Increasing Blackmail Scam Demands Bitcoins
Many affluent men from the US have been targeted by a new scam in which the perpetrator demands bitcoins to keep quiet about an infidelity the recipient had.
Dave Eargle received a letter in his mailbox which began with: “I know you cheated on your wife.”
A Ransom in Bitcoin
The letter continued with “It is just your bad luck that I stumbled across your misadventures while working a job. Even if you decide to come clean with your wife about your cheating, doing so won’t protect her from the humiliation she will feel when her friends and family find out the sordid details from me.”
The letter concluded with the following demand: “If you want me to destroy the evidence and leave you alone forever then send $2,000 in BITCOIN.”
Although Eargle is a happily married man, the blackmail letter has him in “a bit of a fluster”. Eargle, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business, said that it felt scary because he felt like he was being targeted.
Upon receiving the letter, he notified the police and later posted the experience on his blog. He discovered that he was not the only one that was subjected to this kind of blackmail.
While his blog usually received up to two-three hits a day on average, he noticed that after the waves of blackmail letters he had up to 200,300 hits a day.
“[My blog] had received maybe three, two hits a day,” he said. “Suddenly, it jumped up to 200 a day during right after the waves [of letters], 200 a day, 300 a day.
One of the waves, I got 500 visits. … I got a flood of new people saying, ‘I got very similar letter. What do I do?'”
Men Targeted from Affluent Neighborhoods
Eargle deduced that the blackmailers sent their letters in waves from different locations across the US. The letters all had the same content, either they pay or their secret will be revealed.
According to Eargle, the scammers are still sending their letters. A number of them were sent across the country this month, with others being sent in November and December.
The ransom in the initial letter Eargle received was $2000 worth of bitcoin, but he says newer versions of the letter now demand $8000 in bitcoin.
Patrick Wyman, a supervisory special agent with the FBI’s money laundering unit, said:” The amount of money is such that it’s not so much that someone might be willing to just pay that to make it go away. They’re hoping that they might get lucky with someone who actually … [has] some infidelity there. And if they hit that target, that’s a person who’s probably willing to pay.”
The FBI and other authorities are working to solve the case and catch the scammer that has been emitting this letters.
Nobody knows how the perpetrator chooses his victims, but Eargle is of the opinion that possible targets seem to live in affluent neighborhoods.
The recipients of the letter may be “concerned about losing their social status if this attacker sends out information to their friends in their neighborhoods,” said Eargle.
To pay the ransom easier, the letter includes instructions on how to purchase bitcoin. Eargle noted that each letter had a unique bitcoin wallet to send money to, to make tracking more difficult.
What to do when you’re a victim
“The idea behind virtual currency is that it hides behind this veil of secrecy that just because it’s letters and numbers in terms of an account number, and there’s no personal information associated with it, that law enforcement won’t be able to track it,” said Wyman. “Virtual currencies do make it more difficult to track, but not impossible.”
In case you receive such letter, the best advice is to not pay the ransom and alert the police or authorities.
To avoid being a target of such scam, Wyman advised people to be cautious with whom they share their personal information.
“If you’re cautious about where you’re sharing your personal information, … very specific details about yourself or your family, … that is going to help protect you from maybe this sort of a scam,” he said.