said she was tricked by a group of con artists pretending to be from the Canifa fashion brand. She said that she had seen a lot of online ads scouting child models by the same job poster and thought it was a real thing.
Many parents posted pictures of their children in the comments section of these posts in hopes of grabbing the attention of the recruiter, not knowing that they are fake talent scouts.
Aside from the heavy advertising, victims claim that the scammers know that parents want a forum to help their kids grow and thrive. These wishes are preyed upon and are a major factor in so many parents falling for these schemes.
My said that if the job poster was from a real company, she would “deeply regret” that she didn’t give her children the chance to shine and be a model.
Vietnamese supermodel Xuan Lan, who has trained many children to be models, said that most children who are chosen for fashion or advertising photography get paid for their work and not comply to pay anything up front.
Parents should think about sending their kids to school as a way to teach them life skills and not as a way to make extra money, she said.
The HCMC Police Department has warned parents not to post pictures of their kids on child modeling contests, child singing contests, or any other dubious sites to avoid being exploited by scammers.
Tam admits she has learned a hard lesson and has told herself to stay vigilant with online scams from now on.
Since she doesn’t get the chance to spend much time with her kids, Tam wants them to get involved in different activities so they can make more friends and learn new skills along the way.
“I wasn’t into the VND7-15 million salary. I just wanted my daughter to be trained and get a chance to learn how to do catwalks and participate in fashion shows.”
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