Celebrity Identity Theft – Fraud from the Inside

This morning, I delivered a fraud training speech in Beverly Hills. As you can imagine, the famous and the wealthy tend to suffer more than the average person from information overexposure and fraud. They are, after all, public figures, worth a great deal, and the focus of over-zealous fans and media. The rich and famous are the perfect storm for information abuse, and we have much to learn from the way they protect their privacy. Dishonest people want to be them, at least long enough to drain their sizable resources, and their family and friends aren’t often far behind. Identity theft and other types of fraud, unfortunately, allow this fantasy to become a reality in the hands of a clever impostor.

The rich and famous are the perfect storm for information abuse, and we have much to learn from the way the protect their privacy.

Oddly, many cases of celebrity identity theft or privacy exposure I come across are committed by acquaintances of the star. It’s the brother-in-law of the franchise quarterback who feels like they deserve a cut of the action. It’s the movie star’s house guest who justifies pilfering financial assets using virtual methods (electronic bank transfers, credit card theft, investment fraud, medical insurance fraud, data resale). Or it’s the medical facility treating an ailing actress that sells information to the paparazzi. But no one, including the most self-absorbed celebrity or athlete, deserves to lose their privacy, their data or their wealth at the hands of a thief. Wealth and status do not exempt the famous from the violative consequences of these crimes.

Learning to anticipate fraud and avoid the inside job takes rigorous in-person training like that sponsored by City National Bank this morning, but in the meantime, here are some steps that you (celebrity or otherwise) can take to lower your public profile:

  1. De-list yourself from your local phone company White Pages and directory assistance. Local directory listings are one of the primary sources of all phone, address, and reverse look-up databases. Stop it locally and you will drastically limit your exposure globally. Note that you will probably have to pay your phone company to opt out of directory services.
  2. Remove your house from Google Maps Street View. Why advertise what you are worth to virtual criminals? Make them drive by if they want a look.
  3. Remove your phone number from Google’s Reverse Phone/Address Lookup. This is one of the first tools thieves use to turn your phone number into an address.
  4. Implement the Identity Theft Prevention Checklist I discussed during the speech.
  5. Use cash, which is non-digital, untraceable and anonymous.
  6. Limit your use of Loyalty Discount Cards (like at the grocery store), which track, aggregate and sell your purchasing habits.
  7. Customize your Facebook Privacy Settings.
  8. If you are ultra serious about privacy, consider Deleting Your Facebook Account.
  9. Email me if you would like a copy of my presentation slides. These slides are restricted to members in yesterday’s audience, so please include the name of the room in which the meeting was held.
  10. Sign up for my Privacy Project Newsletter (once a month – privacy and information survival updates).
  11. For further tips and details on protecting your data, your privacy and your profits, read Privacy Means Profit (Wiley, 2010).

John Sileo speaks around the world on identity theft, privacy, social networking exposure, cyber crime, social engineering and other topics of information survival. His clients include the Department of Defense, Blue Cross, FDIC, Pfizer and hundreds of organizations of all sizes. He also coaches select clients on information survival. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.