Scams and confidence schemes have been around since the beginning of time, and one of the ways that it works is through the assumption that those things happen to other people but never to us. Most of us consider scams almost impossible to pull off on celebs, especially considering the amount of professionals hired to take care of their finances and manage their lives. But this isn’t always the case: here are ten celebrities who were taken in by cons, scams and hoaxes.
10) Oprah Winfrey
Oprah‘s Book Club wields immense power in the literary world, with its recommendations often leaping to the tops of the bestseller lists. Generally, anything that promotes literacy is great. One of the books she endorsed was James Frey’s novel A Million Little Pieces, a harrowing true story of addiction which saw a fifteen week run at number one on the New York Times nonfiction list. Oprah rhapsodized about the book, claiming it was “like nothing you’ve ever read before”. However in January 2006, thesmokinggun.com revealed that large portions of the book, including author James Frey’s rap sheet, had been augmented, and that his involvement in a train crash that cost two people their lives had been completely fabricated. Oprah confronted him on her show, accusing him of duping her and her viewers. The book has since been moved to the fiction shelf.
9) Chris Andersen
Miami Heat center Chris Andersen, AKA Birdman, lived under a pall of suspicion for a year, with authorities investigating him for having a relationship with an underage girl, attempted extortion and issuing threats in 2012. The truth, however, was much stranger. Andersen had been the victim of an elaborate internet scheme. Police forces from both the US and Canada were finally able to identify the culprit as Shelly Lynn Chartier, from Manitoba, Canada. Chartier had posed as Andersen online to talk to a young woman in California, and then posed as the woman to talk to Andersen. The scam was so successful enough that she planned a meeting between the two victims. The scam unraveled, clearing Chartier’s name when the authorities searched Andersen’s house for the IP address associated with the crimes and found that it didn’t match up with Andersen’s.
8) Zsa-Zsa Gabor
Socialite and actress Zsa Zsa Gabor was a sex-symbol throughout the fifties and sixties, who was taken in, like many others, by Bernie Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme (the largest in history, stealing fifty billion dollars from clients). According to Gabor’s attorney, she and her ninth husband, Frederic von Anhalt, had invested with Madoff through another money-manager, though they had no knowledge of Madoff’s involvement. Reportedly, the couple lost up to $10 million to the scheme, which von Anhalt admitted put them in a precarious financial situation, as well as being detrimental to their health. Hopefully, they are able to find some consolation in Madoff’s 150 year prison sentence.
Dana Giacchetto was one of those self-styled financial wizards who, in the 90s, had a whole stable of celebrity clients, from Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Stiller to rockers like Phish. Using his company the Cassandra Group, he siphoned off nearly $20 million from his clients, six million of which he pocketed for himself. Phish was one of the clients hit hardest by Giacchetto’s fraud. Giacchetto admitted to stealing $3.9 million from the band, for which he was charged and served three years in prison. However, CNBC reports he didn’t learn from his incarceration, he was charged with credit card fraud in February, and faces up to twenty-five years in prison if he is found guilty.
6) Kim Kardashian
Kim Kardashian and her mother, Kris Jenner were among a string of celebrities who had their credit card numbers stolen by an enterprising mother-and-son con team in 2013. Kyah Green and Luis Flores were able to get the credit card details of the two Kardashians from computer hackers, and the two were able to wire more than $70,000 to several Florida bank accounts. This was done by calling the credit card companies claiming to be the celebrities, and having new cards shipped to them. The two were arrested in August 2013 by the Secret Service, thanks to some of the other names on their list, which included FBI director Robert Mueller and First Lady Michelle Obama.
5) Manti Te’o
Manti Te’o was a rising star in the football world, who was being courted throughout his Notre Dame football career. And, on September 11th, 2012, he gained a great outpouring of sympathy when he lost both his grandmother and his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, on the same day. Kekua (with whom he had an entirely online relationship, as she was in Hawaii and he in Indiana) had been suffering from leukemia, which was discovered after a car-accident. He, according to her final wishes that he never miss a game, did not attend her funeral. However, after receiving an anonymous tip reporters at deadspin.com began to investigate further. What they found was nothing: no records of a car accident, leukemia treatments, hospital stays or a social security number for Lennay Kekua, let alone a record of her tragic death. The photos on Kekua’s social media accounts belonged to a Californian woman who had never met Te’o. The deadspin story named a former classmate of Te’o’s, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo as the source of the Kekua persona, which Tuiasosopo confirmed in January 2013. Te’o maintains that he knew nothing about the hoax until the report, and has continued his football career, signing with the Chargers in 2013.
4) Kiefer Sutherland
Cattle scams sound like the sort of thing that fell out of the conman’s handbook by the 1920s. But, the practice (where the conman gets funds, reportedly to buy cattle, which can then be sold at a profit, and then simply absconds with the cash) is still around, as the 24 star Kiefer Sutherland learned in 2010. Sutherland, who’d been involved in competitive cattle roping in the 90s, invested $869,000 with Michael Wayne Carr, who would buy the cattle cheaply in Mexico and sell them at a higher price in the States. However, no cattle were purchased, and the only thing that came out of it were the names of others who had invested money or cattle in the scheme, and criminal charges for Carr. Carr plead guilty, and was charged to pay almost a million dollars in restitution to Sutherland, and serve up to seven years in prison.
3) Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg‘s best known for his work on movies like E.T. and the Indiana Jones Franchise, but he also founded the Wunderkinder Foundation, a charitable organization. The organization invested with Bernie Madoff, which was soon revealed to have been a mistake. Business Insider estimated their losses to be $340,000- close to seventy percent of its income in 2006. Thankfully, however, it was not one of the several charities that Madoff’s scheme forced to close, and it drew in $9.7 million in assets by the end of 2012.
2) Brad Paisley & Kimberly Williams-Paisley
Brad Paisley and Kimberly Williams-Paisley were victims of a complex scam that preyed on their empathy. Hope Jackson contacted the duo, claiming that her daughter, Claire, was dying of a rare and fatal form of cancer. However, shortly after Claire’s ‘passing’, the truth came out: that she’d never existed at all, and that Jackson had used pictures of other children suffering from illnesses to fake Claire’s existence. Despicable as this was, since she had never asked for money, it looked as though she might escape criminal charges. However, during part of the scam, Paisley sang ‘amazing grace’ over the phone to the fictitious Claire, and since he makes his living as a singer, they were able to charge her with felony theft of services.
1) Howard Hughes
Howard Hughes was a brilliant business magnate, who dabbled in films, engineering and airplanes, setting multiple world air speed records. As he aged, he became highly reclusive, shunning public appearances, in part due to his obsessive-compulsive disorder and debilitating chronic pain. He became a source of fascination to the public, who knew next-to-nothing about the man who’d disappeared from public life in 1958. Enter author Clifford Irving, who saw the situation as an opportunity: he would fake Hughes’ biography, telling his publishers it had been conducted via personal interviews. Of course, there were no interviews with Hughes: the whole book, down to the letters and legal documents were faked. Realizing the possibility of a hit, the publishing company McGraw-Hill gave Irving a $765,000 advance. Irving later stated in an interview he believed that Hughes, who hadn’t been seen in over a decade, would be too ill to refute the book, perhaps had even died, leaving him free to write, publish and rake in the cash from the book. But it didn’t quite work that way. When publicity for the book began to surface, those who ran Hughes’ companies raised suspicions- the Howard Hughes they knew was too private to ever consider such a biography. And then, on January 7, 1972, the death knell for the book rang out, in the form of a televised phone call from Howard Hughes himself, the first time the public had heard Hughes in fourteen years. It all unraveled from there, and by the end of the month, Irving had confessed to the whole thing. He had to return his advance, was convicted of fraud, and spent seventeen months in prison. Not one to be daunted by circumstance, however, Irving published The Hoax, a book detailing his story, in 1977.