Celebrities and identity theft

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America loves celebrities. Scam artists, the only criminals we refer to as artists, are well aware of our fascination with the lives and sometimes untimely deaths of celebrities, and exploit this interest through a number of schemes aimed at turning the public's fascination into the identity thief’s treasure.

The sad and tragic death by suicide of Robin Williams has become the latest opportunity for identity thieves to exploit a celebrity death for financial gain. In one Robin Williams related scam, a post appears on your Facebook page -- it often can appear to come from someone you know, when, in fact, it is really from an identity thief who has hacked into the Facebook account of your real friend. The post provides a link to photos or videos that appeal in some instances to an interest in Robin Williams related movie or standup performances. However, in other instances, the link will appeal to the lowest common denominator and purport to provide police photos or videos of the suicide site. If you fall for this bait by clicking on the link, one of two things can happen, both of which are bad.

In one version of this scam, you are led to a survey that you need to complete before you can view the video. In fact, there is no such video and by providing information, you have enabled the scammer to get paid by advertisers for collecting completed surveys. However, the problem is worse because by completing the survey, you may have turned over valuable information to a scammer who can use that information to target you for spear phishing and further identity theft threats. However, worst of all, in another variation of this scam, when you click on the link you will unwittingly download keystroke logging malware that will steal all of your personal information from your computer, laptop, smartphone or other device including credit card numbers, passwords and bank account information and use that information to make you a victim of identity theft.

The scams following the death of Robin Williams are just the latest manifestation of celebrity death related ploys that we saw in recent years following the deaths of Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse and Paul Walker, among others.

Scammers and identity thieves do not need a celebrity death to turn the public’s interest in a celebrity into identity theft. Not long ago many people found on their Facebook page a photograph of a stabbed person’s back along with a message that stated "Rapper Eminem left nearly DEAD after being stabbed 4 times in NYC! Warning, 18+ It was all caught on surveillance video! Click the pic to play the video!" The truth is that Eminem was not stabbed. In fact, the same photograph was used in 2011 as a part of a scam in which the photograph was purported to be a photograph of the back of Justin Beiber following a stabbing attack. Once again, by clicking on the link, the unwary victim downloaded keystroke logging malware that turned him or her into a victim of identity theft.

Remember my mantra, "trust me, you can’t trust anyone". Merely because a post on your Facebook page, a text message or an email appears to come from someone that you trust is no reason to consider it reliable. The communication may come from an identity thief who has hacked your friend’s account or it may actually come from your friend who is unwittingly passing on tainted links that they received. For news matters including celebrity news, stick with the websites of legitimate news sources such as CNN or TMZ.

In addition. it is important to note that even if you think you are protected from such threats because you have anti-malware software installed on all of your electronic devices, it generally takes the security software companies at least a month to come up with security patches and updates to protect you from the latest malware and virus threats.

Image Credit: dashingstock /Shutterstock

Steve Weisman_headshotSteve Weisman is a lawyer, college professor and one of the nation’s leading experts on identity theft and scams. His latest book is "Identity Theft Alert". He also writes the blog www.scamicide.com where he provides daily updated information on the latest scams and identity theft threats.

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