Nov 09 2010

Computer virus not behind a bizarre $6-20 million extortion scheme

Antivirus industry's fetish for tabloid news rears its ugly head (yet again)
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Quoting myself from 1998: “Princess Diana, Elton John, and computer viruses — the media will beat a path to your door if you can use all three in a single sentence.” Quoting myself from 1999: “human cadavers, scandals, and computer viruses…”

There is no “computer virus angle” here. It’s about an extra­ordi­narily gullible man who got bilked for millions over a very long time. Every­thing else is an anecdote.

Today, it’s pianist oil heir, $6 million extortion scheme, and computer viruses. Reporters predictably rushed to use all three in a single sentence. Wired went to press with the tabloid headline “Computer Virus Leads to $20 Million Scam Targeting Pianist Composer.” The Register fared better with the tongue-in-cheek headline “Oil heir loses $6m in ‘CIA-Opus-Dei’ malware murder scam.” Other news organs will doubtless follow.

In all fairness, today’s story leaves me dumbfounded. But know this: there is no “computer virus angle” to this story. It’s about an extraordinarily gullible man who got bilked for millions over a very long time. Everything else is an anecdote — especially the computer virus.

Still, the media loves a great lead. You want a great lead? My story would lead off like this:

“The identical twin sister of Wikileaks’ founder and her terrorist-looking boyfriend were arrested today and charged with extorting millions from a mentally retarded ivory tickler with oily hair…”