Hundreds of government buildings, schools and businesses in the United States and Canada were on Thursday targets of extortionists who threatened to detonate explosives unless they were paid thousands of dollars in bitcoin.
In most of the emailed bomb threats, the sender claimed that they had an associate who had planted an explosive device at the premises of the recipient and this would go off if a payment of US$20,000 in bitcoin was not made, according to ABC News.
“…20,000 dollars is the price for your life. Tansfer (sic) it to me in BTC and I warrant that I will withdraw my recruited person and explosive will not explode. But do not try to deceive me – my warranty will become valid only after 3 confirmations in blockchain network,” one of the emailed bomb threats said.
Most law enforcement agencies dismissed the threats saying they were not credible. This included the New York Police Department which tweeted that after searches had been conducted in numerous locations that had received the threats, no explosive devices were discovered:
“At this time, it appears that these threats are meant to cause disruption and/or obtain money. We’ll respond to each call regarding these emails to conduct a search but we wanted to share this information so the credibility of these threats can be assessed as likely NOT CREDIBLE.”
However, the counterterrorism department of the NYPD disclosed that monitoring of the bomb threats was ongoing:
We are currently monitoring multiple bomb threats that have been sent electronically to various locations throughout the city.
These threats are also being reported to other locations nationwide & are NOT considered credible at this time. pic.twitter.com/GowGG4oZ9l
— NYPDCounterterrorism (@NYPDCT) December 13, 2018
But before being determined to lack credibility, the bomb threats had resulted in evacuations in some institutions, facilities and extensive sweeps of buildings. In Toronto, Canada, the King subway station had to be cleared after the bomb threat was received. The University of Washington in Seattle also conducted building sweeps before releasing information across the campus that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had deemed the threat not to be credible. Some schools across the United States also resorted to closing early while others were placed in lockdown or evacuated.
Other places that were evacuated included a county courthouse in Olympia, Washington; a city hall in Aurora, Illinois and news outlets such as Utah’s Park Record newspaper and North Carolina’s News & Observer.
It could not be immediately established who sent the hoax bomb threats or their country of origin though some media outlets noted that they ‘were written in a choppy style reminiscent of the Nigerian prince email scam’. On the other hand, an email to a middle school in St. Louis, Missouri bore an internet protocol address which was traced to Moscow, Russia. However, this was not deemed conclusive evidence of the origin as the sender could have laid a false trail to scuttle investigators.
Featured image from Shutterstock.