Hey, Big Willie, You’ve been stolen! Crazy stories of famous identity thefts and how they could be prevented.
The term “identity theft” first appeared in the press in 1964 and became particularly popular in the mid-90s, due to the rapid growth of the mobile services market and the global spread of the Internet.
It became a base for the plot of many Hollywood blockbuster movies such as Face/Off by John Woo, Irwin Winkler’s The Net, Elysium directed by Neill Blomkamp, Jaume Collet-Serra’s Unknown and The Passenger of Michelangelo Antonioni among many others.
Since then our world has become many more digitalised while the mass majority of people using digital services still stay somewhat uneducated. Millennials probably remember popular back in the days’ slang term “lamer” describing someone who is willfully ignorant of how things work; the word which “sometimes understood to be the antithesis of a hacker. While a hacker strives to understand the mechanisms behind what they use, a lamer only cares to learn the bare minimum necessary to operate the device in the way originally intended” (wikipedia.org).
How common is this phenomenon today? Well, the figures speak for themselves: the largest database of hacked accounts – Have I Been Pwned – has more than 5 billion accounts!
In this sense, famous people are just like the rest of us, they attract identity thieves too, or even more often due to their usually excellent financial wellbeing.
Check out these thrilling stories of high-profile celebrities who experienced identity theft nightmares, discover the names of their digital identity thieves and learn how not to become a victim of fraud yourself.
Although many facts about celebrities’ lives remain private, some get published, and identity thieves take a maximum of advantage from those details.
So, a 32 years old restaurant worker Abraham Abdallah got into the financial accounts of more than 200 people on Forbes magazine’s annual list of richest people in the US, including George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, George Soros and Michael Bloomberg. Using the web in his local Brooklyn library, Abraham tracked down confidential information and got access to banks, brokerage and credit card accounts of his victims. He nearly got away with $80 million, but finally was caught by NYPD on using Steven Spielberg’s credit card and Oprah Winfrey’s financial information.
If you have Tiger Woods’ money, life is pretty good. And that’s what Anthony Lamar Taylor, 29 thought too — so he stole Tiger’s Social Security Number and opened up multiple lines of credit plus registered a driving license in Tiger’s name. He treated himself to a posh car, furniture, TV sets and more before getting caught.
Woods, testifying against his identity thief in the courthouse, said he had never been a customer at the video rental outlet, furniture store and electronics warehouses where Taylor apparently went on his $17,000 shopping spree.
Taylor was convicted two weeks later on eight counts of felony theft and perjury, and in April 2001 was sentenced to a Three Strikes penalty of 200 years to life.
Can a successful Hollywood beautician turn into celebrity identity theft?
The answer is yes, absolutely.
Maria Gabriella Perez—the owner of a Beverly Hills beauty spa salon Chez Gabriela Studio carried a maximum possible sentence of 25 years in federal prison for using personal details and credit card information from numerous celebrity clients including Liv Tyler, Cher, Anne Hathaway, Melanie Griffith and Jennifer Aniston. She was able to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars by copying their card numbers down by hand and shopping with them later. Jennifer Aniston, one of the beautician fraud’s victim was truly relieved when Maria was caught. ”It’s not cool… You can’t get away with that” – she said.
For Robert De Niro and Candice Bergen, it was their housekeeper who turned out to be the villain. Lucyna Turyk-Wawrynowicz, 35, a native of Poland, tearfully pleaded guilty to grand larceny, identity theft and forgery. Besides stealing DeNiro wife’s earrings and shoes, Bergen’s leather jacket and cameras – she had used credit cards stolen from them to buy items at Barney’s, the luxury clothing store on Madison Avenue, New York City.
After going on a spending spree, the maid was caught and then admitted she’d also stolen a 13-year-old girl’s Social Security number to get residency status and work papers.
The next our story teaches us to never underestimate the brains of a young guy still living with his mother. 19-year-old Luis Flores, Jr. didn’t use any fussy phishing scheme or technological security breach to steal the identities of Kim Kardashian and former FBI director Robert Mueller. He simply called up Kim’s credit card company and made them change her Social Security Number and residence address to his! Then Luis requested replacement credit cards.
Luckily for Kim, the thief was eventually caught and charged in federal court. The funniest part of this story is that even the search of Flores’ apartment by Secret Service agents (during which they had found a flash drive with bank accounts, SSN and credit reports from Bill Gates, Beyoncé, Michelle Obama and even Joe Biden) didn’t stop him; he contacted American Express in a courageous attempt to access the accounts of Ashton Kutcher and Tom Cruise.
In Will Smith‘s first movie, 1993’s Six Degrees of Separation, he played Paul, a con man faking the identity of actor Sidney Poitier‘s son to gain access to the Manhattan upper-class society to make a few bucks. Fewer than 10 years of later, 41 years old Carlos Lomaxof Duquesne, would be put in jail for pulling a similar grift with Smith himself.
The cherry on top of this story is that in those days Lomax was already on probation for running up $81,000 in American Express credit card bills in the name of Steve Smith, the Atlanta Hawks basketball player(now a TV commentator for the team) when the Big Willie’s identity theft occurred. Using Smith’s Social Security number and other information, he opened 14 credit accounts at Pittsburgh-area stores and racked up nearly $33,000. He was caught by federal authorities soon after Smith’s business manager alerted to federal authorities.
It remains uncertain whether Lomax learned anything from Smith’s earliest starring role or not.
As u see, it doesn’t really matter if you’re living in Hollywood, California, have bodyguards and a highly professional finance team covering your back — due to the nature of technology and the internet, your personal information is always at risk. When it comes to fraud and identity theft, no one is 100% immune and effects might be devastating.
Fraudsters know how to exploit small pieces of your personally identifiable information for their gain and your loss. An identity thief can use that information to access and drain your bank accounts, damage your credit, or more.
It’s good to understand the different ways of fraudsters’ attacks in order to better protect personal information and finances. As you could notice, these cases of identity theft weren’t very elaborate. All the above-mentioned criminals were not mathematicians or rocket scientists—they were just good at fooling people.
What could be done to exclude such crimes from happening besides the regular change of passwords and reviewing credit reports?
Our documents verification service involves full biometric identification which consists of 500 video frames biometric and liveness analysis, 3D face modelling for motion, rotation and blinking analysis, facial expressions analysis and comparison with the identity document. It is impossible to trick such a system.
Another way is an address proof request. This significantly reduces fraud chances, too. We never heard about anyone faking digital identity based on the electricity bill. Read corresponding articles in our blog for more detailed information about how to prevent frauds.
As for now, keep acting like a true anti-theft superstar and let BASIS ID keep you in safe hands so that stories like discussed today never happen to your costumers.