The most shocking Paris Hilton takeaway from Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring isn’t that she has way, way too many fuzzy boleros and other gaudy items in her closet. It’s that she routinely left a spare key beneath a mat outside her front door. Lindsay Lohan, Audrina Patridge, Rachel Bilson, and other celebrities had similar disregard for the importance of home security until, according to grand-jury testimony, the 2008 and 2009 events depicted in the film caused them to set their alarms and keep those glass patio doors locked on a more consistent basis. But did the Bling Ring burglaries permanently alter the Hollywood elite’s approach to protecting itself? To find out, Vulture turned to Robert Siciliano, an often-quoted expert on personal and home security who paid close attention to the audacious thefts that inspired Coppola’s film.
Are celebrities more vigilant in the wake of the Bling Ring break-ins?
Yes, without a doubt. Especially the younger community of celebrities. When you’re in your late thirties or your forties, you’ve kind of already got a sense that the world can be a dangerous place. But when you’re in your twenties or early thirties and you’ve got all this money, all this wealth, all this notoriety, your world is kind of insulated. You think you’re invincible and you think nothing can happen to you.
So how did Paris Hilton and the other famous victims respond to this wake-up call?
They all made significant investments in their security shortly afterwards — hiring additional security professionals, installing additional technology. Their publicists expounded upon it as a way of telling the world, “My client is that much more secure today.” [They brought] attention to their security, that they have additional layers of security, so that they wouldn’t be targeted in the future. That should be the norm. That’s how it should be.
Did younger celebrities outside of those victimized by the Bling Ring also make additional investments in their security because of the case?
There has been an uptick in installations of home security systems in the past couple of years. It’s hard to say specifically with moneyed individuals or those who have celebrity status whether or not there’s been an uptick there. I think common sense would say yes, due to the fact that the Bling Ring got so much attention. People like Paris Hilton made themselves so vulnerable in so many ways. It was like the poster-child incident, if you will, for what not to do.
The Bling Ringers were able to find the home addresses of their celebrity marks on the Internet. Has there been an effort in the celebrity community to keep that information more private?
You know, there are celebrity directories out there that provide the contact information for everybody. When you roll into Hollywood, you can get a map to the stars on any street corner for five bucks that will show you where everybody lives. So in that scenario, it’s very difficult for those people to stay private unless they purposefully do just that. And that is often expensive. Sometimes they have the resources to do that. That might mean that they begin to rent properties under their name, but they live at an address that’s listed under their agent’s cousin’s name. So they actively make an effort to be anonymous in a number of different ways. That takes a certain amount of strategy. David Letterman was stalked for a really long time. Madonna was stalked for a really long time. And those people faced significant harm at times — people breaking into their homes, getting into their compounds. It would have required them to make really significant changes in their lives in order to avoid that type of confrontation. So they make additional investments in the human element, meaning security professionals, to guard them, to watch them, to take their kids back and forth to school, to take control of their perimeter, and so on.
Celebrities really rent properties under their own name but stay elsewhere, under a pseudonym — that’s a real thing?
It’s definitely being done, without a doubt. Celebrities, politicians, moneyed individuals that have every reason to hide. If you’re a CEO of a major corporation, you probably have a few hundred thousand dollar security budget, just for you. Just for your home. Just to get your kids back and forth from school. If you make $30 million a year, there’s a price on your head. Your kids could be kidnapped. Your wife could be kidnapped, and you’re going to pay a ransom. So it’s worth it to pay a few hundred grand to protect your family. So you’re a celebrity making $20 million a movie — there’s a price on your head. What the public doesn’t understand is that these celebrities, yeah, they have money. But they’re just people. They’re no different than you and I. They might have lavish lifestyles and vacation in places that we could never afford, but they would like to be private and secure, just like you and I would.
Social media has blown up even more since the Bling Ring burglaries happened. It’s very common to see celebrities on Twitter saying where they are or even which flight they’re boarding. Why hasn’t that gone away because of security concerns?
It often takes something bad, something tragic, to occur before people recognize they need to make a change in their life or their lifestyle. There very well may be someone out there in the public eye that’s acting and behaving in a certain way, and that may come back to bite them. If and when that happens and it can be directly tracked to Facebook or Twitter, then you might see an exodus as a result.
Even non-famous people post Instagram photos while on vacation. Do you advise people not to do that under any circumstances?
Absolutely. Michael Dell’s security team pulled his kids off of Instagram and Twitter because they were basically telling the world where they were, who they were with, where they were going. And they were taking pictures of all their stuff. This is Michael Dell’s kids. Think they got some money? They were putting themselves and him and their family at risk because of what they were posting online. And their security team just shut them down and deleted their accounts. They eliminated their ability to do that ever again. Look, you might not be Michael Dell’s kids, but when you let the world know where you are, you’re letting your whereabouts be known so that if somebody wants to stalk you or get closer to you, they can. In addition, you’re letting the world know where you aren’t. And that may mean you’re not home, you’re not at your vacation property, which may make that place vulnerable, too. Say I’m going on vacation. I’m going to Mexico for two weeks. You think I’m going to tell anybody on Twitter? You think I’m going to tell anybody on Facebook? I’d be a complete ass if I did that. Why would I let the world know that my house is vacant? You just shouldn’t do those things. I don’t recommend anybody ever telling their location specifically, when they’re doing anything.
I wonder how that might change, say, ten years from now. It’s going to be harder to find a security team that’s inclined to shut down that kind of thing if all of them were raised in an era of Foursquare check-ins.
It already is a problem, and it’s causing more problems. And it creates more opportunity for the bad guy.
Do you think a Bling Ring could happen again now?
I would say it is happening now; it just might not be getting the same attention or publicity. Nobody wants to admit that they were burgled or robbed or accosted. No one wants to bring more attention to a negative situation, unless of course bringing attention would relieve the situation. More than anything, it’s embarrassing. It brings bad publicity. It’s not good to be looked upon as a victim. My guess is that if in fact this is happening right now, which I’m sure it is, people are being quiet about it because they don’t want to be a poster child for what not to do.
And not only is it being a victim in the moment, but a few years later, maybe being in a movie that relives all of it again.
You know, sometimes they say reality is stranger than fiction. But today, we’ve got so many amazing things that are happening and people are just so off their rocker, more than they ever have been. How Hollywood can come up with anything at all creative today that’s not already happening out there, in real life, is amazing to me.