Dec. 14, 2018 – On Thursday, Dec. 13, a nationwide extortion scheme was sent out by email to businesses and public entities across the United States, telling them a bomb had been placed in their facility and would be detonated if money were not paid to them via Bitcoin.
A business in Dunlap was one of those targets of attack.
Because he has been notified that the federal government is investigating, Dunlap Police Chief Clint Huth did not identify the local business, but he said it was a small office with only a handful of employees. Huth applauded their quick thinking in responding to the threat.
“They did a good job,” he said. “They were proactive, making sure everybody was safe.”
The threat and ransom demand “came by email,” Huth said Friday. “It was not so much a threat as more of a scam.”
The email was addressed to the company and not an individual, he said. It basically stated that there was an explosive device in the building and that someone was watching the building. They were warned not to call the authorities and to forward a payment of $20,000 by Bitcoin before the close of business that day.
The first thing workers did, Huth said, was to check the parking lot to see if there actually was someone watching the building – a suspicious person or someone they did not recognize.
“Then they looked around the office to see if anything was out of place,” he said. “They reached out to employees to see if everybody was where they were supposed to be. They checked any packages that had been delivered.”
They also called police, who came to check the location for anything suspicious. And about that time, Chief Huth received an alert on his phone notifying him that businesses in Chattanooga and across the country were being threatened in the same way, at the same time.
No evacuation was ordered, Huth said, because from the wording and format of the email, it was “an obvious scam.”
“The way the message was worded,” Huth said, “to me it doesn't sound like a U.S. citizen.”
If the threat had been sent to a school or a business with a larger number of employees, police might have been more cautious, conducting an evacuation of the building or searching with a bomb-sniffing dog, but in this case, he said, the location was small and easily searched.
“If we'd wanted a bomb-sniffing dog, we couldn't have got it,” Huth said. “They were all tied up over in Chattanooga!”
Chattanooga news reported several locations in that city were sent a similar email, as well as smaller outlying cities like Dunlap. The FBI received reports of bomb threats all across the country on the same day. The email that came to the local business was addressed to the one location, though, with no other addresses on it.
Bitcoin was used as a delivery conduit for the ransom because the blockchain it utilizes is private and secure, and not easily traced.