Counterterrorism officials said a series of bomb threats reported across the country appeared to be a hoax after scammers targeted media outlets and major institutions demanding Bitcoin in exchange for their safety.
The bomb threats came in the form of spam emails demanding recipients provide ransom payments in the form of the electronic currency, and targeted schools, media outlets, police precincts and other organisations, reportedly including at least 13 locations across New York City.
“I write to inform you that my man has carried the bomb (Tetryl) into the building where your business is located,” read one of the emails posted to social media, which demanded $20,000 in Bitcoin. “It was assembled according to my instructions. It can be hidden anywhere because of its small size, it cannot damage the supporting building structures, but there will be many victims in case of its explosion.”
“You must pay me by the end of the working day, if you are late with the transaction the bomb will explode,” the message continued. “This is just a business, if I do not see the bitcoins and a bomb detonates, other companies will transfer me more money, because it isn’t a single case.”
Several schools and businesses evacuated buildings in response to the threats. The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina was one of the organisations to have its facilities cleared amid the chaos and confusion.
“We have evacuated the [News & Observer] building due to a bomb threat,” Jane Elizabeth, the managing editor of the newspaper, tweeted on Thursday. “We have no information that this is credible but of course we’re taking every precaution.”
In New York, Bronx High School of Science students evacuated its building Thursday morning after receiving the threatening email. In Colorado, Columbine High School—where ten people were murdered in a historic 1999 school shooting—and 22 other schools received a false bomb threat that prompted them to be placed on lock down. On Thursday morning, an unknown caller claimed that "multiple explosive devices" were insides the school, according to Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. In San Francisco, the Jewish Community Centre and several branches of the Fire Credit Union evacuated its buildings in response to the emailed threats. In Southern California, a business establishment in Redondo Beach also evacuated in response to the threat.
Police responded Thursday to threats reported in Iowa, Idaho, Oklahoma, Massachusetts and a number of other states, all of which were determined to be hoaxes by local officials.
The FBI has also released a statement in response to the wave of bomb threats, stating “we are aware of recent bomb threats made in cities around the country, and we remain in touch with our law enforcement partners to provide assistance. As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and to promptly report suspicious activities which could represent a threat to public safety.”
These threats came just one day after Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters had to evacuate its building in response to a bomb threats.
Several people on Twitter have shared similar spam emails sent to them demanding ransom Bitcoin payment, claiming a bomb would detonate at their business, school, or home if they did not comply.
“The Bitcoin-spam-scammers have moved on from fake blackmail threats to fake bomb threats,” Tom Scott, a popular YouTube personality, tweeted. “So far no-one’s paid anything to the address, and I suspect it’ll stay that way.”
“So I actually just got a bomb threat in my work email today ordering me to send the person $20,000 via bitcoin or they will blow up my place of work,” another Twitter user wrote. “2018 is wild.”
These email threats are reminiscent of similar threatening scams set earlier this year. In those emails, perpetrators would send an email to victims claiming it recorded webcam footage of them watching porn online and demanded they pay a ransom to prevent the alleged footage from leaking. Some of the victims seem to have paid the ransom. It is unclear if it is the case for the recent round of threatening email scans.
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