Couple scams US$6m out of billionaire pianist

9 Nov 2010

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New York police have prosecuted a couple who managed to con at least US$6m from the great-grandson of an oil industry tycoon after he brought his virus-infected computer in for repair.

While the victim’s name has not been released by the authorities, media reports have named him as jazz pianist and composer Roger Davidson, an heir of oil tycoon Conrad Schlumberger.

According to reports, prosecutors in Westchester, New York, have charged 36-year-old Vickram Bedi and his girlfriend, Helga Invarsdottir. 

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.

Bedi and his 39-year-old girlfriend were arrested last week at their home in Chappaqua, as they were preparing to leave for Iceland. Bedi and Invarsdottir are being held by the authorities in lieu of US$3m cash bail.

“Stories don’t get much more far fetched and oddball than this, but they do underline the importance for all of us to be on guard against scams,” said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.

Over the course of six years, Bedi and Invarsdottir are said to have extorted at least US$6m from Davidson – although police chiefs have claimed the full figure could be as much as $20m – demanding up to $160,000 per month in protection money.

Bizarre

Bedi is said to have told Davidson that he was working on behalf of the CIA. Their mission? To prevent a gang of Polish priests affiliated with Opus Dei from attempting to harm the jazz composer.

“Savvy computer users may be clued up enough to dismiss such a scam, but can they honestly say that the same is true of every member of their family or social circle?

“Could there be an elderly or vulnerable person close to you who uses the internet, and might easily be hoodwinked by merciless scammers?” Cluley asked in his Naked Security Blog.

“It’s the responsibility of all of us to not just defend our computers, but also to protect those more vulnerable than ourselves,” Cluley said.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com