Bitcoin new payoff for extortionists

A "notice of extortion" sent to GRPD Pizza and Delivery on State Street. (June 24, 2014)
A "notice of extortion" sent to GRPD Pizza and Delivery on State Street. (June 24, 2014)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids business owner said he got a threatening letter demanding he pay extortionists in digital currency.

The type of threat is nothing new: Give us money or we’ll do something bad to your business. It’s the method of payment — Bitcoin — that sets this extortion attempt apart.

Mike Raymond, owner of GRPD Pizza and Delivery on State Street SE, alerted 24 Hour News 8 to the scam after receiving what appeared to be an extortion letter in the mail.

“At first, I’m looking at it and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, it’s one of my friends playing a joke on me,” Raymond said.

But the message in the letter labeled “notice of extortion” was clear: Pay up or face irreparable harm from threats ranging from childish, like fake pizza orders, to very adult, including vandalism, bomb threats and more.

A "notice of extortion" sent to GRPD Pizza and Delivery on State Street. (June 24, 2014)“Food contamination,” Raymond described one threat. “Obviously, we’re concerned about food safety. How does that happen?”

Raymond said business owners like him have enough to worry about.

“There’s food costs and finance and labor and rising cost of gas. All those things,” he said. “Do you really need to have somebody now threatening you with extortion?”

The payment part of the extortion wasn’t ordered delivered to some dark alley or deposited in a foreign bank account. The demand was for one Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is a form of virtual currency. There’s no middleman, no banks, no backing and no regulation. The digital coins are purchased with good, old-fashioned cash and credit, and then traded person to person.

The proceeds, or the value of the Bitcoin, are often deposited into a digital wallet.

Everyone involved remains anonymous. That part makes Bitcoin attractive to extortionists and other lawbreakers.

According to CoinDesk.com, the opening value of a tracked Bitcoin was $587.46 Tuesday morning.

Law enforcement, including the Michigan Attorney General, is starting to take note of Bitcoin-related scams.

If you received a threat like the one Raymond received through the mail, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service would like to hear from you.

Raymond didn’t pay up. He compared to the threat to an adult version of a bully on a playground:

“They’re taking your lunch money, and we’re not going to let them.”
 

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Online:

Bitcoin’s website

CNN: What is Bitcoin?

CoinDesk: What is Bitcoin?

U.S. Postal Inspection Service

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