Skip to main content

6 celebrity scam victims

Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon
Image: Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick lost 'most' of their money to Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme | Everett Collection /

They have money, influence and access to the best experts and advisors on the planet – but celebrities can still get scammed, stung and strung along like the rest of us.

1. Andy Cohen

A recent example is Andy Cohen, the US talk show host and executive producer of the Real Housewives reality franchise. Despite being as media savvy as they come, Cohen fell for a phishing scam when he clicked on a link in an email purporting to be from his bank’s fraud department.

Assuming the email was for real because he’d lost his debit card the day before, Cohen entered his personal details into a fake sign-in page. Although he quickly twigged it was a scam, by then it was too late. The fraudsters had enough information to ring Cohen up for a long chat. Claiming to be from the bank, the voice on the phone referenced genuine transactions he’d made and asked him to verify some apparent security codes which turned out to be wire transfers.

The scammer even talked Cohen into pressing some numbers into his keypad to activate his phone’s call-forwarding service. This meant that calls made to Cohen from the real fraud department, to check the wire transfers were authentic, were shunted straight to the criminals themselves. Cohen lost ‘a lot of money’ in this audacious phone-based heist.

2. Kevin Bacon

Hollywood star Kevin Bacon was one of several celebs who lost a fortune to Bernie Madoff, the former titan of Wall Street and chairman of the Nasdaq stock exchange who turned out to be arguably the biggest conman in history.

Madoff leveraged his immense influence to convince well-heeled people to put money into his wealth management firm, which was in truth a massive Ponzi scheme. Instead of investing the funds to generate profits, Madoff simply paid off new investors with the money paid in by previous investors – until it all came crashing down.

Bacon and his wife, Kyra Sedgwick, were just two of thousands of investors fleeced in this multi-billion-dollar scam. Bacon later admitted losing most of his fortune, but also conceded his privileged status, saying ‘I think people [won’t be] happy to hear me whining about money’.

3. Liv Tyler

Liv Tyler and several other glamorous stars found themselves rinsed, in more ways than one, by Beverly Hills beauty salon owner Maria Gabriela Hashemipour. In 2011, Hashemipour pleaded guilty to stealing the credit card details of her A-list clients, who included Jennifer Aniston and Anne Hathaway.

But it was Tyler who was among the hardest hit, with more than $214,000 in fraudulent charges being made using two of her credit cards. Proclaiming that she was ‘extremely sorry’ for ripping off a string of women who trusted her with their details, Hashemipour was sentenced to nine months home arrest.

4. Kiefer Sutherland

Yet another Hollywood bigwig to be defrauded, Kiefer Sutherland was persuaded to invest over $869,000 into a business buying and selling cattle. The scammer, Michael Wayne Carr, took money from investors including Sutherland, with the stated intention of buying the steers in Mexico and selling them on for a profit in the US.

But the business arrangement was bull and Sutherland’s hefty investment simply vanished. As the prosecutor in charge of the case later said, ‘There was no money and no cattle’. After pleading guilty in 2010, Carr was ordered to pay back the money he effectively stole from Sutherland and other victims to avoid jail time.

5. John McEnroe

Tennis legend John McEnroe became notorious for his outbursts on the court, so we can only speculate how he reacted when he learnt he’d been victimised as part of a whopping $88 million art investment scam perpetrated by A-list art dealer, Lawrence Salander.

Among several other schemes, the dealer had persuaded McEnroe to purchase a $2 million stake in paintings by famed painter Arshile Gorky. Salander sold the same shares in the paintings to other investors, fraudulently multiplying his profits in a scam reminiscent of the comedy film The Producers.

In the words of the prosecutor, Salandar’s ‘desire for an extravagant lifestyle turned long-time friends and trusted business colleagues into his personal piggy banks’. Charged with grand larceny in 2009, he was sentenced to a minimum of six years in prison.

6. Alanis Morisette

One of the occupational hazards of being a wealthy celebrity is that a member of your inner circle of trusted advisors may get greedy and help themselves to your riches. That’s exactly what happened to singer Alanis Morisette, who was embezzled by her business manager, Jonathan Schwartz, to the tune of $5 million.

Schwartz had been in charge of collecting revenues, paying bills and generally managing Morisette’s money – a highly sensitive role which he exploited to sneakily siphon off millions over a protracted period.

The singer later said that this ‘long, systematic, drawn-out and sinister’ embezzlement would have left her bankrupt within three years if he hadn’t been found out. Schwartz himself said, ‘Regardless of how long I spend in prison, I will serve a lifetime sentence of shame’.

His show of remorse didn’t sway the judge, who in 2017 actually exceeded the sentencing request of the prosecution by handing Schwatz a six-year jail term. ‘In the past I’ve criticized the sentencing guidelines as draconian,’ she said, ‘but this is a rare instance in which I feel they’re not harsh enough.’