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Bitcoin bomb threat ‘hoaxes’ sweep Canada and the US, triggering evacuations

  • The bomb threats included ransom demands of US$20,000 in bitcoin
  • Businesses, schools, universities, newsrooms and religious centres were evacuated in response to the threats
PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 December, 2018, 7:26am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 December, 2018, 7:31pm

A wave of bomb threats emailed on Thursday to hundreds of schools, businesses and government buildings across the US triggered searches, evacuations and fear – but there were no signs of explosives and authorities said the scare appeared to be a crude extortion attempt.

Law enforcement agencies across the country dismissed the threats, saying they were meant to cause disruption and compel recipients into sending money, so were not considered credible.

Some of the emails had the subject line: “Think Twice”. They were sent from a spoofed email address. The sender claimed to have had an associate plant a small bomb in the recipient’s building and the only way to stop him from setting it off was by making an online payment of US$20,000 in bitcoin.

“We are currently monitoring multiple bomb threats that have been sent electronically to various locations throughout the city,” the New York City Police Department’s counterterrorism unit tweeted.

“These threats are also being reported to other locations nationwide & are NOT considered credible at this time.”

Other law enforcement agencies also dismissed the threats, which were written in a choppy style reminiscent of an African email scam.

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Palm Beach County, Florida, sheriff’s office and Boise, Idaho, police said they had no reason to believe threats made to locations in those areas were credible. One of the emails wound up in a spam filter, Boise Police Chief William Bones said.

The FBI said it is assisting law enforcement agencies that are dealing with the threats.

“As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and to promptly report suspicious activities which could represent a threat to public safety,” the FBI said in a statement.

In 2015, an emailed bomb threat prompted different reactions from the nation’s two largest public school systems. The Los Angeles school system closed down under threat of a mass attack, but New York City officials quickly saw it as a hoax.

In the wake of Thursday’s emails, some schools across the country closed early and others were evacuated or placed on lockdown. Authorities said a threat emailed to a school in Troy, Missouri, was sent from Russia.

The bomb threats also prompted evacuations at city hall in Aurora, Illinois, the offices of the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, an Atlanta courthouse and businesses in Detroit.

“Organisations nationwide, both public and private, have reported receiving emailed bomb threats today,” Michigan State Police spokeswoman Shannon Banner said. “They are not targeted toward any one specific sector.”

Penn State University notified students via a text alert about threats to a half-dozen buildings and an airport on its main campus in State College, Pennsylvania. In an update, the school said the threat appeared to be part of a “national hoax”.

Columbine High School in Colorado was dealing with a bomb threat of a different sort. Students were being kept inside for the rest of the school day after someone called in a bomb threat against the school.

The Jefferson County, Colorado, Sheriff’s Office said the caller claimed to have placed explosive devices in the building and to be hiding outside with a gun.

Sheriff’s spokesman Mike Taplin said nothing was found at Columbine, where 12 students and a teacher were killed by two students in 1999.

Two dozen other Colorado schools were also temporarily placed on lockout, meaning their doors were locked but classes continued normally, as the threat was investigated.