Bit coin bomb threats sweep U.S., Canada,
but lack credibility
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[December 14, 2018]
By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A rash of bomb
threats were emailed on Thursday to hundreds of businesses, public
offices and schools across the United States and Canada demanding
payment in cryptocurrency, but none of the threats appeared credible,
law enforcement officials said.
Initial jitters sparked by the wave of awkwardly worded messages,
threatening to set off explosives unless $20,000 were delivered in
bitcoin, subsided within hours as some local authorities began referring
to the electronic extortion notes as a scam.
One email targeting a St. Louis-area middle school was traced by local
investigators to an internet protocol, or IP, address in Moscow, the
sheriff's office in Lincoln County, Missouri said.
But U.S. government sources speaking on background to Reuters said that
such findings were inconclusive and that federal investigators doubted
that Russians or the Russian government were involved.
The officials cautioned that such an IP address does not prove it came
from Russia because the sender could have electronically laid a false
trail to cover up its true origin. They suggested instead that the
flurry of emails were part of a wide-scale digital hoax.
The security scare began shortly before 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT) as police
departments in major U.S. cities coast to coast began reporting on
Twitter that numerous local businesses had received the menacing emails.
Six hours into the security scare, no actual explosives had been found,
authorities said. But the threats prompted brief evacuations of a
Toronto subway station and a newspaper office in Raleigh, North
Carolina. Some public schools and businesses also were evacuated as a
Lincoln County, Missouri, sheriff's spokesman Lieutenant Andy Binder
said authorities bused the students from a middle school receiving one
of the threats to another campus as a precaution, but the school was
later determined to be safe and classes will resume there on Friday.
Among other cities where bomb threats were reported by authorities were
Washington, New York, Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix,
Oklahoma City, Grand Rapids, Iowa, Denver, Ottawa, and Calgary, Alberta.
Several hours after North America was hit, similar email threats were
showing up in New Zealand, according to police there.
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Passengers stand outside King subway station after a bomb threat was
made in Toronto, Ontario, Canada December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Chris
'SCAM HAPPENING NATIONWIDE'
Police at the University of Wisconsin in Madison tweeted an image
taken of one email threat found to be circulating that said in part:
"Good day. There is an explosive device (lead azide) in the building
where your company is conducted. It is assembled according to my
guide. It is compact and it is covered up very carefully. It can not
damage the structure of the building, but in case of its explosion
you will get many wounded people."
The campus police tweet concludes by referring to the emails as "a
SCAM happening nationwide."
The FBI and other federal agencies were alerted to the email chains,
"We are aware of threats being made in cities across the country,"
Rukelt Dalberis, an FBI spokesman in Los Angeles, told Reuters
separately. "We remain in touch with our law enforcement partners.
We encourage the public to remain vigilant and report suspicious
activities that could represent a threat."
A similar wave of emailed hoax bomb threats in December 2015
prompted officials in Los Angeles to close the city's public school
system, which national law enforcement officials later criticized as
Two weeks previously, a married couple inspired by Islamic State had
killed 14 people at a California county office building in a
A teenager with dual Israeli-U.S. citizenship was arrested in Israel
in March 2017 for making bomb threats to more than 100 Jewish
organizations and Jewish community centers in dozens of U.S. states
over several months.
(Reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington; Additional reporting by
Dan Whitcomb and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Makini Brice in
Washington, Gina Cherelus and Gabriella Borter in New York and
Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Writing by Steve Gorman in Los
Angeles; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)
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