There are thousands of pageants to choose from in the world. As many of us are aware, pageantry can sometimes come with a hefty price tag. It's important to be a well-informed consumer so that you are investing your time and money into reputable systems. Nobody likes the feeling of being ripped off! Although sad but true, contestants do need to protect themselves from the potential scammers and poorly run systems that prey on contestants' hard earned money. Don't fall victim to a rip-off or scam pageant. The most important thing you need to do here is research, research, research!
1. Ask the director questions After you've expressed interest in a particular pageant, ask the director questions. Good directors are there to help you succeed as a contestant.
Take detailed notes on the questions you've asked and answers you've received, including dates and who you've spoken with. Some questions are best to have answered in writing, so don't be afraid to send an email or two with those important questions. Any kick back or lack of responses on his or her part to deliver solid answers should serve as a red flag. Let these red flags serve as warning signs that the pageant might be in trouble and perhaps you should look elsewhere.
2. Scour the web The good thing about competing in a new pageant in the age of technology is that the information is readily available at your fingertips. Use this tool to your advantage to get a well-rounded of view of what the pageant might be like ahead of time.
"There are tons of online resources to check out pageants, whether that is watching videos on YouTube, viewing photo albums on Facebook, reading reviews or reading their website," said Mary Swenson, pageant coach and owner of Confidence & Poise, LLC. "You should be able to know what you are getting into and what to expect for the most part." If you're not finding a lot of good information, ask yourself if it's too good to be true or just not well established enough to sink your time, money and effort into.
National Elite Pageants 2017 sister queens and trusted director at a recent appearance. Photo: iamlailasimone Instagram
3. Read the contracts I spent over ten years selling real estate and learned the hard way early on in my career to always read the fine print. Always. You never know what could be lurking in those teeny fonts!
As a contestant, you may be awarded a local or regional title before competing. Read that particular contract and be fully aware of what the directors expect from you before you sign on the dotted line. Before you compete for the bigger title, it never hurts to ask for a copy of the state or national contact, as well. When I was directing, I personally had no issue providing contracts ahead of time so that everyone had the opportunity to review, ask questions and feel good about what they were getting into. Make sure there is a clear clause in the contract regarding when you are entitled to collect scholarship funds and if there are requirements you must meet before you receive them. As a titleholder, you are expected to keep up your end of the contract by meeting all of your obligations, so be sure do that! Have your parents or trusted adult help you collect if you're having issues. Major problems could require the advice of someone in the legal field.
4. Understand the total costs Think about the things in life we must pay for. Car repairs. Home repairs. Beauty services. Are these things you'd commit to before fully understanding the cost? Likely not.
Again, this comes with asking questions and reviewing the paperwork. There are many costs associated with competing and it falls on you to make sure your pocketbook can handle them. You need to find out the costs of the local title (if applicable), entry/sponsor fees, ad page fees, optional fees, charity or scholarship fund donations, banquet/meal costs, outside activities, hair/makeup services and lodging costs. Some of these fees could be included in your entry fee, while others are not. Establish a list of what you owe the pageant and what you need to cover yourself. Start asking questions when things start popping up that weren't on the list.
Miss Pennsylvania United States 2017, Jasmine Ma, enjoying her time at Disneyland! Photo: @misspaus2017 Instagram
5. Make smart payments You've worked hard for the money! Be careful how you spend it. Never wire money to a pageant organization (or any other entity for that matter – this is where scams thrive). If you have to pay in cash at a pageant event, be absolutely certain to get a receipt. A pageant running on the up-and-up will have no problem issuing you a receipt.
When paying online, never use a debit card. Since these are linked to a checking account with a certain amount of funds in it (your hard earned money), if the pageant is a scam, they now have your debit information and the opportunity to drain funds from your account. Secure payments that you can track are always advisable. Pay with a credit card when you can, as it's not your actual life savings coming out of your account. You also can dispute any false charges with the credit card company. My favorite form of payment by far is PayPal because the other party never sees or has access to your account information. Although there are fees associated, when you pay for "goods and services," the owner of the pageant incurs those fees. Never pay a pageant under the "friends and family" tab. They may ask you to pay under friends and family so that they do not incur fees. Beware! What that also means is that you lose the right to dispute the transaction if they do not deliver the pageant. Always pay for pageant fees, expenses, vendors and the like under good and services. If they have an issue with getting charged a couple dollars in fees, that's a red flag if a few bucks is really that big of a deal.
6. Be a well-informed consumer You should be a well-informed consumer not only when checking into pageants, but in any company you work with in everyday life. Check into the validity of the pageant organizers. Are they operating with a valid business license? Check with your state's secretary of state or other licensing/regulation agency to see if the company actually exists. I advise using caution if proceeding as a contestant with a pageant that doesn't have a valid business entity.
Other great resources are sites like ripoffreport.com and the Better Business Bureau. Check to see if there have been any complaints filed on the pageant or director in the past. Take those complaints seriously, but also be aware that some parents take to the internet to retaliate when their daughter doesn't win. Some of these complaints are valid while some aren't. Try to read between the lines!
Miss Pennsylvania Collegiate America 2018, Morgan Patrick, looking fabulous ready to attend an event. Photo: @misspacollegiate Instagram
7. Verify the venue If you're looking to compete in a pageant event that doesn't have a venue booked yet, be concerned, especially if it's coming up soon. If there is a set location, simply call the venue to verify the pageant is reserved and paid for that day, weekend or week. If you call and they've never heard of the event, that is obviously a huge red-flag.
8. Speak to references What a better way to find out about the pageant than through those who have had the experience. Parents of former and current contestants and titleholders, as well as the contestants and titleholders themselves, can be the most valuable asset in obtaining unfiltered information about a pageant system.
"Try to talk with a few people who have experienced the pageant you are looking into," Swenson said. "It's nice to have first-hand opinions from people who have actually been there." If you have the opportunity to experience it live before committing, that's great too! Perhaps there is a local or regional nearby your home or somewhere you'll be traveling. Never hurts to stop in if the opportunity presents itself.
Titleholders for the well-respected Miss America Organization: Miss America 2017, Savvy Shields, and the newly crowned Miss America's Outstanding Teen, Jessica Baeder. Photo: @missamerica Instagram.
9. Ask if it's worth it "Always do your research on what the pageant is offering in terms of prize packages, especially if that is a big influence in determining which pageant you participate in," Swenson said. Compare your total costs to compete vs. the prize package. Does the sheer amount of money you need to compete heavily outweigh what the prizes and/or scholarships offered are? If there's a huge difference, ask yourself if this particular pageant is worth the expense and effort.
10. Report scams to authorities Although this article is about protecting yourself, remember that pageantry is a sisterhood in which we must all lift one another up and uphold the quote that "real queens fix each other's crowns." If you are scammed, let others know so that they can protect themselves as well. Report these verifiable misdoings of pageants or directors to the proper authorities such as the Federal Trade Commission or your Better Business Bureau. Verifiable is the key word here. Complaints are one thing, but facts to back them up are another. Don't be a poor sport and complain about a pageant if you simply didn't win. Know when to report bad business practices when you are truly done wrong in the pageant arena. (
Going Forward The pageant industry is, unfortunately, one that predators can utilize to trick contestants and parents out of money on a daily basis. Don't fall victim to one of these scams. If it's too good to be true, chances are it is! If you're afraid of being ripped off, it's a good idea to stick with the more well-known pageants that have been around a while. Do your research and ask questions before signing contracts or forking over your hard earned money. A good system and director will respect your diligent efforts to make proper, informed consumer decisions. Always beware of anyone who gives you grief for doing the right thing!
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