Lessons from a Murder in Hollywood
By TorchStone VP, Scott Stewart
On July 9, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) announced that it had arrested five suspects in connection with the February 2020 murder of Bashar Jackson, a rapper known by the stage name, Pop Smoke. Jackson was shot and killed when a group of five armed men stormed the Hollywood house being rented by the New York based rapper. The three men and two juveniles arrested in connection with this case are reportedly connected with a South Los Angeles street gang that the police refused to identify. This raised speculation that perhaps the murder was somehow related to the 1990s East-coast/West-coast rap feud that resulted in the murders of rappers such as Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls. While police initially declined to provide a motive for the murder, on July 9 LAPD investigators said they had uncovered evidence indicating that Jackson’s murder was not intentional, but rather the result of a home invasion robbery gone wrong.
Despite the accidental nature of Jackson’s death, it also appears that it could have been avoided. According to police, the gang that stormed Jackson’s home learned of the property’s address because of social media posts by Jackson and members of his entourage. The posted photos reportedly included a gift bag with a tag listing the address of the rented home, a photo of Jackson posing in front of a Range Rover that showed part of the address, along with photos of a view of the Los Angeles skyline from the property’s infinity pool that provided a way to geolocate the property and confirm the address listed on the gift bag tag. These social media posts also showed jewelry and other valuables Jackson and his entourage had at the property, allowing the prospective robbers to gauge the haul they could net through a home invasion robbery.
This is not the first time social media posts have led to a celebrity being targeted after posting photos of their location and valuables; it actually happens with some frequency. In a highly publicized 2016 incident, Kim Kardashian was robbed of some ten million dollars-worth of jewelry at a chic Paris private hotel after posting photos of the jewels and the residence on Instagram. This is also not a new phenomenon; the so called “Bling Ring” robbers reportedly burgled the homes of dozens of celebrities in 2008-2009, choosing to strike when they learned the celebrities were away from home by following their social media accounts. Finally, the problem of being targeted by thieves due to social media posts is not unique to celebrities. Many lower-profile people have been targeted for robbery, sexual assault or kidnapping based on their social media posts.
It is important to pause here to note that criminals conduct a planning cycle that is very similar to the attack cycle used by terrorists. By posting photos, videos, and other personal information on social media, a person can greatly assist the criminals with their planning process by providing them with the information they need to properly plan their crime. With this in mind, let’s examine some steps that people can take to avoid being victimized by opportunistic criminals monitoring their social media feeds.
- Limit what you post on social media. Try not to post personal information that can allow a bad actor to locate your address. Do not advertise your daily exercise times and routes or other elements of your daily routine that would allow a bad actor to determine where you will be and when. Do not advertise when you will be away from home or what valuables you keep on your person or in your home. I often speak about the value of “being gray” or maintaining a low profile in the real world. The same principle applies on social media. Don’t stand out from the herd and make yourself an attractive target for criminals searching for a mark. In the Jackson case, he posted items that allowed the home invasion criminals to connect the dots between where he would be, when, and what valuables he would have with him, allowing them to plan and execute their crime.
- Lock down your personal social media accounts so that only people you know can see what you are posting. Don’t accept connection requests from people you do not know and trust—even, and perhaps especially if, they have an attractive profile picture. The costly 2016 hack of Deloitte happened when one of Deloitte’s employees opened a file containing malware sent to him by an attractive fake female persona.
- If you are someone who must maintain a more outward facing Twitter or LinkedIn account for business purposes, refrain from posting personal information on those business accounts. Don’t link your business and personal accounts together and maintain a disciplined separation between the two.
- Consider limiting even what you post on locked down personal accounts. Do you really know and trust everyone you are connected to? It is also possible for your contacts to have their accounts hacked, giving the hackers access to what you’ve shared. For example, consider posting your vacation pictures after you return from the vacation instead of while you are away from home.
- If you are a celebrity or someone who is appearing at a publicized event and you can’t keep people from knowing you are going to be away from home, have a solid residential security plan and make sure to effectively utilize your security equipment. There have been several burglaries of celebrity homes in which the burglars entered through unlocked doors and with the alarms systems not turned on.
- Physical criminals are not the only ones who can target you based on your social media postings. Cyber criminals often use information gleaned from social media accounts to craft convincing spear-phishing attempts. For example spoofing the email address of a close friend you interact with on social media to send you a file containing malicious code that purports to be a photo or a document on a topic of interest to you and your friend. Also, I have seen several chain messages on social media that appear to have been specifically designed to elicit the type of information commonly used to answer the security questions often used for account logins or password re-sets. These messages were purporting to be intended to help people “learn more about each other during the pandemic,” but when the messages ask you to answer questions such as the name of your first childhood pet, the city where you met your spouse, you mother’s maiden name, your father’s middle name, etc., it is easy to see that such messages are intended for more nefarious purposes.
- Conduct a social media and public profile assessment on yourself. Many people are surprised by the amount of information that is publicly available about them. Knowing what information is out there, and what is not, can help you assess the risk that information poses to you. TorchStone Global conducts this type of assessment for many of our clients. We can also assist with residential security assessments.
Social media can be a wonderful thing, but information posted there can also make people vulnerable. Practicing smart social media habits can help protect against criminals who prey on the less cautious, less aware, or more trusting.