When your information is out in the open, you never know if someone is going to abuse it. This dynamic is much worse if you are a celebrity, as there are millions of people watching your every move. All it takes is one bad apple to cause a domino effect, and all of a sudden the famous individual is in a real mess.
It’s not just a novelty subject; the truth is that identity theft is a serious threat for anyone living in the public’s eye.
How Does Celebrity Identity Theft Happen?
It all starts with an identity thief finding ‘too much’ information about a celebrity. This could be done by a number of ways, from hacking databases to analyzing biographies, domain WHOIS registries, and more. If there’s even a hint of an information tail, an intelligent identity thief will be able to find it until they have enough details to imposter the celebrity.
That’s when they must figure out how to pull off the fraud. In most cases, celebrities have active credit reports; having an existing credit report means they are not not subject to common synthetic identity theft tactics. Further, it means they cannot build new credit up to increase their pay off as they would get exposed too soon.
So, many identity thieves will use the celebrity’s information for minor payoffs. They might rack up a $500 cell phone debt, but even a $1,000 credit card remains a wild dream. The big payoffs are often older tales; now, it’s not so easy to go out and open a large credit line without legitimate ID verification.
Real Examples of Celebrity Identity Theft
There are countless cases where identity thieves have had their information stolen and wrongfully used.
The seriousness of this type of identity crime is exemplified by a 2013 news story, which covered a substantial celebrity identity theft case. The victims included Michelle Obama, Jay-Z and wife Beyonce, Ashton Kutcher, Paris Hilton, and Bill Gates, as well as many other famous people.
In this case, the personal identifying information of the affected individuals was posted on the Internet. The media suggested that a Russian forum was the initial source of the information. Though this particular story did not lead to countless identity fraud crimes, there are still many other examples that have.
Below are a few other examples of some of the many famous people who have become identity theft victims over the years.
50 Cent, Carmelo Anthony and More
A married couple got caught in 2013 after assuming the identities of NBA player Carmelo Anthony, rapper 50 Cent, and various other celebrities. Their credit card details were taken, which was later used to spend almost half a million dollars on jewelry, vehicles, and more.
In that case, the identity thieves were not able to get away with the crime but they were specific with their targets. By selecting a high profile celebrity, and especially a basketball player or rapper, they managed to bypass a lot of security barriers. The biggest difference is that these people are known for lavish spending, so the card companies are less likely to step in on suspicious transactions.
Another interesting case came about back in 2000, when pro golfer Tiger Woods had his identity stolen by a known criminal. Both his name and Social Security Number were compromised, and later used to cash out beyond $50,000 in electronics, furniture, vehicles and more.
The identity thief was eventually arrested and charged for the crimes. Tiger Woods was brought to court to testify his innocence; the thief ended up with a “200 years to life” sentence as a result of his criminal record.
Sometimes having a reality TV show can come back to bite you; being one of the most publicized moms in America, Kim Kardashian makes for a prime identity theft target. As such, her identity got stolen
The identity thief not only managed to impersonate Kim Kardashian, but did so well enough that he schemed a transfer of more than $70,000 from her mother’s account. The fraudster switched the Social Security Number to match with his, then got a replacement of the Social Security Number card sent to his home.
The thief behind this crime was also in possession of many celebrity’s personal identifying information from the 2013 story mentioned early; he had Social Security Numbers, credit reports, and bank information for Ashton Kutcher, Paris Hilton, Bill Gates, Beyonce, and many others. It just goes to show that a single data breach can empower every identity thief on the planet. And worse, as soon as any information is obtained, it could be used illicitly for a long time to come.
The 2001 Busboy Incident
There was an identity thief arrested back in 2001 for apparently defrauding over $80 million from high-level business professionals, celebrities, and many others. There were over 200 stolen identities in total; the thief was later found guilty and sentenced to 11 years.
The thief managed to compromise many financial accounts of high-profile individuals. Some of those that were defrauded include Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett, Ted Turner, George Soros, George Lucas, Martha Stewart, and Steven Spielberg.
LifeLock CEO Todd Davis
Todd Davis, the CEO of LifeLock, the world’s leading identity theft protection company, put his personal information out to the public on purpose. His goal was to show that their security system is effective. He broadcasted his Social Security Number on billboards, websites, and more as a brave way to market their ‘bulletproof’ identity theft protection service. That failed, seeing as his identity got stolen 13 times.
In 2007, an imposter used Todd Davis’s name to set up a $500 cash loan. The fraud was found out after the CEO’s wife received a call on her mobile phone about the outstanding debt. Later in 2007, his stolen information was used to set up a mobile phone account. This was done by using his Social Security Number. The end result was close to $2,400 in debt, which was sent off to collections. He found out about the crime a year after the fact, when the debt collector showed up on his credit report.
In 2009, seven further cases of identity theft against LifeLock’s CEO were identified. Each instance was for a small amount. For example, one case involved $312 that was owed to a company that delivers gift baskets. All the other instances were negligible, and most were phone accounts or credit cards.
How Do Celebrities Prevent Identity Theft?
After the 2001 busboy incident, where over $80 million was taken from well-known individuals, a lot of focus was put on keeping it from happening again. The world became more aware of the various identity theft risks that exist; stuff like having your name and address listed in public phone books gradually became dangerous.
Take a look below at some of the ways celebrities do things differently to ensure their identities are not stolen.
Celebrities always have privacy concerns, which is why ‘getting unlisted’ is one of the first things a person does when they become famous. If they happen to forget, the countless calls from fans and people begging for money will make for a great reminder.
All a person has to do is remove themselves from local databases. Information often gets used from these databases by phone directory websites, reverse lookup sites, and more. These become static pages that are not removable; requesting that your address, name, and number are de-listed (or blocked from day one) is absolutely essential.
Get Off Google Maps
Did you know that you can request deletion of your house’s ‘Street View’ image on Google? By doing so, someone would have to drive by your house to get a look at it unless previous sale listings are findable.
This means a cyber identity thief will not be able to put two and two together. Just remember, each piece of information you fail to give the criminal is another piece they need to find to pull the crime off. And even though a celebrity’s address is legally publishable on the Web, many of these people are at least attempting to keep their home address undisclosed.
Pay with Cash
Celebrities make a habit to pay in cash. It’s understandable, once you piece together these two facts:
- An identity thief has a lot of incentive to defraud a celebrity.
- ‘Card skimmers’ are often deployed by cashiers at department stores.
If a celebrity goes shopping, there could be a whole entourage of paparazzi following them. It will not take much for a thieving cashier to catch on to who’s right in front of their face. If the card skimmer is running, and a credit card gets used, the cashier will have all the celebrity’s card information. Most of these thieves are selective (to not get caught by their employer) so it would make sense that they wait to pull the trigger when it’s a famous, wealthy person.
Identity Theft Protection Services
Even celebrities invest in the services offered by identity theft protection services like Identity Guard, KeepmyID, and LifeLock. This is because these protection plans save them a whole lot of hassle. The company puts in all the legwork to ensure their identities are safe and secure; when you make thousands and hour, paying $10 to $30 a month for that help is no big deal.
The true value comes from the company monitoring your information all the time. It can take a good eight months to get to the bottom of an identity theft case. Protection companies help keep a better trail of things and sometimes contribute towards an immediate resolve. They also offer financial protection against various identity restoration expenses. For celebrities, knowing that almost all the complications of identity theft are avoidable is worth it’s weight in gold.
Does Identity Theft Protection Really Work?
As explained in the case of LifeLock’s CEO, there is no way to guarantee that you will not become an identity theft victim. He was aware of only one instance where he got targeted; as you can see, there are countless ways you could become a victim.
That said, each of the exceptions to the rule were minimal. In a complex identity theft crisis, the fraudster will take a few extra steps to secure a large ‘score’ for their work. For example, Kim Kardashian’s identity thief went as far as using that identity to steal from the accounts of her family members.
With Todd Davis’s salary estimated between three and four million dollars in 2014 alone, one would like to think that an identity thief could pocket more than $100 to $500. Yet, that was not the case and all the fraudulent credit use amount to was a few thousand dollars.
This goes to show that the thieves were unable to use his personal information for more than just a few small hits. Of course, telephone and utility companies do not work the same as big credit card and loan providers.
It is possible that the fraudsters had less security loopholes to jump through when applying. Overall, the biggest concern would be the forced AT&T/Cingular and Verizon accounts. You do not have to worry as these companies end up liable.
That said, you might have to wonder…
Should You Care with Identity Theft Protection?
Of course, it is still worthwhile to spend a few dollars a month to further secure your identity.
The only thing is that you need to understand these security measures are not bulletproof. Further, the protection you get depends on the identity theft protection company you choose to use.
Choosing an Identity Theft Protection Service
Do not think about the cost of this service, though. It all comes down to how effective the protection will be for you. LifeLock, and many other service providers, have profitably established themselves for being able to monitor many aspects of your identity.
You might want to consider KeepmyID’s identity theft protection service. It does everything the other companies offer, and more. Anyone that’s interested can read our review of KeepmyID here.
Basically, the main difference is that KeepmyID will make the effort to request a fraud alert from the credit report bureaus for you. This is a 90-day alert that serves as added protection, and results in new lenders verifying their borrower’s ID before finalizing their new accounts. The cool thing is that KeepmyID will also renew this for you; the other providers fail to offer this vital piece of protection.
For a celebrity, having that extra help can go a long way. Not only do the other companies not place fraud alerts for you, but doing it on your own also requires manual renewal every 90 days.
Conclusion: Celebrity Identity Theft Does Exist!
Celebrities do get their identities stolen, just like everyone else. The difference is that they tend to find out faster than the average person.
Still, the crime happens and there are very few ways that the celebrity can prevent it in the first place. It’s just one of the downfalls of being famous, as your information is out there for the public to see (or find) at all times.