Website offering looks at celebrity homes raises police concern, cited in 'bling ring' burglaries
Authorities are taking notice of the tactics used by alleged members of the "bling ring," the group of young people accused of using websites for research before they burglarizing the homes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and other young celebrities
According to search warrants filed in a Las Vegas court, the alleged burglars used websites such as TMZ.com and celebrityaddressaerial.com to learn the location of stars' homes and figure out their travel itineraries.
Celebrityaddressaerial.com boasts that users "will be able to see behind the tall hedges, big gates and security systems" and "get unprecedented access to the sort of lifestyle your favorite celebrity can afford."
LAPD Cmdr. Pat Gannon said the use of the Internet to scope out potential burglary victims is an issue the department sees as a growing challenge.
"Anytime somebody has access to that kind of information and wants to use it for some kind of criminal activity, it creates a sense of vulnerability, and it should scare all of us" Gannon said. "Part of the answer is understanding that information is out there and what each of us needs to do reduce that vulnerability, including limiting information."
He cited virtual house tours on real estate websites as one area that gives potential thieves access to the inside of somebody's home. Another concern is social networking sites. In one recent case, Gannon said, a man who had been arrested by an officer contacted a member of the officer's family through Facebook."I don't know if there's a solution to it, because at what point can you put limits on it," Gannon said. "But to have it available is really frightening for a lot of people."
Some representatives of celebrities said the "bling ring" case is their first knowledge of the celebrity address site. The site charges users to access information. It notes that a difference between the site and others is the up-to-date information "you will not find anywhere else, even in print."
"Often times, major stars or business moguls have more than one residence and what is known about multiple property ownership is included here," according to the site. "This information can and has been used to contact celebrities directly without going through agents, publicists, assistants, etc. Obviously you will have much better success by writing to the celebrity at their home as opposed to going through a contact address that receives thousands of letters, most of which are discarded without ever being seen by the celebrity."
The operators of the site could not immediately be reached for comment.
The search warrant said the "bling ring" suspects would surf the Internet to find where the celebrities lived, then watch the locations and work out ways to break into the homes.
In many of the cases, the doors were simply left open. In the case of Hilton and actress Rachel Bilson, the suspects broke in numerous times, according to the search warrant.
The ring, mostly made up of young women who once attended an Agoura Hills high school, netted more than $3 million in merchandise, officials said.
-- Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton
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