A Beverly Hills beauty salon owner was sentenced to five years of probation and nine months in home confinement yesterday for fraudulently charging hundreds of thousands of dollars on credit cards belonging to celebrity clients such as Liv Tyler, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson and others.
Liv Tyler suffered most of the loss, reporting that $214,000 was charged to two American Express cards between June and November of 2009. Her report to police triggered the arrest last year of Maria Gabriela Hashemipour, also known as Maria Gabriela Perez.
The celebrity salon owner pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court this past January and was sentenced Monday. The 52-year-old woman was accused of stealing credit card information from her clients and charging roughly $300,000 in the process. She pleaded guilty to one count of access device fraud. The judge ordered Hashemipour to complete 3,000 hours of community service, and will face a restitution hearing set for Oct. 17 to determine how she will repay the losses.
Her private villa-studio, Chez Gabriela, is located in Beverly Hills and tends to both celebrities and “normal people”. Her website, thebeautycare.com, lists Brad Pitt, Kate Hudson, Cher, Nicole Kidman, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Jennifer Lopez and Tyra Banks as being part of her celebrity customer base. Basic skin repair facials are priced anywhere between $800 and $3,000, depending upon her evaluation. Advanced facials cost much more.
But how exactly does credit card theft like this happen? How does a beauty care expert who has autographs from artists like Cher hanging on her walls and caters to dozens of celebrities, steal her clients most valuable information?
Unfortunately, celebrities are so busy they usually have business managers and/or accountants take care of their monthly bills and record keeping. These managers may not notice fraudulent charges if they are from a merchant that the celebrity has been purchasing from over a long period of time.
Hashemipour (Perez) developed long term relationships with her clients and had access to the credit card information used to pay for her services. Normally transactions that are processed by an owner you know and trust are not checked as thoroughly as they would be if an unknown merchant name suddenly pops up on the monthly statement.
How can you prevent credit card fraud from happening to you?
Credit card experts stress that you should never leave your credit card at a sales counter unattended or in an unsecured place. Definitely check your monthly statements carefully for unusual charges. And, experts recommend that you check your credit report every 4-6 months to see if there is any suspicious activity.
Sadly, the moral of this story is that even transactions from merchants you do know can be fraudulent, so stay alert and aware.