Virus purge on your laptop? That’ll be US$20m, please

Paul Raven @ 11-11-2010

OK, just to pre-empt any angry emails, I’m not posting this to gloat or mock the victim, nor to suggest that this sort of outright bilking of the ignorant is in any way acceptable behaviour. I’m posting it because it’s an astonishing story that says something simple yet profound about the gap of knowledge between technology end-users and technology adepts.

So, the headline says it all, really: a guy from one of those shady “de-virus your computer for ya, mister?” companies managed to screw something approaching US$20million out of composer Roger Davidson, who – pity him as I might – can only be described as a bit on the naive side, and not just with respect to computers [via TechDirt]:

The saga began in August 2004 when Roger Davidson, 58 years old, a pianist and jazz composer who once won a Latin Grammy, took his computer to Datalink Computer Services in Mount Kisco, saying the machine had been infested with a virus. The owners of the company, Vickram Bedi, 36, and his girlfriend, Helga Invarsdottir, 39, became aware of Mr. Davidson’s high profile and allegedly proceeded to convince him that he was the target of an assassination plot ordered by Polish priests affiliated with Opus Dei, a conservative Roman Catholic organization, authorities said.

[…]

When asked to remove the virus from the laptop, Mr. Bedi allegedly told Mr. Davidson that his computer had in fact been attacked with a virus so virulent that it also damaged Datalink’s computers, according to prosecutors.

Mr. Bedi told Mr. Davidson that he had tracked the source of the virus to a remote village in Honduras and that Mr. Bedi’s uncle, purportedly an officer in the Indian military, had traveled there in a military aircraft and retrieved the suspicious hard drive, prosecutors said.

In addition, Mr. Bedi told the victim that his uncle had uncovered an assassination plot against Mr. Davidson by Polish priests tied to Opus Dei, according to prosecutors.

Opus Dei was depicted in the popular Dan Brown novel “The Da Vinci Code” as a murderous cult. Mr. Bedi allegedly told Mr. Davidson that his company had been contracted by the Central Intelligence Agency to perform security work that would prevent any attempts by Opus Dei to infiltrate the U.S. government, authorities said.

In addition to the thousands of dollars charged to secure Mr. Davidson’s computer, Mr. Bedi and Ms. Invarsdottir allegedly charged thousands more to provide 24-hour covert protection for Mr. Davidson and his family.

Davidosn’s naiveté is only matched here by the incredible chutzpah of Bedi and Invarsdottir, who – from the sound of it – could have called it quits after the first million and retired into blissful offshore obscurity with no one any the wiser.

But as I mentioned above, this really highlights the knowledge gap between people who simply use computers and those who understand how they work – a gap regularly exploited by botnet operators and other scammy types. The unanswered (and possibly unanswerable) question is: can we ever effectively legislate or educate against this sort of exploitation of ignorance? Or is the sphere of human knowledge simply too large for these sorts of gaps not to occur?

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3 Responses to “Virus purge on your laptop? That’ll be US$20m, please”

  1. Wintermute says:

    The instrumental piece of that con game was not really the composer’s lack of technical knowledge, rather, it was his incredible gullibility (and perhaps his having read one too many Christian-conspiracy thrillers).

    Opus Dei? Assassination plot against a pianist and jazz composer? Really? Are your satanic Fsus11 chords Pied Pipering young hearts and minds away from the Catholic Church’s ‘grasp’ with brain-hacking memetic audio steganography? That sounds like the MacGuffin to a Neal Stephenson cartoon-novel, not reality. Maybe subconsciously he wanted to believe in the thriller movie premise, and played along.

  2. Tiffany says:

    My mantra is “the user wasn’t hired to be a tech, I was hired to be a tech, I will support them no matter what.” Am I a world class composer? No. Am I a technician? Yes. So any gaps in knowledge should be filled or at least spelled out. And the douchebags that exploit the gaps in knowledge should be penalized. (Note should, though it isn’t always possible!) The behavior of the people at the shop was appalling, as is the subsequent media coverage.

  3. TheShiffy says:

    * FACEPALM *
    Honestly, if Roger Davidson really believed all of that, he kind of deserves it.