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September is usually a stressful month for financial managers because it includes one of several major tax deadlines. But this year it also came with the announcement that nearly 150 million U.S. consumers — including, inevitably, several with famous names and faces — had vital data hacked from the credit reporting agency Equifax.
Hollywood business managers were left scrambling for a solution while their phones rang off the hook with calls from panicked A-listers. “Everyone is concerned, and rightfully so,” says business manager Warren Grant. “We sent out a memo to our clients discussing options, which include credit monitoring, freezes and alerts.”
The chaos following the hack certainly isn’t exclusive to entertainment, but freezes pose a unique challenge for the industry’s money managers — especially since everyone from auto dealerships to cable companies run customers’ credit. Imagine the media scandal that could ensue if a 20-something starlet had her credit declined while trying to open a Barneys card because she’d forgotten about the freeze. “We have explained to clients how [credit freezes] work and suggested using caution when considering it,” says Grant. “Car leases, new credit cards any background check will require you to unfreeze.”
While stars and execs whose Social Security numbers, birth dates and addresses were exposed may face much higher stakes — because their privacy issues tend to be greater and the lines of credit that could be fraudulently opened in their name tend to be much larger — they may have an advantage that regular Joes don’t. After all, it’s harder to steal the identity of someone who’s famous. Also, they have business managers to scan their finances for anything fishy. In fact, earlier this month, Grant received a fake message from someone pretending to be one of his well-known clients. “I got an email asking me to wire money to his mother,” he says. “I knew he would have called me.”
That doesn’t mean stars should do nothing, though. Grant and other managers say they’ve been advising their clients to use credit monitoring services for years, and there are scores of agencies providing the service either for free or a small monthly charge — Credit Karma, Identity Guard, Credit Sesame, LifeLock, Experian and TransUnion among them. Any one of them could help keep one’s financial information secure, at least until, like Equifax, they get hacked.
Of course, in Hollywood, there’s a high-end version of just about every service imaginable, and identity protection is no exception. “There’s a guy who runs a credit repair and monitoring service out of New York,” says manager Steve Campeas. “It can be anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 a year, but this guy will handle all monitoring, freeze and unfreeze, and repair your credit.”
Hacks are now commonplace, and Campeas says people need to accept the reality, but they shouldn’t fixate on the parade of horribles that could follow the next hack. “It’s the world we live in,” he says. “Are 145 million people going to all of a sudden get their identity compromised? No. Once you do what you can, don’t lose sleep over it.”
Still, with every hack, it gets harder for stars, or anyone, to trust people with their money. “You have to take a leap of faith,” says Grant, especially when considering a new rep like the New York fixer. “They need power of attorney to access your credit to do that on your behalf. But that’s once again trusting somebody when everyone’s finding trusts are breached with these big companies.”
Equifax has been touting a free year of credit monitoring to those affected by the hack — for the famous and civilians alike — but Hollywood business managers agree that won’t cut it, especially when those who have the stolen information can simply wait 366 days to use it. Says Campeas, “You should have your credit monitored for the rest of your life.”
This story first appeared in the Sept. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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