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Man Loses Millions In Bizarre Virus-Protection Scam 366

Posted by timothy
from the security-theater-with-a-human-face dept.
Orome1 writes "A US court has heard that a couple conned at least $6 million from the great-grandson of an oil industry tycoon after he brought his virus-infected computer in for repair. The couple are said to have tricked the composer into believing that, while investigating the virus, they had found evidence that his life was in danger – concocting a story that the virus had been tracked to a hard drive in Honduras, and that evidence had been found that the composer's life was in danger." The victim here, Roger Davidson, may have lost as much as $20 million, after being convinced that he was in danger from a grand conspiracy. Vickram Bedi and girlfriend Helga Invarsdottir convinced Davidson to pay $160,000 monthly, and possibly much more, for their help.
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Man Loses Millions In Bizarre Virus-Protection Scam

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  • by santax (1541065) on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @10:43PM (#34182322)
    If he was successful as composer and had signed a deal with any of the big labels he would have been left empty-handed by now.
  • Just because you are paranoid, it doesn't mean they are not out to get you(r money).
  • No worries about bad technicians trying to steal your money, just like if you do your own car work you don't have to worry about a bad mechanic trying to change the "headlight fluid."
    • by santax (1541065) on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @10:46PM (#34182358)
      Yes problem is, that in between fixing my guitar, my laptop, my tv and my fridge, I need to find some time to become skilled in fixing the hairdryer. My family wants some time from me. And the government wants me to put into some time to pay them for whatever service it is they tell me I just bought. In the end... I think I'd just let a qualified mechanic look at the car I transport my kids in ;)
      • by similar_name (1164087) on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @11:13PM (#34182514)
        Everything is not black and white. To say essentially 'because I cannot know everything I should know nothing' is not much of an excuse. Nobody has to be a certified mechanic to know when your mechanic is screwing you, just like nobody needs to program in cobol to know that when your 'tech' asks for 160k a month you might want a second opinion.
      • by couchslug (175151)

        If you don't make the effort to become an _informed consumer_, which while considerable is less than that required to do the jobs you list, you
        won't be able to distinguish good techs from bad.

        BTW:
        In terms of money saved, learn to fix the car first. It pays off hugely over a lifetime, even if you take a community college course to get started.

        • by santax (1541065)
          Come on, you don't buy a Mercedes to go fix it yourself. I can make a lot more money with letting a skilled mechanic do that for me, while I'm busy doing my business. To you and me a computer will never have to the store except for a hardware-failure within your warranty. Now, go fix a tv... Don't see many it-nerds fixing their own tv's... What you ask from people is too much. Only hobbyist have an interest in spending the time and effort it takes to become good enough at it to be able to find a darn softwa
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by gmhowell (26755)

          He'd rather dick around with his guitar and TV than become informed about a two ton device that can kill others and that is one of the most likely instruments in a premature death of his children. His priorities are clear.

    • That's absurd, there's a difference between "I need to defrag your monitor, only costs 100$!" and "Give me 160k$ per month so I can stop bolivian kidnappers".

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by delinear (991444)
        The difference seems to be the gullibility of the target. Both of those ingenius scams can be avoided with a little thought and perhaps some research, if someone is willing to take $100 from me for defragging my monitor do you honestly believe they'd not take $160k from me if they thought I'd be stupid enough to fall for it?
    • by guyminuslife (1349809) on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @11:08PM (#34182494)

      Well, yeah, but a good mechanic will do it properly. That's why you pay extra. Personally I'm not very good with cars and I don't have time to change the headlight fluid every six months, but I am concerned about driving at night when the headlights aren't ionized properly.

      You should see my mechanic; he's not the cheapest but he'll fix problems with your car you didn't even know you had, and that other guys aren't sharp enough to notice.

    • Just, FYI, every car has headlight fluid, and you need to change it every time you change the filament. Even the new-fangled "filament-free" lights need their fluid changed, indeed the proper mixture is even more important for those lamps.

  • Not creative enough. (Score:4, Informative)

    by ewhenn (647989) on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @10:48PM (#34182372)
    We've been contacted by an alien named Lurg. He comes from the planet Xulton in the in the Doovi nebula. Lurg informed us, that unless you pay him... errr.. I mean us... $160,000 a month, he will steal your child and make him a slave in the Galvanium mines of Dooviburg. You may be tempted to contact the United States authorities about this, however, any contact with them will result in the immediate death of your son.

    Bet these chumps would fall for that too.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @10:57PM (#34182424)
      L. Ron, is that you?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      We've been contacted by an alien named Lurg. He comes from the planet Xulton in the in the Doovi nebula. Lurg informed us, that unless you pay him... errr.. I mean us... $160,000 a month, he will steal your child and make him a slave in the Galvanium mines of Dooviburg. You may be tempted to contact the United States authorities about this, however, any contact with them will result in the immediate death of your son.

      That's not creative at all. You just ripped off L. Ron HubbleBubble and changed the names

  • A counterpoint to the obvious: there's a place in the world for generous, naive people. They are GOOD people, generally.

    It's a goddamned shame that scam artists take advantage of them.

  • by guyminuslife (1349809) on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @10:54PM (#34182414)

    Yes, Mr. Davidson, they are out to get you. You just misunderstood who they are.

    Naivete and paranoia are a dangerous combination.

  • by m93 (684512) on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @10:55PM (#34182416)
    A friend of mine was renting a room in the house of a lady who lived down the street from me. She had been suckered into a Nigerian 419 scam, was convinced that the people she was communicating with were "Good Christians", and sent them about $30,000. When she took out a loan against her home, her daughters attempted to intervene with the courts to declare her incapable of managing her assets. She ended up losing the house and all her money, and my friend lost his room. She was a nice old lady whose mind was starting to go, and unfortunately was taken advantage of by some cold bastards. Don't mock too hard, it could be someone you love or even you one day.
  • by PCM2 (4486) on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @11:07PM (#34182490) Homepage

    The New York Times has a more in-depth article [nytimes.com] on this case, and it seems strange indeed.

    There's an old saying: "You can't con an honest man." Most cons work because they prey on the victim's own greed or baser emotions. I wonder how much of this was going on in this case?

    The Times article contains a few choice tidbits. Apparently, once he got into cahoots with the scammers, Mr. Davidson got involved with some plot of theirs to sue Wachovia Bank for mismanaging Davidson's trust fund, among other things. That sounds suspiciously like the classic con, where you give the con man some of your money in return for the promise that he'll get you lots more money later.

    If nothing else, Davidson does sound a little credulous, and possibly mentally ill. The scammers told him his life was supposedly in danger from a group of Polish priests with ties to Opus Dei, whom the scammers told him had a plan to overthrow the United States government. How plausible is that? But then, if you were already rabidly anti-Catholic, it might sound very plausible. Most of us probably wouldn't believe there was an international conspiracy on our lives in the first place, no matter how rich we were; but if you were mentally unstable with delusions of grandeur, you might.

    The final paragraph of the NYT article says Davidson's outgoing voicemail message says, “If you leave an ad or any other such message, your telephone wire will be fried automatically.” Who would claim such a thing? You might as well say you're going to report them to the Men in Black.

    It seems to me that if Davidson was thinking clearly, none of this would have played out the way it did -- but I guess we knew that already.

    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @11:59PM (#34182796)

      There is a lot of truth to it in terms of certain kind of scams. When you are talking immoral scams yes it is usually true. Things like the Nigerian "Help me steal millions of dollars from my country," things. Well you can't scam someone honest with that because it is a dishonest proposition. Even if you were 100% for real an honest person wouldn't do it because it is wrong.

      However there are other scams that work perfectly well on honest people. Ones that play on fear are a good example. You convince someone is in danger and they have to do X to not be. No dishonesty there, they just don't want to be hurt. That is perfectly understandable. I mean if you were able to honestly convince me that my life was in danger and the only way out way to pay, well I'd do it. Now of course I'd be rather hard to convince of that fact, I have a good deal of faith in our police forces and my marksmanship, not to mention a good understanding of just how not worth it it would be to try and kill me. However supposing you found a perfectly believable set of evidence that could well and truly convince me then sure, because I'd think it was real and not want to die.

      This leads to the second part that it is possible to scam people who are not as bright and who are credulous and/or gullible. While it may be trendy for geeks to hate on people who are less intelligent as though it was their fault, simple fact of the matter is that as with so much else in humans, intelligence is genetically determined and falls on a bell curve. Just as there are people who smarter than most, there are those who are not. Some people just cannot process data as well as others, cannot reason as well as others, and thus cannot identify and deal with scams as well as others.

      So while I find this scam laughably stupid, well I'm a computer support and security professional. I know how this shit works, and the holes are easy to spot. For someone who doesn't know as much, and perhaps is slightly below average intelligence, perhaps it seemed far more plausible.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by macdaddy357 (582412)
      If the scammer uses the right approach, anyone can be conned. The ones who think they are too smart are usually easy marks.
  • Maybe he thought they were "real" agents because of the badges they wear. :)
  • "Stupid people shouldn't have money anyway", to paraphrase Mr. Burns I think.
    • by TheLink (130905)

      I'm sure that's what the _filthy_ rich tell themselves from time to time :).

      http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html [ucsc.edu]

      As of 2007, the top 1% of households (the upper class) owned 34.6% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 50.5%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 85%, leaving only 15% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers). In terms of financial wealth (total net worth minus the value of one's home), the top 1% of households had an even greater share: 42.7%.

      • by Odinlake (1057938)

        I'm sure that's what the _filthy_ rich tell themselves from time to time :).

        Ah, I think they need to add a few steps:

        1. stupid people shouldn't have money
        2. poor people are stupid
        3. poor people shouldn't have any money
        4. we need to take more money from the poor
  • terra' (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cratermoon (765155) on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @11:27PM (#34182582) Homepage
    Ever since 2002 the US government has been scaring its citizens with a bizarre grand conspiracy theory concocted by DHS and TSA to convince Americans they are in mortal danger from everything from shoes to ink cartridges, and the only solution is to spend vast sums of money on security and endless war while depriving the people of more and more of their liberties.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by T Murphy (1054674)
      Note to self: if I think someone is scamming me, show him a bottle of shampoo bigger than 3 ounces. If he doesn't freak out, he's not a scammer.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @11:54PM (#34182758)
    I once received a 419 letter that took on the form of a death threat. The writer claimed he was a hit man contracted to kills me, but for a price, he would tell me who my enemy was, and sell me a video of the contract being made. It told me not to contact the police, or he would act immediately. I could tell from the broken English that it was a 419, but I did call the police, hoping they could catch the scammer. They couldn't. I imagine that a senior or eccentric rich person would have taken this seriously, and done what they were told. Naturally, as soon as they paid, the scammer would say their enemy had upped the offer, and they need more money. This story reminds me of that letter I recieved.
    • by PCM2 (4486) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @02:36AM (#34183528) Homepage

      You know, this is true. Something similar happened to me. A friend played a joke. I'm not famous by any stretch, but I'm a published writer and my work has appeared all over the place, including my local newspaper. So a friend decided (for whatever reason) to play this prank on me. He emailed me acting like he was somebody who had read something I'd written in the paper. At first it was just a regular "reader letter" type thing, but over the course of a few more emails he continued to escalate it onto some really weird and creepy stalker type thing. He'd say, email is so impersonal, how would you like to meet up to discuss this further? (No thanks.) Oh come on, we can meet at [a certain bar I go to regularly]. (Really, I'm not interested.) No? How about [this coffee shop right down the street from my house]? And the whole thing culminated in him sending me an email saying "I know you'll love this," along with a bunch of JPEGs of bloody dead bodies and people with injuries. Ha ha ha.

      Now, I was maybe 70 percent sure that this was some kind of prank. I mean, who would care enough to really wish harm on me? But that 30 percent is a killer. It eats at you. There are some straaaaaannnge people out there -- just look around Slashdot. And in this day and age, it really is pretty hard to imagine that a stranger could not be able to narrow down my place of residence if they really felt like they wanted to. I have to admit that the whole thing made me pretty uncomfortable -- enough to take it seriously.

      Anyway, my friend denied that he had anything to do with it, denied it and denied it again. So after the third denial I just said, "OK, well you've seen the emails. You should come down to the police station with me when I file the report." That's when he realized I was really serious, and he owned up -- and we all laughed at what a funny, funny, funny joke that was.

  • One case of a rich individual being cheated by the relatively poor, as opposed to the situation our economy is founded on, the many poor being cheated by the rich.

    What a shame.

  • Next time someone tells you that we shouldn't tax the rich because they deserve the money they earn, link them to this story.
    The guys a fool living of his great-grand fathers success. It sounds in some ways like the scamers did more work for the money than he did. (Not that I think we should be rewarding them for being a-grade assholes)

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