The Celebrity Scam: 10 tricks that aim to fool you by using the names of showbiz and sporting stars: Internet Scambusters #351
The celebrity scam relies on the simple fact that many of us are prepared to believe almost anything that has a star's name attached to it.
From phony product endorsements and celebrity impersonations to fake shows and non-existent prizes, these scams are rife both online and in the real world. And some are little-known -- but can cause you grief.
While celebrities are genuinely involved in many of the events and promos we discuss in this issue, it makes sense to be wary and check them out first.
Time to get going...
Celebrity Scam Tricks That Lurk Behind the Names of the Rich and Famous
The celebrity scam, which uses the names of famous people from the worlds of entertainment, sports and politics, is a common way of trying to hoodwink the public.
Mostly, names are used to make the scams seem more believable. If a star's name is attached to a story or product, it must be genuine, mustn't it? Or so the thinking goes...
Many of these tricks also fall into other well known scam categories, like supposed lottery wins, with the tricksters hoping use of a star's name will lower your natural skepticism. Others are less well known.
Here are 10 of the most common celebrity scams you might encounter:
- Product endorsement.
Marketing experts know that if a celebrity is seen wearing or using a particular item, people will be more inclined to buy it. So it's a short step from this for a con artist to tag a product with a famous name without their permission. In the US and many other countries, the power of the law is usually enough to make these crooks "cease and desist" (which is the legal term for making them stop). But, the Internet puts some of these scammers out of reach of the law -- so be wary of endorsements you see online.
- Posing as a celebrity.
OK, you're not likely to fall for a scam where someone claims to be Britney Spears. But there are plenty of lower-ranking celebrities, particularly sporting figures, who can be impersonated by someone with just a resemblance. This trick has been used by scammers trying to borrow money. They claim they've been locked out of their car, hoping you'll believe them if they're known to have plenty of money. Some con artists are real cheeky, though. Earlier this year, a promoter in South America organized a concert supposedly featuring singer Toni Braxton. Instead, he used a lookalike stand-in. The fans, though, were not easily misled and booed her offstage.
- The bogus event.
This brings us to another concert-related celebrity scam -- the bogus event. People buy tickets for a show or an event like a sports camp that simply doesn't happen. The promoter either disappears or makes some lame excuse about why the event won't now take place, then you have a battle trying to get your money back.
- Celebrity lottery scams.
A recent scam using the name of the world's number one chat show host, Oprah Winfrey, illustrates this celebrity scam. Victims receive letters or emails saying they have won a prize in the "Oprah Summer Show Sweepstakes." The message carries a photo of the star, but it hasn't really come from her. It's a con in which victims are then asked to pay a handling fee for their prize. Similar scams based on other well known TV shows are often accompanied by a picture of a well known celebrity connected with the show.
- Nigerian celebrity scam.
The Nigerian celebrity scam exploits the name of a well known person and tries to get you to pay the scammer. Sometimes it's even a bogus message supposedly from the President of Nigeria wanting to give you some cash, if you'll just pay an upfront fee. Or how about this latest, sneaky version: You get a message purportedly from Ruth Madoff, wife of the disgraced Ponzi crook Bernard Madoff, inviting you to help her hide some of her husband's supposed hidden millions. All untrue of course.
- Website name hijacking.
You visit a website that's named for a well known person and, understandably, assume it's theirs. Well it ain't necessarily so. Celebrities who weren't so quick off the mark in the early days of the Internet sometimes find a website with their name has already been registered by someone else. Such sites might just be used as an advertising page for other websites or they may contain malicious code. In the US, stars can now claim the sites back for themselves, as one guy who registered the name TheJayLenoShow.com recently found out. He was ordered to give the domain to the late-show host. Domain Hijacking: A Dirty Business
- Bogus news alerts.
As we reported recently in Issue #347, Urban Legends and Hoaxes Straight from the News Headlines, celebrity names are often used in emails either concerning their deaths, or saying they're dead when they're still very much alive, or making some other sensational claim about them. The idea is to arouse your curiosity so that you either click on a link that leads to a virus-infected website or open an attachment that installs a virus on your computer.
- "Meet the star."
In this celebrity scam, you are led to believe you'll get the chance to meet a famous person, perform with them (if you're a budding entertainer) or otherwise audition with them. Victims have paid small fortunes by responding to emails that may say they've won the chance to have a meal with a star, or join a celebrity on stage, or to an ad for training with their sports hero. They're asked to send money to cover air tickets and hotel costs, or a fee to participate in a nonexistent event like a celebrity sports camp (see item #3 above).
- Outrageous messages on Twitter.
Recently, the Twitter accounts of celebrities like Britney Spears have been hijacked and used to publish sensational or even obscene messages. This, presumably, is just some hacker's idea of fun, but in other cases, the messages contain links to malicious websites.
- Fake biographies.
This is another hacking trick, again usually someone's idea of a joke. Most often it involves biographies of well known celebrities on the collaborative Wikipedia site. Although anyone can contribute to and edit Wikipedia articles, the organization does have security controls in place but these may not stop a seasoned hacker.
What to Do...
The purpose of highlighting all the celebrity scams in this issue is to put you on your guard against accepting the use of celebrity names as some sort of token of credibility.
It's understandably easy to be excited and perhaps to feel in awe when you encounter the name of a famous person, and especially if it involves a sensational story or a current or potential future meeting with them.
And, of course, many celebrity-linked events and promotions are genuine.
Just make sure you check them out in detail, especially before parting with money. And never click on those email links.
Let's not forget, either, that some stars are great scammers themselves. There's no shortage of marriage, divorce and break-up stories or other dramas in the celebrity world that turn out to be just clever publicity stunts.
Unlike the others in our list, though, they are usually harmless. However, we want to make sure you're aware of all of these celebrity scam tricks.
That's a wrap for this issue. Wishing you a great week!