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Don't fall victim to a beauty pageant that could break the bank

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Many advertisements seeking beauty pageant participants read, "Win Big Prizes! Scholarships! Cash! Become the Next Supermodel!" These ads are appealing to parents of young children, teens and others who are convinced they have what it takes to become the next big star. Participating in a beauty pageant may provide a rewarding experience, but many would-be contestants find that some pageant promoters do not deliver what they promise. While there are legitimate pageants, there are also those whose only purpose is to fatten the pockets of promoters.

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"Beauty pageants can carry big price tags," said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. "Before finding yourself scammed out of thousands of dollars, it's important to check out the pageant operator with the BBB first."

In 2010, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) received nearly 10,000 inquiries from consumers about beauty pageant promotions. Parents and would-be contestants who want to get involved in a pageant should consider the following questions before entering:

How long has the company been operating pageants? Who are the directors? Usually pageants are operated by for-profit organizations that solicit participants by mail or print advertising, or by broadcast media, to compete for recognition and prizes from the promoter.

What is the total cost of pageant participation for both the entrant and the chaperone? Oftentimes, family or business sponsors are asked to pay a sponsorship fee, which can vary in size, to the pageant promoter to cover hotel rental fees, awards, administrative costs and salary for company personnel and to generate company profits. Also, keep in mind that there are other costs for entrants, such as clothing, make-up, food and lodging.

Can the location (place of business) of the pageant company be verified? Where and when will the actual pageant be held? What accommodations are provided for contestants? Will there be adequate supervision?

Do all of the details add up? Are there judges and what are their qualifications? Do they have any affiliation with the company? Are refunds possible if a contestant decides to withdraw from the pageant? How are the winners chosen? What criteria are used for selection? What are the obligations of the winning contestant? What do former contestants and winners have to say about the pageant? Ask the company for references. Finally, what benefit will be derived from participating or winning?

Do the winnings sound too good to be true? If so, they probably are. Be sure to read any contract carefully and thoroughly in advance of entering a pageant to understand the rights and responsibilities of the winner or other contestants.

For more consumer tips and news you can trust, visit www.bbb.org/us/bbb-news.

The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to promote, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill public confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, protect and assist the general public. Hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at www.bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll free at 1-800-646-6222.

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